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lunatics, artists & submariners

a history of the fremantle arts centre site


COVER IMAGE: FREMANTLE LUNATIC ASYLUM, 1897. PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY

“Don’t you let them demolish this building! It is the most marvellous example of colonial gothic architecture in Australia.” - Chairman of the National Trust of Great Britain, 1963

2 VIEW OF COURTYARD BEFORE RESTORATION, 1970. PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY


FREMANTLE ASYLUM CA 1870. COURTESY BATTYE LIBRARY, W.P. CLIFTON COLLECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS

introduction The imposing Neo-Gothic building in which Fremantle Arts Centre is housed has a fascinating and varied history spanning more than 150 years. Starting its life in the 1860s as a convict-built lunatic asylum, this evocative limestone building has also served as a US Navy Submarine depot during WWII, a Women’s Home, a technical college and a museum. The building was also the focus of one of WA’s first heritage struggles. Before the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum was built in the 1860s, Aboriginal Nyoongar communities inhabited the coastal plains of the Swan River region. Known as Walyalup, the Fremantle land, water ways and coastal environment holds strong spiritual relevance to Nyoongar people. When Europeans arrived in 1829 the land and Aboriginal people’s lives changed dramatically. Nyoongar people today have rich and continuing traditional links with the land. For the past 40 years this site has been home to Fremantle Arts Centre, a vibrant creative, community hub which presents a rich program of contemporary art exhibitions, live music, art classes and events.

Building Timeline & Contents Fremantle Lunatic Asylum

1861-1908

P2

Women’s Home + Maternity Training School

1909-1942

P5

US Naval Submarine Depot

1942-1945

P6

Fremantle Technical School

1946-1968

P7

Threat of demolition, Restoration

1958-1970

P7

Maritime Museum 1970-mid 1980s p8 Fremantle History Museum

1970-2009

p8

Fremantle Arts Centre

1973-today

p8


fremantle lunatic asylum In the 1850s Fremantle and Perth was a growing colony with a population nearing 8000. Mentally ill convicts were housed in temporary depots but overcrowding created the need for a more permanent solution and the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum was proposed. Construction began in 1861, and took four years of convict labour to complete. The asylum contained sleeping wards, dining rooms, exercise yards, a wash house, kitchens, eight 2.7 x 2.3m cells, staff quarters and a 1.8m tall wall that divided the building into male and female wards. Padded cells abutted the building near where the concrete couch in the Front Garden stands today. The building initially housed 58 free and convict inmates - 33 men and 25 women. What constituted insanity in colonial Fremantle differed greatly from today’s knowledge and understanding of mental health. It was common for any form of perceived social deviancy, be it criminality, poverty, depression, alcoholism, mental illness or activities then considered sexually deviant to be labelled ‘lunacy’. Tragically, the asylum also housed women who were interned or simply abandoned by their husbands or families for behavior that would not be considered as a mental illness today. For example, one patient’s epilepsy was diagnosed as a form of dementia, and several Japanese prostitutes were admitted by their Goldfields ‘owners’ after contracting venereal disease. Asylums like Fremantle’s veiled these ‘outsiders’ from public view. Originally built to house patients from Fremantle Prison, the asylum’s penal origins strongly influenced patient treatment. Patients were referred to as prisoners and were locked into the guarded grounds. Incoming patients had their heads shaved and were given second hand prison uniforms and blankets patterned with convict ‘bread arrow’ symbols. Patients also varied greatly in age, with reports of one patient being nine years old. With no active therapy, very few of these patients had their symptoms improved and many stayed for 20 to 40 years or until they died.

daily life in the asylum Patients at the asylum adhered to a ‘normalised’ daily routine of work and recreation. Men baked, cut firewood and pumped water. Women ran the washhouse, laundering garments for the asylum and nearby prison. Cards, chess and reading provided entertainment and regular performances were put on by local musical societies. There was a Fremantle Asylum Cricket Team and two religious services a week. VIEW OF ASYLUM FROM THE BUSHELL’S BUILDING. C1940. PHOTOGRAPHER: I. N. BRANSON. PICTURE COURTESY COF LIBRARY

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architecture In 1861 the initial Northern wing of the asylum (today on the corner of Finnerty and Ord St) was built largely from locally sourced materials and by convict labour. The walls were made using limestone blocks quarried from where the Fremantle Prison stands today. Iron hooks and nails were made in the prison workshop, sheoak roof shingles were hand split and the floorboards made from local Jarrah. In 1886 a £555 extension of the asylum was contracted to Perth brothers Robert and Arthur Bunning, who submitted their tender half-jokingly while awaiting a ship’s departure, and afterwards stayed in WA to found the Bunnings empire. Constructed over three decades, the building represents a highly original and eclectic combination of styles. Gothic and Jacobean detailing is visible in the original North Wing, in its West-facing cloisters, dormer windows and the decorative finials rising above the roof. After 1885, renowned WA architect George Temple Poole designed several expansions which emulate the original Victorian appearance, but in a more modest, English cottage hospital style. This simplicity is reflected in the building’s strong, vertical lines and the high-pitched gables. The building has been described as a ‘romantic’ revival of hybrid Gothic styles and bears a wonderful relationship to Fremantle’s historic West End and the nearby Fremantle Prison. Overlooking the ocean, yet removed from the town, the asylum was thought to be a scenic and healthful environment for the insane. Lunatics would remain at a distance from ordinary colonial life, an assurance to those who had come to suspect Perth was becoming a dumping site for the criminally insane. The high-security complex featured locked doors, barred windows and an encircling limestone wall topped with jagged stones. In 1968 the building restoration was lead by architect Robin McKellar Campbell. It was the first project of its kind in WA and an award-winning example of how old trades may be revived to ensure the architectural integrity of a building. Traditional masonry and even local limestone were once again used to consolidate the walls.


a famous inmate moondyne joe Joseph Bolitho John, known as Moondyne Joe, was WA’s best known and most colourful bush ranger. The son of a Cornish blacksmith, Joseph was shipped to Perth in 1853 as a convict at age 22 for stealing bread and bacon. Granted a conditional release, Joseph was soon embroiled in a horse theft, escaping with the local magistrate’s bridle and saddle, much to the embarrassment of local authorities. This began a lifelong string of arrests, imprisonments and bold escapes. By age 72, Joseph’s increasingly strange behaviour led to his arrest as a loiterer in South Perth, and his committal to the Fremantle Asylum in 1900. He passed away here later that year and was buried in a pauper’s grave no. 580A at Fremantle Cemetery.

a building unsuited for its purpose By 1898, several incidents brought the asylum under investigation. An inquiry found one nurse guilty of keeping patients awake at night by sticking them with hatpins. One male patient evaded an orderly’s watch and succeeded in hanging himself from a barred window.

A special committee condemned the Asylum in 1900 as a building unsuited for its purpose due to overcrowding, insufficient staff and the inability to separate docile from dangerous patients. By 1908, all patients were relocated to a newly built facility in Claremont.

4 COVER IMAGE: FREMANTLE LUNATIC ASYLUM, 1897. PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY


THE OLD WOMEN’S HOME, C1924. PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY

a place for women After 1909, the building became a Women’s Home. Most of the women who were housed in the South Wing were regarded as being of low social standing, among them children, the elderly, the destitute, abandoned wives and unmarried mothers. Once the women arrived, their freedoms, rewards and routines were decided by matrons. Upstairs, one old ward was ‘modernised’ (painted and carpeted) to house female wards of the state. These girls were essentially prisoners, considered beyond reform due to sexual promiscuity, venereal disease or a history of prostitution. In response to a high mortality rate in childbirth (in 1880 only 50% of Fremantle newborns survived), a midwife training school and maternity ward was set up in 1910. This ward now houses Gallery 3 (see map on p9). The plight of these women never attracted enough funding to maintain the building. Rat, termite and cockroach infestations combined with rising damp, structural collapse and poor sanitation blighted the home. By the end of the 1920s, the home was considered a worse residence than the female prison. Before World War II, the women were finally moved to Woodbridge, a former boys’ school, where conditions were no better.

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US NAVY SAILORS ON THE FAC SITE, WWII. PICTURE COURTESY

WA MUSEUM

Visit reception for a free augmented reality iPad tour recreating the FAC site during WWII

fremantle at war - the us navy move in After the fall of Singapore to the advancing Japanese during WWII, the Allied submarine fleet retreated south to Fremantle. During this time Fremantle housed the largest submarine base in the southern hemisphere. In 1942, the Asylum became US Navy Supply Depot 137 – a base for US submarine efforts in the Pacific. During WWII, 160 servicemen and 102 civilians worked at the depot which consisted of the original building and 22 temporary constructions. A movie hall was set up in the Main Gallery, a laundry building was built in the North Eastern corner of the site and a radio and radar repair shop was dug out of the front garden’s retaining wall. The depot included a pub stocked with Swan Lager, a munitions store, vehicle pool and a 24-hour coffee station. All interior walls were painted battleship grey (some of which can still been today in the upstairs Painting Studio) and the Inner Courtyard became a parade ground, replete with American flag. Personnel were quartered in hammocks strung across the Main Gallery, and a transmission room sent out the base’s call “V.I.X.O.”. During the war, Fremantle became a busy military port, hosting up to 50 Dutch, British and American submarines at a time. An assault on WA by the Japanese was considered highly likely and officers patrolled the depot with rifles, bayonets and Thomson submachine guns. Ships torpedoed by Japanese or German submarines were landed in Fremantle and men serving in New Guinea visited for R&R breaks. A brig (military prison) with four detention cells housed German and Italian prisoners of war.

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a victory for the heritage of fremantle By 1959 the old asylum had seen out three very different eras of history and the toll on the building was beginning to show. Its structure was crumbling and vandalised, its gardens littered and overgrown and its haggard exterior inspired ghost stories. Developers began to propose demolition. Further architectural degeneration was kept at bay through the 1960s by the presence of the Fremantle Technical College where young men and women from Fremantle, particularly exservicemen, came to learn trades. Reports that the building was beyond repair were met with despair by locals and authorities who saw the old asylum as an important part of Fremantle’s history. Fremantle Mayor Sir Frederick Samson called a meeting to discuss the possibility of saving the building, which began a year-long marathon of negotiations throughout which the building’s future dangled in the balance. The Chairman of the National Trust of Great Britain in 1963 weighed in, writing “Don’t you let them demolish this building! It is the most marvellous example of colonial gothic architecture in Australia”. Finally in 1967 state funding was secured to establish a museum and community arts centre in the building. Fremantle architect Robin McKellar Campbell conducted the renovations. As a result of this struggle, the building has become a symbol of the Fremantle community standing up for the protection of its heritage. FAC now serves as a key community hub and the preservation of the building remains a great victory for the people of Fremantle.

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DUNDULAS, MASTER MASON, BORN IN MACEDONIA; SAWING STONE DURING THE BUILDING’S RESTORATION. 1970 MIDDLE & BOTTOM VIEW OF COURTYARD BEFORE RESTORATION, 1970 PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY


a haven for the arts and history Fremantle Arts Centre was opened in 1973 with Ian Templeman appointed its first Director. Templeman quicky established FAC as a major supporter of literature and the arts in Western Australia and in its opening year 80,000 people visited the centre to take part in art classes and view exhibitions. A more detailed reflection on the Arts Centre’s forty year history can be found at fac.org.au/blog. The Fremantle Arts Centre Press, now known as Fremantle Press and located in Quarry Street, was established to nurture significant WA writers like Elizabeth Jolley, Craig Silvey, Sally Morgan and Albert Facey. Since the release of its first book in 1976, Fremantle Press has published more than 700 titles. Up until 2010, FAC coinhabited this building with the WA Museum. The museum operated at the site from 1970, presenting exhibitions about Fremantle and Western Australia’s maritime and immigration history. Supporting this program the Museum established a laboratory for the conservation of WA maritime archaeology. Boats were exhibited on the upper lawn and material recovered from the VOC Batavia, now on display at WA Shipwreck Museum, was preserved and treated here. Throughout the 1990s the site housed the Fremantle History Museum. The WA Museum relocated its collections from the Arts Centre site in 2009 and WA’s rich maritime history is now told at the Fremantle Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay and at the Shipwreck Galleries on Cliff Street.

fremantle arts centre today Today, FAC runs a full year round program of cultural events. Each year thousands of people visit to see contemporary art exhibitions, listen to live music by the likes of Paul Kelly and John Butler and take part in art classes and artist residencies. Pick up a What’s On guide to see what’s coming up next at FAC and how you can be involved.

8 PAUL KELLY PLAYING IN FAC’S INNER COURTYARD, 2012. PICTURE: JARRAD SENG.


how the building was used    

SOUTH SOUTH LAWN LAWN

stage stage

drawing drawing studio studio

painting painting studio studio

room 2 room 2

annex: original toilets annex: original toilets top floor common staff floor rooms common staff +topnurses + nurses rooms

meeting meeting room room

   

print print studio studio

site site key key

12 bed maternity ward 12 bed maternity ward

asylum dining room asylum dining room wwii movie hall, library +wwii rec movie hall hall, library + rec hall main main gallery gallery temp church for temp church for wwii naval base wwii naval base

cof collection cof collection gallery gallery

Inner Inner Courtyard Courtyard (Outdoor Green (Outdoor Green Room from 5pm) Room from 5pm)

matron’s matron’s rooms rooms wwii “vixo” wwii “vixo” room transmitter transmitter room

reception reception

former use former use current use current use

original building (1864) original building (1864) naval base naval baseoffice captain’s office executive executive office captain’s office f m f m room 3 room 3

matron’s room matron’s from 1872room from 1872

gallery 3 gallery 3

SOUTH SOUTH LAWN LAWN

wwii brig prison cells wwiinaval brig prison for base cells for naval base

jewellery jewellery studio studio

silkscreen silkscreen studio studio

12 bed aslyum ward 12 bed aslyum ward + training rooms +fortraining rooms midwives for midwives

female epileptics female epileptics dormitory dormitory

womens home womens home dining room dining room

cell block cell block

warder’s hq warder’s hq shop shop

Front Garden Front Garden

doctor’s doctor’s quarters quarters

women’s women’s side side

men’s men’s side side 6 ft wall 6 ft wall

9 BACK COVER: HERITAGE CAMPAIGNER GEORGE SEDDON INSPECTING THE BUILDING, 1958.

PICTURE COURTESY CITY OF FREMANTLE LIBRARY


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Profile for Fremantle Arts Centre

A History of the Fremantle Arts Centre Site  

This booklet outlines the fascinating history and varied uses of the building and grounds now known as Fremantle Arts Centre.

A History of the Fremantle Arts Centre Site  

This booklet outlines the fascinating history and varied uses of the building and grounds now known as Fremantle Arts Centre.