A Perth City Council director is recommending that $500,000 be spent on demolishing and replacing a brick toilet block to deter Aboriginal people largely from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions from camping in Wellington Square.
In a report to his political masters, City Services Director, Gary Dunne, acknowledges Wellington Square has a long history as a meeting place for Aboriginal people.
“This pre dates European settlement when the area consisted of a chain of streams, swamps and lakes which were used as a source of food and water as well as a camping area by Aboriginal people,” Mr Dunne advises.
Pre colonisation, the Aboriginal people to whom Mr Dunne refers would mainly, if not exclusively, have been local Noongar people, not visitors from the Kimberley or Pilbara.
Mr Dunne reports that regular complaints of antisocial behaviour in Wellington Square from apartment-dwelling newcomers to the area increase significantly during the warmer months of the year.
“In recent years there has been an increase in the development of residential apartments in East Perth and the surrounds of Wellington Square,” Mr Dunne reports.
“With the increase in residents living near Wellington Square there has been an increase of the number of complaints received.
“The complaints cover a range of antisocial behaviours include drinking alcohol in Wellington Square, fighting, trespassing on private property, leaving bodily waste in public and on private property, noise complaints and general harassment of passers- by and residents in their own property, sleeping rough in the park and constant litter of food packaging and bedding that has been provided by charitable organisations.”
Mr Dunne reports that: “the city has received two petitions and numerous complaints from residents about the antisocial behaviour they endure on a daily basis”.
LOCAL CLUBS OBJECT
Two local organisations who do not want the wrecking ball brought in are the Rotary Club of East Perth and the East Perth Cricket Club who use the block to store gear.
The Rotary club’s Mike Penny has told the council that “if the toilet/change rooms were to be demolished it would seriously impact on the future of our fundraising events as there would be nowhere to store all our items”.
“We would ask that the City of Perth seriously consider not demolishing the toilet/change rooms in Wellington Square,” Mr Penny has beseeched.
The East Perth Cricket Club uses two change rooms in the TARDIS-like building (pictured) as change rooms, and to store practice nets, a barbecue, fridge and chairs.
Club president Sami Nayeem has told the city that bowling the dunny block will have a significant impact on the cricket club which would then have no shower or change room for the players, no storage for its cricket equipment, no shelter from the weather and no security for players’ bags and valuables during the cricket games.
“Wellington Square has a strong history of use as sporting venue and it would be sad if these facilities were demolished,” Mr Nayeem laments.
Mr Dunne advises that if: “the rooms were removed then there would be some significant inconvenience to the East Perth Cricket Club and the Rotary Club East Perth”.
“There is no immediate replacement storage that could be offered to the Rotary Club East Perth but they may be able to obtain some inexpensive storage elsewhere as the location on Wellington Square is not essential to their club,” he suggests.
Part of the $500,000 Mr Dunne has budgeted to bowl the block and replace it with a high-tech, self-cleaning toilet includes building a small storage room for the cricket club.
DIALYSIS BY ANALYSIS
State member for Perth, Eleni Evangel, herself a former Perth city councillor, has formed a Wellington Square Working Group.
In a letter to the council in October Ms Evangel declared: “it is important to note that the removal of the existing Wellington Square toilet block and its replacement with self-cleaning units at each end of the square was raised by workshop participants including Inspector Craig Parkin (WA Police), representatives from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and Citizen Advocates at Wellington Square group representative, Mr Greg Johnson”.
“This larger than average facility is viewed as a gathering place for park occupants and therefore a central source of problems,” Ms Evangel wrote.
The working group has noted that campers in the park are related to patients who travel to Perth kidney dialysis treatment at nearby Royal Perth Hospital.
In August last year, state health minister Kim Hames promised that renal dialysis services would be established closer to where patients live in regional Western Australia.
Dr Hames said that in the Kimberley region the government was arranging additional dialysis treatment facilities to care for an extra 44 patients a year by 2016/17. He promised that new facilities in the Pilbara would accommodate an extra 16 patients by September 2016.
Dr Hames noted that “this investment will reduce the number of people traveling to Perth from remote areas for dialysis, and thereby reducing the number of people likely to be frequenting Wellington Square”.
EXCREMENT, LITTER AND ART
Mr Dunne advises that Wellington Square and surrounding areas are often littered with bedding, leftover food and food containers distributed by not for profit groups.
He says that residents and businesses have complained about the “constant litter” and the city’s waste collection team has confirmed there is an increase of litter during the busy summer months.
Residents have also complained that excrement has been left around their properties.
In response, the city trialled leaving the toilets open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But business groups complained that leaving the toilets open encouraged campers to stay on Wellington Square.
The city then decided to close the toilets at 8.00pm and reopen them at 7.00am daily.
In her letter in October, Ms Evangel said: “The overnight closure of this toilet block recently implemented by the city is not viewed as a sufficient solution to the existing issues.”
She urged the council to replace the dunny block with two self-cleaning ones at the north and south of the park.
Ms Evangel also suggested that redesigning Wellington Square could: “provide an opportunity to better recognise the cultural significance of the area for Aboriginal people through a community art project or similar initiative”.
Despite recommending that the block be bowled, Mr Dunne notes there is “no guarantee” the demolition will diminish antisocial activity in the area.
“This is a very large reserve and the removal of the toilets/change rooms may disperse some of the people from gathering on the Hill Street side of the reserve but again there would be no guarantee of this,” he explains.
“It is questionable exactly how beneficial the removal of the old toilets/change rooms, as requested by adjacent residents, the police and the Member for Perth, will be in reducing the antisocial behaviour of people who are mainly Aboriginal people from regional areas of the state who visit Perth for a range of reasons including medical treatment.”
A Perth city planning committee will consider Mr Dunne’s recommendation on January 27.