Friday 28 February 2020

Friday Night in Freo

On this trip I was hosted by Tourism Western Australia and Journey Beyond.

When I was a schoolkid in Perth, I used to visit Fremantle on weekend leave from my boarding school. As an adult, I lived there for a while. In recent years, I've visited it as a travel writer and sometimes wondered "Why did I leave?"

As you might have guessed, it's a magic place. Quite unlike its flashy upriver cousin, the Perth CBD, Freo is a harmonious collection of 19th century colonial architecture.

It was a small port town that became prosperous without building too high, then went through hard times before becoming prosperous again.

Last Friday night I was in Fremantle once more, spending a night there before heading to East Perth to join the 50th anniversary journey of the Indian Pacific train to Sydney.

It was a very Freo evening.

It started at the rooftop of the National Hotel, a historic pub which was burnt out over a decade ago, but was painstakingly restored and reopened by new owners. It has accommodation now, above the bar and restaurant, and above that is a marvellous rooftop bar, where I drank the spectacular gin and tonic pictured above.

The bar is a great space, a broad deck which is high enough in this low-rise port city to give a view of almost every part of Fremantle: the handsome sandstone-faced buildings, the thrusting Port Authority tower, the curving Maritime Museum, the riverside docks and their cranes, the Indian Ocean with a glimpse of Rottnest Island beyond.

After my drink I had dinner at the Capri, an Italian restaurant which has been open on this spot (and looking much the same) since 1954. I had a great view from its front window over South Terrace...

Once I'd finished dinner, I walked back to my bed at the pub and marvelled at how little central Freo had changed in all the years since I'd lived there. So many of the businesses had been there for twenty years or more: Mexican Kitchen, Nick's Place (souvlaki), Dome café, Sandrino (pizza), the Newport Hotel.

There was even a Timezone video game arcade, damn it. What was this, 1989?

When I woke up the following morning, I was rewarded with this view of marvellous High Street, with its collection of beautiful colonial architecture stretching down to the 1831 Round House, the settlement's first prison.

To be frank, I wasn't sure if Freo's lack of change was a product of pride in its heritage, or of economic malaise. But I was glad it had retained its charms. At last so I can keep going back and wondering what might have been.

Thanks for reading. For news of an important change regarding the future of this blog, come back next week!

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