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“Fremantle’s VIBE”: Politics in the Pub talk by Kate Hulett

2 July 2024

At last week’s Politics in the Pub at the Local Hotel, Kate Hulett gave s very thought-provoking speech which I asked her if could share. Enjoy.

Obviously “The Future of Fremantle” is a huge and multifaceted topic – there are many elements to this conversation which are equally important, and there are a few that I’m particularly passionate about.

God help you if I get started talking about bike paths, bike lanes, bike manufacturing, bike riding incentives – and – save your soul if I get going about green spaces, green corridors, re-wilding, de-paving, or planting trees.

And, as someone who has lived in an apartment for over half my life – if I start banging on about medium and high-density housing – 15-minute cities – or neighbourhood communities – we will be sitting here chatting about ‘the future’ until it has come and gone.

So I’m going to focus my five minute introduction on – and apologies to people who hate this word – but, on Fremantle’s VIBE.

A more professional person would call this Fremantle’s CULTURE.

I have had my shop for 11 years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been conducting an 11 year research study into Fremantle. Through the guise of my shop, I’ve been unscientifically gathering data from a broad range of unknowing participants, via thousands of conversations, with thousands of people, over thousands of hours.

I’ve learnt about their attitudes, beliefs, hopes and gripes. I’ve been interested to hear HOW people feel about Fremantle. Are they proud? Are they happy? Are they comfortable? Can they thrive?

And really, all this stuff is our CULTURE – or, for the people who don’t hate it – our VIBE.

Culture is our way of life. It’s interconnected – and includes the things we can see, feel, taste and touch.

And for me – this is what we need to consider – as really important to protect – as we grow.

Anyone in this room will know that Fremantle has an incredibly layered culture. Not to mention the original Fremantle creatives, the Whadjuk people – with their 65,000 years of rich culture – but in our more recent past – there have been decades of artists, musicians, designers, performers, architects, makers, and all sorts of other creative minds, who have called Freo home.

These people have lived and worked in Fremantle, or been attracted to Fremantle – in many cases – because property prices – both residential and commercial –  have not been completely out of control.

When you travel to other cities, you’ll notice that often, restaurants, galleries, independent shops, and other small businesses are almost always better – and more creative – in the places where rent is affordable.

And what we know for sure is — a town or a city loses its soul, when it loses the people and the businesses that once made it a great place to live.

(This is also known as gentrification).

So, I think we have to work really hard to keep the people and the businesses in Fremantle that make it unique and great. It’s not a city if there are no people.

I just want to speak for a minute about some really interesting policies in Paris which are specifically working toward this goal.

First of all – Paris has a housing policy with the guiding philosophy that the people who contribute to the culture of the city – and this includes; teachers, nurses, students, chefs, shop keepers, artists, and so on – they should have the right to live in it. The local government is working hard to keep middle and lower income residents – and the small-business owners – in the heart of the city.

This policy is aimed at preserving the character and the diversity of Paris.

As we grow, we should absolutely adopt such a policy to help enable the people who work and contribute to Fremantle, to live in Fremantle. We need to retain and attract full-time residents from a broad cross-section of society – from families to pensioners, from to students to singles.

It’s not breaking news to say that affordability is what keeps a population diverse.

Affordability keeps street life vibrant; shops open; parks active; public transport used; and schools attended by a more economically diverse group of students.

A city full of the very rich, or the very poor, or just airbnb’s – would make for a disastrous future Fremantle.

But for me, the more interesting Parisian policy is one that protects the small shops and creatives that contribute to the culture of the city.

What we’d call the daytime economy – the places open Monday to Friday – and not vape shops, or medical imaging suites, or the TAB. Think, tiny chocolatiers, cobblers, specialist bookshops, little hardware stores.

Through a retail diversity programme, Parisian officials engineer the types of businesses that can take root and survive, as they are the landlord for about 20% of the retail premises. Local businesses are very, very fragile – and the local government of Paris see these places as a social necessity that contribute to the city.

This strategy has an outsized economic benefit.

I’m sure you all know – if not I can tell you first hand –  that independent businesses are often run by people who love their job, or their cafe, or shop, or bar – more than they love money. I often say that these independent places in Freo are offering a community service – and at their own expense.

Neighbourhoods with locally run businesses can not be found in many other places in the Perth metro area. Just imagine a Fremantle filled with only chain stores, or empty shops – the long-term economic consequences of such a soulless town would be devastating.

And although I’m talking a lot about those businesses – like mine, or Remedy, New Edition, Winterwares, Bodkins, the Chart and Map shop – I want you to also think of all the people in Fremantle doing something they love, that enhances the culture and vibrancy of this place – but doesn’t necessarily make massive profits. So; artists, song writers, musicians, ceramicists, music venues, cake shops, the circus school, and so on.

Small, locally owned businesses – and those people who contribute to culture – deserve a protective and guiding hand from the local, state and federal government – through good policy.

There’s a lot more to say here – including about succession planning (whereby I can see that young people are completely priced out of the independent business market) – but I’ll leave it here to keep to my five minutes.

Thank you.


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