We are booked on a half day tour which will “take in all major attractions” of Perth, then arrive in Fremantle via Cottlesloe Beach.
However, this Sunday is “Run for a Reason” which is actually three separate marathons of 4km, 12km and a half marathon length. As a consequence, many of the city streets are closed, and negotiating his way around the detours is a tough gig for our driver guide, who is returning today from six months leave, an added challenge. It’s a bit of a shemozzle, with an hour’s delay in getting underway, so we head directly to Kings Park and Botanic Garden. On the upside, we enter from a rear gate, and drive through untouched bush land, an aspect the average tourist would not normally see.
You cannot visit Perth and NOT visit this park. It is an amazing expanse of public land (400 hectares; 4 square km; 1000 acres) showcasing 1,700 unique native species, and all perched high on the crest of Mount Eliza, with sweeping views of the city below. You cannot explore all it has to offer on one visit, and in fact, we return a second time on this trip (more about that in another post). The main point of this tour stop is to showcase the 750 year old Boab Tree. If you would like to read about where this tree came from, and how it was transported to Kings Park, click here.
The park is broken into several sections, and on this visit, we were mostly around the Pioneer Women’s Memorial area. This consists of an ornamental lake, sculpture and fountains. There are bronze sculptures dotted amongst the reeds of the lake as well. Along the way, we meandered through a “meeting place” which was like an open amphitheatre, and stumbled across a kangaroo paw (plant) and saw many grevillias and flowering gums. I also had time to grab a visit to the war memorial.
Note: You can get to Kings Park from St Georges Terrace in Perth CBD for free on the Transperth bus route 37.
Our next destination, Fremantle, is around a half hour drive south-west of the city centre. It is the major car and general trade port for Western Australia, so I had already visited a few times when I had a job as a national manager for a global shipping line. This was Bill’s first visit however. So we chose to leave the tour and spend some hours exploring, as the coach was only staying a half hour here. Others chose to return to Perth via a river cruise.
Fremantle sits at the mouth of the Swan River, and the 1829 infant colony originally set up there as the Swan River settlement. It still has many Victorian and Edwardian era fine buildings from its boom days starting in the late 1800s. In more recent times, many readers may have heard of Fremantle on account of the 1987 America’s Cup (yachting) being defended there. That in turn, was on account of Australia winning the cup in 1983, which so delighted our then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, that he said:
I tell you what! Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.
He did qualify that with saying we would have to work harder the next day, but nevertheless it was a marvellous moment of rejoicing. Here is a good 20 second clip if you are interested. You’ve got to love his jacket too! And overseas readers may also get a kick out of his unadulterated Australian accent.
The winning yacht, Australia II (KA 6) is housed in the magnificent Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle. On this occasion though, we chose to visit a separate building of the museum called The Shipwreck Galleries.
It is commonly stated that Captain Cook discovered Australia. Technically, that is gilding the lily, much like most press releases of today. As part of his 1768-1771 expedition to observe the 1769 transit of Venus and to seek evidence of the Terra Australis Incognita or “unknown southern land” he landed in Botany Bay (near Sydney) and on 22 August 1770, claimed the whole of the east coast of Australia, naming it New South Wales (in part Wikipedia).
Meanwhile, the Australian Aborigines had discovered the continent about 40,000 or 50,000 years earlier, but even disregarding that, the existence of a Great Southern Land had been touted as far back as 1515 by the Portuguese on their way through to Timor. The first recorded landing (pedants please feel free to correct me now), was the Duyfken under Captain Willem Janszoon in 1606. (There is a replica in Fremantle harbour). I’m not about to embark on a history lesson, because I am sure to get it wrong, but a good book on the subject is: The Savage Shore by Graham Seal. The bottom line is that being blown off-course meant that many vessels of the Dutch East India Company (actually the VOC or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in Dutch) found themselves on the shores of Western Australia, whether they meant to be there or not.
In 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman perfected the Swiss Cheese effect, by managing to sail through all possible obstructions until he hit Tasmania, which was originally known as Van Diemen’s Land.
Those of you who like a good crime thriller would be well served to read up on the story of the Batavia, which foundered on her maiden voyage on the West Australian coast on 4 June 1629 and whose petrified remains are on show in the Shipwreck Museum. It is a story of mutiny, massacre and hijacking to rival anything we know today. Amongst its cargo were pre-fabricated sandstone blocks intended for a portico to be erected as a gatehouse to the city of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). The Shipwreck Museum has done a valiant effort to match up the disparate pieces. I recommend a visit, as there are many other fascinating stories in this museum.
Another interesting “museum” is the Fremantle Prison. Construction commenced in 1851, using convict labour, and it was in use until 1991. Conditions were grim. For example, there are no lavatories in the cells. Australia no longer has capital punishment, but we did at one time, and the last person to be hanged here was serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, executed in 1964. I had toured the prison on a previous visit, having just read Robert Drewe’s memoir The Shark Net, which incorporates his memories of this event. Another recommendation from me!
Okay, on a lighter note – if you go to a port city you expect to see lots of activity around the water, right? So here are some photos from our meanderings, including the obliging cormorant/shag who decided to spread his wings for my photo. I’ll also include a photo of the statue of Bon Scott, lead singer for the Australian hard-rock band AC/DC. Despite being born in Scotland, clearly the locals are claiming “ownership”, on the basis of his having lived there since 1956.
Despite the gloomy weather, on this Sunday afternoon, Fremantle was crawling with people, and the indoor market was a big attraction. I was quite distressed that it wasn’t how I remembered it. Silly. It has been at least eight years since my last visit. Nevertheless, when I got home, I checked my old photographs, and one of the most notable things was that I had the streets pretty much to myself. Also, I had a good look at the architecture, much of which now was under scaffolding. So these photos are from the summer of 2007:
Away from the crowds, we came across this charming church, and in the grounds, a tribute to a sculptor Pietro Giacomo Porcelli (1872-1943). Not someone I had heard of before, but he was obliging enough to let Bill sit for him :-). Here’s a little play on words: Pietro translates to Peter, whereas Pietra translates as “stone”. Interesting slip of the tongue for a sculptor don’t you think?
It is dead easy to get back to Perth on the public transport. The two of us travelled for less than the price of a cup of coffee. We just missed a train, but the service is so frequent, that even on a Sunday, we had less than half an hour to wait for the next.
One of the lovely things about travelling around Australia is the chance to catch up with rarely seen friends. Back in 2013, on our cruise on the Adriatic Pearl in Croatia, we “gelled” with a couple from Perth. Today they picked us up from the train, and before taking us back to their home for a lovely dinner and sparkling conversation, we stopped off at City Beach, which, despite the cool and breezy conditions, still put on an atmospheric sunset.
For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.