Exciting Find of Wooden Street Blocks in Mouat Street
Last week a substantial section of Western Australian wooden blocks was unearthed in Mouat Street. This is shown in the first two photographs, provided by Archae-Aus archaeologists of North Fremantle, overseeing roadworks for the Pipes for Fremantle project.
The streets of Fremantle were once paved with wooden blocks put down 130 years ago, but most have disappeared, and Fremantle Council was not able to provide details of what remnants exist.
The blocks have now been covered up, and council is saying: "Deciding how to best to conserve, display and interpret these items will be complicated and needs to be carefully considered." And, "The archaeologists report..... may provide us with useful information for future interpretive work on the history hidden under our streets."
Given the appalling record of Fremantle Council on heritage, these weasel words are not good enough. The previous council under Mayor Tagliaferri spent $250,000 drawing up extensive plans for a major archaeological interpretive centre in Pioneer Park for visitors to enjoy as soon as they hopped off the train, but the Pettitt council threw those plans in the bin, and 11 years later there has been no effort to do the project. The same will happen here. There will be promises of future "investigations" into what may be revealed with this wooden street section, but nothing will happen unless the public put a rocket under the pathetic heritage record of council, and get this project done NOW. $50,000 needs to be urgently allocated to find a way to:
a) uncover the wooden blocks again and undertake professional conservation.
b) find a way of revealing the blocks in situ with state of the art protective glass, and if need be, extend the footpath to protect the blocks.
c) provide signage and interpretation of this exciting and important story of what happened under our feet 125 years ago.
Given the grief caused to local businesses for months and months by the necessary but intrusive Pipes for Fremantle, an archaeological discovery like this made visible to the public would be a great drawcard and a positive outcome after so much disruption.
The Pipes for Fremantle project is itself worthy of archaeological interpretation. It has been a major project replacing most pipes, many over 100 years old. Under our feet now are state of the art water pipes for the next 100 years
Many streets around the world were paved with valuable Western Australian timber. An astonishing amount of jarrah and karri was used. So little remains.
Karri was laid in Flinders Street Melbourne as long ago as 1889.
Camberwell UK laid over 12 miles of blocks. After 10 years they were taken up, and 65% were able to be recut, and reinstalled on their 8 inch concrete base.
Similarly, just in the UK, Hamsptead, Ramsgate, Edinburgh, Newbury, Bolton, Cheltenham, Southampton, Batley, Bermondsey, Bristol, Southwark, Wimbledon, Harrogate, Cambridge, Plymouth, and Newcastle Upon Tyne used shiploads of WA timber after 1895.
Patten Barber, engineer of Islington, London, where the third photograph above was taken of remnant blocks still in the street today, stated in 1903: "Granite setts are condemned on account of the noise made by the traffic passing over them, and asphalt because of its slipperiness and the bad foothold it affords to horses, especially in starting with heavy loads. Wood is undoubtedly the material most approved of by the public, whose demand for a noiseless pavement is not likely to be relaxed. Business is impossible and residence distressing in a busy street paved with material on which the traffic produces a continuous clatter.... jarrah from Australia led to the softer wood being to a great extent abandoned. Jarrah is now in almost universal use."
But, Karri was often preferred. The Chief Engineer of Paris wrote: "Karri up to now seems to me to give very good results, much better than those of jarrah". Fulham, London agreed, adding "Jarrah and karri are shewn to be both cheaper in the end than creosoted deal, and karri the cheaper of the two."
Even when the tramways arrived with problems of inserting rails into streets, hardwoods were extolled. In 1909 Biggs & Sons Municipal Engineering stated: "Macadam is out of the question; granite is noisy; asphalt is forbidden as a tramway edging; soft wood is unsanitary and short-lived; there is nothing left, therefore, but the hardwood block for such a position."
Of millions of jarrah blocks used for streets around the world, few remain.
Showing the exciting wooden street discovered in Mouat Street to passersby is a project not expensive or difficult, given the expertise in Fremantle. Join us in raising funds. Let's get this project done, now.
The Fremantle Society
27 July, 2020
Photos: First two provided by archaeologists Archae-Aus, North Fremantle 94331127.
Photo 3: Gerry Gillard's Freo Stuff
Photo 4: Regent Street London covered with Karri blocks, from "Karri & Jarrah Timber," 1905, Dowson collection (Copyright)