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South Fremantle Power Station

'Graffiti' in 2020, photo from Fremantle Society, from PerthNow.


Photograph of a painting by Toby Leek, courtesy of the artist.

Ron Bodycoat 2004:
South Fremantle Power Station is a former electric power generating installation, located at Cockburn Sound, Coogee, south of Fremantle, Western Australia.
The installation reached full power capacity in 1954 as part of the State Electricity Commission electric power grid servicing the metropolitan region and the southwest region of the state. The power station ceased operations in 1985.

Lindsay Lovering:
[Lindsay Lovering was Healthway’s inaugural arts program manager and more recently Musica Viva’s WA manager. In 2009 he was the recipient of the National Arts and Health Leadership Award and in 2010 was a finalist in the WA Citizenship of the Year Awards for his contribution to Arts and Entertainment.]
It appears the state government has given interested parties a couple of weeks to submit tenders for the development of the South Fremantle Power Station … really, after 36 years lying dormant there’s suddenly a rush for development submissions?
In 2011, exactly ten years ago, I wrote about the future use of the South Fremantle Power Station. It fell on deaf ears at the time but, given current developments, I feel that I should repeat the points that I made in my letter, as I believe they are still relevant today. 
At the time, I proposed that the Tate Modern in London should be the basis of a model for the development of the South Fremantle Power Station and I quoted the following from its website: “The redundant Bankside Power Station proved an amazing discovery; a building of enormous size; great architectural distinction; superbly sited and in a fascinating and historic, if neglected, area.
“An international architectural competition was held, which over seventy architects entered, including some of the world’s most distinguished, to develop the building that is now one of the cultural icons of the world.
“The Tate Gallery London now rates third in the list of the world’s most visited art museums and the most visited in Britain”.
There are two examples of redundant power stations being converted into museums in Australia – the Powerhouse in Sydney and the Powerhouse in Brisbane and both provided electricity to the tram network in their respective cities.
If converted, the powerhouse in South Fremantle could:
• Be serviced by light rail from Fremantle to Cockburn;
• Be the long-term home of the film studio currently planned for Fremantle Harbour (the site of which, in the opinion of some in the film industry, will not suitable to grow and house all the required resources);
• Display private and public art works, currently in storage and include flexible performing art spaces and art forms such as decorative arts, science, technology, communication and media arts;
• Be the home of an Aboriginal culture centre;
• Include galleries, cinemas, theatres, studios and workspaces for the practise and promotion of the contemporary arts and house facilities for the development of youth arts;
• Be a centre for residencies and fellowships in all art forms including writing, music composition, theatre, dance and cultural research.
In addition, the land in the surrounding precinct could be used to promote environmentally sensitive and tech-savvy start-ups, instead of high rates…sorry high-density apartments. 
I am proposing a ‘Tate Modern’ on the site of the South Fremantle Power Station. We cannot underestimate the incredible potential and benefits of the arts in today’s world.
It is a well-known fact that millions of tourists come to Australia to visit the Sydney Opera House (10.9 million annually to be precise). It’s regarded as one of the world’s most iconic buildings of the 20th century and one of the few buildings that is instantly recognisable in just about every country in the world. 
The Sydney Opera House was also the subject of an international architectural competition that attracted 233 designs submissions from 32 countries around the world. And, by the way, the Opera House was constructed with funds raised by a lottery!
Could we not do the same with the South Fremantle Power Station?
Another inspiring and more recent example in Australia is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, financed by David Walsh, a private individual who is passionate about the role of the arts in today’s world. MONA has increased tourism in Tasmania by almost 20 per cent and has had a significant effect on the Tasmanian economy. It has even led to the introduction of the term “the MONA effect” in that it has transformed the way Hobart sees itself and the way the world sees Hobart.
The people of Fremantle and Cockburn and indeed of WA should demand that the South Fremantle Power Station remains a public asset and is not be given to an entity cosy with the current government that provides a convenient but short-sighted solution.
The bureaucrats and politicians who are involved in any decision on the future of the South Fremantle Power House will be held accountable by future generations.

Who should preserve the South Fremantle power station?

Roel Loopers

I really like the former South Fremantle Power Station. The huge 71-year-old Art Deco building has something majestic about it in it’s minimalist architecture, so I am one of many who would like the building to be preserved and activated again. But are calls for the State Government to spend big on it, now that West Media millionaire Kerry Stokes has pulled out of buying the site, realistic?
According to news report it will cost anything between $60 to $80 million just to do the necessary remedial work. The site is seriously contaminated, so it can’t be developed without trucking off thousands of cubic metres of dirty soil, to a depth one can only guess until work starts on it.
The buildings is one of only four cathedral-style power stations in the world and the largest one built in Western Australia, so it probably deserves the same kind of investment by the WA Government as the former East Perth Power Station has been given. Or are those who ask for that, such as Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett, too sentimental and nostalgic about the current neglected eyesore? Do we have to be more pragmatic about preserving our heritage?
The former Barnett Government had huge plans for the site, even adding two storeys of residential apartments on top of the building, but at the end that was put in the too hard basket, while money was spent, some say wasted, on developing Elizabeth Quay in Perth.
It seems criminal to even suggest that the heritage-listed power station building should be demolished, because it is in very poor condition, with concrete cancer and rotting steel, but just preserving it will cost so much money that it is questionable if the State Government should use tens of millions of taxpayers’ money on it, so that private developers can make a killing out of it, once the site is decontaminated.
We need bigger and better hospitals, more social housing, school improvements and paying nurses, better, etc. so would it be responsible governance to use money that might be better spent elsewhere? I have to admit I am in two minds about this and am sitting on the fence, which is very much unlike me.
This dilemma is not dissimilar to the old wooden Fremantle Traffic Bridge debate. Is it responsible governance to spend our money on retaining something that has no practical need? The State Government does not want to keep the bridge, Fremantle Council does not want the financial responsibility to have to maintain it, even as a New York style ‘Highline’ attraction, and the Fremantle Society has not found any private investors willing to buy the bridge and maintain it for some 50 years. As the former president and vice president of the Fremantle Society I sometimes ask myself if preserving heritage is more important than building homes for those who sleep rough, and if preserving the past is a bigger priority than looking after the future?
I love our heritage and wished that more WA millionaires would see it as their civic and corporate duty to invest in preserving it, but that only happens sporadically, and not anywhere near often enough, so what is the solution?
The South Fremantle Power Station site has enormous potential to become something very unique for Fremantle and Cockburn, even more so than the one in East Perth, but will the Perth-centric McGowan Government see it that way, I wonder? I doubt it. Roel Loopers.

This best example of graffiti evah:
across an enormous derelict building. Genius ... whoever it was.

References and Links

Bodycoat, R. & O. Richard 1993, East Perth Power Station Conservation Plan, vol 1, prepared for the East Perth Redevelopment Authority and State Energy Commission of Western Australia, October.

Bodycoat, R. 1994, 'South Fremantle Power Station: Heritage Assessment',
commissioned by the Department of Commerce and Trade, August.

Bodycoat, R. 1997, 'South Fremantle Power Station, Heritage Assessment Review'
prepared for the Heritage Council of Western Australia, July.

Bodycoat, R. 2002, South Fremantle Power Station Conservation Plan, prepared for Western Power Corporation, implementation section 5.6 compatible uses.

Bodycoat, R. 2003, ‘South Fremantle Power Station: Conservation Management Plan’
prepared for Western Power Corporation, June, amended November.

Bodycoat, Ronald 2004, 'South Fremantle Power Station: a heritage dilemma'Fremantle Studies, 3: 65-74.

Loopers, Roel 2022, 'Who should preserve the South Fremantle power station?' freoview, 17 September.

Lovering Lindsay 2021, 'Power to the people', Fremantle Herald, 8 July.

Heritage Council page.

Garry Gillard | New: 3 August, 2019 | Now: 24 September, 2022