We were staying near Joondalup, a northern Suburb of Perth, for the night before we headed south to the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Rather than travelling by the main freeways, we decided we would take the coast road to Freemantle. It was an easy route and although the cars around us were on their way to work in Perth city, we had no trouble enjoying the drive and the views so it wasn’t long before we were entering Freemantle. This coastal city has the most curious mural to greet travellers of any I have ever seen before. It covers the entire wall of the Army Museum that sits on the bank of the Swan River just as you cross the last bridge before entering the centre of Freemantle. I am not sure if this giant blue squid is a threatening symbol of the military might of Freemantle but whatever its meaning, it was an impressive greeting to travellers.
I had been to Freemantle 12 years before for a short visit but my memories were vague, recalling only the Prison, the boutique breweries and the impressive main street. For this visit, we had been given the suggestion that should start by checking out the old Freemantle markets so we went looking for a carpark near this site. We were in luck as we found Parry Street carpark near the prison, with the markets and Freemantle Oval just down the road.
The market was a great place to start our tour of Freemantle. Apart from being housed in a gorgeous old Victorian Era building (1897), it was time for coffee and cake. These markets were a very interesting mix of food and refreshment as well as lots of stalls selling jewellery and household decorations. A pleasant place to visit if you are looking for the unusual or the eccentric.
I have sketched out our tour of the centre of Fremantle with black arrows on the map below. It is a very attractive shopping precinct but I was surprised that they called the area we were strolling through the ‘Cappuccino Strip’. I can only presume that the city fathers were trying to distinguish their Cappuccino coffee drinkers from the ‘inner city latte sippers’ that often draw the ire of rural voters. We were heading towards the foreshore of Freemantle that the city is so famous for. We emerged from the shopping precinct in line with an area of the coast line that is full of Freemantle history and local attractions, particularly the walking tracks and bikeways that are adorned with great public art. In fact the old buildings in front of Bathers Beach have been dubbed the ‘Art Precinct’.
Like we found all over Western Australia, the Information boards scattered along this section of coastline were of a high standard, both interesting and entertaining. We would be returning to this area of the state at the end of our journey for a visit to the famous Rottnest Island off the coast from here. We were told by one of the information Boards that Rottnest Island was connected both to this coastline and three other nearby islands in local indigenous (Nyoongar People) oral tradition. It has been passed down that “the mainland had once extended past Rottnest, but after a loud noise and fire the sea rushed in. Events of at least 60000 years ago confirm that an ice melt led to sea level rise which inundated the area.” Such a link between geological science and oral tradition is one of the first pieces of evidence I have come across that can be linked to the discussion of how long First Australians have lived on this continent
Directly opposite the pedestrian crossing of the junction of High and Cliff Street is Freemantle’s and Western Australia’s oldest building being built as part of the Swan River colony in 1830. Given the nature of colonies in Australia at the time and their dependence on cheap labour, this building was destined to be built as a prison. The image to the left was taken some time in the late 19th century. We didn’t have time on our agenda on this day to visit inside the round house but it would have been enjoyable to be shown the sights and heard all the history of the Roundhouse from one of Freemantle’s Volunteer heritage Guides
Freemantle is at the mouth of the Swan River and so it is no surprise that this busy port has a long history of trading in all the important products that were being demanded by the new colony up river, particularly from the whale industry that provided many of the modern conveniences that the local citizens were demanding. (Oil for lamps, whale bones for corsets!) In the park next to the Roundhouse was a great art piece celebrating this maritime history.
After walking through the garden on the ‘foundation walls’ that ran along the back of Bathers Bay, we found a set of stairs that took us down from these heights to where there was a bike track and a footpath that ran along the other side of this raised area. We were able to stroll back along the high foundations of the Roundhouse that led us to the tunnel that had been drilled by whalers underneath the old prison so they could conveniently transport their wares through to the centre of the city. No whaling or other seaborn goods are carted through the tunnel these days; it is a short cut for locals and a very interesting pathway for tourists. The tunnel exit can be seen in both images of the Roundhouse earlier in this article. Along the tunnel in the niches carved into its walls, there are interesting stories presented about the area’s history, such as the one shown in the image on the right below of the ‘Whaling Complex’.
After strolling through the old whaling tunnel, we found ourselves back out below the Roundhouse and so we headed south again along the foreshore until we had to cross the railway line that ran along beside and then crossed the street we were on. This allowed us to access the parkland that continued along beside Bathers Bay. A lot of work has been done on upgrading this area, particularly in the tourist information boards that were scattered along the pathway.
Apart from giving details of a number of shipwrecks in the area, there was also the sad story presented in this park of the fate of many Aboriginal prisoners that were taken to Rottnest Island during the 19th century.
A lot of work has been done on the foreshore of Fremantle in the section of our walk after we left the park at the back of Bathers beach. There are sea walls built around two harbours here, one is Challenger Bay that was built to cater for competitive sailing as well as the America’s Cup defence after Australia had taken the cup from USA in 1983. The other harbour is Success Boat Harbour that was clearly built to support the local fishing fleet that uses Fremantle as its main port.
The layout of Success Boat Harbour reminded me of San Francisco Bay where the seals have settled in and there are lots of statues adorning the walkways. The image on the right shows two very life-like bronze fishermen carrying their catch from boat to warehouse.
Not far from ‘Sardine Jetty’ is a statue of one of Freemantle’s heroes, the rock star Bon Scott. Although Scott was born in Scotland, his family migrated to Australia and settled in Fremantle in 1956. During his teenage years he was a long-term member of the “The Caledonian Scots Pipe band’ of Fremantle playing drums, but he clearly learnt the bagpipes as well as can be seen in his fabulous bagpipe accompaniment to AC/DC’s greatest hit, “It’s A Long Way To the Top”. He died tragically in London in 1980 aged 28. If you haven’t seen Bon Scott play bagpipes, here’s a bit of nostalgia for you. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nULs4JW3tPI).
After admiring the harbours of Fremantle, it was time to start heading back towards the motorhome so we crossed the railway line again and strolled across Esplanade Reserve. On the left of the park I noticed the Shipwreck Museum housed in another old building that was originally the Commissarat Building that stored food for the Swan River Colony. Shipwrecks turned out to be a large theme of our drive down the coast of Western Australia so I was disappointed we had to skip a visit to this outpost of the Western Australian Museum.
The Esplanade Reserve is a lovely place for family weekend picnics with the bonus of a giant Ferris Wheel to entertain everyone. The more serious minded amongst the picnickers who couldn’t face a ride in the big wheel, could wander over and have a close inspection of the Maitland Brown Memorial monument. The Monument is usually called the Explorers Monument and has been accused of presenting a one-sided history of the early exploration of Western Australia. The monument has plaques to three explorers who were killed by Aboriginals in 1864 when their party was exploring the Kimberleys. In 1994, an attempt was made to redress the perceived bias of the monument so another plaque was added to the base to present this view, the text of which is below.
“This plaque was erected by people who found the monument before you offensive. The monument described the events at La Grange from one perspective only; The viewpoint of the white `settlers`. No mention is made of the right of Aboriginal People to defend their land or of the history of provocation which led to the explorers` deaths. The `Punitive Party` mentioned here ended in the deaths of somewhere around twenty Aboriginal people. The Whites were well-armed and equipped and none of their party was killed or wounded.
This plaque is in memory of the Aboriginal people killed at La Grange. It also commemorates all other Aboriginal people who died during the invasion of their country.“
Lest We Forget. Mapa Jarriya-Nyalaku.
We walked back past Fremantle Oval but decided to bypass our van and head up the hill behind the carpark and have a look at the externals of Fremantle’s famous gaol. Built originally to hold convicts sent out from Britain in the first half of the 19th century, it was eventually transferred to the colonial government in 1886. It continued as a gaol until 1988 when there was a prisoner riot, guards were taken hostage and a fire set that eventually did damage amounting to $1.8 million. It was formally closed in 1991 and today is a World Heritage site.
One of the signs on the road up to the gaol explains its importance.
We enjoyed having a stroll along the beautiful terrace that included the main gate of the prison and the grand homes of the officials that once ran the prison. However it was time to head further on down to the coast to the Margaret River area and check into our accommodation for the evening. We enjoyed immensely our stroll around Fremantle.
APPENDIX 1: Dangerous Photography
I noticed as we wandered along the street at the back of Fremantle’s foreshore that we had to cross and re-cross a railway line. Each time we crossed, we had to pass through carefully constructed gateways that ensured that sensible folk could cross the railway line safely. However at each of these crossings there was a warning poster that showed that less than sensible people ran the risk of being hit by trains as they got their cute wedding photos taken on the actual railway line. My only thought (being a highly safety conscious person) was “Who would do such a thing…surely this is a made up story?”
After checking up the background to this safety campaign, I saw the light. Here is the main reason for why some couples like to get their wedding photos taken on railway tracks!
“The symbolism of a long and winding journey down the rail tracks of life may seem like an endearing metaphor for your shoot, but photographers owe it to their clients to make choices that keep their customers safe.”
I personally have never looked on life as a journey down the “railway tracks of life” but I can see why some people would like the metaphor; the cautionary addendum to this approach is that everybody should try to avoid the trains of life that run over you if you don’t move quickly enough!
But what I thought was impossible has actually happened. The following account comes from a Sri Lankan newspaper in 2018.
“Tragedy struck a newly-wed couple when the 24-year-old groom was killed and his bride seriously injured when they tried to take a selfie photograph on the railway track at Kahawa, Uduwaragoda area in Ambalangoda. The two were knocked down by the Galle-bound train on Sunday killing the man instantly. According to eye-witnesses, the couple had ignored warning signals given by the people in the area saying that, the train was coming.”