I had a very special month in Cronulla and then, on 26th September, flew to Perth to start my three week house sit in South Fremantle. You really begin to get an idea of the vastness of this country when it takes you five hours to fly from one side of it to the other. I am looking after two dogs here, Max (the Whippet) and Lenny, and staying in a very comfortable and well appointed home. It is a ten minute walk to the beach and to a cycle path that heads South for 3.5 kms to the derelict Coogee power station and this is the route the dogs and I take for our morning walk. There are various tracks that lead off the path to the beach areas but also signs letting you know that it is not a good idea to wander among the sand dunes. I have been told about a woman who got bitten by a snake in the dunes about a month before I arrived, instead of staying immobile and calling for help, as recommended in this situation, she walked 2kms to her home. Her husband immediately took her to the hospital but the poison, which of course had been well circulated in her system by then, proved fatal. Fortunately in all my walks in Australia so far I have not even seen a snake but I did manage to shake a very bloated leech out of my sock when T, B and I got back from our last bush walk. It had clearly been feasting on my ankle and must have wriggled up my shoe and through my sock but I didn't feel a thing.
Heading North on the cycle path for 2kms brings me to the Boat Harbour with its boardwalk and dozen or so cafes and bars all claiming to have been voted the 'No. 1 for fish and chips'. I tried one of them yesterday and spent a pleasant hour sitting out in the sunshine doing my best to consume a portion size that would have fed two hungry people and watching the gulls swoop en masse to each newly vacated table. The fish was yummy but the chips were completely tasteless and a real let down.
Opposite the Boat Harbour a five minute walk through a park takes you into Fremantle (or Freo as it is commonly known) town centre with it's 'Cappuccino Strip' and many other restaurants and small, independent shops. As in many other cities here public buildings such as tiolets and bus stops are used as a canvas for some truly stunning artwork. There are two indoor markets which are open at weekends and on public holidays and, while I wasn't very impressed with the Emarkets by the ferry port, the market in the centre of town is probably the best I have ever been to. It is not huge but besides the usual fresh produce end it has many stands selling organically produced clothing in support of Fair Trade co-operatives in various countries, and hand made items produced in Australia.
Fremantle station, with it's frequent trains into Perth, sits on the edge of the town, there is a tram service and two free bus services that circuit the town and immediate surrounds so public transport couldn't be easier.
South Fremantle is very laid back, quirky and bohemian. Dogs are universally loved and there are several 'dog beaches' and in the evenings and weekends when families are out having their picnics dogs are running loose all over the place enjoying their own socialising. There are a lot of people who look, and dress, as 'though they are still living in the sixties and many gardens full of wildflowers and wind chimes, baskets and budhas. The cafes are always full of people enjoying breakfast or coffee together (many with their dogs) and it is obvious that they are meeting places, on a regular basis, for the locals. Everybody is friendly and I am beginning to recognise several faces on our morning walks so that I'm almost beginning to feel like a local myself.
Fremantle, originally called the Swan River Colony, was originally a settled colony but as it grew there was not enough labour to construct the infrastructure needed. The British Government were called upon to start sending convicts to provide that labour and it was these convicts, housed for their first five years in a warehouse that is now a five star hotel, who built not only their own prison but most of the town's buildings. Fremantle Prison was well worth the visit and provided a real insight into the history of the colony and life under the penal system. Conditions in the prison were brutal, the original cells measured only 7' x 4', and it was in use for 136 years only being decomissioned as a maximum security prison in 1991. Some of the art work created by the prisoners in the latter stages of its history are pretty amazing. There was a womens prison segregated on the same site and half of this has become the Fremantle Prison YHA.
The Fremantle Arts Centre was originally the lunatic asylum and it has many small galleries on the ground floor and classrooms on the upper floors. I did spend some time looking around the galleries but found them disappointing. By contrast the Maritime Museum had a very good exhibition on pearl fishing (which at one time was as big for this part of Australia as gold mining) and some other really interesting exhibits.
So, all in all it has been a busy first week with lots to see and do. Unfortunately the whole area is almost completely flat so there is nothing in the way of challenging walking. I had begun to think that there was no walking at all except for the cycle path but then today I popped into the main Anglican church in the centre of town to check out the interior, beautiful, and got chatting to the priest. He was an eatraordinarily gentle man from County Durham and gave me some top tips about local walking routes one of which I followed this afternoon and was rewarded with views and bush tracks.
Tomorrow I am going into Perth for the first time so more on that later.
Meanwhile I was amused by this car repair shop advertising and thought that it was exactly the kind of place I would take my car and here is an excerpt from the menu of a local, and apparently very good, Indian restaurant. Anyone for kangaroo vindaloo?