Fremantle, a city of about 26,000 people, lies at the mouth of the Swan River, about 20 kilometers southwest of Perth. It began as the port for the Swan River Colony in 1829. The English colonists who first settled there soon found that the salt plains and sand could not grow the necessary food crops and there was no fresh water to be had, so within a few months they moved inland to where Perth is now. Fremantle’s port continued to serve as the supply point and western gateway to Australia as long as ships remained the preferred mode of transport for world travelers. Once air travel became prevalent, most of that market went to Perth. However, Fremantle has continued to host a large fishing fleet and container ships, and cruise liners are now once again increasing the passenger arrivals.
We took a day trip by city bus (because the train wasn’t running that day) from Perth to Fremantle, which is noted for its Victorian heritage buildings. One of these is the Fremantle Market, which was built in 1897 and has always been a marketplace. It is a huge structure with stalls crowded throughout and people packed in like sardines every weekend. Our American RV friends would be reminded of the Quartzsite swap meets on a much more permanent basis. There are food vendors galore, crafts of every kind, clothing, new things that we didn’t know existed right next to antiques, and street performers everywhere.
High Street in Fremantle has a cluster of the “most undisturbed heritage buildings anywhere in Australia,” we were told, including the Town Hall (built in 1887). At the foot of High Street is the Round House, the first gaol (and one of the first permanent buildings) built in Fremantle in about 1831 although the first shipload of convicts didn’t arrive until 1850. Many of the lovely buildings in Fremantle were built by convict labor.
A newer addition to Fremantle is the Tourist Wheel, a big 40-metre (131-foot) tall Ferris wheel in Esplanade Park near the Fishing Boat Harbour. The views from the top were very nice. We had dinner at Cicerello’s nearby, which our guidebook had recommended as THE place to have seafood in Fremantle. It’s a big place, noisy even at 5:00 in the afternoon. We shared a “Tasting Plate” that came with a whole bunch of different kinds of seafood: crumbed whiting, oyster kilpatric, Japanese scallops, prawns, barramundi kebab, squid, local black mussels, Fremantle sardines, and hoki (a fish with white meat). The presentation was quite impressive.
Another day trip from Perth was to Rottnest Island, located in the Indian Ocean 18 kilometers west of Fremantle. We had a leisurely ferry trip down the Swan River from Perth, through Fremantle to the island. A small settlement on Thomson Bay provides housing for the 200 or so permanent residents and accommodations for the 500,000 visitors each year. Many of these structures were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
On the island, we took a great 90-minute bus tour. We learned about the Aboriginal and European history; early life on the island in the 1830s and beyond when Aboriginal prisoners were used as slave labor to create infrastructure for the European colonists; military presence during both World Wars; the many shipwrecks that line the rocks and reefs around the island, which led to the building of the two lighthouses; and of course, about the quokkas.
Quokkas are little marsupial members of the wallaby family with bare tails. The Dutch who first landed on the island in 1696 thought they were big rats, so they named the island Rats’ Nest – Rottnest in Dutch. There are about 15,000 quokkas on the island; we saw about a dozen of them in several small batches. They really are cute, and they like people. Unfortunately, the fact that people feed them starchy people food causes them health problems, and they do carry salmonella and other diseases, plus they do bite, so we were told not to try to cuddle them. We just enjoyed them from a distance.
Two highlights of the bus tour were Wadjemup Lighthouse on the highest point on the island and Fish Hook Bay on the West End where there was a magnificent osprey nest with at least two young. The heath-covered hillsides were a mix of lovely colors leading down to the multi-hued blue waters.