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  • Writer's pictureAnne B 10milesfrom

Big Trip 2024 - An Australian interlude in the cities!

Fremantle is the port city of Perth, and was once a fairly rough and industrial port. Still an active port, it is now a pretty place, with no high rise buildings, lots of green spaces and a very laid back, slightly bohemian feel.

As we drove into Fremantle in the late afternoon, the temperature was showing 37°C, and it was very hot and humid. Perth has had a very hot summer with a record number of days of temperatures exceeding 42°C. The most striking thing, everywhere we have been, is the lack of insects. While this may seem like a bonus, in reality it is a big problem due to their critical role in the food chain. We drove to find our accommodation.. the Maand Up hotel. Quite near the centre, in a quiet, tree lined road, it was a real oasis. Just 6 rooms around a courtyard with a small swimming pool and seating. Our room was lovely, and blissfully cool thanks to the aircon!

We dropped off our bags, and then drove to the hire car drop off. We would 100% recommend No birds car hire if you are in Perth or Sydney!

We walked back through the shopping area of town, noticing some of the very pretty colonial architecture, beautiful flowers and butterflies.

That evening we decided to celebrate the end of our road trip with dinner at the Manuka Woodfired kitchen. We had a super meal. Everything is home cooked from local ingredients, and is based on sharing plates. We had gorgeous flatbread with hummous and baba ganoush, followed by 3 delicious sharing plates. Carpaccio of beef, pressed lamb with smoked yoghurt and port and date puree, and Red Mullet. The creator and head chef had previously worked under Gordon Ramsay...

The next day was museum time. We firstly visited the Fremantle Jail.

Built between 1851 and 1860 by convicts, it was in continuous use until 1991. At its peak it housed 1600 prisoners. Conditions were very basic, and even in 1991 there was no running water or toilets in the cells. The 'suicide net' was actually to stop things being thrown down onto prison officers.

The prison was built from limestone which the convicts quarried out of the site itself, and was the largest convict prison in Australia, and the best preserved. In the early years conditions were barbaric, with various methods of punishment in use like flogging, leg irons and solitary confinement. 43 men and 1 woman lost their lives here on the gallows.

The exercise yards had no shade, and prisoners who had no jobs in the jail could be out here all day. One warder watched them..from inside a cage, armed only with a whistle, as if he carried a gun it might be taken by the prisoners. In the last years of the prison, inmates could decorate their cells, and the yards.

There was a women's wing here, which once housed 100 females. Their cells were very small, and they had a bath rather than showers, with just cold water. Women could be imprisoned for many trivial offences like 'wandering with no purpose'.

From here we walked to the green space of the esplanade, reclaimed from the sea, where Chris found an interesting rail vehicle!

Next along to the Shipwreck museum, housed in another building built by the convicts as the Commissariat building.

The museum focussed on some of the more famous of the 1400 shipwrecks on this coast. Many were Dutch, and eventually they decided this far away land had nothing to offer them, and they gave up coming here. Some of their shipwrecks were blown south on journeys to their territory in Indonesia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 on its maiden voyage, and the subsequent tale of mutiny and murder made grim reading! The wreck was excavated in the 1970s, and this large part of the hull is in the museum.

In all the wrecks, they sometimes found items from the structure of the ship, but often also remnants of the cargo, which add information about what is being traded at the time. There were many examples of this lovely 17th century Dutch Beardman ware. These were glass wine bottles, and finally, all these broken glasses started life as clear glass but nearly 400 years of exposure to UV light through the shallow water has reacted with the manganese dioxide in the glass. Ironically, this had been added as a glass decolouriser!

As you may have realised, breweries are a key part of Australian culture. Right on the harbourside is award winning Lucky Creatures brewery, so we stopped for a very nice lunch and a few half pints to test the merchandise! Beer is sold in 3 sizes in many places here, half, a schooner or a pint. My only awareness of a schooner in a drinking context was an elegant aunt holding a dainty glass of sherry, which seemed rather futile for beer, but over here, a schooner is 3/4 of a pint.

Next we walked by the harbour and it's excellent sculptures, including one of local hero Bon Scott of AC-DC fame.

Next, on to the Maritime museum, which holds many exhibits including full size boats, vessels that have been important in the history and development of nautical history. This included paperbark canoes introduced from Papua New Guinea, the boat Australia 2 which gave them their first win in the Americas Cup, a corrugated iron canoe made by children, an oberon class submarine which is being renovated, some boats with impossibly huge sails, and exhibitions on the role of shipping in international trade through the ages, and it's role in WW1 and WW2.

There was also an exhibition on the slave trade, and the ships used for that, and this terrible drawing of how the slaves could be fitted in on board.

We then returned to our hotel to cool down, via the excellent ice cream shop Kuld, which had some great flavours.

That evening we just strolled to a rooftop bar close to our hotel, for a drink and a snack. Lovely. Next morning we were collected by some old friends, Elaine and John. Chris had learned to sail with John some 55 years ago back in the UK. They have lived overseas for many years now. They had organised a very good historic walking tour of Fremantle with Allen Graham, who was incredibly knowledgeable. The town was founded in 1829 as Swan River Colony, and was advertised in the UK as a place for free settlers. There was a good take up, but when they arrived they found a very basic, unruly settlement. Many didn't stay. After 1850, the first convict ships arrived here. They began to build stone Government buildings, and their own prisons! The first was the Round House on the Quay. The black ball was lowered, accompanied by cannon fire, at exactly 1pm each day so ships could set their time accurately.

There was also a huge whaling depot here, and a mortuary, where autopsies were held, innovatively represented by these seats! It can't have smelt too good down there!

The number of ships visiting was increasing, but the huge harbour entrance was blocked by a stone bar, which no-one could sort out. Along comes an Irish engineer, C Y O'Connor, and a forward thinking Govenor. O'connor used newly discovered dynamite and blasted the bar out of the way, to allow big ships into the more sheltered inner harbour, which he designed. Fremantle is now one of Australia's busiest ports, and is the Port for Perth. O'Connor also designed and built a 500km water pipeline to the goldfields in Kalgoorlie, which is still in use today.

As Fremantle developed and prospered, the architecture reflected prosperity and fashion. There are so many beautiful buildings remaining, and wandering the streets with our guide was very enlightening.

In WW2 Fremantle was the largest submarine base in the Southern hemisphere. Fremantle was a thriving port town and a bit rough, but in 1987 the hosted the America's Cup yacht race. The whole town was spruced up, and since then it has developed into an artistic, foodie place renowned for it's laid back feel and frequent festivals! We loved it here!

Our friends then took us to Gage Roads brewery, where we had a very leisurely lunch and a catch up.

Then on to lovely Kings Park, high above Perth, for a stroll.. listening to the 1980's music as they were getting ready for a Simple Minds concert that night.

Finally, a sundowner at the beach, watching our last west coast sunset over the Indian Ocean, before Elaine and John kindly dropped us at Perth Airport for our red eye flight to Brisbane on the east coast.

We arrived at Brisbane at 6am! But, due to time zones it was 4am in Perth!

Who needs sleep anyway. We collected our hire car, and set off through a lot of traffic to South Gold Coast to visit Shona and Gary, old friends of Chris and Carol. We have met up with them on several other occasions, but not at their gorgeous new house on a canal. We have house envy. They see all kinds of marine creatures here, can fish from the deck, and these marks in the sand are where stingrays come to eat the Yabbies (crayfish).

It turns out I do need a tiny bit of sleep, so I had a quick nap, and then they took us out for lunch at the Surf lifesaving club by the gorgeous beach, and a visit to Point Danger and the lovely views. This area has had exceptionally heavy rain recently, and as a consequence large quantities of silt and sand were being washed into the sea from the river mouth. There are memorials here to some of the many ships that were lost to Japanese and German submarine action along this coast.

This amazing construction is a very modern lighthouse, and memorial to Captain Cook. Opened in1971, it was the first to experiment with lasers to enhance the lighthouse beam, but it was unsuccessful and lasers were abandoned.

This is the land of the beautiful people, and sport is very popular. There are clubs everywhere, from surfing and watersports to outdoor exercise areas, cricket, football, golf, bowls and Pickleball! A version of tennis but with a smaller court, it is hugely popular here and catching on in the UK. Gary is a Gold medallist!

Gary and Shona also told us that this area is the border between Queensland and New South Wales.... and that NSW has daylight saving, so it is 1 hour later there! We had somehow missed that fact! It was also interesting that during Covid, the state border was closed, so families used to sit on either side to meet and chat! Finding out that it was already an hour later on the road ahead meant time had come for us to move on to start our last phase of our Australian adventure... Road trip 2! Here is a taster!! It would have sat neatly on a side plate!



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