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The development of the Port of Fremantle, Australia's Western Gateway, 1903-1939

Tull, M. (1985) The development of the Port of Fremantle, Australia's Western Gateway, 1903-1939. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.



Although Australia is the world's largest island, her economic development has been based on the exploitation of the land rather than the sea. One consequence of this has been that historians have neglected Australian maritime history and, in particular, the history of Australian ports. Ports are vital links in the transport chain and, for an island nation such as Australia, assume a special importance as gateways to the rest of the world.

The development of the Port of Fremantle, located on the edge of the Indian Ocean, provided the British Empire with a western gateway to the vast Australian continent. After the opening of the Inner Harbour in 1897, Fremantle quickly replaced its rival Albany, some 250 miles to the south, as Western Australia's premier port. However, there is, as yet, no detailed history of the Port of Fremantle. The objective of this thesis is to help rectify this deficiency by charting the history of the port between 1903 and 1939, a period commencing with the formation of the port authority, the Fremantle Harbour Trust, and terminating with the outbreak of the Second World War.

The thesis examines the evolution of the Fremantle Harbour Trust's powers and functions; the growth of port activity as measured by trade, passenger and ship flows; cargo-handling practices, working conditions and industrial relations on the waterfront; the physical evolution of the port; and the financial performance of the Fremantle Harbour Trust. The thesis reveals that port development was the outcome of a complex process of decision-making and adjustment in which a large number of organisations and actors played a part, amongst whom the most important were the Fremantle Harbour Trust, government, shipowners and importers and exporters. An attempt is made to assess whether or not the port adapted efficiently to changes in port activity. In view of its role as main controller, operator and planner, an assessment of the development and management policies of the Fremantle Harbour Trust is a major objective of this thesis.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Inquiry
Supervisor: Broeze, F.J.A. and Norris, K.
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