Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fremantle unearthed

As a child, I was fascinated by the world's ancient places, like Pompeii or Skara Brae, which brought the people who created them to life so vividly. A glimpse into what a typical Roman family did to amuse themselves is to me far more interesting than any amount of mummies or monuments.

If climate change overtakes us rather more suddenly than we expect and Freo is preserved like some marvellous Atlantis for a future generation to discover, I wonder what they'd think of us? What would the places and spaces we'd leave behind say about what we valued?

I can see future archaeologists being impressed with the level of our sociable instinct, as evidenced by the number of cafes and restaurants. Clearly, friends, family and good times are important in Freo. Equally, the number of galleries, clothes shops, bookshops and music venues we have, along with the footy oval, would hint that Fremantle was a place where art, fashion and entertainment were part of everyday life.

The ratio of office to retail space would probably suggest Fremantle was more a place for frivolity than industry, although the harbour does present a different side to the story. Likewise, our West End university lends us an air of learning and intellect - Freo's not just a place of 'bread and circuses'.

And what of the way we're governed? The good news is that apparently archaeologists measure a city not just by size or population, but by the complexity of its administrative structure, so Fremantle's sure to impress them in that respect (the only example of excessive red tape adding to a place's distinction).

The story told by our public spaces will be slightly more complex, depending on what time of day or night disaster strikes. By day, most community spaces in the city centre will seem relatively vibrant - relative, that is, to how they would appear if we're consumed by volcanic ash after dark. I can imagine archaeologists sucking their pencils and wondering why no one was spending their summer evening relaxing with family and friends in our community spaces? (Their discovery of the television set would tell only half the story.)

The actual buildings of the city centre would present another interesting conundrum. The West End would suggest that we were a people who valued our past, and were prosperous enough to place importance on our surroundings. However, a short walk east would somewhat confound this theory. I wonder what conclusions future generations would reach? Perhaps that Fremantle was a city whose fortunes had seen a recent decline? That we had enjoyed a period of expansion only to then contract - and that neglect had begun to nibble at the edges of our city?

Overall, though, I think that archaeologists would conclude that we were a pretty lucky bunch in Freo - and the books they'd write about us would be of the sort that a young boy might read at bedtime, before drifting into a happy reverie of what it would have been like to be alive in Fremantle in 2011.

Afterword: If Fremantle is suddenly fixed in time for future generations to scrutinise and lay bare, and those generations have access to computers, I would just like to make the following statement: our apartment is not always this messy. It's been a busy week, and cleaning day is Sunday, so it's starting to pile up. If the rising sea water or poisonous volcanic ash had caught us next week, you would have been impressed.

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