My first memory of Fremantle – the historical and very charming Port city for the Western Australian capital Perth – was sitting on a deserted pier in soaring summer temperatures waiting for my ship to come in.
In the early 1970’s, one of the cheapest and interesting ways to travel to England from Australia was a package deal that included interstate flights to WA, a cruise to Singapore, and onwards to the U.K via a charter jet – I think it was British Caledonian in my case.
Already showing my independent spirit, I flew into Perth a few days early to see a little of the city. This was my stumbling block because the decision separated me from most of the other passengers who were flying in on designated flights. It was the New Year holidays and most businesses and shops were closed. And when I turned up to board my ship in Fremantle, I found no one there and no one answering at the agent’s office.
It turned out the ship was late with no definite arrival time. So I would head to Fremantle every day, lugging my huge metal framed backpack – in the hope that it would be there. My spirits dropped further when a couple of passing wharfies (wharf workers) told me the ship had not been allowed to sail on its previous visit because of a health and cleanliness censure! The cheap price of my package deal should have warned me that I wouldn’t be cruising on anything resembling the QE11! Oh dear.
Probably I should have taken a look around Fremantle back then – it might have calmed me. But my focus was on enduring the Western Australian heat and swarms of summer flies so that I could board that boat when it came – as it eventually did. Fortunately, the ship was clean and passed health checks – and away I went without actually taking a good look at Fremantle.
Wind forward more than 50 years later and I am now very familiar with this wonderful little Port city, having moved to WA many years ago. It is one of the oldest and best preserved historical areas in Australia, packed with Edwardian and Victorian buildings.
It is a gorgeous that I have come to love – very cosmopolitan with a big migrant population, and a strong leaning towards Italy in its international community culture. Lots of great Italian restaurants!
Fondly known by locals as ‘Freo’, this city has one of the best dining areas of metropolitan Perth – and it is a great favourite of mine for a meal out. It also has one of the best markets in Western Australia, with a load of history behind it and around 150 stalls. The market was opened in 1897 in a beautiful specially designed Victorian building – its home still today. It opens every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday public holidays, offering fresh local produce, live music, and locally made products.
Fremantle is steeped in history – settled by British colonists in the 1820’s, and initially promoted as a place for free settlers from England. However, it evolved as a major destination for convicts being shipped to Australia by Britain. The convicts were housed in the Fremantle Round House and the Fremantle Prison – both open to the public today and popular with tourists. They were put to work and constructed many of the buildings you see today in Fremantle – including the prison!
The Western Australian goldrushes of the 1890’s saw money pouring into the town, financing many lavish new properties including many hotels, warehouses, banks, offices and stylish homes.
The Prison and a multitude of Fremantle’s buildings from the 1800’s and early 1900’s still stand today – largely thanks to a little yacht race called the America’s Cup which came to Fremantle in the late 1980’s. Money poured into the the city, enabling expensive restoration of many of its old buildings. The boxing kangaroo was a mascot for the Cup, and you can still see it on the sides of some of Fremantle’s historical buildings.
More than 3000 Fremantle buildings today are Heritage listed. But this is no museum piece – the buildings have been repurposed for all sorts of ventures including galleries, restaurants, bars, upmarket cafes, handmade furniture shops, chocolate and ice cream shops. The unusual campus of the University of Notre Dame, Australia spreads itself around the city in many of these old buildings in a most unusual but character infused campus.
An 1860’s gothic style building that once housed an 1800’s ‘lunatics asylum’, a ‘poor’ house for women, a billet for American naval servicemen in World War 11, and a Technical school is now the highly respected Fremantle Arts Centre. It’s a little of the main centre, but well worth while visiting.
One old building that I like houses a shop that is a bit of a relic itself – but very popular. A vinyl record shop!
Many of Fremantle’s historical buildings retain their original purpose, such as shipping warehouses and hotels.
Which brings me to my latest visit to Fremantle when I took a stroll around the central city recently to enjoy these lovely old buildings – it was so much more relaxed and enjoyable than my first encounter with Fremantle. The city centre is a very easy place to walk around, and very accessible from central Perth by train, bus or road. So if you are ever in Western Australia, make sure you include Fremantle on your itinerary!