David Eric Hutchison (24 February 1927 - 27 December 2017) was, among many other things, a Fremantle historian. He was on the committee of the Fremantle History Society 1999-2004, and 2009, and that of the Fremantle Society 1986-88. His Fremantle Walks is an easily accessible and popular local history publication, continuously in print since its release in 2006.
David was born in 1927 and was a young child during the Depression. Fortunately, his father remained in employment and was able to provide for his education in Claremont.
He got his first job in the early days of the War, then in 1943 enlisted in the Air Training Corps where he was befriended by one of the officers, Penn Boucaut, who encouraged him to go to university and gave him £75 to cover the cost of study at Perth Technical College in order to matriculate. The following year he enrolled in Engineering at UWA.
For David, university opened up a new world and new cultural interests, and he began to read widely, especially in English literature, and enjoy the experience of meeting students and staff from different social and cultural backgrounds. A major example of this occurred when he worked in Melbourne during his 4th year to gain practical experience. He boarded with a Jewish family, the Kloots, and consequently met many talented and interesting Jewish refugees from Germany.
Back at UWA in 1949 he became involved in the Guild of Undergraduates and was elected Guild Secretary, with an office next to that of the editor of the student paper, The Pelican. The editor was Geoffrey Bolton and he and David remained friends until Geoffrey died in 2015. The following year he became Guild President and made another long-term friend, John Toohey, who later became a lawyer and a Judge of the High Court.
In the same year he joined the Fellowship of Australian Writers where he met interesting and generous people, including Mary and Elizabeth Durack, Jean and Keith Ewers, and Henrietta Drake-Brockman, who involved him in their social circle and encouraged him in his writing.
At this time he was also developing his skill in painting and drawing, and many of his watercolours and botanical drawings, and a few “scraperboards” (which resemble black and white prints) decorate the walls of his Fremantle home still.
For young Australians the post-war years offered opportunities for travel overseas, usually to England, the “Home Country”, rather than to Asia. In 1952 David was offered a job in England. During his two years there, largely in London, David enthusiastically grasped the opportunities for new cultural experiences in theatre (Lawrence Olivier was a leading actor then), the visual arts and literature, and for meeting writers and others involved in the arts.
He was asked to represent the Australian Union of Students at conferences in Europe, which took him to Hungary, Austria and Romania, and involved contact with student groups and individuals from Communist regimes. He liked to tell the story of a member of the English delegation who raised his hand for silence at one meeting and then said, “I bring you greetings from Sir Gordon Richards to the President of Romania, from the Conservative Party of England to the Communist Party of Romania, and from the turf of England to the sods of Romania.” The audience responded with a loud cheer but David wasn’t sure they understood English.
It might seem almost an anticlimax when David returned to Australia and took a job at Christ Church Grammar School, teaching physics. But this was the beginning of a long and successful career in several different fields.
He taught at Christ Church from 1953 to 1967 but during that time did some part-time work at UWA tutoring in history, and at WAIT (now Curtin University), lecturing in the History and Philosophy of Science, and in 1968 was Tutor Organiser in the UWA Adult Education and Extension Service, with John Birman.
The climax of his career was his time as Inaugural Curator of History at the WA Museum (1970-1985). He played a leading role in the Local Museum Programme, working with community groups throughout the state, in country towns like York, and in the Goldfields Branch Museum in Kalgoorlie and the Residency Museum in Albany. He established the first state social history museum in Fremantle in 1970; it was a real blow to David when it was later closed, after his retirement.
In 1975 he was seconded to Canberra at the request of the Prime Minister to organise an exhibition on Australian history titled The Fourth Part of the World, which was Australia’s contribution to the celebration of the American Bicentenary and received high commendation from the Smithsonian Institute. Incidentally, David was in Canberra when the Whitlam Government was overthrown and was in the crowd that gathered outside Parliament House.
He also travelled overseas, to Cocos (Keeling) Islands to advise on the establishment of a museum, and to Greece to work with museum colleagues. He kept up with people he met for some years, and several of them later visited him in Perth.
During his time at the Museum he developed management, classification and cataloguing schemes and his curatorial work later brought praise from John Mulvaney. He was a member of a range of committees, including Maritime Archaeology, Historical Archaeology, National Trust Historic Sites, Sons of Gwalia Conservation Committee.
Following retirement in 1985 he established a personal consultancy in historical and heritage research and museology, and worked with, for example, the New Norcia Archives Research and Publications Committee which resulted in the book A Town Like No Other. He was able to pursue his personal interests too, in botanical illustration (e.g. for George Seddon’s Sense of Place), and the natural environment which had brought him into contact earlier with Harry Butler, Dom Serventy, Vin Serventy, and Ray Aitken. While at Christ Church he had travelled with them up the Canning Stock Route.
He loved Australian plants and established a native garden at his home in Wembley Downs in the mid-1950s, and later in Swanbourne and Fremantle. In this he received valuable encouragement and advice from Ray Aitken.
He studied Modern Greek and achieved a level of proficiency which enabled him to translate some short Greek works into English. He continued his historical research and published a number of papers. He was active in community groups in Fremantle (e.g. the Fremantle Society and the Fremantle History Society). And still retained his passion for reading, for literature and for his own creative writing. His novel Many Years a Thief was published in 2007.
By any measure David had a long and interesting life marked by significant achievements in a number of fields and by opportunities to pursue his wide interests with satisfying outcomes.
David is one of those rare people we can call a true authority on Fremantle and its history. As someone once said to him, ‘David, you have forgotten more history than I will ever know!’ From the time of his appointment as Senior Curator in History at the Western Australian Museum in 1970 with oversight of what was then the Fremantle History Museum at Finnerty St, David immersed himself in the town’s past. His later activism on behalf of the History Society, his prolific research and writings and his celebrated Fremantle Walks, all contributed towards making him a local ‘identity’. His 2006 book, Fremantle Walks, published by Fremantle Press, brought his extensive local knowledge together in a highly readable format for the benefit of visitors to the city. Closely associated with a movement in the early 1990s to set up a ‘clearing house’ for Fremantle research, David became a member of the History Society and served on the Committee from 1999 until 2004. One of his major contributions was his submission on behalf of the Society to the Fremantle Prison Heritage Precinct Master Plan. Perhaps his most solid and enduring achievement, however, was his establishment in May 1996 of Fremantle Studies Day, which in turn stimulated the appearance in 1999 of the journal Fremantle Studies, to which he became a frequent contributor. He brought a scholarly standard to the work of the Society, at the same time preaching the down-to-earth virtues of community history. (Professor Bob Reece's Citation for David Hutchison’s Life Membership of the Fremantle History Society)
Renowned Fremantle historian David Hutchison died at the end of 2017. David wrote a book about the Town Hall, along with one on New Norcia, and Fremantle Walks, a comprehensive guide to the heritage of Fremantle. David set up the Fremantle History Museum, which has now disappeared.
He taught this writer Physics at Christ Church Grammar School, deflating the writer’s sole achievement after 8 years at the school – being holder of the record for the mile running race – by saying in class that Dowson had started at point A and traversed 440 yards of grass in a circular fashion four times, only to arrive back at the spot he had started from – thus achieving nothing. (Fremantle Society)
David Hutchison taught me Leaving Physics at CCGS. I was also a colleague of his when I joined the CCGS Staff. I still remember how awed I always was by the way he made up the School timetable each year before he retired and Tony Burns took it on. This was before computers were given the job. I was also awed by the way he used to compose Greek poetry in his retirement. (personal communication)
This is the bio which appears in Fremantle Studies 1, 2, and 3. Presumably, DEH wrote it himself.
David Hutchison was born in Perth in 1927, and lives with his wife June in Fremantle. He has degrees in engineering and arts, has taught physics and been an adult educator. In 1970 he became the ﬁrst Curator of History of the WA Museum. He is an Inaugural Honorary Fellow of the National Museum of Australia.
He retired in 1985 to work as a museologist and heritage consultant. Publications include a guide to Fremantle, a book about the Benedictines of New Norcia, articles, essays, and poetry and short stories - his own and translations from Modern Greek - and botanical illustrations.
Hutchison, David ed. 1969, Aboriginal Progress: A New Era? University of Western Australia Press.
Hutchison, David 1995, A Town Like No Other: The Living Tradition of New Norcia, FACP.
Chalmers, John 2001 , A Ticket to Ride: A History of the Fremantle Municipal Tramways, ed. David Hutchison, 2nd ed., Electric Tramways Society [first ed. City of Fremantle].
Hutchison, David 2006, Fremantle Town Hall: 1887-1987, Fremantle City Council.
Hutchison, David 2006, Fremantle Walks, Fremantle Arts Centre Press.
Hutchison, David 2007, Many Years a Thief, Wakefield Press. [novel about John Gavin]
Seddon, George 1972, A Sense of Place, UWAP, with botanical drawings by David Hutchison.
Hutchison, David 1999, 'Shedding light on sheds in transit', Fremantle Studies, 1: 66-76. [on the sheds on Victoria Quay]
Hutchison, David 2001, 'The loyalty of a habit', Fremantle Studies, 2: 77-84.
Hutchison, David 2004, 'The railway workshops in Fremantle', Fremantle Studies, 3: 75-87.
Hutchison, David 2009, 'A history of Fremantle Park', City of Fremantle.
Hutchison, David 2012, '"Bloody Sunday" revisited', in Paul Arthur Longley & Geoffrey Bolton, Voices from the West End: Stories, People and Events that Shaped Fremantle, WA Museum: 210-249.
Garry Gillard | New: 29 December, 2017 | Now: 12 January, 2018