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South Fremantle’s historic Newmarket Hotel now a home for aspiring ballerinas

September 13, 2017

The former Newmarket Hotel at South Fremantle is now home to the Swan Ballet School. Photo: Doug Green

An historic South Fremantle pub once popular among horse trainers and abattoir workers has been lovingly restored as a hub for aspiring ballerinas.

The century-old Newmarket Hotel is the home of the Swan River Ballet Company and the pride and joy of new owners Michele and Ian Cleaver-Wilkinson.

Originally built in 1912, the hotel was the headquarters for Fremantle’s horse racing fraternity and workers from the nearby Robb’s Jetty abattoir. It had a history of colourful owners until it closed its doors and fell into disrepair in the late 1990s.

The Cleaver-Wilkinsons purchased the hotel in 2015 and set about renovating a building left all but a shell by vandals and years of neglect.

They were supported by a $100,000 WA Heritage grant designed to create renovation partnerships and reactivate derelict heritage buildings throughout the state.

On Wednesday the Newmarket Hotel filled with ballerinas and heritage industry leaders to hear WA Heritage Minister David Templeman announce a new round of heritage grants, and celebrate the success of the renovation project.

Ian and Michele Cleaver-Wilkinson, the owners of the newly renovated hotel. Photo: Doug Green Ian and Michele Cleaver-Wilkinson, the owners of the newly renovated hotel. Photo: Doug Green

Working class history

Built in 1912, the historic pub took its name from Newmarket in Suffolk, the centre of British horseracing.

It is classified as a two-story corner pub built of random rubble and limestone and is a fine representation of the federation style pubs built in WA at the turn of the 19th century.

Horses were a feature at the Newmarket Hotel, and were tethered to the western side of the building at drinking troughs until the 1960s.

Patrons included market gardeners from Coogee and Spearwood, racehorse owners and trainers, and stockmen and abattoir workers from Robb’s Jetty. Robb’s Jetty was WA’s main abattoir for cattle arriving by boat from the state’s north west.

The pub has had some colourful owners, including Australian heavyweight boxing champion George Russell Thompson, between 1945 and 1949. It was also run by prominent Fremantle publicans Benjamin Mainstone, Lindsay O’Neil, and HJ Townhend.

In the 1960s the Newmarket Tavern, which was located at the southern end of the hotel, was managed EW Clarke and ran until about 2002.

Loving renovation

The Newmarket fell into disrepair and was the frequent target of vandals. In 2015 it was rescued by Michele and Ian Cleaver-Wilkinsons who, with the help of a $100,000 heritage grant, started a renovation that eventually became a ballet school.

“The second time we looked at it, I had to wipe away the tears from my eyes,” Mr Cleaver-Wilkinson said, describing the amount of work which lay ahead.

The painstaking work included reconstructing a beautiful leadlight window in the main stairwell, with only a handful of original pieces of glass.

Budding ballet stars at the renovated premises at South Fremantle. Photo: Doug Green Budding ballet stars at the company’s premises in South Fremantle. Photo: Doug Green

Mrs Cleaver-Wilkinson, who drove the vision to turn the historic pub into a ballet school, said the project was a labour of love not only for the couple, but also for their five children.
“Heritage enriches the arts,” she said. “Now hundreds of children will have an appreciation of this building.”

Heritage grants launched

The event marked the opening of the WA Heritage Council’s heritage grants program which provides financial assistance to private owners to conserve and revitalise their properties.

Owners of state registered heritage properties can apply for grants to assist with conservation works to their properties. Dollar-for-dollar funding is available up to $100,000, including for conservation plans to help guide works.

Mr Templeman said the grants program had supported a number of successful projects across the state.

Last year 13 metropolitan and 15 regional places shared in funding which, when combined with the owner contributions, generated almost $3 million in conservation works.

The Heritage Council’s grants program is one of the few in Australia that assists private owners in maintaining heritage places.

Since the program’s launch in 1997, 745 heritage projects have received grants totalling more than $18 million.

Applications for the Heritage Grants Program are open until October 31.


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