Freemantle, Australia

     We arrived at Freemantle for an overnight stay at 4:00 PM on February 21.  Founded in 1829, when Captain Charles Freemantle claimed all of western Australia for England, it is located at the mouth of the Swan River about 12 miles from Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and is one of the main ports in the region.  Its population is close to 30,000 today.

     Once the ship was cleared by the dock officials we walked out of the harbor and crossed a metal pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.  On the dock by the ship was a small band of Australians singing “Waltzing Matilda.”

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   Walking toward the center of town we passed several old churches. 

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     Freemantle (known locally as “Freo”) is characterized by its many Victorian buildings, some of which we passed on our walk the first afternoon.

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     In the middle of town we saw the Town Hall, opened in 1887, with its imposing clock tower.  The garish asymmetrical yellow stripes at the top were a mystery until later on the second day.  Near it was a small platform with plants called the “Tiny Park,” intended as a brief respite from crowds on busy days. It was very tiny, maybe 8 feet in length.

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      Returning to the ship we had to clear Australian security, which turned out to be absurdly tight.  We had to remove everything metal to get through the detector, including Rick’s belt & wallet.  Mary had to be wanded because of her titanium knee . . . and the rivets on her blue jeans.  It was silly, since the only place you could go afterward was on the ship, which has its own metal detectors that are not quite as tightly wound.  So if that was good enough for the ship it seemed it should be good enough for the Australians.

    We had thought to spend the second day in Perth.  But we were leaving at 4:00 & Perth was a train ride away, and we hadn’t seen much of Freemantle.  So we decided to spend the second day in Freemantle and save Perth for another visit.  This turned out to be a good choice.

     So after breakfast we left the ship and headed to the left this time to find the Freemantle Arts Centre.  On the way we passed what looks like a nice cruise ship with large windows in every room.  Actually, it is the world’s largest sheep transport ship, which would be taking export sheep to the Middle East.  We could almost see the sheep checking into their rooms and unpacking before heading to the buffet for breakfast!  In fact the ship was empty at that time, but we were told that when it is full you can smell it before you see it.

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    The Freemantle Arts Centre was built by convicts in the 1860’s as the Freemantle Lunatic Asylum. The current exhibit was “Museum Of Water” and our friend Robert, who was already there, told us it consisted entirely of jars of water with labels of where they were collected.  So we decided we didn’t need to see that.  The grounds were lovely, though, with some nice flowers & some birds nearby.

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     We decided to visit the Freemantle Prison next, but it took a great deal of looking before we found it.  The prison was built in the 1850’s by the first group of convicts transported here from England.  Before the convict transportation system was shut down in 1886 some 10,000 men had been sent here.  It was used as the local prison after that until 1991, when it was closed and opened to the public for visiting.  The remains of the eleven convict prisons in Australia are all part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the one in Freemantle is in the best condition (after some restoration).

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     Our friends Robert & Bill were at the prison when we arrived & we were in the same group for the tour.  Our delightful guide, Moira, was full of interesting stories & was a dramatic story teller.  We set out to walk through the cell blocks, depressing to say the least.

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     We visited the prison library and the chapel.  Then Moira took us down for a look at the solitary confinement building, where each cell had an inner and outer door & a food slot.  Outside was the site for lashings with a cat o’ nine-tails, which Moira deftly demonstrated on one of the hapless visitors.

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     Headed for the Shipwreck Galleries, we walked past what appeared to be the rugby stadium, the Freemantle Market (built in 1897), only open on weekends, and an odd street sign & some wall art.

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     The Shipwreck Galleries are housed in a building built by convicts in the 1850’s as a government warehouse.  It houses artifacts & displays relating to . . . shipwrecks in western Australia.  Its prize display is of part of the hull of the Dutch ship Batavia, which sank in 1829 on its way to Batavia (now Jakarta).  Among other things, it was carrying stones intended to complete the gates of the city of Batavia, which have now been assembled in the museum. The full story of the Batavia sinking is a lurid one, and the museum also presents the story of its recovery in 1972.

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    We stopped for a delicious lunch of fish & chips at a nearby restaurant called Char Char then headed over to the Round House.  The Round House (actually an octagon) was built in 1831 to serve as the local jail and is the oldest remaining building in Western Australia.  It is built on the spot where Captain Freemantle claimed western Australia for the crown.  It had 8 cells opening onto a central courtyard.  A tunnel was built below it to enable whalers to transfer their catch directly from the water into the town.

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      Meanwhile, remember those garish yellow stripes on the top of the Town Hall?  It turns out that they are part of a temporary art installation that can only be seen properly from the steps of the Round House. From there it looks like a large tunnel made of yellow semicircles stretching down the street to the Town Hall.  From below it doesn’t.

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     Back on the ship for the sail away, we could see Perth in the distance (about 12 miles away) & the sheep ship being loaded.  A huge solid body Japanese ship was nearby unloading Toyotas. And there was a yacht that the Captain told us cost 200 million US dollars (10 years earlier the Amsterdam hand cost only $50 million more than that).

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     As we sailed away we had one last view of Freemantle in the sunny afternoon, then as we left the port we passed a forest of yacht masts.  This was our last glimpse of Australia as we headed into the Indian Ocean toward Indonesia.

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