Leaving the mists of the beautiful southwest behind we docked at Fremantle for some well-earned shore leave. In the bright sun, we toured through the hipster-inspired inner city from on high aboard the free CAT bus and hit the famous Fremantle Marketplace in the old city centre inspired to check out all the creative crafters and fabulous foodies on offer. After we’d had our fill of the delightful delicacies on offer we cruised through the streets of Notre Dame University housed in the grand old sandstone merchant trade and government buildings, checked out the old wharf area including the gloomy whalers tunnel under the original customs round house and then toured the maritime museum.
The fellas were just a tad excited to thoroughly inspect the wing-keeled super yacht, Australia II of Americas Cup fame and relived memories of their misspent youth luffing and bluffing their way through the History of Australian Yachting display, boasting many fine examples of past eras, including their own. You know you’re getting old when you can recognise things from your own childhood in a museum!
Next, we all climbed some seriously high scaffolding to descend into the steaming cloistered depths of an Ovens class submarine that had been dry-docked nearby. It was old and rusty, cluttered and dusty but the fellas were all ears as our tour guide, an ex-merchant marine with a passion for all things nautical brought the day to-day existence of a submariner to life in his fine Scottish brogue.
After all that hard work, we shouted ourselves an extended happy hour in the heart of the city’s vibrant cafe district at nearby Cappuccino Lane before grabbing the last CAT bus back to camp.
Our fun continued the next day as we took the fast ferry across to Rottnest Island to spend yet another sun filled day exploring this gorgeous place with a somewhat chequered past. It had originally been established as an army barracks and later a prison for aboriginal men. Many of them were arrested for very minor crimes or locked up for inciting violence against the whites amongst their own people.
They were almost completely self-sufficient with a mill, saltworks, prison farm, crops, school, church and houses for the warders’ families. It was also a base for the pilot boat crews working Fremantle’s dangerous harbour entrance. A grand residence was later built as an opulent holiday home for the state’s Governor and during the war years, the island was also used as an internment camp for German, Italian and Japanese citizens.
But these days it’s a relaxed holiday destination for all Westcoasters. We decided to start our adventure by taking the hop-on/hop-off bus around the island to get our bearings. We walked out to the seal colony and took in the vistas of both Perth and Fremantle from the lookouts. We strolled through the small holiday villages, bushy campgrounds and old staff housing long since converted to basic holiday homes stopping to take in the beaches in the secluded bays dotted all around the island filled with jet skis, ski boats, cruisers and sailboats on their moorings.
Later, The Driver and I visited the museum and the aboriginal cemetery and sneaked a peek inside the old gaol cells that sadly are now part of the resort accommodation while Peter Perfect and his bride, the Gorgeous Mrs G walked up to the lighthouse. To Mrs G’s delight, there were little smiley quokkas all over the island and they were more than happy to pose for her camera.
We stopped for a drink at the old Governors house, now a beautifully restored hotel in the resort area before boarding the last ferry together with the hordes of day-trippers heading back to the mainland. We celebrated our excursion by indulging in an Indian feast at one of the local eateries in the inner city and strolled back to camp admiring the sandstone terrace houses in the warm night air.
The next day, after completing shopping and washing duties we conned the fellas into doing some more touring around the town by stopping for a drink at every beer garden. It was another beautiful warm sunny day but at around 4.30 the famous Fremantle Doctor blew into town and a chill descended. We took refuge down at the brewery on fisherman’s harbour where we filled up on fish and chips before settling into deep couches at the pub on the Esplanade to watch AFL on the big screen with a bunch of Victorians.
The Driver and I attended a very moving Dawn Service early the next morning along with a cast of thousands including quite a few uniformed regiments standing to attention and watched the sun rise over the harbour with a bugle accompaniment followed by a fighter jet fly-past courtesy of the nearby defence base. It was a fitting tribute to our last day in the wonderful city of Fremantle.