Fremantle Stuff > buildings > Stateships Building. See also Pioneer Park. And see the Pioneer Park Reserve plan, 2009. I'm calling it the Stateships Building because that's what it was for twenty years.

Stateships Building

The 1921 two-storey limestone building in Pioneer Park, the only building on the north side of Short Street, was occupied by the State Shipping Service Office 1955-75, and then the Fremantle Art Gallery 1978-87 - when it was closed and the collection notionally moved to the Fremantle Arts Centre. It is currently the home of the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.

A building in a public park - especially when it is the only one - should function in relation to its environment. This is a very ordinary commercial building from only a hundred years ago. It is not a goldrush building like most of those in High Street. It is facing the wrong way: the rear of the building extends into the park. It has major structural faults, which have recently had to be repaired by giving it an 'exo-skeleton' - a functionalist sort of scaffolding on the outside of the building - apparently designed to keep it standing up. It should be removed - as was planned in the 1970s - and something more suitable for one of Fremantle's major public parks planned.

See (a propos) the Pioneer Park Reserve plan, 2009.


The former Stateships building is owned by the City of Fremantle, and currently leased to the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre. In 1975 the government agreed to the request of the City Council and of the Fremantle Society that the building be removed in favour of open space. See a brief note apparently to that effect in the Fremantle Society newsletter. Demolition is also mentioned in the Heritage Council notes (see below).

The building was not removed because the Council decided in 1978 that it needed an art gallery. However, there is no now Fremantle Art Gallery. There is a room in the Fremantle Arts Centre (Asylum) supposed to be dedicated to the Fremantle Art Collection, but that space is usually given over to a visiting exhibition. (There is another room called the Kathleen O'Connor Gallery which also typically houses part of the current temporary exhibition.) All c. 1700 artworks owned by the City (many donated) are currently in store.

The Stateships building could be removed so that the whole area could be public open space, as was intended in 1975. Now that it has been 'repaired' (see below) this is unfortunately less likely.


This article in the Fremantle Herald does not reveal what 'Ruffy' is, nor in what sense the building got a 'roof' when in fact the problem was in the basement and was solved by putting a new structure against the outside walls, apparently to hold the building up.

The opening of the Fremantle Art Gallery at the vacant State Shipping Service building 1978 came at a time when the Collection had no dedicated exhibition or storage space nor curator responsible for its care. Managed by the Arts Centre for nine years, the Gallery represented a step up for the Collection in providing a centrally located exhibition venue and permanent home. Its closure in 1987 was a blow to the profile of the Collection, ushering in a period that saw the Collection fade from the public consciousness. Lispcombe: 22.

As none of the Collection is now on view, it seems that it has once again faded from the public consciousness - this time even more completely.

stateships gallery

Photo Noel Doyle (Studio Ten), 1976, courtesy of Fremantle Library Local History Collection image #915. In 1975 the State Shipping Service moved from this building at 6 Short Street to another building in Short Street and the property was vested in the City of Fremantle. It was then decided to convert the building to an art gallery. The Fremantle Art Gallery was opened 10.09.1978.

Note that this is the back of the building - the park, not the street, side.

stateships gallery

Photo courtesy of Fremantle Library Local History Collection image #1297D. Built c1917, the building was occupied by Payne and Humble, Customs and Forwarding Agents. In 1935, West Australian Stevedoring were occupiers and in 1938 Esperance Salt Co. used it as a bulk store. Metro Bus Co. also used the building. From 1955 to 1975 it was the head office of the State Shipping Service (formerly the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission).

Again, this is the back of the building on the right of the photo - the park, not the street, side.

The building was constructed as a commercial building in 1921. It is a two storey limestone building with a corrugated iron roof, constructed in the Federation Free Classical style of architecture. The building was used as the State Shipping Service Office. In 1975 it was vested in the City of Fremantle and in September 1978 it was officially opened as the Fremantle Art Gallery. In 1988 it was refurbished to specifically accommodate the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre. The building is listed on the City of Fremantle's Municipal Heritage List. Wikipedia.

State Shipping Service of Western Australia was a government transport entity created in 1912, following the Western Australian state election, 1911, with an emphasis on providing reliable transport to the North West ports of the state. It was originally known as the State Steamship Service and kept that name until 1918. From 1913 to 1918 it was controlled by the Fremantle Harbour Trust. In 1919 the name was changed to State Shipping Service. In 1979 the service name was changed to 'Stateships'. In 2005 the service ceased trading as it no longer operated any ships.
The former offices in Fremantle are now used by the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, and various artefacts from the service are housed in the Fremantle Maritime Museum. Wikipedia.

Heritage Council:
The building was constructed as a commercial building for the State Shipping Service, which moved to a new building c1975. The building was due for demolition when it was vested in the Council in 1975. It was then converted into the Fremantle Art Gallery in 1978, using $40, 000 of Council funds.
This place received a Fremantle Award in 1980.
The building is managed by the Dept of Culture and the Arts and has housed the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre since 1985.
Currently (2013) Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.
Physical Description
Three storey including a basement, rendered building with a parapet and corrugated iron roof, set in Pioneer Reserve. The façade has engaged pilasters, a decorative parapet and a pediment where a shield and 'Established 1859' appears. The front entrance has decorative scrolls above the French doors; an addition to the east side of the building has another entrance.
Statement of Significance
The place is of historic significance as an example of a commercial building in the Old Port City of Fremantle dating from the gold boom period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The place is significant because, when viewed from the street, it is a substantially intact example of a commercial building which contributes to the very significant Old Port City of Fremantle. The place is a significant landmark in the Old Port City of Fremantle. Social significance as the home of the Spare Puppets Theatre since 1985.

References and Links

Grant, Steve 2018, 'Ruffy gets a roof', Fremantle Herald, 13 April - as above.

Lipscombe, André 2008, Fertile Ground: Fifty Years of the Fremantle Art Collection, Fremantle Press.

Wikipedia page

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre website

Heritage Council.

Fremantle Society newsletter: two notes from 1974 and 1975 supporting the idea of the removal of the Stateships building.

Garry Gillard | New: 8 May, 2016 | Now: 22 August, 2022