From a slice of Italian culture to a WA way of life – the bumpy start to Perth’s alfresco dining scene

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The pesky fly, red tape, fees and a strict Liquor Act almost derailed the establishment of one of Western Australian’s favourite pastimes – alfresco dining.

Opponents rallied that flies would spoil the food, that outdoor eating was a threat to public health and that footpaths were public property.

Politicians refused to change laws to allow alfresco diners to drink alcohol and local councils introduced excessive fees for restauranteurs to put tables and chairs on the pavement.

But Italian migrants and a boat named Australia II helped turnaround public opinion and put in motion the growth of alfresco dining, now a fundamental part of WA’s cultural fabric.

Perth’s alfresco dining scene’s rocky beginnings has been captured by think tank Committee for Perth as part of a series of landmark case studies entitled What We Thought Would Kill Us.

The case study joins seven others: the Bell Tower; Perth’s Passenger Rail; Hillarys Boat Harbour; Perth Arena; the Raffles Waterfront Development; the Graham Farmer Freeway and Northbridge Tunnel; and the Old Swan Brewery.

“In undertaking these retrospective analyses, the Committee aims to not only document history, but also seek to serve as reminders of key points in Perth’s growth and development,” the Committee’s Chief Executive Officer Marion Fulker AM, said.

“It helps to put into perspective some of the debates we are currently having about what are considered controversial matters. The case study shows that change is not necessarily bad.”

The report highlights the journey of the first alfresco eatery in Fremantle – Italian migrant Nunzio Gumina’s Papa Luigi’s café, which he purchased in 1977. Recalling the tables and umbrellas of cafes which lined sidewalks in Italy, Mr Gumina applied to the Fremantle Council to put three tables with chairs and umbrellas on the footpath outside his café.

“According to Mr Gumina, at the first meeting to consider the application, there was uproar, with arguing breaking out amongst councillors who questioned not only the reputation of the business but also the legal ability for business owners to occupy the pavement,” the report found.

After three or four months of debate, he was granted a three month trial using just three tables. Its success heralded the start of Fremantle’s ‘cappuccino strip’.

However, it wasn’t until the America’s Cup came to Fremantle in 1987, that the practice was duplicated across the Perth region. With an anticipated one million visitors to watch the spectacle, the State Government temporarily relaxed the laws to allow alfresco diners to drink alcohol.

“It is fair to say that people coming from many parts of the world, people who enjoy a Mediterranean climate similar to our own, and a relaxed lifestyle similar to our own, will expect similar arrangements to their own to be current in WA,” then Member of the Labor Opposition, Des Dans, told State Parliament in 1985. Liquor laws for alfresco dining and drinking were eventually relaxed permanently.

Mrs Fulker said the evolution from alfresco controversy to promoting outdoor dining, occurred over 50 years and required people to overcome fears, be open to change and to see the value in enabling, rather than stifling, innovation.

“Today the Greater Perth region is facing new urban challenges and the need to revitalise urban spaces, improve safety and reputation, and support the hospitality industry is perhaps more pressing than ever.”

The report identified six key lessons from the historical review, including that small ideas can deliver big impacts, that it’s important to encourage and enable innovation and to work with and empower individuals and communities to identify local solutions for local problems.


Media Contact: Keryn McKinnon, Hunter Communications - 0484 777 007

Acknowledgement of Country

The Committee For Perth acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.