Fremantle: Perth’s Port is a Nice Little City
March 28, 2019, Fremantle, Australia — On our last day in Australia, I opted out of a big-city excursion up the Swan River to Western Australia’s ‘modern-day boomtown’ capital of Perth, population 2.5mm. Staying here in Perth’s port city of 29,000 sounded more interesting, so I did ‘Historic Fremantle on Foot.’
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I wish I’d remembered last year and this year to take a photo of every port when I pull open the drapes and get my first view of a new place... it’s a good aide-memoire when places begin to jumble together. Here’s the Fremantle port, just before sunrise:
First sight on our tour... any guesses what this car accessory does?*
Remember that the Dutch had seen this area and named it New Holland but they didn’t hang around. The French came next and even established a few settlements. To keep France from getting a firmer foothold, Britain sent Captain James Stirling in 1827 to suss out the area and report back. Establishing a colony here sounded good to the Empire, so Captain Charles Fremantle arrived in 1829 and set up camp. He claimed the entire west coast of New Holland in the name of King George IV. The indigenous Nyoongar people used to hold their funerals here and named it Walyalup, or ‘place of tears,’ long before Capt. Fremantle named it for himself. Unlike earlier colonies established in Sydney, et al, this new one was to be convict-free and settlers would pay their own way out from England — in other new colonies, the government had paid their fares.
But soon after, the new colony’s population dwindled as people moved over to the more populated east coast. The colony was failing and, in 1848, Britain got a letter from Fremantle: ‘Send convicts — now!’ When 75 of them arrived in 1850 with their minders (163 pensioned Redcoats and their families), there was no place large enough to store them, so they were checked into the local hotel. Before they could order room service, they were put to work building their own gaol, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When it closed in 1991, the ‘sanitary facilities’ in three-man cells were the same as when it opened 141 years earlier: a bucket in the corner. They had tried to install chemical toilets but the inmates got hold of the chemicals and home-brewed jail-yard hootch. Back to buckets. I just report what I’m told.
Today the Female gaol has been converted into the Fremantle Prison Youth Hostel, and we saw numerous young backpackers coming and going. The Male Prison, below, is a museum.
When gold was discovered in the region in the 1890’s, the population grew 400% in 10 years, as Fremantle was the gateway to the interior gold field, where the sight of camels and Afghan drivers was not uncommon. In WWII, Fremantle was the largest Allied submarine base in the southern hemisphere.
Today WA’s economy is based not on heavy industry but on mining, oil, gas and, yes, still gold. As Perth’s port, Fremantle is very busy.
Where Perth had decided to raze many of its Victorian and Edwardian limestone buildings — and now regrets that decision — Fremantle still has many of its lovely original buildings and they are in great condition.
The first building built here and the oldest intact building (1830-31) in Western Australia, the Round House was originally used as a gaol. But it wasn’t nearly large enough. (Fuzzy pic off the net.)
Right next to the Round House was this beautiful view of the white sand beach, turquoise water and yacht basin from atop Arthur Head. Every day at 1 p.m., a cannon is fired from here. In olden days, ships within hearing could set their chronometers to 1 p.m. and figure their longitude. Btw: I have not doctored any sky shots — they were this blue.
Fremantle gets around 30 inches of rain a year, and temperatures range from a winter low of 50 to a summer high of 82, though 108 has been recorded. Up on Arthur Head, we enjoyed ‘the Fremantle Doctor,’ the noon-to-3:00 breeze that cools the hot summer days and, when first named, blew away the stench of the nearby unrefrigerated mortuary. I just report what I’m told.
The ‘doctor’ also provides the winds that made Fremantle a great place to hold the 1987 America’s Cup, when Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes 87 defeated the Aussies’ Kookaburra III.
The extensive Fremantle open-air street markets started in 1897. Unlucky for us, they only operate Friday-Sunday.
Not a quokka...
...but another indigenous Australian marsupial our guide couldn’t put a name to. There is some good street art in Fremantle, but, thankfully, not much graffiti to deface the beautiful limestone buildings.
A walk down ‘Cappuccino Strip’ — nicknamed for all its coffee emporia. I suspect the Newport and the rest of this block is a swingin’ hot spot.
All the iron work gives it a New Orleans feel. ‘Freo’ is the city’s nickname.
This juxtaposition is just plain bizarre.
Last stop on the excursion was a visit to the WA Maritime Museum, where I saw Australia II, the America’s Cup racer, lots of other smaller boats and a huge dead megamouth shark preserved in a tank. This is me underwater with a ray...
I walked back to the ship along the wharves...
Or silvertone, if you prefer...
I missed one of the destination lectures (I’ll watch it on TV later) but I understand it’s a great story about historic events off this coast. An Australian journalist who was onboard a few days ago told me, ‘The  mutiny aboard the Batavia makes the mutiny on the Bounty look like a tea party.’ If you’re interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batavia_(ship)
*It’s an auto snorkel. Lets outdoorsy Aussies drive their cars into deep water: the snorkel gives the engine the air it needs.
Coming up: Eight days at sea. I have a few non-destination-specific posts in mind. Or I might just take a dip in a pool or a hot tub — I haven’t done either yet. A blogger’s work is never done! #