JONATHON DALY & TARQUIN BATEMAN
EXCLUSIVE: Labor’s alternative to the Barnett government’s controversial Perth Freight Link freeway proposal would see a heritage listed collection of 178 family beach shacks obliterated to make way for an outer harbour at Naval Base in Perth’s southern suburbs.
State Labor believes the outer harbour would resolve controversy surrounding the Perth Freight Link freeway that the conservative Barnett government is advocating to divert Fremantle-bound freight traffic from Leach Highway, but which Labor and residents along the mooted freight link route oppose.
Whether or not to build the contentious freight link through the northern suburbs of Cockburn and eastern suburbs of Fremantle is shaping as a touchstone issue ahead of the March 2017 Western Australian state election.
If it wins the upcoming Federal election, Federal Labor has promised to contribute $2 million toward planning the outer harbour, a project that would make the ageing Port of Fremantle at the mouth of the Swan River largely redundant.
Earlier this month, a Senate inquiry into the freight link recommended the Federal Government withdraw its majority $1.9 billion funding from the project and redirect funds to developing an outer harbour instead.
The inquiry, by the Labor and Greens dominated Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, unanimously supported an alternative $3.2 billion proposal by the City of Kwinana for a land-backed outer harbour serviced by road and rail.
If the outer harbour were to go ahead, much of the freight traffic that rolls down Leach Highway to the Port of Fremantle would instead access a new harbour much further south than proposed under the freight link, alleviating many of the link’s expected impacts on land and residents further north.
The land-backed harbour would be built along Challenger Beach, between the massive Alcoa plant in the City of Kwinana and the gargantuan Australian Marine Complex in the City of Cockburn.
The harbour would require demolition of 178 beach shacks at Challenger Beach, which are near, but not in, the City of Kwinana.
Today, WA Shadow Ports Minister Bill Johnston told Western Independent that State Labor was impressed by Kwinana’s Senate committee-supported proposal.
“What we say is that it seems the most sensible option but there needs to be a proper plan,” Mr Johnston said.
“This land is not owned by the shack site residents and these are the type of issues that need to be resolved by a proper study.”
Mr Johnston said a port along Challenger Beach “seems a logical location” but “without doing a proper analysis we can’t come to a conclusion”.
The holiday shacks are in the City of Cockburn, between the Alcoa plant (pictured, right) and Australian Marine Complex.
The caravan park the shacks sit on has provided a seaside break for local families since 1933.
Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett said the city did not support the land-backed port plan, but had not ruled out changes to the shacks’ lease agreements.
“[The leases] are on a five-year basis, with the option for the city to consider a further five-year option,” Mr Howlett said.
“The lease holders down there, the ‘shack owners’ for want of a better term, are fully aware that there are proposals in that vicinity.
“It may well be into the future that their leases will have to be relinquished because there is already some thought that they are too close to existing [industrial] activities.”
The Naval Base Caravan Park is on the City of Cockburn’s heritage inventory, with a ‘Category B’ listing, due in no small part to the place’s use “by generations of families from Cockburn and the wider area”.
The city’s publicly-available heritage listing states that: “In 2011, there are no immediate plans to develop the area which might cause Naval Base Caravan Park to cease operating”.
The listing says the site may also have archaeological significance, as it is near a very early European settlement established in 1830 by Thomas Peel, after whom the Peel Region south of Perth is named.
Other outer harbour options released over the past decade are for an artificial island, or a mix of island and land-backed development which would not extend as far up the coast as the site of the beach shacks.
Curtin University Emeritus Professor of Geography Roy Jones said the number of once-common shack settlements in Western Australia had dwindled to well below 50 over the past few decades.
“The majority of the shack settlements have disappeared in one way or another; either absolutely disappeared or have been transformed,” Professor Jones said.
“It is a special and distinctive Western Australian way of holidaying.
“In Australia, WA has probably had the most negative policies towards [shack sites] than all the other states.”
Shack community perspectives
Shack owner Dave Nelson, 47, today told Western Independent his family had been visiting Naval Base for three generations, and it was a big part of his life growing up.
“I remember snorkelling, diving, learning to swim down here at the vacation swimming classes when I was a kid,” Mr Nelson said.
He said he was concerned about further industrial development in the area, and did not support the idea of an outer harbour.
“[Industrial activity] seems to be growing and no one seems to care,” he said.
Shack-dwellers are also concerned about the impact the outer harbour could have on Challenger Beach and the surrounding marine environment.
Many people swim at the beach during summer, and fishing and boating are popular.
Shack owner Barry Matthews, 77, said he had been around the shacks since he was 10.
“It has been a big part of my life all the time, we’d hate to see them go,” Mr Matthews said.
“I still travel along the coast and go fishing.
“This is a good place and we don’t want it destroyed for other purposes.”
Shack owner Joseph Hill, originally from California, bought his shack in 2013 and for the past year has been renovating it entirely from recycled building materials.
“I have three boys, so I hope to have them here and have good memories of seeing them safely swim around,” Mr Hill said.
“It’s just lovely here.
“The kids can ride their bikes out front, they can go down and get lollies and hot chips.”
Mr Hill said he would be devastated if his own piece of paradise were taken away.
“I feel like I just found this place and I would just be gutted to see it go away,” he said.
“I put so much love into it.”
Roger Rickerby said his shack reminded him of being back in New Zealand.
“There are no fences so people have to talk, they get on,” Mr Rickerby said.
“You go into town, you shut the gate, pull the curtains and that is it.
“Here, you know everybody.”
Another shack aficionado, Allan Nelson, said the holiday park was a great place for kids to enjoy the coast.
“To me this is a place where everyone relaxes,” Mr Nelson said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a million quid, or nothing.
“For the life of me I can’t see why it should go, except for the almighty dollar.
“I think it is about time that stopped.”
Brenton Guy grew up amongst the shacks, and says his shack means a lot to his family.
“Just to have someone say they are going to build a port and not care about the little people is concerning,” Mr Guy said.
“Other people here have nowhere else to go.
“This is their life.
“This is their home.”
Photos by Tarquin Bateman & Jonathon Daly