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Battle to save Freo s heritage celebrated
The West Australian Battle to save Freo's heritage celebrated

It was 1974 and the push was in full swing in Fremantle to redevelop - code for knocking down and starting over.

A battleground had emerged between promoters of development, including many on the council, and those keen to keep alive the heritage that contributed to the city's special atmosphere.

The fight focused on Victoria Hall on High Street, designed by renowned architect John Talbot Hobbs and built in 1897.

There were plans to make High Street a four-lane thoroughfare, and Victoria Hall faced the wrecker's ball. An auction to sell the hall was nearing conclusion.

Enter the fledgling conservation group the Fremantle Society and the Builders Labourers Federation, which announced there was a union "green ban" protecting the building. There was no sale. The heritage gem was saved.

The hall battle and the wider fight to preserve Fremantle's heritage is documented in a new book, Fighting for Fremantle, the Fremantle Society story, by Ron and Dianne Davidson.

The book recounts that "by the late 1960s Fremantle was heading for trouble". But there was a building groundswell "that reflected a serious if limited change in public attitudes about the worth of old buildings".

"New Fremantle people" were moving in for the cosmopolitan lifestyle and cheap housing.

And a new community voice emerged, the Fremantle Society, led by Les Lauder, who was determined to prevent the port city from copying the destruction of St Georges Terrace in Perth.

The authors, both members of the Fremantle Society, say the city would be a very different place but for the community's determination.

"There still needs to be vigilance," Mrs Davidson said. "The pressures for development are very high."

The book will be launched on Friday by Premier Colin Barnett.