Thursday, 4 December 2008
I rise today to speak about Cantonment Hill, a precious jewel in the historic city of Fremantle. In 1892, Cantonment Hill was gifted by the Crown to the City of Fremantle forever ‘for the purposes of a public garden’, equivalent to the public open space of Perth’s Kings Park. However, in the lead-up to World War I, Cantonment Hill was requisitioned by the Defence department and it remains in Defence’s hands today, despite having been classified for more than a decade as surplus to requirements. Notwithstanding almost a century of Defence control and restricted access, Cantonment Hill remains of high value to the Fremantle community.
The site is significant in so many different ways: Indigenous, historical, environmental, social and cultural. It is closely associated with the development of Fremantle, with the state’s military history and with national coastal defence system development. The site has numerous heritage listings and has cultural significance for the traditional owners, the Nyoongar people, to whom it is known as Dwerda Weeardinup, or place of the Dingo Spirit. The artillery barracks house the WA Army Museum, containing the most significant collection of military items outside the Australian War Memorial.
For 15 years, Cantonment Hill has been listed as a system 6 reserve—of the highest environmental significance—by the state. It has quality remnant bushland and the last mainland stands of Rottnest Island pine. The rare orange-breasted parrots and nesting sea eagles have been sighted there. Since the first inkling in 1989 that the site might be parcelled and sold, a steady groundswell of local community support has risen to pursue the cause of keeping the land in public hands for public use.
In 1997 the Cantonment Hill Residents Action Group was formed and in 2000 the group mobilised to block sale of the hill and the adjacent artillery barracks to Notre Dame University. In January 2001, the previous, Howard government announced it would gift the site to the state and vest it with the City of Fremantle. However this did not happen, much to the disappointment of the Fremantle community. The defence department is now considering the City of Fremantle’s request for a concession sale. The city certainly could not afford to pay the market price of $1.6 million, nor should it have to, given that the land was originally gifted by the Crown to the people of Fremantle in perpetuity. The City of Fremantle intends to restore the land for public use, in particular to maintain Tuckfield Oval, rehabilitate the signal station for the purpose of making it into an interpretation centre and public lookout, create a safe public park and regenerate the native bushland.
In September I met with John Syms and Patrick Howard of the Cantonment Hill Residents Action Group. They have been steadfast community leaders in their efforts to keep Cantonment Hill as public space and they have lobbied for this cause to many before me. It is time that this issue was put to rest. It is time that this rare earth is gifted or sold at little cost back to the City of Fremantle for the public good. I am confident that this government will ensure the right outcome for Fremantle.