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The Arthur Head Project:

Principles for the protection and development of Western Australia's most significant historic site

November 1983


Existing Council policy for Arthur Head - that is, the area covered by the Round House Reserve, and the land to the Reserve's west and south as far as the northern shore of the fishing boat harbour:


1. Arthur Head is a place of great historical and cultural significance to all Western Australians; the Council will seek to preserve and enhance this signi ficance.

2. Its great potential has been preserved by its lack of development; the Council will seek to ensure that this is not now lost by piecemeal projects, but rather is realised through long-term planning.

3. The southern end of Arthur Head should be carefully developed over a period of time as a 'shopfront' for the fishing industry, under an appropriate management structure.

4. The northern end of Arthur Head should primarily be an area for the restoration of the original vegetation.

5. The central area, on the Marine Terrace axis, will constitute a transition zone and provide for the principal public uses, from the Esplanade to Bathers Beach and the southern arm of the Round House promontory."

(Adopted 19/4/1982).

In the development of draft guidelines for the implementation of the above policy, two major factors have emerged.

The first is the area's importance. Existing Council policy falls somewhat short in Its statement of the significance of Arthur Head.


Arthur Head is the State's most significant historic site for all Western Australians, being the first settlement site of the Swan River Colony. It is also, therefore, an area of national importance as the focal point of European settlement of the western third of the continent. The management plan developed to implement Council policies for the area will need to give expression to that local. State and national significance.

The second factor is the area's size. Arthur Head is quite small. So in planning to give Western Australians meaningful access to their origins here, it is important to identify the crucial ingredients of that access, and not overload the proposed development.

In general terms, visitors should be able to walk easily (from a nearby car park) into the pedestrian-only area of Arthur Head, and enjoy the combination of beach, ocean, vegetation, landforms and historic building as a precinct which offers physical pleasure, relaxation, information, creature comforts and importantly - an emotional experience.

The only new structures suggested at this time for introduction into the Arthur Head area are:

* a public amenities building above Bathers Beach to the north of the pottery workshop, incorporating changing rooms, showers, toilets, and kiosk, and

* historic boat shelters, located parallel to the railway line in the vicinity of the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

In proposing ways of creating the Arthur Head precinct, it is useful to see the area as having four parts:

1. The Round House itself, and the row of cottages to its north east.

2. The northern end, from the Reserve boundary lines to the pottery workshop.

3. The Marine Terrace axis through to the beach and including the pottery workshop.


4. The fishing boat harbour, which should be seen as a ’shopfront' for the fishing industry. This paper contains no proposals for that part, but it is important that the fishing boat harbour be regarded as part of the Arthur Head whole.


It is essential to see the Round House and the row of cottages as inter-related.

As the State's oldest public building, the Round House will attract increasingly large numbers of visitors , all with their needs for information, refreshment, souveniers of their visit. Those needs cannot, and should not, be met within the present Round House structure, or by making structural additions to the building.

The adjacent cottages, formerly the pilots' quarters, should be converted, as they become available for Council use, to meet the needs of the Round House visitors, and to fulfil any other functions Council, as the Arthur Head management authority, decides.

Locating the public amenities, including historic displays, within the cottages would remove the need to provide attendant staff for the Round House continuously during opening hours. Admission should continue to be free.

The interior spaces of the Round House, freed of detailed displays, should be left to speak directly to the visitor's imagination. It is essential not to compromise the Round House's significance, and its dramatic location on the crest of Arthur Head, by using it as a museum, or as a regular venue for public events.


The limestone cliff of Arthur Head has been quarried since settlement. But the area's waterfront provides a unique opportunity for Council to offer Western Australians the chance to experience the physical reality of their origins.

Restoration of the area's original vegetation, and related landscaping, are together the most important ingredient of proposed development here. It is also necessary that a statement be made about the pre-settlement Aboriginal use of the area, and vegetation renewal is an essential visual ingredient of that statement.


The present northern boundary of Reserve 1294 is close to the alignment of the Round House tunnel. Discussions should be opened with Fremantle Port Authority concerning a rationalisation of use of some of their reserve land adjacent to the tunnel alignment. This will also allow seaward vistas from the Round House which have been degraded to be in part restored.

Fremantle Port Authority requires only emergency vehicle access through the area, so with effective landscaping and vegetation restoration it will be possible to create a fine pedestrian environment attracting use by local people.


The southern end of Arthur Head is particularly significant. It is the present, remarkably Intact, form of what Captain Fremantle described as the "little bay just around Arthur's Head, which looked clean and grassy and appeared a good place for making our first encampment." The little beach also provides the only public beach access to the Indian Ocean between Port Beach and South Beach.

The Marine Terrace axis is likely to be the principal entry point to the Arthur Head area. Visitors will walk from Marine Terrace across a proposed at-grade pedestrian crossing to the fishing harbour, the beach and changing rooms, the pottery workshop and north through the landscaping up to the Round House.

The Department of Marine and Harbours plans to begin work this budget year on extending the break-water bordering the southern end of Bathers Beach. Visually clear and convenient pedestrian access to Bathers Beach is essential, so in agreeing lease boundaries in this area it will be necessary to safeguard pedestrian access to the beach as well as guaranteeing vehicle access to the Fishermen's Co-op and the breakwater.

If it is agreed that the Western Australian Museum's outdoor display of historic boats should be incorporated in the Arthur Head area, the Marine Terrace axis is suggested as the most suitable location. Both the Museum's and Council's Interests would be well served if the Commonwealth Customs and Excise Building fronting Marine Terrace (and hiding the Maritime Museum's impressive facade) was demolished and the site redeveloped as display space for historic boats (including possibly. In time, AUSTRALIA II).



It has been suggested that the implementation of Council's management plan for the protection and development of Arthur Head should be Council's first priority Bicentennial project.

However, the defence of the America's Cup off Fremantle in the summer of 1986-87 will focus an enormous amount of public interest on Fremantle.

The opportunity of implementing the protection and development of the State's most significant site in partnership with the State and Federal Governments is a prospect which deserves immediate exploration.


1. The City of Fremantle recognises Arthur Head to be the State's most significant historic site for all Western Australians, being the first settlement site of the Swan River Colony.

2. Arthur Head as the focal point of European settlement of the western third of the continent is also recognised as an area of national as well as local and State significance. The City of Fremantle recognises its responsibility to seek the involvement of the Federal and State Governments as partners in implementing the protection and development of the State's most significant historic site.

3. The City of Fremantle believes that the Arthur Head project has an important role to play in the way in which Fremantle will function as the site of the America's Cup challenge in 1986-87. The City of Fremantle believes that the protection and development work on Arthur Head should be substantially completed by the summer of 1986-87.

4. The City of Fremantle therefore requests the Western Australian Government to make a commitment now to the Arthur Head project in terms of funds, planning and powers to ensure that this unique nineteenth century precinct is effectively protected and developed to play that important role and not suffer any destructive impact from developments associated with the America's Cup challenge.

5. The principles governing the future management of the Arthur Head site are:


5.1 The City of Fremantle will protect the integrity of the Round House as a monument. It will not be used simply as a public building or in any way which tends to lessen its local, state and national significance.

5.2 The land and waterfront below the Round House will be developed to allow the physical realities of the colony's origins to be experienced. Pedestrian access and vegetation renewal are the key elements to this development.

5.3 Visual clarity and convenient pedestrian access to the little beach on the southern arm of Arthur Head will be developed. This is a particularly significant part of the area, being the present, remarkably intact, form of the grassy, clean beach where Captain Fremantle in May 1829 established the colony's first encampment. The little beach also provides the only public beach access to the Indian Ocean between Port Beach and South Beach.

5.4 The southern arm of Arthur Head, including the beach and the built environment of the fishing boat harbour, will be developed for public use in a way that expresses the area's nineteenth-century function as a port.

Adopted by the Fremantle City Council on 21.11.83 (Item 616)

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