Power to the people

LINDSAY LOVERING was Healthway’s inaugural arts program manager and more recently Musica Viva’s WA manager. In 2009 he was the recipient of the National Arts and Health Leadership Award and in 2010 was a finalist in the WA Citizenship of the Year Awards for his contribution to Arts and Entertainment. 

IT appears the state government has given interested parties a couple of weeks to submit tenders for the development of the South Fremantle Power Station … really, after 36 years lying dormant there’s suddenly a rush for development submissions?

In 2011, exactly 10 years ago, I wrote about the future use of the South Fremantle Power Station. It fell on deaf ears at the time but, given current developments, I feel that I should repeat the points that I made in my letter, as I believe they are still relevant today.  

At the time, I proposed that the Tate Modern in London should be the basis of a model for the development of the South Fremantle Power Station and I quoted the following from its website: “The redundant Bankside Power Station proved an amazing discovery; a building of enormous size; great architectural distinction; superbly sited and in a fascinating and historic, if neglected, area.

“An international architectural competition was held, which over seventy architects entered, including some of the world’s most distinguished, to develop the building that is now one of the cultural icons of the world. 

“The Tate Gallery London now rates third in the list of the world’s most visited art museums and the most visited in Britain”. 

There are two examples of redundant power stations being converted into museums in Australia – the Powerhouse in Sydney and the Powerhouse in Brisbane and both provided electricity to the tram network in their respective cities. 

If converted, the powerhouse in South Fremantle could:

• Be serviced by light rail from Fremantle to Cockburn; 

• Be the long-term home of the film studio currently planned for Fremantle Harbour (the site of which, in the opinion of some in the film industry, will not suitable to grow and house all the required resources); 

• Display private and public art works, currently in storage and include flexible performing art spaces and art forms such as decorative arts, science, technology, communication and media arts; 

• Be the home of an Aboriginal culture centre;

• Include galleries, cinemas, theatres, studios and workspaces for the practise and promotion of the contemporary arts and house facilities for the development of youth arts;

• Be a centre for residencies and fellowships in all art forms including writing, music composition, theatre, dance and cultural research.

In addition, the land in the surrounding precinct could be used to promote environmentally sensitive and tech-savvy start-ups, instead of high rates…sorry high-density apartments.  

I am proposing a ‘Tate Modern’ on the site of the South Fremantle Power Station. We cannot underestimate the incredible potential and benefits of the arts in today’s world. 

It is a well-known fact that millions of tourists come to Australia to visit the Sydney Opera House (10.9 million annually to be precise). It’s regarded as one of the world’s most iconic buildings of the 20th century and one of the few buildings that is instantly recognisable in just about every country in the world.  

The Sydney Opera House was also the subject of an international architectural competition that attracted 233 designs submissions from 32 countries around the world. And, by the way, the Opera House was constructed with funds raised by a lottery! 

Could we not do the same with the South Fremantle Power Station?

Another inspiring and more recent example in Australia is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, financed by David Walsh, a private individual who is passionate about the role of the arts in today’s world. MONA has increased tourism in Tasmania by almost 20 per cent and has had a significant effect on the Tasmanian economy. It has even led to the introduction of the term “the MONA effect” in that it has transformed the way Hobart sees itself and the way the world sees Hobart. 

The people of Fremantle and Cockburn and indeed of WA should demand that the South Fremantle Power Station remains a public asset and is not be given to an entity cosy with the current government that provides a convenient but short-sighted solution.    

The bureaucrats and politicians who are involved in any decision on the future of the South Fremantle Power House will be held accountable by future generations. 

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