|The Freemasons Hotel
Attractive and sophisticated historic port.
It is hard to capture the spirit of Fremantle. On one hand it is simply Perth's port with all the elements which are contained in such a bald description - there is a large industrial area around the docks, grain silos (no Western Australian port could be without them), views out to Rottnest Island, stacks of containers piled high on the wharves, old bond stores and new buildings vying for prominence.
Yet to describe Fremantle as a 'port' is to do it an injustice. It is a remarkable area. In the past decade it has become the great tourist attraction in the Perth area with seeming row upon row of interesting historic buildings, gracious modern hotels, extensive seaside parks and enough tourist attractions to make it the ideal (and easily accessible) day out destination for tens of thousands of Perth locals and visitors. It is the ideal Sunday outing. Have a meal in one of the dozens of restaurants in the area, have a picnic, wander along the shoreline, visit the museums, gaze at the conspicuous wealth at the yacht club, wander the old streets, visit the historic buildings.
Fremantle, pronounced 'Frmantle', was established on 2 May 1829 when Captain Charles Howe Fremantle (after whom the settlement was named) formally took possession of 'the whole of the west coast of New Holland in the name of His Britannic Majesty and the Union Jack was hoisted on the south head of the river'.
In June, Lieutenant Governor James Stirling arrived and decided that Fremantle would be the port and that the new colony would be developed 18 km up the Swan River on good soil which would allow for the development of agriculture.
Fremantle was formally proclaimed in August 1829 and almost immediately the Surveyor General, John Septimus Roe, laid out a grid system of roads on the isthmus which lay between South Bay and North Bay.
Access to Perth at this time was difficult. Ships arriving at Fremantle had to land their goods at the South Jetty and have them transported across the isthmus along what is now Cliff Street. The site was hardly ideal for settlement. It was barren and prone to hot summer winds and cold rainy winters which converted Cliff Street into a quagmire.
The descriptions of Fremantle at this time present a rather grim picture of a lonely barren port where the 'Fremantle Doctor' whipped the sands up and made life miserable for the local inhabitants. Captain John Stokes brought the famous Beagle (the ship on which Charles Darwin travelled) into Fremantle in 1837 and observed: 'Fremantle, of which it was wittily said by the quartermaster of one of His Majesty's ships who visited the place, 'you might run it through an hour glass in a day', is but a collection of low white houses scattered over the scarce whiter sand.'
It is a comment on the nature of early Fremantle that the first public building was a gaol. Designed by the Colonial Engineer, Henry Willey Reveley, and located at the western end of the High Street, it was a 12 sided building which became known as The Round House. Today it is the oldest building in the area and is open for inspection. Built in 1830-31 it contains eight cells and a latrine, wash house and warder's quarters. The building, with its central courtyard, stands impressively on the headland overlooking the town.
It is an irony that the only reason it wasn't demolished in 1922 (there was obviously little interest in history at the time) was because the Harbour Master protested that its demolition would expose his house to north westerly gales. Nothing to do with history. Everything to do with convenience.
There is a particularly informative little brochure entitled The Round House 1831: Western Australia's oldest public building and the Swan River Colony's first gaol which was published as part of the Australian Bicentenary. It has a map of Fremantle with the old buildings, many of which have long disappeared, superimposed on the current city site. It is available from the Round House Shop which is located nearby in a limestone cottage which was used to accommodate the families of Fremantle harbour pilots.
Interest in this area of town also focuses on the tunnel which was cut underneath The Round House in 1837 so that a local whaling company could have more direct access to the harbour.
The town grew slowly over the first twenty years. At the time the only available building materials were soft sandstone and jarrah so most of the early buildings were a kind of modified Georgian style with timber shingle roofs.
In the book Fremantle, T.A.G. Hungerford, notes that 'Grogshops and flies notwithstanding, by 1833 there was at the mouth of the Swan River a small township of some 200 'good stone houses' in regularly laid-out streets, some of them macadamised. There were two large, wellkept inns where 'you could get clean beds and good private rooms'...and obviously such a determination to make good that two years later Captain Irwin could write that '...invalids from India, accustomed to every luxury, have been thoroughly satisfied with their entertainment. The shops and stores are provided with almost everything the settlers are likely to require'.'
Part of the problem with the development of Fremantle at this time was the shortage of labour - a problem which was solved in 1850 with the establishment of the Imperial Convict Depot.
The arrival of convicts in the settlement immediately placed pressure on the existing community. For five years the convicts laboured to build a cell block for one thousand men, suitable accommodation for the warders, a Commissariat and houses for the Officers. With such a huge influx of people the centre of early Fremantle moved from High Street and Cliff Street towards South Bay.
The life of the convicts at this time was miserable and unbelievably hard. Perhaps the most famous of all the convicts was John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian activist who arrived in 1868 and escaped in 1869 on an American whaler. He became a prominent activist in the USA and was responsible for the escape of a number of Fenians aboard the Catalpa in 1879.
O'Reilly wrote a book Moondyne Joe: A Story from the Underworld in which he described the conditions of the convicts in Fremantle.
'The chain gang of Fremantle is the depth of the penal degradation. The convicts wear from thirty to fifty pounds of iron, according to the offence. It is riveted on their bodies in the prison forge and when they have served their time the great rings have to be chiselled off their calloused limbs.'
The influence of the convicts on the architecture of Fremantle can never be overstated. From 1850 until 1868 there was a huge building program in the settlement which has resulted in some of the city's finest buildings. Although transportation was stopped in 1868 this didn't mean that the convicts already in Australia stopped working. Convict labourers continued to have an impact on Fremantle until the 1880s.
One of the most important developments of the port occurred when the Inner Harbour was opened in 1897 after the sand bar was removed from the mouth of the Swan River and South and North Moles were built to prevent further silting up by the sea. This vital piece of construction was done by the great engineer Charles Yelverton O'Connor. There is a memorial to O'Connor at Victoria Quay outside the Fremantle Port Authority Building.
The big turning point for Fremantle occurred in the 1980s when, through a series of fortuitous circumstances, it became one of the premier tourist destinations in Australia. Recognition of the city's historic heritage led to the systematic preservation and development of the old buildings in the business district. This process was greatly helped by the 1983 victory of Australia II in the America's Cup competition. This meant that the cup arrived in Australia and that the subsequent America's Cup challenge was held off Fremantle. A certain hysteria and wishful thinking entered the minds of the entrepreneurs and developers. However the result was the construction of new hotels, new marinas, the development of Fremantle's foreshores, the establishment of cycleways, and the improvement of public facilities. Modern Fremantle is very much, post-America's Cup Fremantle. It has an air of sophistication which was lacking in the 1970s.
Things to see:
Historic Attractions in Fremantle
1. St Johns Anglican Church
St Johns Anglican Church - located on the corner of Adelaide and Queen Streets, this beautiful old stone church was built in stone and consecrated in 1881. The paving stones outside are Yorkshire flagstones which were brought to Australia as ballast for sailing ships.
2. Fremantle Town Hall
Fremantle Town Hall - located in St Johns Square on the corner of Adelaide and William Streets, this gracious public building was opened on 22 June 1887 as part of Queen Victoria's Jubilee Celebrations. It was built for the huge sum of £15 000. The clock tower, which is one of Fremantle's prominent landmarks, is 31 m high.
The opening of the Hall was not without its mishaps. William Conroy, the licensee of the Victoria Hotel was refused admittance to the celebrations because he was drunk. In a fit of pique he shot the councillor who had refused him entry. Conroy was duly tried and sentenced to death. Executed on 18 November 1887, he was the last person to be hanged at Perth Gaol.
3. Warders Quarters
Warders Quarters - located in Henderson Street these old stone terrace houses were built in 1851 by convict labour. They were built to provide accommodation for the guards and warders working in the Fremantle Gaol. The design was typical of the Royal Engineers and has strong elements of Georgian architecture. The Quarters are still let to people employed in the Fremantle Gaol.
|The gates of Fremantle Gaol
4. Fremantle Gaol
Fremantle Gaol - located on the top of a small hill at 16 The Terrace this remarkable historic gaol was built between 1851 and 1859. It was built by Captain E. Y. W. Henderson, Comptroller General of the Convict Establishment at the time, and boasted 5 m high walls and an excellent chapel which was surrounded by cells. It is reputedly based on the design used at Pentonville Gaol in England. It is a comment on the quality of the initial building that it is still being used today.
5. Fremantle Markets
Fremantle Markets - Located on the South Terrace this historic marketplace was first opened in 1897. Known simply as the 'Freo Markets' they were refurbished in 1975 and today are home to over 140 shops. The markets are open on Friday (9.00 a.m. - 9.00 p.m.), Saturday (9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.) and Sunday (11.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m.).
Fremantle Boys School - Located at 92 Adelaide Street this wonderful old building was a school for over one hundred years before falling into disrepair in the 1950s. It was restored in 1974 and has since been used to house the Film and Television Institute (W.A.) Inc.
Major Museums in Fremantle
1. Western Australian Maritime Museum
Western Australian Maritime Museum - Located in Cliff Street this is one of the best Museums in Australia. It has a marvellous display of artifacts brought up from the depths of the Indian Ocean and recalling a time when sailing ships were swept across the Indian Ocean by the Roaring Forties. The highlight of the Museum is the remarkable reconstruction of the Dutch ship Batavia which was wrecked off the Western Australian coast in 1629. In a country where European settlement didn't start until 1788 such a vessel is truly ancient history.
2. Sails of the Century Museum
Further along Cliff Street (keep walking north until you reach Victoria Quay) is the Sails of the Century Museum which is part of the Maritime Museum. Located in B Shed this museum houses a number of interesting vessels which worked and played in Western Australian waters. In recent times it has housed Australia II (the boat which won the America's Cup), Perie Banou (in which Jon Sanders sailed solo around the world twice), a racing boat from the 1920s and a fishing boat, the Little True, which was built around 1875.
3. Fremantle Museum and Art Gallery
Fremantle Museum and Art Gallery - Located on the corner of Finnerty and Ord Streets this was the last of the major buildings in Fremantle constructed by the Convict Establishment. Built between 1861-65 it was designed as a Lunatic Asylum. Over the years it has been used as a training hospital for midwives, a womens' home and a base for US naval personnel during World War II. Today it is a beautifully integrated centre. One of the highlights of a visit to the complex is that, on Sunday afternoons, the quadrangle is used by singers, poets and musicians. The sight of an informal concert in the midst of an Art Gallery and Museum is a superb integration of the arts which creates an old world ambience and charm.
4. Fremantle Prison Museum
Fremantle Prison Museum - Located at 16 The Terrace this is an interesting and well organised display relating to prisons and convicts since the earliest days of Western Australian settlement. It is open from 9.30 a.m.-1.00 p.m. Monday to Friday, 1.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m. Saturday and 11.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Sunday. From the upper levels of the Museum it is possible to see inside the Prison's grounds.
5. Samson House Museum
Samson House Museum - Located on the corner of Ellen and Ord Streets, Samson House museum was once the home of the Samson family who can claim to have the oldest family business in Australia. This superb old building was designed by Sir Joseph Talbot Hobbs (he also designed Scots Church in South Terrace) for Michael Samson. The house was bequeathed to the Western Australian Museum in 1987 and is now open to the public. Apart from its substantial gardens the house has excellent displays of period furniture. The focus of restoration has been to preserve the feeling of a well to do home at the end of last century. The result is quite magnificent. The kitchen has been restored to late 1930s style. The beautifully restored and maintained house is an insight into the lifestyle of one of Fremantle's most prominent families. It is open from 1.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m. on Thursday and Sunday and guided tours take around 45 minutes.
This brief description of the city's most interesting buildings really only scratches the surface of this remarkable centre. The best and most useful guide to the city's buildings - it includes everything from current craft shops to the fascinating old German Consulate Building - is Ken Jackson's Fremantle. It is a model of how a good city guide can be presented. There is a colour photograph of each of the buildings with an informative and detailed history of the genesis and current use of the building complete with opening times and other necessary details.
There are five heritage trail brochures available for the Fremantle area.
1. Manjaree Trail
Manjaree Trail - This trail starts at Cantonment Hill and moves down the Inner Harbour and around to the northern end of Marine Terrace. Its interest lies in its attempt to evoke the sense of what Fremantle must have been like for the local Aborigines before the arrival of the Europeans. The Aboriginal names of some of the locations are mentioned and there is a detailed description of Whadjuck people who lived in the area.
2. Convict Trail
Convict Trail - This trail runs from where South Jetty used to be (at Anglesea Point) around Marine Terrace and up Essex Street to the Fremantle Gaol. The major points on the trail are South Jetty, the Commissariat building, the locations of the first customs house and first convict depot, the barracks and warders cottages, and the Prison Museum. The brochure contains useful information about the conditions which characterised convict life in the 1850s and 1860s.
3. Old Foreshore
Old Foreshore - Since the 1970s there have been so many changes to the foreshore at Fremantle that it is easy to forget that the port which exists today has little to do with the port as it existed in the 1840s and 1850s. This heritage trail explains what the port was like and just exactly how it has changed. The photographs and early paintings of Fremantle are particularly fascinating.
4. East Fremantle Heritage Trail
East Fremantle Heritage Trail - This 3 km walk through East Fremantle includes a number of historic hotels, the Town Hall, former Police Station, former Post and Telegraph Office and various private dwellings. East Fremantle became a separate municipality in 1897 and has acquired a separate identity from the more developed Fremantle centre. It presents a very different image of Fremantle from that of the more popular tourist attractions in the city centre.
5. Rocky Bay Heritage Trail
Rocky Bay Heritage Trail - is a combination of a 1 km scenic walk along the cliff tops of Rocky Bay and a 2 km walk around the old town of North Fremantle. This is another opportunity to explore aspects of Fremantle which aren't usually covered in the standard attractions of the city.
North Mole is essentially a rock wall on the northern side of the Swan River estuary. It is predominantly an industrial area but it also boasts some excellent light to medium tackle fishing from the rock wall but be careful as the wall can be treacherous. The herring has a tendency to go crazy at North Mole as soon as the sun goes down. They continue biting until midnight. A floating rig is recommended. Dusk is also an excellent time to catch skippy, salmon, pink snapper and squid.
Morning is ideal for salmon, some herring, garfish and bonito. The latter are so plentiful that they can be seen swimming past the wall and that they are very easy to catch at dawn, using a handline or rod and reel to hurl a floating lure or live bait (garfish make the best bait). Garfish are also prolific in the morning.
At the very end of North Mole it is said that anglers can snare a mixed bag including pink snapper and salmon in autumn and winter. Squid also live around the rocks, ready to take squid jigs.
Bait and tackle are available from Fleets For Tackle at 66 Adelaide St, Fremantle (tel: 08 9430 8188) and Custom Networks at 84 Hampton Rd, tel: (08) 9335 2492. In early September of the year 2000 Custom Networks will be moving to Unit 18, 219 Hampton Rd, South Fremantle.
A range of boats can be hired from Fremantle Yacht Charters on Mews Road, by the harbour, (tel: 08 9335 3844) and from Ali West Boat Hire, tel: (0414) 914 124.
Fishing Charters WA act as a co-ordinating booking service for two dozen deep-sea and game-fishing charter operators in Fremantle. They are located at 2/47 Mews Rd, Fremantle, tel: (1800) 656 616 or (08) 9430 6001. The latter number is also used for faxes. The business can also be contacted on a 24-hourly service by calling the mobile number (0419) 990 884. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The Fremantle Amateur Angling Club can be contacted through Mick Burgin, tel: (08) 9310 1952.
Coogee Beach and Woodman Point
Coogee is a residential suburb located 7 or 8 km south of Fremantle via the Old Coast Road. There is a new jetty on the beach which is popular with anglers. A reserve adjoins Coogee Beach Holiday Park (tel: 08 9418 1810) . Bait is available from the Coogee Beach Deli in Powell St, tel: (08) 9418 3646.
About 750 metres further south along the beach is Woodman Point where there is another popular fishing jetty with a night light. The Woodman Point Holiday Park (tel: 08 9434 1433) is located in Cockburn Road.
The beach fishing at Woodman Point offers bream, garfish, herring, whiting, tailor, flathead and, for those who are prepared, monster rays weighing up to 100 kg.
Beyond Coogee Beach is an old shipwreck where there are huge tailor to be had in summer (up to and beyond 12 kg). There are also 1-2 kg pink snapper, garfish, dhufish (i.e., tandan) and the odd mackerel. Watch out for the snags.
Books on Fremantle
There are a large number of books about Fremantle. One of the most interesting and entertaining is simply titled Fremantle. It is written by the well known Western Australian fiction writer, T.A.G. Hungerford, and features an excellent black and white photographic essay on the city and its people.