Cockburn History: Robb Jetty Abattoir

The lone chimney that stands north of C.Y. O’Connor Reserve in North Coogee was once part of the Robb Jetty Abattoir.

The meatworks served Cockburn and international markets for nearly a century, employing locals and migrants, men and women, through several generations of slaughtermen.

Built in the 1870s, Robb Jetty was originally too short to offload cattle. The animals were pushed off ships that brought them down from the Kimberley and swum ashore with men in boats herding them onto the beach. Several private abattoirs were served by the jetty and the cattle were pastured in vast paddocks stretching most of the way to Jandakot, as there were no cold storage facilities to keep slaughtered meat fresh.

Animals slaughtered at Robb Jetty abattoir, 1922

Article in West Australian covering the first animals to be slaughtered at the new abattoir, 1922.

A freezing and chilling works was planned, and today’s chimney is a remnant of the original 1921 Fremantle Freezing Works. This new abattoir was plagued with financial difficulties and government bailouts, and the State Government eventually took it over in 1942 to ensure meat was produced for soldiers in WWII.

The abattoir was expanded throughout the next decades but grew increasingly inefficient, and the decision was made to shut it down in 1992. All equipment was removed by 1994 and the building was demolished, with only the chimney left standing as a reminder.

Robb Jetty Abattoir, Cockburn Road

Aerial picture of the Fremantle Freezing Works in the 1920s, with Cockburn Road running along the top left. The chimney is visible in the centre. Image copyright State Library Victoria.

Further reading: The Robb Jetty Abattoir site : archaeological report for the Heritage Council of Western Australia and the Department of Trade and Commerce at Spearwood Library.


Leah

Author: Leah

I work as the Reader Services Librarian at Spearwood Public Library. I order the books, and I take requests for anything you can't find in the library! I also research and write local history articles for the Cockburn Soundings, and for anyone who has a local history question.

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Leah, thank you for an informative post. I am researching a wreck on St Catherine’s Point in 1868 (the Sea Nymph) and I found a reference to ‘J. Read’s property’ in the Herald of 20th June, 1868 (p2) in reference to the beaching of the ‘Sea Nymph’, ‘Sea Spray’ and the ‘Albert’ in a squall/storm on the 18th of that month. I am wondering who ‘J. Read’ was and just where his property was situated in relationship to Robb’s Jetty and St Catherine’s Point.
    There is another reference to the property in the Herald of 22nd March, 1884, p3.

    Post a Reply
    • Leah

      Hi John,

      Thanks for reading. I’ve looked into this a bit today and here’s what I dug up:
      This article from The Inquirer and Commercial News, 4th August 1875, tells a story about the frequent requests for help on behalf of a Mr James Read to the Fremantle Council (the municipality). Mr. Read’s house was apparently situated very close to the shore and storms were threatening his property, helped on by the nearby dredging of a jetty. Unfortunately the requests were not heeded, and Mr. Read’s house was destroyed in a storm around the time of this letter.
      If you read the last paragraph, it mentions that Mr Read’s property was between Suffolk and Russell Streets, indicating that he lived in the vicinity of what is now the Fishing Boat Harbour. That harbour wasn’t constructed until the 1920s, so back then it would have been a busy, relatively unencumbered shoreline.
      So it looks like Mr Read didn’t live particularly close to the abattoir district at all, and just happened to be in a location that attracted stray ships to beach themselves on his doorstep! Another article from 1873 mentions a ship, the Macquarie, doing much the same thing as in your first article – landing without much harm on Mr. Read’s property.

      Hope this helps you in your enquiries. For further information, I’d suggest taking what you have to the Fremantle Local History Centre, as that falls squarely within their boundaries these days.

      Leah

      Post a Reply
      • Thanks Leah. That was quick 🙂 The fact that James Read lived near the current Fishing Boat Harbour removes him from my interest which is on the Sea Nymph. btw I love the image of a ‘ship magnet’ attracting ships to a section of beach. Thanks again.

        Post a Reply
  2. In 1979 I negotiated on behalf the WALMB the sale of 10,000 tonnes of lamb carcases to Iran. The contract was dated 7th June 1979 and was signed by the GM of WALMB Malcolm McSporran. In the many discussions I had with Malcolm and others comment was made at one point that there had been a serious fire at Robbs Jetty in about the mid 1970’s.

    There isn’t any reference to a fire at Robbs Jetty on the web site and I’m wondering if you have any knowledge of this occurring??

    I would gratefull for your response. Thanking you. Howard Gardner

    Post a Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Howard,

      It’s actually been pretty hard to dig up the info on Robb Jetty and the abattoir. What I’ve found has mainly been from the digitised newspapers available in Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper?q=), but copyright means that resource can only give us info up to 1954.

      Without going into the Battye Library in the city centre, there’s no easy way to access news about things from post-1954 unless someone’s written about it online. I’ve had a good search and can’t find any mentions of it around.
      A couple of people who work here at Spearwood do have similar memories to you, however, including a family member who worked at the abattoir and recalled hearing about a fire. So it’s safe to say you’re right, but at the moment there’s no source to say when or where.

      If I do turn anything up I’ll let you know. Thanks for the great question!

      Leah

      Post a Reply
  3. Hi Leah
    Do you have any references regarding how Robb’s Jetty received its name? For genealogical reasons i would be interested in any info you might point me too. An email would be much appreciated.
    Regards
    Bernard Robb

    Post a Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Bernard,
      Although there is no one source that lists the naming of Robb Jetty, it is pretty safe to say that it is named after Captain George Robb, who sailed to Western Australia from Sydney on his way to Mauritius. His ship the Leda dropped anchor in Gage Roads on January 15th 1830. He took up some land around North Lake and left it in the charge of his farm manager, who called the area Hamilton Hill.
      Robb never returned to the colony.
      Given the amount of local landmarks, areas, lakes and roads that are named after similar early settlers, I think it is a fair assumption to make that George Robb, particularly given his landing south of Fremantle and his land holdings in the Cockburn area, gave his name to the jetty.

      I got this information on page 19 of Cockburn: the making of a community by Michael Berson, which is available at all three Cockburn libraries to borrow or purchase.

      Post a Reply
  4. Since 2000 I’ve lived just over the hill from that particular chimney stack. I had no idea it was associated with an abattoir. I knew of cattle coming ashore there from the Kimberley and being slaughtered nearby, and I have appreciated the public artwork in the form of a herding corridor from the shoreline heading east, but I failed to appreciate the magnitude of that industry through this architectural monument. Your article Leah causes me to reflect where the abattoirs that service the Perth metro area today are located. I also wonder what will happen to that chimney when more upscale housing development occurs in forthcoming years.

    Post a Reply
    • Leah

      Hi Niena,

      Thanks for reading; it’s great to know you learned something new about your local area! There’s so much industrial history along the Cockburn coastline, and even now you can see how vital the area is for industry in places like Cockburn Cement, the Coldstores and the Australian Marine Complex.

      As far as the future of the chimney, you might want to have a browse through the South Fremantle Power Station Master Plan (pdf) from July 2014, which involves the planned future of the area in detail and contains artists’ impressions of what it may look like. So far as I’m able to see, the chimney is retained and honoured in these plans, as it is a heritage landmark.
      This is also available to view at Spearwood Library.

      Post a Reply
  5. Matt

    It’s really cool to see the photos of what it used to be like!

    My grandfather used to refer to that area as Rob’s jetty, not Coogee. He spoke so fondly of the times when his friends worked there!

    I used to take my dog to the CY O’connor beach and would love seeing the statues in the water and in the sand dunes!

    Thanks for another great article, Leah!

    Post a Reply

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Cockburn History: Robb Jetty Abattoir

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