The America’s Cup has long been seen as the event that changed Fremantle from a grimy port city to the bustling ‘cosmopolis’ that now attracts thousands of tourists each year.
However, 25 years on from 1987 when the America’s Cup defence was held in Freo, a Murdoch University researcher asserts the international event did not cause the metamorphosis, but merely accelerated it.
Associate Professor in Tourism Jim Macbeth said Fremantle’s gentrification was independent of the America’s Cup, as was the technology that transformed the historic port.
“That changed the nature of the residential mix, which again had a major impact in the way Fremantle developed over that time,” Associate Professor Macbeth told oneperth.com.au.
“The globalisation argument is that the America’s Cup was important, but it’s not the cause of the change.”
AMERICA’S CUP FREMANTLE
Internationally recognised yachtsman, and crew member on Australia II, John Longley agreed.
Mr Longley said said the America’s Cup accelerated public and private investment into Fremantle.
“People went ‘holy schmoly, all these people are going to come here’ and virtually within two years created a tourist infrastructure,” said Mr Longley who has lived in South Fremantle since 1975.
“The public money largely went into infrastructure, improving sewerage and electricity and certainly other things.
“The private money came into buildings – for example the Norfolk Hotel and the Sail and Anchor were run down pubs made into what they have been ever since.”
More importantly, he said, the rest of Perth discovered Fremantle was a really fun place to visit.
BIRTH OF THE CAFE STRIP
Associate Professor Macbeth has also lived in Fremantle since before the Cup.
He said that one change in the deindustrialisation and gentrification of Fremantle was the birth of the ‘cappuccino strip’ and the highest concentration of restaurants anywhere in Western Australia.
He said that, before the Cup, Fremantle council had already won awards for attracting visitors.
“All that happened was [the] speed up [that] what would have happened over 10 years happened over two years instead,” he said.
“Everything that happened was already on the drawing board.”
Mr Longley said it was easy to say the America’s Cup saved Fremantle, that the port city was in great decline, and without the Cup modern Fremantle would not have emerged.
“I think that is too simplistic and is wrong,” he said.