The Green was reclaimed from the river shallows by the citizens, and extended roughly from what is now the Old Customs House (i.e. from Cliff St) to the present Fremantle Railway Station in Phillimore St. It was resumed in 1879 by the Government for railway purposes.
This is Alfred Stone's 1860s (c. 1865) photograph of the Green. (Click to see it in larger size.) The thin white line extending across the middle of the photo out to the right is Cliff St. All of the dark grassy area in the foreground is the Green. The building complex in the centre is George Shenton's house, with his stables on the right. Where the stables stood is now the site of the Dalgety building, where the MSC now has its offices, on the corner of Cliff and High Sts. Behind the Shenton buildings, to the right, is the Residency, which was demolished in 1967 for the railway line and a carpark. Hard to pick out in the photo at the rear, just to the right of the stables, is the first lighthouse.
How Fremantle lost its much-prized recreation ground, the 'Green', may be briefly stated here. In the early days the area between Phillimore Street and the river, extending from Cliff Street to Pakenham Street, was shallow water, the present irregular line of buildings along the south side of Phillimore Street marking what was once the foreshore. The townspeople, by constituting themselves 'working bees', reclaimed the land and planted it with couch grass, creating the old recreation ground that was known as the 'Green'. The people were naturally very wroth when it was proposed to resume that land for railway purposes, but ultimately they were appeased by being granted £500 for improvements to the Park. Fremantle's first railway station was afterwards built on the reclaimed area. It is now the site of the Customs House, Chamber of Commerce and other buildings, the new railway station having been built at the foot of Market Street. Hitchcock: 29.
The following excerpt from David Hutchison's 'History of Fremantle Park', is part of a comprehensive history of the Green.
The first recreation area in Fremantle was known as The Green. The Fremantle historian, Hitchcock, in an early article in the journal of the Royal WA Historical Society', [JK Hitchcock, 'Fremantle, 1829-49', Early Days of Fremantle, 1, 1, 21] wrote that
In the early days, the area between Phillimore Street and Pakenham Streets [between Cliff Street and Pakenham Street] was shallow water. The present irregular line of buildings along the south side of Phillimore Street marks what was once the river foreshore. The townspeople, by constituting themselves working bees, reclaimed the land and planted it with couch grass, thus creating the old recreation ground, which was known as 'The Green'. Naturally, the people were very wroth when it was proposed to resume this land for railway purposes ...
Reece and Pascoe in their book, A Place of Consequence, write that 'Fremantle Green ... was the recreational and social centre of Fremantle. Originally a marshy area on the river side where the jetty was situated, it had been reclaimed by the voluntary labour of the townspeople in the 1840s. This was the place to meet passengers from the Perth ferry and to take an evening constitutional when the temperature made it more pleasant outdoors.' (25-26)
When extension of the Eastern Railway to Fremantle was planned, The Green was selected as the best site for the railway station, workshops and associated buildings. The citizens of Fremantle objected to losing their recreational ground and, a public meeting was held on 5 May 1879, chaired by Robert M Sutherland, the Manager of the National Bank, to discuss
a subject of great public interest — namely, what steps should be judiciously taken to induce the Government not to allow the Recreation Ground to be interfered with.
The meeting decided unanimously to elect a deputation to wait upon the Governor, Sir Harry Ord. Those elected were R M Sutherland, J J Harwood, D K Congdon, G Parkes, W B Pearse, E A Stone, E Solomon and W E Marmion. The visit of the deputation was reported — somewhat wordily — in The Herald on Saturday 24 May 1879. It is quoted at some length as evidence that it was intended to retain Fremantle Park for public recreation as well as organised sports. The object of the deputation, the paper reported, was,
if possible, to induce the Governor to reconsider the decision he had arrived at to appropriate the public green for railway purposes. Mr M. Sutherland, as the chairman of the public meeting nominating the deputation [spoke] in forcible terms [of] the great value the people of Fremantle set upon the piece of land they were threatened to be deprived of and begged His Excellency in the interests of the health and recreation of the inhabitants of Fremantle, to reconsider the intention of appropriating the only present recreation ground in Fremantle for the purpose contemplated. He respectfully submitted to His Excellency that the inhabitants had acquired the land — for, if it had not been actually reclaimed at the expense of the people of Fremantle, it had certainly been improved by them, and made what it now was, by the outlay of private individuals, and the Municipality. In fact, it was this expenditure of private and municipal money that had made the piece of land suitable for the purpose for which the Government wanted it. He submitted that waste land to the East of The Green would answer the purpose of the railway station and workshops equally as well as The Green, and again begged His Excellency to reconsider his decision in the matter, and, if possible, reserve The Green as a public recreation ground.
... The Perth newspaper, The Inquirer, had joined the fray on 14 May, claiming that
the people of Fremantle have at length awakened to a true sense of the danger in which they stand of losing not temporarily, but for ever, the plot of ground lying on the riverside of the town, and which, to almost everyone who has visited Fremantle is known as the Recreation Ground or more popularly, The Green.
There can be no doubt that Fremantle Park was the quid pro quo for surrendering The Green and that it was intended that the Park contain a substantial park for public recreation as well as sporting facilities. Hutchison, 2009.
[The Herald] paid tribute to the townspeople's initiative in reclaiming from riverside marsh at the end of Cliff Street a public recreation area known as the Green, where cricket was played on Wednesday afternoons in summer and the Fremantle Band provided music for dancing of an evening in the rotunda. Nearby was the popular Pier Hotel and town jetty where the first English river steamer, the Lady Stirling, discharged her passengers from Perth. The jetty was also the place where rowing boats could be hired on holidays. The Green served as the centre of the town's outdoor social life and there was a storm of protest (duly reported in The Herald) when the colonial government arbitrarily resumed the area for Fremantle's first railway station in 1879, offering in its place the tract of bush east of Parry Street, henceforth known as 'Bushy Park'. Fremantle's fledgling identity had emerged at the Green, finding its clearest expression in the not always good-humoured rivalry that marked cricket and other sporting matches against visiting Perth teams. Fremantle was developing its own sense of place, an awareness of local differences that reflected a small but cohesive community and its growing confidence. Reece 2012: 36.
Dowson, John 2003, Old Fremantle: Photographs 1850-1950, UWAP, in which is reproduced (p. 83) the photograph of the Green taken by Alfred Stone before 1868. Dowson records that Stout took a similar photograph a little later, but does not show that photo.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.
Hutchison, David 2009, 'A history of Fremantle Park', City of Fremantle.
Reece, Bob 2012, 'Glimpses of Fremantle 1829-1929', in Paul Arthur Longley & Geoffrey Bolton, Voices from the West End: Stories, People and Events that Shaped Fremantle, WA Museum: 20-55.
Reece, R. & R. Pascoe 1983, A Place of Consequence: A Pictorial History of Fremantle, FACP.
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