When I was about 17 years old, in 1957, I was on a ship named ‘British Adventure’ and we discharged our 28,000 tons of crude oil at the BP refinery port of Kwinana, some 10 miles from Fremantle. Then, we passed through real ‘bush’ country with spinifex, eucalyptus trees and red, sandy soil, where kookaburras laughed at us as we waited for the bus. During my seagoing career I called at this port many times, the last being in 1967.
Therefore, when staying at Mandurah, to have another look at Fremantle was a must and I had to see if anything had changed – particularly the hotel where, back then, they still had hitching rails like a wild west town!
As the Queen was attending the Commonwealth conference in Perth that day, all public transport was free so we hopped on a train. Now, the ‘bush’ is only a fraction of what it had been and small towns had spread along the route. We saw the ‘cat cracker’ and refining towers of Kwinana and passed through the old refinery town of Medina, where I had spent some time in my youth. Nothing looked the same.
Located at the mouth of the River Swan, Fremantle is the port that serves Perth, the state capital. Declared a city in 1929, it now has a population of about 25,000. The city was named after Captain Charles Howe Fremantle, who proclaimed possession of Western Australia. There are many well preserved 19th century buildings including, as in most Australian towns, the gaol.
A bus, built like an old fashioned tram, took us on a tour of the city, stopping at one point at the port itself. There was nothing there that I remembered and it appeared much bigger with some fairly large vessels moored alongside the dock. The replica of the sailing ship ‘Endeavour’ being ‘stored’ for a voyage was berthed nearby and later we saw her quietly sailing through the harbour entrance. The tour of the city took us to all places of interest and I was happy to see that the hotel with the hitching rails was still there in all its glory – but minus the rails!
After the ‘tram’ tour we explored the city on foot and were happy to see that most of the centre had been left as it was although we didn’t go to the gaol! Built in 1850, the gaol had been in continuous use until 1991. The Round House, on the shore line, was completed in 1831 and is the oldest public building in Western Australia.
A time ball and one o’clock gun were situated on top of the Round House and we arrived just before one o’clock to see the ball dropping and the cannon fired. This old tradition, which enabled the old sailing ships to set their clocks and correct their chronometers, has been carried on throughout the decades.
Fremantle is a lovely place and many memories were stirred, but as the Queen had by then gone home we went onwards to explore Perth.
by Terry Took © 2014
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.