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Smelter's camp, Robb Jetty

Smelter's camp

‘Nestling in the hollows of the sand dunes beyond the partly-demolished buildings of the old Fremantle Smelting Works is a motley collection of tenements, the existence of which is probably unknown to thousands of metropolitan dwellers. A less-inviting prospect as a permanent home-site would be difficult to conceive; yet men have lived there for as long as twenty years.’

The following is an extract from The Smelters Camp Research Project, produced by Julie Raffaele in 2019. The full project can be downloaded below.


Corrugated iron hut at Fremantle smelters camp, 1953 [picture]
The land area to the base of where Robb Jetty later stood was known as Robb’s Ground, having been once owned by Captain George Robb and later acquired by the Manning family.

The coastal area, bookended by South Beach to the north and Jervoise Bay to the south, featured explosives magazines, a quarantine station, various industrial establishments including meat processing abattoirs, fellmongers and the smelters, Newmarket and Coogee Hotels, a lighthouse, the Coogee lime kilns and later, the power station.

History of the camp

Informal camps existed in several Perth and Fremantle locations, with many expanding traditional indigenous camping areas, and the Smelters Camp also provided a home for miners, stockmen, itinerants, travellers and migrants. The camp was a symbolic microcosm of changes in society and along this coastline.
With earliest published European-descendent residence specifically at the Smelters Camp currently around 1898, but undoubtedly preceding this, and continuing beyond the official demolition of the camp in the late-1950s, the extraordinary lifespan of the Smelters Camp can possibly be attributed to the original Crown Land ownership inhibiting possible action by local councils, and the acquiring of land during wartime by the Australian Federal Government.

Government land takeover

In 1916 the Commonwealth Government acquired land at Cockburn Sound for ‘defence purposes’, including all parcels of land compromising Clarence town site; with detailed descriptions of the boundaries but including land in the vicinity of Hamilton Road, Koojee lake, Rockingham Road, Russell Road and Jervoise Bay, but only to the high water mark at Cockburn Sound, and ‘saving and excepting all reserves, Government roads and Crown Lands.’
Woman outside permanent tent housing, Coogee Beach 1950 [picture]
Then in 1928, part of the land west of the railway reserve (where Cockburn Road now lies) was transferred to the State of Western Australia and part-leased. The Commonwealth recognised at that time that the compulsory acquisition in 1916 required a payment of compensation, but without interest to the total of rental rate (£964 15s. 6d.), as a condition of the return of the land, ‘being no longer required for any public purpose.’ Part of this land comprised the Explosives Reserves 8907. A similar acquirement of land occurred during WWII.

Shanty home at Fremantle smelters camp, 1953 [picture]
Flotsam house, Robb Jetty, 1947 [picture]
Iron roofs and walls at Fremantle Smelters camp, 1953 [picture]

Read the full report below, reproduced here with permission of the author. Text on this page along with the document remain copyright Julie Raffaele, 2019.

Smelters Camp Research Project




City of Cockburn
Whadjuk Boodja
9 Coleville Crescent,
Spearwood 6163

Po Box 1215, Bibra Lake DC,
Western Australia, 6965

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Cockburn Nyungar moort Beeliar boodja-k kaadadjiny. Koora, yeyi, benang baalap nidja boodja-k kaaradjiny.
Ngalak kaadatj dayin boodja, kep wer malayin. Ngalak kaadatj koora koora wer yeyi ngalang birdiya.

City of Cockburn acknowledges the Nyungar people of Beeliar boodja. Long ago, now and in the future they care for country.
We acknowledge a continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to the Elders, past, present and emerging.