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Walk 7: St Patrick’s Basilica Precinct

From Fremantle Walks by David Hutchison, 2006, pp. 179-182. (See also facsimile version.)

This is a significant precinct at the north end of Adelaide Street. It was a major education precinct until the 1950s, having included a boys' school, a girls' school and a Catholic girls' school. Allow half an hour; more if you wish to examine the interior of buildings.


St Patrick’s Basilica

Architects: Michael Cavanagh of Cavanagh and Cavanagh. Builder: Robert Hannah

The Roman Catholic Church was formally established in Western Australia with the arrival of Father (later Bishop) John Brady with a party of Benedictines in 1845. A presbytery, chapel and convent were built on this site in 1859 by the Benedictines.

Following negotiations with the Principal of the Oblate Order in Dublin, Oblate Fathers arrived in Fremantle in 1894 to undertake an industrial school and a parish in Fremantle. They discovered that their accommodation — the buildings constructed by the Benedictines — were in a very poor state. Father Thomas Ryan commissioned a new church. By 1899 the community had raised sufficient funds for the first stage. St Patrick's was consecrated in 1900.

The Basilica is in Federation Gothic style. but only one-third of Cavanagh's design was built in the first stage. The design included a tower, a side chapel and a long nave ending in a curved chancel with ambulatory. However, the elaborate details of the front facade were completed by the 19205s, including two turrets topped by pinnacles with flying buttresses supporting two pinnacles on either side. The smooth stonework of these features gives a more graceful quality to the facade. The rusticated limestone for the walls was quarried in Cottesloe and North Fremantle. Doorways, columns, traceried windows and other features are in Sydney sandstone. The spire on the original plans is yet to be constructed. During the 1950s a sanctuary and two chapels were added, not to the original design. Substantial works were undertaken during the 1990s, under the direction of the architect Michael Broderick. The sanctuary was re-floored with Carrara marble and in 1994 a major interior facelift saw the removal of some of the 1950s additions, and a new marble altar was installed. During this period the pipe organ was increased in size, thus becoming the largest pipe organ in any church in Australia. The original organ was built by J C Bishop of London and was electrified in 1960. Most of the original pipe work is incorporated in the new organ, which was built by Bellsham Pipe Organs, Australia.

In 1994 the Vatican bestowed on the Cathedral the honour of being named a minor basilica.

The adjacent Presbytery, also designed by Cavanagh, replaced the original Benedictine building in 1916. Its entry features a large leadlight door with double sidelights opening onto the verandas.

St Joseph’s Convent and Girls’ School were on the site on the south side of the Basilica from 1855 to 1968. The site was sold and a supermarket and car park were built. In 2005 the former supermarket (and later Ross's Hardware) was vacant. [In 2018 a number of new retail premises have been constructed west of the Basilica.]

Byrne (2000) provides a full history of the Basilica and its parish.

Former Fremantle Boys‘ School

Architect: the Colonial Secretary, William Ayshford Sanford (central section).

This original limestone building with Dutch gables was erected in 1856; later additions are in a harmonious style. Sanford was a keen amateur designer: he also designed the former Perth Boys’ School in St Georges Terrace, Perth. When first erected, the building was adjudged to be one of the finest in the colony. The school was upgraded to a high school in 1947. When John Curtin High School was opened in 1958, Fremantle Boys‘ School was closed. Restoration, with the aid of an Australian Heritage Commission grant, was completed in 1974 to house the Perth Institute of Film and Television — later reconstituted as the Film and Television Institute. A summer film festival is held in the open air in the garden beside this building.

princess may

Former Princess May Girls School

Architect: Public Works Department

Built in 1894, the building appears to be based on English school designs. It was renamed Princess May Girls‘ School by the Duchess of Cornwall in 1901. She and the Duke (who later became King George V) were on their way to Melbourne where the Duke was to open the first Federal Parliament. The school was closed in 1968 and the pupils were transferred to John Curtin High School. 1n the 1970s it was converted for use as a community education centre and includes a theatre.

An associated building in the same park is now Clancy’s Tavern and Restaurant.

Marmion Memorial

Designer: C L Oldham. Sculptor: Pietro Porcelli

On an island at the intersection of Adelaide, Queen and Parry Streets. William Edward Marmion (1845-1896) was a Fremantle businessman with interests in whaling. He was a member of the first Fremantle Town Council, a foundation member of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce when it was founded in 1873 and a member of the state Legislative Council in 1880. He was elected as the first member for Fremantle to the new Legislative Assembly following the granting of responsible government in 1890; he became Minister for Lands. The memorial was erected by public subscription and unveiled in 1902. It was the first memorial of its kind erected in recognition of public services rendered to the state. Porcelli sculpted the intricate Celtic cross in brown freestone imported from Waverly, New South Wales.

Proclamation Tree

The Moreton Bay fig next to the Marmion Memorial was planted by the Governor, Sir William Robinson, on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1890, to commemorate the granting of responsible government to the colony.

World of Energy

On the opposite side, at 12 Parry Street. This display centre was established by Western Power as an interactive educational facility to engage and inform its audience about all aspects of energy in the state. [In 2018 this has been converted and added to form a block of apartments.]

Garry Gillard | New: 11 January, 2019 | Now: 14 November, 2019