Fremantle History Museum
Fremantle was the first settlement of the Swan River colonists in 1829. It was declared a city in 1929, and has a population of approximately 26,000. It still serves as the chief general seaport for Western Australia. Its History Museum showcases the social history and heritage of Fremantle and Western Australia. Located in the Colony's first lunatic asylum, built by convicts in the 1860's, it shares the building with the Arts Centre.
In World War II the museum building became a base for the US Navy. The war heightened Australia's sense of vulnerability and isolation. Its wide-open spaces made the country an easy target for invasion. Australia needed to be able to defend itself. Industrial production had to expand and defence spending increased. Above all Australia needed a bigger population. World War II in creating these influences changed Australia forever. I followed the story of how this happened through the displays in the museum.
The Australian's embarked on a mass immigration campaign. The aim was to increase the population from over 7 million to 20 million within the lifetime of most Australians. Half of the increase they expected to come from natural growth and the other half from immigration. This meant accepting around 70,000 migrants each year.
At first the campaign sought to attract British subjects. However Britain was unable to provide all the labour needed for heavy industry, houses building and public works. Australia then turned to Europe, favouring those from northern Europe and later southern Europe. Migrants needed to be young, fit, healthy and willing to work wherever needed. Immigration assisted schemes and sponsorship programs helped to attract 'desirable types' of people. Australia also accepted wartime refugees. Just over 19,000 displaced persons came to Western Australia - the first group from the Baltic States.
Children from orphanages in Britain also boosted the number of British migrants. The children had little choice about what happened to them and scant protection from exploitation. In some ways this was little better than the ruthless separation of Aboriginal children from their parents, which also occurred.
Conditions on-board ship varied depending on who was migrating and when. Displaced Persons conditions were poor. Often hundreds crowded into a large cabin into bunks stacked three tiers high. Separation of men from women and children occurred. Food supplies were barely enough. Men and single women worked on-board to reduce the cost of passage and to increase the number of refugees in each transport by cutting down on the number of crew needed.
In the first few years of mass migration there was little space assigned for possessions in the hold. This contrasted sharply with pre-war conditions. By chance a friend handed me an account of an outward journey of a local man to Australia just before the start of the war. It compared well with a luxury cruise nowadays. Fortunately from the 1950s assisted migrants received much more space in the ship's hold for their possessions.
Australia in many respects was not ready to receive the large numbers of people arriving in the post-war period. A Bulgarian migrant arriving in Fremantle in 1949 described it as a ghost of a place. The houses covered with corrugated iron. On arrival only those under the assisted passages schemes received temporary accommodation. The types of accommodation provided were austere being often in disused wartime camps. I believe this was when the expression winching POMS (Prisoner of her Majesty’s Service) came in existence. A throwback to when Britain sent convicts out to Australia. The ‘POMS’ had reason to feel homesick! Others unless sponsored had to compete for scarce rental accommodation and government housing.
Displaced Persons and assisted passage migrants had to sign a two-year work contract. Only the British could receive permanent residency before its completion. Speak about two classes of citizen!
The authorities paid scant regard to the qualifications of many non-British migrants, especially Displaced Persons and Italians. Most of these they assigned to labouring and domestic duties. In the early years timber mills, brick and cement works, the building industry, on road and rail construction, and farming and forestry absorbed many of the men. By the 1960 the expanding alumina, iron ore and oil industry made its demands for labour.
During the 1960s immigration controls relaxed. Small numbers of migrants from the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and South America began to arrive. Finally in 1972, the country abandoned the White Australian Policy. Selection changed to economic considerations, such as occupational skills, and social and humanitarian considerations, such as family reunion and refugee status.
Australia nowadays is multicultural. It has travelled a rocky road from bigotry to a country at ease with itself. In sports it wins cups in numbers out of proportion to its population. Winning the America’s Cup yacht race put Fremantle on the world map.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Fremantle Prison - modern era
The prison was handed over around 1868 for 'everyday' crimes from stealing through to murder. And it remained so for the next century - a prison built in the 1850s in use until 1991.
Prisoners were tough, wardens were tough and it became the most notorious of all prisons. Over time modernisation took place - the combining of two cells to make one for single use (other than when it was overcrowded),kitchens, exercise yards, modern sanitation. A women's prison was also built in the grounds, converting one of the larger halls and surrounding it with high walls. But the basics remained the same and when the prison finally closed (or opened....) its doors, the original buildings were nearly 150 years old.
In 1886, the prison had become a major high security prison and, with the building of the gallows, took over from Perth Gaol as the only place of legal execution in the State until the policy was outlawed in 1984. 44 people were hanged - 43 men and one woman, the last being serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke in 1964.
Visits to the prison are by tours only - 75 minutes, one or two run by former guards. They're fascinating, being taken round a place of incarceration with so much history and includes cells (original and new), kitchens, chapel, exercise yards, the isolation block and, most horrific of all, the execution cell.
There are several types of tours - including the 'basic' (Doing Time) there's also the prison walls, underground caverns (Tunnels), escape routes (Great Escape) and the like - plus a nighttime tour (Torchlight). All last between 75-120 minutes and most can be added on to each other, thus spending virtually a whole day in the Prison.
Stay with your group - there's a story (maybe for truth) of a tourist who wandered into a room with a self-locking door who spent the night in Fremantle Prison!
Doing Time & Great Escape are $19 (full)/$16 (concession)/$10 (child 4-15 yo)/$53 (family of 2 adults and 3 kids) (combined - $26/$23/$17/$81)
Tunnels $60/$50/$40 (no family ticket)
- Historical Travel
Fremantle Prison - convict era
A World Heritage listed building, WA's one and only, Fremantle Prison was built by convict labour between 1852 and 1859 from limestone quarried on site. By 1855, enough of the prison was completed for convicts to be moved into the premises, moving from temporary accommodation near the present day Esplanade Hotel (The Round House being far too small). They also built the houses on the outside of the prison walls and the grand houses (the verandahs were added 20 years or so later) marked the importance of the prison staff in the town.
The early convicts were not newly arrived from England - the first were shipped from NSW and the like to help shore up the small local population and be, essentially, slave labour - up until 1850 the colony was made up of freemen and the military.
But more and more were sent from England and by the time the deportations came to an end in 1868, more than 9,500 were processed through Fremantle.
Working 14 - 16 hours per day, whatever the weather, the convicts would be marched off to their place of work before being brought back to their cells. Interestingly, they were not locked up in the cells as they would be today.
As a result of the change of policy, the prison was no longer needed and instead passed control into the hands of the colonial government. Fremantle Prison was to remain the main prison for WA for another 100+ years and become one of the most feared gaols in the country.
- Historical Travel
Fisherman's Memorial (The Jetty)
Down in the fishing docks, the Fisherman's Memorial is a celebration of the men and women who have contributed to the development of the fishing industry in Fremantle, one of the single most important industries that contributed to the growth of the town.
It was unveiled in 2005 and features 608 names (and one nice aspect of the memorial is that it is not simply a list of those lost at sea and the fact it recognises the role of women on land as well as sea), created as it was by local sculptor Greg James and Jon Tarry who designed the jetty itself.
The Terrace, Fremantle
The most feared address in Fremantle and one of the most feared in the whole of Australia - The Terrace being the entrance to Fremantle Prison.
Yet The Terrace itself is lined with delightful Victorian and Edwardian houses backing on to the prison walls. Built mostly in the late 1800s, the buildings were used for the prison staff - including the Governor, Prison Superintendent, Gatekeeper and Guards.
Renovated in the 1990s, today the buildings are utilised by, among others, the University of WA but all of which provide an impressive facade to the prison and surrounding the famed gatehouse and entrance.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
It was blowing a gale, rain was constantly threatening and I'd already chased my sunnies across the park as they were blown off my head. So I cannot say much about the beach other than there's a nice little strip of sand between the mouth of the river and the old fishing port. Photos I've seen usually make the seas aquamarine, the sands almost white. Not today :)
Part of the Maritime Museum, the Shipwreck Galleries are housed in former government port stores from the 19th century and form part of one of the most important maritime archaeological research and display centres in the world.
To be honest, I am not the greatest fan of maritime museums but the Shipwreck Galleries are astonishing. Not only are there displays of salvaged items and treasures from the numerous wrecks from along the treacherous WA coastline, but there's also studies of early exploration, maps, instruments and equipment.
But the stand out is the Batavia Gallery and the reconstructed stern of the Dutch ship Batavia wrecked in 1629 using original timbers. It's a stunning, darkened environment.
Open daily, 9.30am-5pm, entry by gold coin donation.
- Museum Visits
The original jail of Fremantle and the oldest 'complete' building in Western Australia, dating from 1830.
It opened less than 18 months after first settlement and consisted of 8 cells built round a circular courtyard alongside administration offices. But with the arrival of the first of the convict ships to WA in 1850, it was quickly apparent The Roundhouse was too small and Fremantle Prison was duly built.
The Roundhouse remained a police lock-up for minor crimes and overnighters until the 1890s before becoming accommodation for the Water Police, cited as it is on a headland overlooking the mouth of the Swan River and the open seas.
Having fallen into disrepair as a port storage unit, Fremantle Council took over the building in 1982 and renovated it in order to open The Roundhouse to the general public.
It is open daily from 10.30am - 3.30pm and entry is by gold coin donation.
- Historical Travel
Running from the Town Hall to the ocean is the quieter end of High Street and its 19th century buildings - mostly beautifully preserved/renovated. It's walking along here and the side streets running at right-angles which emphasise the history of Fremantle and its uniqueness in Australia. It really is high-density heritage.
The usual budgetary machinations played havoc with the original planning of the Town Hall for Fremantle, with different sites selected before the current site was agreed upon.
Building finally started in 1885, with the building opened on 22 June 1887, just in time for the celebrations of Queen Victoria's 50th Jubilee. It had a sad beginning as, just after midnight, Town Supervisor W J Snook was shot on the premises having refused entry to W Conroy, landlord of the nearby National Hotel. Conroy has the distinction of being the last man to hang in Perth Gaol. It was an auspicious beginning for the building.
It's changed little since it was first unveiled.
- Historical Travel
Fremantle Chamber of Commerce
As we walked to the waterfront we came upon the building that houses the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce. This is an old building from the Boom time in Western Australia. I'm glad to see that old building here are maintained and kept alive; not demolished and left to rot as they sometimes are back at home.
The Explorer's Monument is dedicated to three explorer's: Frederick Panter, James Harding and William Goldwyer;who were exploring Western Australia.
According to the plaque; the explorer's wer murdered by "treacherous" natives (aboriginals in
1864. Thei murder was discovered by Maitland Brown who was sent to look for this missing party. Brown and his men claimed they were attacked by the Aboriginals and killed them. Their is much controversy still regarding this matter in which both sides say they were attacked by the other.
Either way; people died needlessly on both sides and the battle between Aboriginal and White Australian is still present. It's the same sort of tragedy that befell the Native Americans in the United States and I feel bad for the Aboriginal people.
Ride the Ferris Wheel in Fremantle
The Ferris Wheel on the Esplanade is one of the attractions in Fremantle. The Ferris Wheel provides excellent views of the Fishing boat Harbour and surrounding area. For $12 an adult you can take a spin in Freo.
Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour
The Fishing Boat Harbour has been home to fishing boats since 1919. The Harbour is always a hub of activity with boats pulling in and out all day. Surrounding the Harbour are restuarants specializing in seafood; which makes a perfect spot to have a meal and watch the boats.
My wife and I enjoyed wandering around the Harbour, watching the boats and enjoying a delicious seafood lunch.
The Fremantle Markets are a must see when in the area. The Markets have been in Fremantle since 1897 and have become an icon. The Markets have a variety of vendors selling their wares out of stalls. There is something for everyone from food, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, hone goods and plenty of prepared food. The Great Hall of the market showcases their dining venues and Market Bar. The food is international with Turkish, French, Japanese and Vietnamese blending in with the local fare.
The Markets are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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