"Gateway to the west" Top 5 Page for this destination Fremantle by TheWanderingCamel

Fremantle Travel Guide: 556 reviews and 1,249 photos

A new life

Not many newcomers to Australia arrive by ship these days, but for the first one hundred and fifty years of white settlement in Western Australia, for most immigrants Fremantle was their first footfall on Australian soil. They brought with them their hopes and dreams for new life in a new land. In wave after wave they came - first settlers from Britain and, for twenty years, convicts, who were to build the first substantial buildings in the creamy limestone that the city stands on. They were followed by thousands of all nationalities, lured by the promise of the great gold rush of the 1890s. The wealth of those years saw the building of the elegant Victorian buildings that add so much colour and character to the streets. After World War II there was a flood of people from Europe. Some - like the Italians - stayed close by, joining the fishing fleet and opening coffee bars with their noisy, new-fangled espresso machines

By the early 70s, passenger ships had all but ceased their runs to this corner of the earth. Long-haul jets meant Europe was just 24 hours away rather than three weeks by sea. Fremantle remained a port, but one that dozed in the sun, watched over by old Italian men on the benches outside the Town Hall by day, and given over to drunken sailors and streetwalkers by night. Many of its grand old buildings were simply boarded up and left as shipping companies amalgamated, the wool stores closed and the wheat silos that once dominated the skyline were moved away from the expanding metropolitan area. Any money that was being invested in Western Australia's cities was being poured into the capital, Perth, 20 kilometres up the Swan River, where towers of glass and steel were replacing solid Victoriana.


Then came the 80s and with them, new life for the city as its unique nature was recognized - a time capsule of a Victorian port city, its buildings, run-down, shabby and abandoned as many of them were, intact. No need here for elaborate redevelopment, but new uses for old buildings. A university whose campus occupies historic buildings - including the old court house where law students conduct mock trials in an authentic Victorian courtroom. The convict-built Government stores housing galleries that tell the stories of Dutch ships wrecked on the barren coast two hundred years before the first settlers arrived. The 120 year old market hall packed with stalls inside as a wild punk piper delights the crowds outside. The Dutch-gabled lunatic asylum (built by convicts for convicts - transportation to the other side of the world sent many of them mad) busy with artists and craftsmen, its cells and dormitories converted into studios and exhibition galleries.

The people's port

Through all this the port continues to be the heart of Fremantle. No locked and barriered enclave of security here - as well as being home to ships of all sizes flying the flags of the world, huge cranes standing like enormous insects on its wharfs - the port buzzes with other life. The old customs shed - where new arrivals unpacked their bags and displayed their meagre possessions for scrutiny - now a market hall with al fresco cafes and a bar. Another wharf sheds is home to the sail training ship, the three-masted barque "Leeuwin". Ferries leave for Rottnest Island and the trip upriver to Perth. A new Maritime Museum, its roof echoing the upturned hull of a ship, sits right at the mouth of the harbour. Fisherman cast their lines in to the water to catch a fish for supper and, outside the Harbour Trust building, casting an assessing eye over it all, a statue of C.Y. O'Connor, the tragic genius whose vision and expertise oversaw not only the building of the harbour in what many considered to be an impossible location, but also the building of a pipeline that would carry water 600 kilometres into the desert .... but that's another story.

Right now there's Fremantle to discover - raffish, funky, relaxed, fun.


  • Last visit to Fremantle: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (17)

Comments (10)

  • hopang's Profile Photo
    Nov 1, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    Excellent Fremantle travel page with stunning images. Certainly bring back fond memories of our trip to Fremantle many years ago! Rottnest Island certainly sounds wonderful and interesting to visit and explore! ~ho & pang

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Aug 16, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    Just wonderful, Leyle. Loved the information about the architecture tour. Great information about the coffee/food places and its history. This certainly is a spot that I would enjoy and treasure.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Jan 5, 2008 at 10:55 AM

    Leyle, this was a very enjoyable read! It is so great that Fremantle was able to preserve its heritage through sheer luck. You have done an amazing job here bringing its history to life again!

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo
    Dec 31, 2007 at 5:25 AM

    Excellent five-star page. I enjoyed the personal touches and the historical perspectives.

  • vtveen's Profile Photo
    Sep 15, 2007 at 1:09 AM

    Wonderful Fremantle tips !! Of course we regret not having visited more of the Dutch history. Have to go back another time. (Thanks for visiting my Fremantle page).

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Aug 19, 2007 at 9:32 PM

    You draw a very appealing picture of Freemantle ! That looks like a real jewel, a preserved city !

  • VeronicaG's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2007 at 6:20 AM

    Fremantle sounds like a Victorian time capsule, set aside for future discovery...and finally revealed as the charming port it once was. Very nice tour, Leyle!

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Feb 8, 2007 at 4:43 AM

    Ah yes, Fremantle is a great place - far too long since I was there, as your excellent page has reminded me. Have to agree with your comments on the "Batavia", seeing it is one of the more indelible memories!

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Feb 7, 2007 at 10:33 AM

    Ah, even more than only photos ! Great !! Now I understand what you meant - this mixture of port and Victorian is amazing ! I love the fishermens' memorial (I love statues) and the Shipwreck :-) And of course your descriptions :-)

  • Feb 6, 2007 at 4:06 PM

    ohhh love your writings about fremantle! our good ol' home! (well im closer to it then you i think! hehe). cant wait for the completed result, im sure i will learn alot about things i never knew!

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