Tour passengers John and Arlene live in the Snowy Mountains 3,000 miles east of Fremantle, Western Australia, commonly called Freo by locals. John, now retired, was in construction when he and Arlene moved to Melbourne with 3 school-aged children. One of them, a daughter, died at age 24 of cystic fibrosis. Their son lives in Manhattan at Times Square. It’s amazing how many Aussies have children residing in Canada, the US, and elsewhere. Most Australians have travelled to the US more than once, especially to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Arlene was prim, mannerly, and rather standoffish. But John, whose most striking feature was blue, blue eyes, made me uncomfortable with his habit of leaning intimately toward me when he talked.
After lunch at Freo’s harbor, we had the choice of the Fremantle Motor Museum or the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Normally I would have chosen cars over boats, but many more on the tour opted for Motor so I chose Maritime. I was rather tired by now of constantly being with marginally friendly people who would never be friends and longing for some alone time. My slightly negative mood was not helped by the fact that a seagull dumped on my head and shirt adding to my list of reasons why I don’t like dining outside.
The Maritime Museum turned out to be exceptional. Looking fairly new, its architectural design made it seem like a large yacht with fully deployed sails jutting out over water. Very cool. We had only an hour to tour it before the bus would circle back to pick us up. That was enough for Ruth, but not for me. Refusing to board, I got walking directions to the hotel and enjoyed a couple of hours of independence.
The star of the Maritime Museum was the Australia II, the deceptively fast, winged-keel yacht that took the world’s oldest sporting trophy, America’s Cup, away from the United States in 1983 and put a stop to the question, “Where’s Fremantle?” This was not only an exciting race but also a remarkable achievement since the United States had held it for 132 years. There’s still hope for The Cubs. Australia II crossed the finish line a mere 41 seconds ahead of Liberty.
This victory led to Fremantle’s rebirth. An industrial, run down, blue-collar town & port, Freo and its supporters, like Alan Bond, realized the faded Victorian splendor of its inner core and cleaned up block upon block of great old buildings. This makes Freo a wonderful place to stroll and explore. With a party reputation, it’s one of those towns with a number of big city attractions that belie its small size–25,000 people.
On our first trip to Fremantle, Ruth and I took a ferry out to Rottnest Island and experienced the green, green Indian Ocean for the first time. A 17th century Dutch explorer noted what he thought were rats scampering about and named the island rats’ nest. However, the scamperers were quokkas, tiny, somewhat shy marsupials unless they think you might give them food. The presence of an estimated 12,000 quokkas, now a highly protected species, has halted most human development on Rottnest. Your chance of seeing them is 100% and I hope you get the opportunity.
More about Freo tomorrow.