Fremantle Markets- People's Palace or Murdochs' Money Machine?
This photo is the earliest one known of the iconic Fremantle Markets.
The furore over the Fremantle Markets raging now won't go away by the mayor telling aggrieved stallholders to complain to the government.
When the mayor and others voted 10 years ago to give the markets to the Murdoch family for 18 years instead of holding a public tender process, or letting the National Trust run the place as offered, the distress of the stallholders did not disappear.
So many stallholders left the markets, that a motion was put to Fremantle Council to use the Pine Warehouse building on the Spicer site in Henderson Street as an overflow market. That would have kept dozens of small businesses in Fremantle, provided healthy competition for Fremantle Markets just 20 metres away, and generated good income for the council. Then new mayor Dr Pettitt would not support that idea. Instead, we find that the tenant council put into that building has just left town, owing $88,000 in rent.
John Forrest laid the foundation stone for the markets in 1897, the same day his wife opened the Trinidad asphalt cycling track across the road at Fremantle Oval, and the same day John Forrest opened the new 1200 seat oval pavilion there, the one now in desperate need of maintenance by Fremantle Council. When the markets were opened in 1898, with John Forrest again in town, the Director of Public Works FH Piesse extolled the public benefit of the markets: "The best way in which to obtain cheap food was to encourage the producer." So began the People's Palace, where buyer and seller could benefit from an egalitarian venture. The return to the council in its first year was almost 50%, an astonishing success compared to the most recent financial figures, which reveal that of $3.12 million of rent collected last year, council only got $813,000.
In 2008 a report showed that the Fremantle Markets needed $4.75 million worth of works to do urgent works and restoration. The Fremantle Society has asked council - how much has actually been spent improving the markets since that urgent report and why is there a $500,000 debt registered against the markets?
The markets mess needs empathy from council, not disinterest. Stallholders allege they are suffering.
The People's Palace belongs to all of us, and all of us are poorer when it doesn't function as intended by our forefathers.
(image from Old Fremantle by John Dowson. Prints available from Finishing Touch Gallery)
Please note the new address for the Fremantle Society: Chris Williams, Secretary, PO Box 8160 Fremantle WA 6160
Please send donations and subscriptions ($20 individual and $30 family) to this new address.