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Roel Loopers

"I’m very optimistic about the future of Fremantle. I think that transformation is really necessary. It’s absolutely essential that we grow and that we change."

Generations of migrants have shaped the face of Fremantle, especially post Second World War when many Italians made their home in Australia. But as times change so too do populations and now a new wave of migrants are making their presence felt in the port city.Roel Loopers is a retired photographer and volunteers much of his time for the betterment of Fremantle and the people who live there. Having migrated to Australia almost forty years ago, Roel’s ground-roots involvement has lead to a number of achievements that have supported the local Whadjuk Nyoongar people and people living with disabilities in Fremantle.

I am from Holland but moved to Germany to work and then I came to Australia. I arrived in Australia on 13 March 1982, and at first I lived in Sydney. We did have a bit of cultural shock when we first arrived in Australia. We loved to go to live theatre and, even in a big city like Sydney, there were not many places to go to and the acting was not very good. So we were a bit lost in the beginning before we started finding, you know, all the hidden little theatres and people from different cultures that are there.

It’s just a matter of time and adaptation and also learning to be tolerant and to look at things in a different way to Europe.

I was in Sydney for three and a half years but it was too big for me as a city. I was working as a photographer then, and I realised, that, I could get only a very few jobs because of the traffic problems crossing the harbour. So that was why I moved to Perth, which I discovered on holiday. I was born in the Hague—which is a very large city of course—but Sydney is enormous. Although it’s very beautiful, especially the harbour, it was just too big for us and we discovered how beautiful Perth was—and how cheap the land was. We wanted to buy a house and Sydney was very expensive in 1984-5 and Perth was extremely cheap then. We got here in late 1985 on a Friday afternoon and we bought our first house on the following Sunday in Como.

Wanting to help make Fremantle a better place to live, Roel became quite politically active at a ground-roots level. His involvement has lead to a number of achievements that have benefited the local Whadjuk Nyoongar people and people with disabilities.

What drives me to go for positive change, especially in Fremantle, is just that I believe we are on the planet to make a difference. I don’t believe we are here just to accumulate lots of property and capital and become rich. I think we have got a duty to care for each other, and for the bigger world as well. But of course, it is very hard to make a difference on, you know, a global scale. It’s much easier to make a difference on a local scale, especially in a small city like Fremantle where the community is very open and very tolerant. So, I decided many years ago that I was going to volunteer a lot and become a moderate force in politics. Through my Fremantle blog, which I have been publishing for nine and a half years now, I have got to know many, many people and I constantly talk to people from the city and people out on the streets.

I’m very active at the Round House. I’ve been volunteering there for almost nine years now, and at the moment I’m trying to instigate the biggest change in the Round House, ever, by getting new interpretive signage in. One of the things that I’m especially keen on, is to get a substantial and rightful display in there that tells the story of the local Whadjuk Nyoongar people—and also the story of the deportation of Aboriginal men and boys from Bathers Bay and the Round House, to the quad prison on Rottnest Island. This is, of course, a very sad part of our history but it needs to be told, and that is one of the things that I am interested in.

A man standing in front of a football stadium field in Fremantle.

As far as my biggest achievement, I don’t know. I have made lots of little achievement. Many years ago when Fremantle built its new B Shed terminal a friend of mine who’s got MS complained that there was no ramp for his gopher to go up so I popped into the Fremantle Port to explain the situation. Within six weeks they produced gopher access for disabled people to get more easily up to the little café and onto the Rottnest ferry.

These seem like little things, but I know what those things mean to people.

I was a starting member of the reconciliation group, talking with Aboriginal people and working to introduce an Aboriginal policy for the city of Fremantle. I was also in another working group aimed at making Fremantle more age friendly. There’s a policy that is going through council just now which I think is important. We are an aging population and, of course, a lot of councillors are very young and these things tend to be forgotten. It’s important to just make an awareness of it, you know, so we can make a difference, make life easier for people.

I go to most of the council meetings, I know all the elected members, I  know most of the officers really well, and if I see something that should be happening I say, “Look, have you thought of this, have your thought of that?” I emailed the elected members just yesterday saying could we please have a proper sign at Bathers Bay saying this is the spot, the location, where the deputation of Aboriginal men and boys left for Rottnest quad prison because there’s no sign there. And why shouldn’t there be? There has to be one there. And so that’s the little things I do. It’s very important to these people. And I have been asking for an Aboriginal Centre here for many, many years and we’re always talking about it. It might be happening. I suggested just the other day, “Look can we at least have signage to say this land belonged to the Whadjuk Nyoongar people.” It’s so simple—underneath the sign saying City of Fremantle, say Walyalup, which is the Nyoongar name for this area. That will make a huge difference to the Aboriginal people and it costs next to nothing to put in those extra words.

It’s important and it’s just those little things where people feel acknowledged rather than them being ignored. Things are improving and Fremantle Council is very good at that sort of thing. So yes, things are changing and I am happy to be part of it and I’m happy to give of my time. I’ve got plenty of time now that I’m retired and I would rather give this time to my community than waste it on useless things.

Roel’s one and only return to Holland reaffirmed his love for the small port city of Fremantle.

I’ve only been back to Holland once. I didn’t like it at all. I visited my sister in Amsterdam and I said to her “Let me out of here, too many people.” Holland is a lovely country, but so many people. In Germany I lived in Nuremberg which is much quieter, more like a big country town, not like the Hague and Amsterdam! I’m not a big city person, I rarely go to Perth.

Sometimes I take the train in, walk around for an hour and catch the train back to Fremantle, and ask myself “Why did I go there?” I’m always happy to come back to Fremantle.

I’m very optimistic about Fremantle’s future. I think that transformation is really necessary. It’s absolutely essential that we grow and that we change. I know it is difficult for some people in Fremantle who feel challenged or threatened by change. I don’t mind change. If I didn’t I would never have come to Australia or Fremantle in the first place. So I’ve got very positive feelings for Fremantle. My only regret is that I’m old and won’t see some of them, and I would love to see an Aboriginal Cultural Centre here. But, yes, I think that Fremantle is on a very good road to a very positive future.Copyright © 2019 Roel Loopers

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

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