Research urged for ‘treasure trove’ site

John Dowson and Shane Burke with an extract from artist Mary Ann Friend’s diary depicting the area. Picture: Martin Kennealey www.communitypix.com.au d421816
John Dowson and Shane Burke with an extract from artist Mary Ann Friend’s diary depicting the area. Picture: Martin Kennealey www.communitypix.com.au d421816

John Dowson said during his time on council an archaeology policy was set up to investigate sites such as Pioneer Park, but it was rarely called upon when making decisions such as that affecting Cliff Street.

Last year there was a proposal for a vacant block on Cliff Street to be redeveloped into a four-storey glass-fronted building, but Mr Dowson said not enough research was done into the possible archaeological treasure trove that could exist on this lot.

‘It is difficult to think of a more important historic area in WA than Cliff Street, and it is possibly the site of the encampment for the celebrated Mary Anne Friend let alone other uses when Cliff Street was one of the busiest streets in the colony,’ he said.

‘There are many layers of history over many decades and by its very nature, archaeology is invisible to most of us most of the time.

‘But when rare opportunities arise for archaeological investigations to take place on historically important sites, the council officers should do their job and use the policy,’ Mr Dowson said.

University of Notre Dame archaeology and history lecturer Shane Burke, who has taken an interest in the issue, said Fremantle was the best-preserved, Victorian-period British port in the world and that this section of the West End had a lot of history.

‘I assumed the developers would have an archaeological excavation as per the City of Fremantle’s requirements and I was looking forward to hearing about the results.

‘But as time passed and I heard that work was due to begin shortly I realised that no provision for heritage work had been installed into the site’s development,’ he said.

Fremantle planning and development director Philip St John said there was not enough evidence that the Cliff Street lot was archaeologically significant.

‘Among other things, the council needs to have reasonable evidence that the place may include contents, materials or objects that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance for the present community and future generations,’ he said.

‘It was considered that the available documentary evidence for the site did not fulfil these criteria and therefore a recommendation for archaeological investigations to be included as a condition of the planning approval could not be justified under the terms of the relevant scheme provisions and policy.’