Deja Vu - Here we go again with Victoria Hall


Notice is hereby given that the AGM of the Fremantle Society will be held Wednesday December 5th at Fremantle Tennis Club on Parry Street. Come and have a free drink at 6pm before the AGM at 6.30pm.

Further details very soon.

Members are invited to apply for any of the positions of President, Secretary, Treasurer, or committee. If you wish to apply please print off the form at the end of this email and send it by 21 November to 74 High Street Fremantle 6160 or by email to

Members will be receiving a revised copy of our constitution before the meeting to consider. There is a requirement to meet new government regulations by July 2020. A lawyer has been helping us make  changes. Our constitution we believe is basically a good one and we wish to make as few changes as necessary.

We tried for weeks to have the AGM, and a dance, in Victoria Hall, to promote the values of the hall as a community space and a performing arts venue. After securing permission and hiring a great band for you, we have now been told we cannot have access. Fly by Night have not yet handed the keys of Victoria Hall back to council, and even though they are winding up, they have a free lease on the hall till the end of January. 


Victoria Hall - Deja Vu

The mayor has made a video promoting Victoria Hall, and it features on YouTube, where it has soared to 31 views. However, nowhere does he state that he intends to sell it. In today's West Australian, again it is promoted for sale, with Fremantle Council saying it is 'proud' to be selling Victoria Hall. But, it should be ashamed. Here is why:

In September 1897 Victoria Hall, built by the Church of England, opened in the presence of the Governor. With its handsome Corinthian front and Austrian bentwood chairs it could seat about 700 people, almost equal to the Town Hall. The church had the admirable intention of providing a useful venue for community use. As the Western Mail opined: "It had been judged that with the rapidly growing population of the town and colony, society at large must, for the time being, be a community of disintegrated atoms. By providing a central rendezvous, such as the Victoria Hall was intended to be, it was hoped to gain a system of common aid and sympathy" (Western Mail 1 October, 1897).

Victoria Hall served the church and the community well for the next 100 years, despite a tough and successful battle by the Fremantle Society to save it from demolition in the 1970s.

Council's own documents state that "Historically, it is highly significant as one of the more distinguished works of the noted architect and military hero of World War 1, Lt General Sir JJ Talbot Hobbs who ranked with Monash in military achievements, in the European theatre. The hall's very name reflects the City's Victorian heritage, its most marketable cultural tourism theme. It is a landmark within this history."

But from 1985 it was being used by the Salvation Army as a second hand shop. The year before, Paula Silbert had done a report for the council reviewing the arts scene including performing arts. It established the need for a theatre and in 1987 the government bought the Old Customs House, and the Fremantle Arts Foundation under Priscilla Shorne moved in, with the Building Management Authority drawing up plans, of turning the ground floor into a theatre.

When a sale of Victoria Hall was mooted in 1996 after the Salvation Army moved out, the Victoria Hall Association rallied behind Mick Vodanovich and others to keep it for community events. They leased it and ran "Irish step dancing, ballet and tap dancing, drumming, circus skills and children's theatre, with social functions on the weekend." 

Meanwhile council under Mayor Utting and CEO Ray Glickman was distracted by a ludicrous plan to have a $20 million performing arts  box somewhere in Fremantle. No money was in the budget for it, no location could be decided for years, and no money had been promised by the government. Meanwhile, existing facilities like Victoria Hall, Princess Theatre (Market Street) and Majestic Theatre (High Street Mall) were ignored as being part of a solution. Over $500,000, and years, were wasted on a flawed plan.

Premier Richard Court had written to Mayor Utting on 11 December 1998 suggesting he forward a conservation and business plan for Victoria Hall to government which could "be used to prepare a submission for Cabinet consideration, seeking funds to purchase Victoria Hall." But, no letter was written to the government until the end of the next year!

In 2000 furniture retailer June Rae sought to purchase the hall from dance king Bill Wrightson. It had been on the market for several years with a price tag of $850,000, though the replacement cost was estimated at over $1.5 million. Tenant Deckchair Theatre, who shared the hall with the Walalyup Reconciliation Group,  were understandably upset, though Jo Fazio offered Deckchair space in his converted warehouse at 5 Beach Street, which he planned to turn into a theatre with a cider bar. Deckchair's David Gerrand was highly critical of Fremantle Council for not buying the property themselves the year before when they had right of first offer: "That's short sighted of them. They should have bought the building, done it up, placed caveats on its future use and sold it. In the process they'd have saved it for the community" (Herald Feb 2000).

Deja Vu - The Fremantle Society was back in action fighting, along with Deckchair, to prevent Victoria Hall being turned into a furniture showroom with apartments out the back, under a change of use sought by June Rae.

It was North Fremantle Councillor David Johnstone who steered a series of deferrals through council until a very close vote of 6-5 prevented a change of use. For the record, the councillors who voted to allow a change of use were Crs Douglas, Miosich, Italiano, Cinquina, and Mackay.

As Murray Slavin wrote (Herald 22 July, 2000) "This decision should be seen as a major turning point in the history of the future of the city. Even if the change of use had been limited to adding the residential units, this would have limited the future performance capacity of the remainder of the building in terms of noise and hours of operation."

That was not the end of the battle. There was an appeal to Planning Minster Graham Kierath, who promptly over- turned council's decision.

Meanwhile the Fremantle Society campaigned for:

a) Formal council assessment of the Victoria Hall Conservation plans (still not done)

b) Council purchase and restoration of Victoria Hall.

When June Rae's own plans fell through, council raided, and drained, its own heritage fund to find $680,000 to buy Victoria Hall. Deckchair had a secure home and David Gerrand can be seen celebrating in the picture at the top of the page in 2001. Council spent $2.2 million in subsequent years on restoration.

Now in 2018, Council is selling Victoria Hall with none of the caveats mentioned by David Gerrand. The hall's heritage fabric has been well looked after by heritage advocacy, but Council have been poor managers, not effectively promoting the hall as a venue for weddings or events, and unable to extract rent from the tenant they installed, the Fly by Night Club. But, by selling it without clear caveats, they are putting this acoustical masterpiece in peril.

The Fremantle Society hopes that the Church of England wins the tender, which closes on 25 November, as they have promised to keep it as a community and performing arts venue.

But developers are sniffing around, and none of them will buy it without wanting concessions for development at the rear, something the Fremantle Society fought against 20 years ago.

Deja Vu.


The Fremantle Society

Nomination Form

2108 AGM

I, ____________________________________, nominate


for the position of ____________________________(President, Secretary, Treasurer, Committee)

for 2019.


Seconder ______________________________

Signature of person being nominated _______________________________

Please return by November 21, 2018 to 74 High Street, Fremantle WA 6160

or by email to:



Copyright © 2018 The Fremantle Society, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp