Fremantle’s Henderson Street Warders’ Cottages (Opinion Piece by John Dawson)

Warders' Cottages Fremantle image

40 years ago a senior planner Richard Gray said of the Fremantle Prison complex: “The whole Establishment will in time be the most important and interesting feature of the City”.  Unfortunately, 22 years ago the Member for Fremantle Jim McGinty excised the cottages from the prison and sold them all to the Department of Housing. Here we are in 2013, with the 15 Henderson Street ones empty, boarded up, and derelict.

The National Trust did a due diligence report which recommended:
a) $6 million is needed immediately for restoration works.
b) Future ownership should be directly associated with the Fremantle Prison.
c) All the cottages should have a single ownership and be used for accommodation.

Fremantle Council have now been given the cottages on the basis that the mayor said they
had $6 million to do them up.

This could be a good news story, with the mayor trying to do the right thing. But, the question is, based on Council’s poor track record looking after its own properties, will the right decisions be made about these important cottages and will the National Trust report be closely followed? Council cannot even paint its own flag poles, too often goes way over budget, and when it does authorise heritage projects, they take years longer than they should. It took Council officers three years to light one building- the Moores building, on a budget of $50,000.

The significance of the cottages is amplified because they are terrace housing, not individual cottages, and as such are amongst the earliest surviving terrace houses in Australia. The oldest terrace housing in Melbourne for example is said to be the 1853-4 Glass Terrace.

The first six residences (19-29 Henderson Street) were built in 1851, with all 15 completed by 1858. They are therefore of national significance for their age, let alone their long association with the prison, itself now the only built place in Western Australia on the World Heritage list.

The three blocks of terrace housing fronting Henderson Street were the first buildings erected by the Convict Establishment. Urgently needed, they were built without permission from

The $6 million needed for restoration is not a figure required in the distant future. It is the cost of doing them up properly now as one major project. Because of their frugal layout and construction, they will not meet building codes required for public or low cost or long term housing without irreparable damage being done inside and out.

Fremantle Prison should be fighting to get these buildings back, but they aren’t, even though the cottages are the gateway to the prison, and exist in the prison’s World Heritage buffer zone. Questions need to be asked at the highest level as to why a World Heritage property like the Prison is so lacking in interest. After all, the cottages were run by the prison for 140 years.

Questions also need to be asked about the Department of Housing’s failure to maintain heritage properties in their care. Does heritage listing mean nothing? What other heritage properties are they neglecting?

There is $6 million worth of neglect to be addressed. Why on earth does the mayor of Fremantle think that the ratepayers of Fremantle should have to foot the total bill because a government department has failed to do its job?

The cottages are too important to be left empty for arsonists to do what was done to the
National Hotel. Sensitive restoration will provide Fremantle with prime inner city location
accommodation of great character- 160 year old cottages half a century older than the rest of gold rush Fremantle. What a gold mine!

inside warders cottages

A public meeting on this and other issues will be held on Tuesday 23 April at 7pm at Tannock Hall, University of Notre Dame, Cliff Street, Fremantle.



16th April, 2013

by John Dowson

(former Deputy Mayor and former President of the Fremantle Society, and author of four books on Fremantle)


tel (61 8) 9335 2113


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2 Responses to Fremantle’s Henderson Street Warders’ Cottages (Opinion Piece by John Dawson)

  1. Paul Bridges says:

    Hi John,
    In answer to one of your questions in your noble campaign to save the Fremantle Prison Warder’s cottages being:

    Questions also need to be asked about the Department of Housing’s failure to maintain heritage properties in their care. Does heritage listing mean nothing? What other heritage properties are they neglecting?

    I would like to nominate the 10 married quarters at Artillery Barracks c1913 on the corner of Cantonment and Burt Sts.
    These were sadly neglected by the Department of Defence and now by the Department of Housing.
    These are suitable for accommodation with a heritage refit.
    They are currently being demolished by neglect and not being restored on their 100th anniversary.
    Keep up the good fight.
    Paul Bridges
    Former Deputy Curator, Army Museum of Western Australia
    Former campaign coordinator to Save the Artillery Barracks
    (& still banned from the site for winning the campaign)

  2. Hi John

    I’ve been involved with many construction and restoration projects over the last 20+ years.

    Museums, Defence, Dept Housing & Works and many other Govn projects as well.

    It is always the $$$.

    I would like to nominate nearly every Govn building built around the same time – without our history intact, we are just letting it blow in the wind, and eventually disappear. Considering the blood, sweat and tears involved with each and every building, this is the saddest thing I’ve seen the Govn do in decades. Life is not about office towers and glass icons. Life is what we are given, by our ancestors. And we leave it to waste. Piss poor management.

    Look after what we have, and you never need to spend money on new stuff.

    Quality over quantity, every time/

    Keep up the good fight

    Stuart Norton
    Corrosion & Metals specialist

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