50. Australian Road Trip: Perth & Fremantle
Perth & Fremantle
A Tale of Two Cities
The last time we were in a place that resembled a city was over two months ago. The city was Darwin, almost 3000 road miles to the north. Now we are in Perth, capital of the huge state of Western Australia. Well, actually we have gravitated directly to the port city of Fremantle on the mouth of the Swan River, about 20km west of Perth city centre.
We like Fremantle; we like it a lot. I always knew I would like it; I almost headed here during the 80’s when it was booming with Alan Bond and the America’s Cup victory and all that – heady days - but I ended up in England instead. Upon our arrival we go straight to the tourist information office in Fremantle city centre. We want to spend some time in the big smoke and as the nights are becoming cold, and we are finally fed up with camping, we rent a smart warehouse apartment in the old port city for a week, determined to enjoy ourselves in comfort.
Fremantle - Livable City
Looking at the Greater Perth/Fremantle area as a whole, there is much to recommend this west coast metropolis as an ideal place to live – Fremantle being top of the list as far as I am concerned. The old port is full of character, with most of its colonial architecture still standing proudly, gleaming in the strong west coast sunlight. There is something about Fremantle - the network of streets, the early Victorian pubs, even the castle-like ‘Roundhouse’ overlooking the city - that reminds me of my current place of residence – Norwich in England. It is the compactness of the city, the comfortable mix of old and new, and the inherent friendliness of the inhabitants that appeals to me immediately.
We lap up the café culture, or at least slurp flat whites and satiate our munchies with panninis and assorted trendy snacks. We ride the Free Bus around its circular route through the Fremantle suburbs and on the second day we catch the train into Perth City Centre.
Perth is modern, pedestrianised and fast paced. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it could be any modern, affluent metropolis. I could easily get to like it, especially if I had time to explore beyond the CBD. While Sheila treats herself to a hair cut in Tony & Guy, I make the most of being on my own to wander up and down the long busy streets, getting my bearings and a developing a taste for the place.
A Liveable City
A busker - Just a beggar with a guitar?
On our third day I go busking in the pedestrianised part of Fremantle high street. It is quite good fun, strumming away on my six string, belting out a few of my favourite songs to an unsuspecting and reasonably generous passing parade of shoppers and sightseers. I even meet a couple of local musicians who make me feel welcome in their city. I could easily live here, no problems. One of the main sights of Fremantle is the Market - a busy, bustling place, set in its original Victorian building with ornate cast iron filigrees, stained glass windows, skylights and ceiling fans. You can get anything here, from cool clothing to fresh fruit and fish. There are several good pubs surrounding the building too – and don’t worry – I checked them all out during our stay.
The road beckons again
Fremantle living – some nights we go out for dinner; others, we cook in the apartment. We also take in the wonderful maritime museum. Australia has always been linked to the sea and there are some great nautical exhibits here, and some incredible stories to be told.
After all we have been through over the past few months – cyclones, floods, extreme heat, insect hell, and breakdowns - our sojourn in Fremantle feels like a dream and at night a cold, knife blade of a wind blows through the streets reminding us that we at the south western edge of a vast continent with nothing between us and South Africa but the Indian Ocean. We must move on soon, and there is still width of Australia, including the vast Nullabor Plain, to cross before we see the Pacific Ocean and hometown Sydney again.
A Post Script to the West Coast: The Maritime Museum and a movie I'd like to see
The Story of the Wreck of the Batavia
The Fremantle Maritime Museum, throws up some interesting artifacts and bizarre tales. None more so than the story of the Wreck of the Batavia. The Batavia was a merchant ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) carrying 322 souls. On the 4th june 1629 it struck a reef on the Houtman Abrolhos Island group, situated about 80kms offshore from Geralton, WA. A few folks drowned but most survived. A small group including Captain Jacobsz and Commander Pelsaert, along with a handful of crew, set out in a longboat in a futile attempt to find fresh water on another island. As it turned out they kept going and in an amazing feat of seamanship, they sailed the small boat all the way to the Dutch settlement of Batavia (now Jakata) in Indonesia, with no loss of life. There, Pelsaert was given another boat by the authorities and set out to rescue the remaining survivors from the shipwreck.
A bit of Batavia
Meanwhile, back on the Houtmans, the man left in charge, Jeronimus Cornelisz, staged an evil coup. First he tricked the ship's marines by sending them to an isolated island where he left them stranded, and then he seduced a group of fellow nutters to rape, murder and butcher anyone who might thwart his evil plans to set up his own 'kingdom.' The butchery continued until at least 110 men, women and children were massacred by Cornelisz and his henchmen.
Meanwhile, the soldiers who had been stranded on another island had actually found good food and water supplies and were eventually alerted to the massacres by some people who had managed to escape from Cornelisz. The soldiers, led by Wiebbe Hayes built a rudimentary fort out of coral on their island, and eventually Cornelisz tried to take them as his supplies were running low. There were several 'battles' resulting in the capture of Cornelisz by the soldiers. The remaining mutineers once again assaulted the soldier's island but Commander Pelsaert returned from Indonesia just in time to rescue them.
A trial was held on the island and the conspirators were hanged. The evil Mr Cornelisz had both his hands chopped off before being strung up. A couple of the lesser conspirators were spared and marooned on the mainland. Many years later, light -skinned aborigines were spotted, giving rise to the idea that these men had surivived and flourished, although there have been many other Dutch shipwrecks along the west coast in those long ago days.
There were only 68 survivors remaining to rescue from the original shipwreck, but what a story, I can't wait to see the film (Why hasn't someone made a movie of this yet? Or maybe they have?). You can find the full, detailed story on wikipedia of course.
Tim Winton's fabulous novel set in Perth
Make your own model ship
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