The Wooden Streets of Fremantle Part 2
The top photo shows Phillimore Street today, with works halted, so archaeological finds discovered can be assessed - possible historic wooden boxed conduit.
The Water Corporation Pipes project is replacing cast iron pipes dating back to c1890. They have lasted longer than the wooden blocks which covered the streets above them - High Street wooden blocks were laid from 1895, Mouat and Cliff Streets in 1903.
Very little of the streets of wood remain, but talk of wooden streets in Australia goes back before Western Australia was even settled.
Wooden Streets in 1826
The very day, 2 December 1826, that the Hobart Town Gazette reported Major Lockyer visiting for a supply of water on his way to form a settlement in Albany, the newspaper discussed the use of timber on roads in Europe: "We should remark here the practice in Vienna, and other cities of the Continent of Europe, where open courts and blind alleys are usually paved with blocks of hard wood."
In 1839 The Colonist (9 February) recommended wooden streets for Sydney, reporting that merchants in the world's most famous shopping street, Oxford Street, were so keen to have wood paving, they offered to pay for a section themselves. They turned up at a council meeting with a New Yorker who attested to the success of wood paving on Broadway, "the greatest thoroughfare in America."
The satirical Punch magazine thought London's streets in 1846 were such a mess they were fit for a steeplechase: "The grand fun of a steeplechase seems to consist in the risk people run, and the difficulty they encounter in urging their horses across yawning chasms, and other kinds of obstacles." Drivers "if their horses will gallop fast enough, would induce them to plunge without hesitation into the midst of sewers and gas pipes, or to go bounding over lumps of granite, blocks of wood, and every other obstacle which the paving, lighting, and watering authorities are constantly offering to the traffic of the metropolis."
1862 Governor Hampton Arrives in WA
It took John Hampton, Governor of WA 1862-1868, to get wooden roads in WA. He had seen them in Canada, and ordered three miles of Stirling Highway to be paved as a test. Convicts cut down 300 year old jarrah trees and made 30cm thick discs, later to be known as "Hampton's Cheeses."
Hampton also paved parts of the road to Guildford, which followed a well worn Aboriginal track, and the Albany Road, with wood. A section of the Guildford Road timbers (now Great Eastern Highway) in Belmont were discovered in 2012. The mayor proudly announced that his council was "committed to preserving its history", so 6 of Hampton's Cheeses have been moved and will one day be displayed (moving heritage is the last thing that should be done in such cases).
The use of Western Australia's precious "Swan River Mahogany" for mundane purposes like sleepers and wooden streets, exploded in the 1890s, and 90% of our great forests have gone to the ends of the earth.
Fremantle's Wooden Streets
In Fremantle, after new water mains, the ones now being replaced, were installed, High, Cliff, and Mouat Streets were paved with wood. The intersection of Mouat and High was regarded as the busiest in Fremantle, and indeed one of the State's busiest. In 1910 Millar's Karri and Jarrah Company (1902) Limited asked council for specimens of the 9" x 6" x 3" wood blocks laid there in 1897, in connection with tenders the company was lodging for orders outside the State. The wooden blocks were found to be "practically as good as new."
Last week The Fremantle Society reported that numerous blocks in this same area had been rediscovered.
The discovery is a highly significant scientific find in a world class heritage town. It vividly tells the story of what has gone before.
The Fremantle Society will do whatever it takes to get these blocks conserved where they are. and presented to the public where they are, through a covering of bullet proof glass and with detailed interpretation .
The project should begin now, not in the future, when people have forgotten where they are.
A fund for $50,000 will be aimed at. How much will you contribute?
The Fremantle Society
30 July, 2020