Aborigines knew the Swan River delta where Fremantle is located as Walyalup, “the crying place”. The English built one of the largest prisons in the British empire there when Australia was one of its colonies. Here, they imprisoned the most dangerous criminals, robbing them of a life of blue skies and unspoilt beaches. Fremantle Prison still exists today and is the only Australian building to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In an attempt to forget its turbulent past, Fremantle, 19 km from Perth, is now host to some of Australia’s most popular festivals.
Freo, as the city is also known, “attracts free spirits”, according to the guide books. ‘Hipsters’, artists, surfers and tourists are attracted by its bohemian cafés, its Victorian architecture and its artistic culture. The port city hosts the largest festival in Australia, Fremantle Festival, which has been held every November since 1905. Up to 75,000 people come to enjoy the concerts and performances. The Street Arts Festival, which is the meeting point for mime artists, jugglers and graffiti artists every April, is also the largest of its kind in Australia. In May, the Heritage Festival commemorates the founding of the city and its colonial history, while Hidden Treasures festival brings together rock groups every July. Not to forget that Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC who died in 1980, was born in Freo. His grave is a place of pilgrimage for many music fans.
‘Hipsters’, artists, surfers and tourists are attracted by its bohemian cafés, its Victorian architecture and its artistic culture.
Gastronomy is also the star of the show at several festivals, including the With Chilli, Tomato and even Sardine Festivals, its no wonder that Freemantle is a gastronomic hub in Australia, bringing together thousands of seafood lovers. In the Cappuccino Strip area there are some of the largest fishmongers in the country, as well as shops selling other fresh produce. Breweries and Asian restaurants line the Fishing Boat district. The most emblematic bar in the city is Little Creatures, located in an old ship which used to house a crocodile farm.
Freo’s booming development did not come cheap. Since the 1980s, its City Council has invested over 1.3 billion Australian dollars in its regeneration. The city, which grew in the shadows of Perth, the region’s capital, suffered a major crisis in the 1970s. During this regeneration process,it opened the University of Notre Dame which marked the starting point for the recovery of its architectural heritage. The result of this regeneration, is a city where every historical building has been converted into a museum or gallery and the streets are full of music, painting and drama studios.
When Fremantle came out of crisis, the slogan ‘Freo is alive and well’ became popular in Australia with the view that if Freemantle is doing ok, then so is Australia!