Fremantle: History Meets Hip
January 1, 1970
by Bec Sorby
Fremantle isn’t just a place to sip coffee or sample locally brewed craft beers. It is also shrouded in a short yet fascinating history of early Australian ‘free-settlers’, British convicts and maritime life, making it a haven for historical buffs too.
Located some 20km south of Western Australia’s capital Perth, this port city, affectionately known as ‘Freo’, is the epitome of times past meets current trends. While dedicated to preserving it’s past, Fremantle has in recent times, also attracted a mixture of alternatives and go-getters, all seeking the laid-back atmosphere Fremantle offers. If you’ve got a few days to spend in Freo, here are some of the reasons you should take a visit.
It has significant historical relevance for WA
The streets of Fremantle tell the stories of early life, including its origins as Australia’s first open settlement. Citizens migrated to on their own accord, unlike those in New South Wales, on the east coast. It then became a penal colony when the British sent hundreds of convicts to Fremantle, who in turn built the Roundhouse, a small gaol. This was followed by Fremantle Prison and later the lunatic asylum, which is now the Arts Centre.
Free has some 3,000 heritage listing buildings and you can learn a lot about the city just by wandering down Cantonment Street, Essex Street or Market Street.
It’s a foodie’s paradise
The one thing you may notice about Fremantle is that it doesn’t have a McDonalds. It used to, but it closed years ago. Why? It’s probably due to the fact that there are just too many other foodie destinations to check out, especially in Fisherman’s Wharf, where McDonalds used to be located. This is the sort of space that caters for every budget – from fish and chips at Cicerellos while watching the sunset, to oysters and cocktails at Char Char Bull.
You simply cannot go to Fremantle without a visit to Little Creatures, also located at Fisherman’s Wharf. Originally a crocodile park, this place is an institution (although a crocodile park is pretty impressive too). Situated on the waterfront, Little Creatures don’t just brew the beer on site – they offer guided tours into the process, led by one of their certified ‘Hopheads’ – you’ll easily spot the staff – a casually dressed, somewhat-hippie looking individual usually wearing a smile. Ask them about their bike hire process if you want to get around Fremantle on two wheels rather than two feet.
In the heart of Fremantle is the famed cappuccino strip, which houses a cultural melting pot of eateries. There’s the immensely popular Pizza Bella Roma and Gino’s across the road, the German Zapfhall, Mexican Kitchen and the Monk, another brewery dedicated to craft beers and modern Australian dining. Look out for Lapa on High Street, where you can eat as much Brazillian fare as your tummy can handle for a set price.
More awesome Fremantle restaurants
Char Char Bull
Bathers Beach House
Clancy’s Fish Pub
Sail and Anchor
You can do some serious small bar hopping
In a case of blink and you’ll miss it, I discovered the Ball and Chain a couple of years ago when my other half spotted a sign out the front advertising his favourite beer for $5 a can. I, on the other hand, was delighted to see that they offered board games from my own childhood, like Connect 4 and Battleship, for patrons to enjoy over a few drinks. When the haze of nostalgia had cleared, it became obvious that this place was a serious nod to Fremantle’s convict past. The building dates back to the mid-19th century and was actually built by the convicts it housed and still features a lot of the old copper and timber finish, despite recent renovations.
The number of small bars popping up in Fremantle has grown over the years. There’s the old favourite in Mojos, North Fremantle, which for years has brought live, local music to Fremantle and continues to be a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. You have to keep your eyes peeled for Whose Your Mumma, which is a bit off the beaten touristy track on South Terrace, but it’s a popular little bar for cocktails and wine lovers. Take a walk around Fremantle and you’re sure to find a great small bar that will no doubt become your local watering hole.
It’s a great place to chill out
If you really just want to chill out and take it easy, Fremantle is awesome for that. I remember back to my student days, when I would head down to Esplanade Park with my uni books and study in the park and just enjoy the tranquillity. There’s the Carriage Café on the park if you need a coffee or a snack and Fisherman’s Wharf is just over the old railway tracks.
If your trip to Fremantle falls on the weekend, check out the Fremantle Markets, where you can find locally or handmade gifts and food, as well as a gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetable market. The street performers outside the markets are a wonder in themselves, pulling a decent crowd with their crazy, sword-swallowing or fire-eating antics that will leave you shaking your head and thinking ‘did I really just see that?’
Fremantle has a myriad of tourist attractions
Regardless of whether you live in Perth or are planning a visit, a tour of Fremantle Prison is an absolute must. I’ve done this tour several times, both day and night, and each time I learn something new, and encourage all visitors to check it out. It provides a fascinating insight into Fremantle’s convict heritage and for the true adventurers, you can take a boat tour of the underground tunnels where the convicts had to spend time doing hard labour. Built in 1850, it was an active prison until the early 1990s and is Western Australia’s only World Heritage listed building. You can learn about the inmates who lived here, escapees and rioters and view stunning artwork within the tiny, original prison cells.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like aboard a submarine? You can find that out in Fremantle too. At the Maritime Museum at Victoria Quay, you can learn all about Fremantle’s part in World War II, including the submariners who lived aboard HMAS Ovens and take an indepth tour of the vessel. Just a warning – you will have to climb up pretty high and I don’t recommend it if you are claustrophobic, as there are very restrictive hatchways to negotiate. Imagine having to live in there for months at a time!
Fremantle also has its own Tourist Wheel at the Esplanade Park, which provides unrivalled views of the Wharf and the city. This is a great way to cap off a full day of exploring and reflect on Fremantle’s rich, colourful history and enjoy your visit to this fantastic city.