Coogee was a great suburb to explore and discuss on Hidden Treasures for ABC Saturday Breakfast. Ro and I flicked back and forth between the then and the now and it’s what I love most about Coogee because what was once horrible is now wonderful.
Coogee is a coastal suburb just to south of Fremantle and north of Kwinana and is very small for suburban Perth, just over 3sqm which makes it smaller than its northern coastal strip suburban cousin, Cottesloe.
If you’d been driving through Coogee on Cockburn Road in the 1970’s and even the 1980’s and someone in the car had said, “You know, all this will be a hidden treasure one day”, you most likely would have laughed and said they were crazy.
Driving along Cockburn Road in 2021 and it’s a very different story. From shipwrecks to colonial remnants this is a suburb that has gone from the need to quickly wind up your car window (remember those?!) to block the smell of Robbs Jetty and the skin drying sheds, to walking through fragrant vegetable gardens and olive trees and being welcomed by bees more interested in pollinating carrot and caper bush flowers than angrily protecting their domain.
Let’s start with the best shed in Perth. Technically it’s in neighbouring Munster but its such a great place to start and is just off Stock Road. It’s called Barn Finds and is a big rusty shed full of everything old you ever imagined could ever have been made. From a huge World War Two floating mine, to kids tricycles, cool drink signs, tools and toys it is packed and time here to explore and rummage is recommended along with the consideration of a tetanus booster but we’re all used to a jab to protect us these days!
Lake Coogee between Stock Road and Cockburn Road has good walking tracks around the lake and there are also some interesting remnants of two Pensioner Guards cottages and a well, from where many of the Pensioner Guards settled around 1876 after their service to their colony.
Sticking with the remnant part historic Coogee are the limestone kilns on Cockburn Road that were built around 1900 when the thriving industry of extracting lime for building and agriculture purposes was good work for most men in the district.
The Coogee coast has always been pristine and from Woodman Point right up to the border with South Fremantle where the old power station is, you’ll find great beach fishing, great picnic facilities and tuck shops, jetty’s for jumping off, a shipwreck called the Omeo and the adjacent snorkelling trail that is just a twenty meters off shore and Perth’s best and most accessible snorkelling attraction, and a stretch of brilliant white beach and calm water that is perfect for a day of sunbathing or swimming until the sun goes down behind Garden Island on the horizon.
Just a couple of minutes walk from the Omeo is the marina with a series of boardwalk style cafes where you can sit and play, “I’d have that one” as you point at a boat you like the most.
The Coogee lookout has one of the best vantage points in Perth and on the clear day that I was there recently I could see Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Island, down to Rockingham, across to the hills of the escarpment, up to the Perth CBD and across to the harbour cranes of Fremantle.
Finally, I want to take you to the Coogee Hotel, built and completed in the early 1900’s and from being a local watering hole it later became a orphanage before lying derelict for the second half of the 20th Century.
It’s now heritage listed and been renovated and operates as the proud, beating heart of Coogee, the Coogee Common.
There’s a restaurant and lounge bar and private dining rooms that are decorated in the style of days gone by but it’s the gardens that are the star of Coogee Common. Not only will you see the staff wandering around the garden snipping and picking bits and pieces for your brunch or lunch but you can wander the gardens or if you’re lucky, get a tour with Scott the owner.
He showed me rows of veges and creeping caper bushes, he helped Tom overcome his fear of bees by showing him their hives, nestled in amongst a row of olive trees and rosemary bushes. He showed me barrels of olives, stalks of kale, the fruit of the prickly pear which I remember fondly from trips to Puglia in Italy and he showed me a loofah which I just thought was a bath sponge but is a species of cucumber. He gave Tom some seeds so as well as Toms passion for companion planting he can now grow his own bath sponges which I’m hoping may encourage him to bathe more often.
Coogee Common is one of those places that during it, you’re already planning your next visit.
Vegetarian options are the standout meals because of the fresh produce from the garden but being presented with Fremantle sardines and the option of fish of the day caught off Rottnest earlier in the morning just puts a smile on your face.
So there you have it. What was once a horror drive through smells and sights that aren’t easily forgotten have been beaten into submission by the new smells and sights of Coogee.
I also learnt from Tom, who must have learnt it from Scott at Coogee Common about companion planting. Evidently there are good planting companions like apples and chives or sunflowers and cucumbers but there are also bad companions like wormwood which doesn’t like all other plants.
So Coogee makes it as one of my favourite hidden treasures because it has transformed itself and I want to go back with family and friends and do it all again.