Just outside Perth, at the mouth of the Swan River, is the chilled out little port of Fremantle. In fact it’s so laid back, you senses will be stimulated as you amble down Cappuccino Strip, passing through clouds of incense, wafting out of shops selling crystals and tie-dyed bags, as well as clouds of less legal smoke from time to time.
Freo, as it’s known locally, is the starting point for Western Australia’s settler history. It was here that the first colonials set up base in 1829, naming the town after an English naval officer, Captain Charles Fremantle.
The town has a number of heritage buildings, which have been preserved, offering their own insight into settler life. The oldest is the Round House, a prison at Arthur Head, which was completed in 1831. However, with the arrival of the first shipload of convicts, it became apparent that it was too small. Fremantle Prison was built in 1850. Between 1850 and 1868, 37 ships of prisoners set sail from the UK for the penal colony Down Under.
Fremantle Prison was used until 1991, when it was placed on the World Heritage List. Today it is open for tours; there’s a surprising amount to see, and no visit is complete without the escape stories and an insight into the harsh conditions (bucket toilets and the hangman’s noose). This was an era when prison was about “doing time” rather than rehabilitation.
The port area is also worth wandering around. Stop at the Little Creatures Brewery for a long lunch or grab a bag of fish and chips. The nearby Western Australian Museum Shipwrecks Galleries will give you some context into life at sea. It also home to part of the 17th century Batavia, raised from the seabed in the 1970s.
Fremantle is a small town and it’s easy to wander around, meandering through the markets and recharging every now and then with a coffee or ice cream.
Fun fact: Swan River was named after the native black swans that cruise up and down.
Places we tried:
Little Creatures Brewery (40 Mews Road): Great food and a fun place. Tours also available.
Gino's (1-5 South Terrace): The place for breakfast.
Cicerello’s (Fishing Boat Harbour): This is billed as the place to go for fish and chips. Fish was great. Chips not so.
Fremantle Prison (Parry Street, Fairbairn Ramp): Family rates available.
Western Australian Museum – Shipwrecks Galleries (Cliff Street): Entry free, donations appreciated.
We booked our accommodation through Airbnb.