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Notes on the Geography of Australia: Fremantle

Not quite sure where Fremantle is or whether it's interesting? You've got lots of company. It probably doesn't help much if I tell you that it's the port of Perth and sits at the mouth of the Swan River, about 12 miles downstream from Perth. The cure is simple: amazing what a look-see can accomplish.

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Looking upstream on the Swan less than a mile from its mouth. Someone around here appreciates and can afford amenities.

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Looking downstream under two road bridges we find the serious end of the river's mouth.

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Car carriers must be the most ungainly vessels on the seas. This one is the Wisteria Ace, Liberian registered and delivering vehicles here, there, and everywhere. A week later, it was heading through Panama.

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The raw coast. It's picturesque so long as you're not marooned.

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Whalers set up a station in the 1820s at a small harbor, now much modified.

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The hill from which the last picture was taken presents a cliff to the beach, but the material is so soft that the whalers cut a tunnel through it.

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Atop the hill, here's the oldest surviving building of the Swan River colony, established a few years later. It's the Round House, an eight-celled prison from 1831. More like a dungeon.

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And here, on the inland side of the tunnel, we have High Street stretching into the distance. In the foreground is the surviving facade of a 1904 trolley barn. This is one of the few examples in Fremantle of buildings destroyed except for a patch of skin.

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Well, here's another, just down the street to the right. The demolition crew went to work in 1967 but quit for some reason, and in 1974 the facade was listed with the National Trust. The windows were filled in, and there the face of the Reckitt and Colman Building sits, a bit like ruins in the Roman forum. The building down the street, from 1895, replaced an earlier building occupied by Lionel Samson, a Jewish merchant who located a shop here in 1829. By 1833 he was advertising American pork and beef in barrels, Jamaican sugar, rice in bags, and butter and suet in casks. Dry goods, too: shirts and socks. Samson died in 1878, but the family business carried on in this "new" building, which now includes the offices of Plantagenet wines, another of the family's products.

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Carry on just a bit more in that direction and you find this reminder of the days when the labor movement was a force in the land. The numbers up top signify "8 hours work, 8 hours leisure, 8 hours sleep." What a radical idea! Wildly impractical, of course.

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Here's John Forrest again; we met him wandering around Perth. Well, I mean, we were wandering; John's been dead a while. (Don't you just love how English speakers get tangled up in word order?)

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Carpenter was defeated in 1906 and booted out of the party because--his version--he fought for free speech.

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Across the street and facing the beach, this is the Esplanade Hotel, built in 1897 during the gold rush and replacing a warehouse built on the site in the 1850s. It's now run by Rydge's, a national chain.

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There's an amazing collection of old hotels in Fremantle, but don't take my word for it. Let's walk inland along High Street. That would be the Hotel Fremantle on the left.

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It opened in 1899; during World War II it was a hospital.

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High Street was laid out by Septimus Roe, the pioneering land surveyor; the view here is toward the Round House.

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The view the other way, looking toward the cone atop the town hall.

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And here's the Hotel Cleopatra. Originally it was the Crown and Thistle, but the name changed when a sea-captain bought the place and named it after a vessel he owned. The hotel was demolished, then rebuilt in 1907. It kept the exotic name, perhaps appealing to guests who had recently passed through the Suez Canal.

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Here's the Hotel Orient, from 1903.

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In 1870 this was the Victoria Hotel, but in 1901 it became the P&O Hotel. Now it's Quinlan's Training Restaurant, part of the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA). The students are in the government's Training and Workforce Development (TAFE) program.

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Until 1886 this building housed a branch of the National Bank of Australasia. Then it became the National Hotel. The first hotel proprietor made the mistake of shooting a town councilor and getting himself hanged. And you thought Texans were crazy. In 1902 the place was rebuilt and went from two to five stories.

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Speaking of the law, here's Tammatt Chambers, built to house a law firm. Just can't do without those guys.

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An odd B&B, and hardly less odd in its previous incarnation as the Tarantella Night Club. Ah, but things become clear: this was originally Perth's German consulate. It shared space with Norddeutsche-Lloyd. Go ahead: knock on the door and ask for Brunnhilde. I dare you.

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Here's the Fremantle Town Hall, built in 1887 to mark Victoria's Golden Jubilee. No, I have no idea how to hoist the flag, and I sure don't want to try. Nobody on the premises seems too keen, either.

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Canadian-born Frederick Napier Broome had a bumpy but lucky career. He failed running a sheep station in New Zealand, took up a career as a journalist and author in London, and somehow wangled an appointment as colonial secretary in Natal. A few years later he was sent in the same capacity to Mauritius, and then in 1883 he became governor of Western Australia. His timing, coinciding with the gold rush, was impeccable, and in 1890 he helped persuade Westminster to grant self-government to Western Australia. From there, it was back to the tropics, where Broome served as governor of Trinidad.

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Next door to the town hall of course there's an Anglican church--hand in hand we go. It's St John's Anglican, 1882, replacing an older building and designed by William Smith of London. The bell turret was added about 1906, and the asbestos roof is a still later improvement.

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Along with the church came this parish hall, built for church functions but used also as a public hall; the name is another reminder of Victoria's golden jubilee. Don't be misled: the side walls are stone, but the facade is stucco. Bit like a movie set.

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No stucco here, thanks. Now the city's Arts Center, this was built as a lunatic asylum. It then functioned as an Old Women's Home (the phrase "Senior Citizen" had not yet been invented), an asylum for the criminally insane, and regional headquarters for the U.S. Navy during War II. This was the first attempt in Western Australia to renovate an old building. If the road seems to pass uncomfortably close, rest assured it wasn't that way until the traffic engineers stopped by. Stone for the building for quarried locally, and the building was built by convict labor. That's something we've managed to sidestep in all these pictures: the Imperial Convict Establishment brought its first prisoner to Perth in 1850, and the program (should it be called a "program"? how about "scheme"? "project"?) continued until 1868.

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Convicts built this, too. It's the Fremantle Boys' School of 1855, now the Film and Television Institute.

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No convicts here: this is Princess May Girls' School, from 1900. It closed in 1968 and is now the Fremantle Education Center. Looks like it will be around for another century at least.

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Now we're talking: we've come to the best or worst display of convict labor anywhere. Of course this is just the edge of it: it's the on-site home for the superintendent. Superintendent of what, you ask?

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Of Fremantle prison, built by convicts from limestone quarried on the site. Yes, there are tours, and they're sobering.

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The prison operated from 1855 until an astonishing 1990. How appreciative do you think arriving inmates were of the fine ironwork?

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Inside the gate.

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When was the netting added? No idea.

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Sunday morning consolation.

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Most of the day was spent right here--including meals. Later on, cells were enlarged to hold two men.

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The gallows.

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Just a hop, skip, and jump to the town's large cemetery, which includes this monument to Charles Yelverton O'Connor, the engineer who designed Fremantle Harbour and also planned what was then the world's longest pipeline, sending five million gallons of water daily from near Perth to the goldfields 330 miles to the east. O'Connor was so viciously attacked in the press--"crocodile imposter" was one accusation--that he rode his horse into the sea and shot himself. The next year the pipeline opened and has worked ever since.

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The first fatality in the local labor movement. Going to the rescue of a bayoneted colleague, Edwards' skull was broken by a police baton. The funeral was huge.


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