ABC Saturday Breakfast: Exploring and Reminiscing About North Fremantle

What a fantastic discussion with Ro and Molly! Crowded houses, Greek cliffs, dingoes, Frida Kahlo and stubborn cottages surrounded by an industrial tetris like world. Enjoy listening to the audio and reading a few words as well:

The dingo.  It’s a landmark.  The flour mill is heritage listed and the famous logo was first painted on the side in 1940 and famously repainted by a young Alan Bond. 

Do you ever think to yourself, I wish Perth had a giant Frida Kahlo mural?  Well now it does!  Once you’ve taken your pics of the big red dingo, step across the road and fill your camera lens with the joyous colours of the Plata Bonito mural of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.  She doesn’t smile much but you will once you get inside the building. I came away with giant brightly coloured rosary beads that for a non-catholic I’m still wondering what I should do with them.

The Biggest Frida Kahlo Mural in the World

At Rocky Bay there is deep water which means you get a lot of party boats dropping anchor to let people jump off into the deep, protected waters of the bay.  There’s also a really interesting clifftop walk with beautiful views of the bay and river traffic coming and going and also a very cool tree that is perched on the cliff and grown sideways, making a great cubby spot for kids. There’s also an old tunnel from the days of the soap factory and an even older cave from the days of the wagyl.

Molly says the Rocky Bay Cliffs Remind Her of Greece

It doesn’t get much quieter than Gilbert Fraser Reserve on the banks of the Swan and where a little grandstand, in fact so small it has been referred to as a pavilion, but it’s spectator architecture at its best. Sit up in the stand and you can watch cricket and beyond the match just over the boundary rope are the lapping waters of the river with sometimes bigger lappings as the big boats chug past.

A Baby Grandstand

Mojos is famous in my family and will be famous for generations of music lovers to come.  Not only has it been a North Fremantle institution for live music for 50 years and modestly claims to be the best live music venue in the world, it is where Matilda first performed as lead singer of Dog Food, an all-girl band formed through a great music program called Girls Rock WA and that’s what sets Mojos feet firmly in their community.  It’s not just the biggest acts that attract an audience, it’s about new acts and opportunities.


The North Fremantle war memorial reminds us of the contribution and sacrifice of our small communities.  North Fremantle had so many of its players killed and injured during World War I, including at Gallipoli, that they relinquished their WAFL licence.

North Fremantle had a WAFL Team, before World War I

“I wasn’t keen on letting my house go – I’d worked for it” is a wonderful quote from an ABC story a couple of years ago, by Carmel Mullally.

Here is a cottage that is more Castle than The Castle.

As they say in The Castle, “It’s not a house. It’s a home.”

There’s not a lot of serenity in a land dominated by a Tetris-like skyline of sea containers and rumbling trucks and bustling forklifts competing for who can be the loudest but it does feel quintessentially Australian that no only is life from another time hanging on in an industrial jungle but that it has also been allowed to survive and hasn’t just been squashed by dropping a sea container on it.

It’s not a house. It’s a home.

Over 800,000 sea containers were handled at Fremantle Harbour in the past year and if you’re not buying local for your Christmas presents I’d be getting those online orders in quickly.  I’m not into train spotting but I do like a bit of big industry spotting.  Here are logistics in action; shifting, lifting, scraping and storing. 

Fremantle Harbour is One Big Tetris Game

Why is the North Mole Lighthouse Red? It’s over 115 years old and is a great spot for some big rod fishing or quiet sitting at sunset.

Port Beach has reopened after the horrific shark attack last weekend.  I was down there and saw the incredible efforts of police and rescue agencies to use every resource they had.  If you’re not sure about getting back into the water, it’s a beautiful beach for sitting on the sand or in the waterfront café which looks out to a view that extends to South Africa.

North Fremantle offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself in an experience of sea, river, music and mooching.  It’s definitely worth an afternoon wander that perhaps turns into sitting on Port Beach or standing at the North Mole Lighthouse to watch the sun go down before watching the lights comes up at a live venue for an act that, if you’re lucky, might be my daughter!

ABC Saturday Breakfast Discovers Biscuits, Bulldogs, Bare Feet & Jam Tarts!

For ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast we discovered one of our smallest suburbs is walkable and adorable.

If I was to tell you that you could walk or drive down the main drag of this suburb and stop and chat to adults lying on the verge in hammocks and other variations of swing chairs, what suburb comes to mind?

No caption needed

Our next hidden treasure was once famous for its biscuits and its bulldogs but these days there’s a few other reasons to make your way to a suburb worth wandering about and taking it easy.  Maybe take a hammock.

South Fremantle. 

This is a suburb that I used to visit every Sunday to listen to the Jam Tarts back in the day at the Seaview Hotel.  Rockabilly pop was so cool and the Jam Tarts were the coolest. 

Exploring South Fremantle reminded me of those days because I have a daughter who is soon to be a world famous musician and I like sending her photos of things that would make great album covers and that’s another reason to enjoy a gentle suburban exploration of  South Fremantle because it is full of album cover worthy scenery.

South Fremantle by coincidence more than design has the layout of a fish skeleton.  There is a big backbone that has most of the weight and then the ribs coming off the backbone are smaller and lighter and filled with cottages with more geraniums than my nana’s concrete swans.  For South Fremantle the backbone is South Terrace which begins further north in Fremantle and then flows through the heart of South Fremantle.

Park your car somewhere along South Terrace and start looking around.  A bit like how the green cactus in Forrest Place is a meeting point in the CBD, the zebra mural is a good meeting point for South Fremantle locals or visitors to the area.  

The two zebras face each other with all the colours of a kaleidoscope and written above them is ‘Ootong and Lincoln’ which may be the names of the two zebra but also happens to be the name of the premises the mural is painted on and inside you’ll find everything to fill your retro heart; colourful 1980’s phones stuck on the wall, old trikes and my nana’s dining table and chairs; glorious Laminex in pale greens, blues and pinks and plenty of space to sit with your kids or a Zoom meeting on your laptop.

Hello! Chris speaking!

That’s what South Fremantle is all about, people who get out of their houses and meet up on South Terrace.

Outside Ootong and Lincoln, take a jump to the left or jump to right, avoiding fellas reclining in hammocks and swing chairs,  and you’ll find small boutiques with racks of vintage clothes and that’s another important feature of South Fremantle, lots of small shops.  Small shops doing big things for locals and visitors.

Small shops where there’s lots to be discovered

It used to be the opposite.  South Fremantle used to be about being a big employer with big factories, including the Mills and Ware Biscuit Factory – home of the little suitcase full of biscuits that you’d buy at your local show.

Mills and Ware was the biggest supplier of biscuits in Western Australia and the South Fremantle factory, barely off South Terrace, opened in 1899 and closed in 1992.

The biscuit factory are now apartments but there’s a park and there’s enough of the original factory structure to make it a pilgrimage for those that remember their favourite biscuit.  Biscuit.  Not cookie.

Big biscuits

To please the pilgrims there are large sculptures of biscuits in the park and you can try and remember the names of your favourite biscuit.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find a representation of a gingernut biscuit. The king of biscuits.

Back on South Terrace there are fresh seafood shops and seafood cafes with fresh prawn tacos that remind us of the fishing boat harbour not more than a fishing rods cast away.  These days the fishing boat fleet is smaller but any walk around boats and jetties is always interesting and watching hulls being scraped and masts being rigged in the shipyards is a day out any day of the week.

My next stop is probably the number one reason to come to South Fremantle, particularly as the sun starts to warm us all up.

The South Beach Recreation Reserve is the end of the line for the suburb and throws all of its eggs into a basket of summer fun for everyone.  It starts with a dog beach and playground at the northern end of this little precinct and then opens up into sprawling lawns with lots of shade and a perfect beach for all ages, looking out to Wadjemup, Carnac and Garden Islands.

There’s a café that your kids can walk into barefeet for a drumstick and in summer there are night time markets on Saturday nights that are described as being community based for young and old and lovers and friends and when you walk through South Fremantle, everyone won’t be a lover but everyone will be your friend.

South Fremantle is a hidden treasure because it’s completely walkable in thongs, down streets with sleepy men in hammocks to retro cafes and vintage shops with laughing barefoot kids.

There are nostalgic memories of old biscuits, old phones and old bands playing in old pubs and swimming and markets on balmy summer nights. 

The only thing it doesn’t have is a 2021 Premiership WAFL team, but there’s always next year.

Big biscuits

A Summer Freo Weekender is the Way To Go

Beginning a weekend escape in Fremantle is tough. Markets? Museums? Fish and chips? Coffee? Ice Cream? Suddenly, with a burble and then a roar, a new contender emerges to kick off our weekend like a cork leaving a bottle; jet boat.

West Coast Jet Boat met my brief for some fast speed action by cranking up an 80’s soundtrack of Aussie rock classics as the throttles were pushed forward on open water. As Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning pounded the ears, the boat stopped and spun, pounding us with a tonne of water that rose up from the bow.

West Coast Jet, a quick way to get wet

As we circled the Duyfken like some dorsal finned predator from the deep, I recalled the significance of this little replica ship. In 1606 the original Duyfken sailed around Cape York, met Aboriginal Australians and chartered 350 kilometres of the Cape York coast.

Albeit of less historical importance, our jet boat ride was a great experience for the family to share, enjoy and to get wet. With the amount of water coming into the boat it’s surprising there’s any water left in Gage Roads. Through salt blasted eyes, I notice Matilda in the row in front of me throw her arms up while I grip the rail behind her seat to keep myself steady. It’s a great ride and slide that lasts longer than I expected and is the perfect way to kick start our Fremantle weekend.

West Coast Jet roars through Gage Roads

Leaving the boat, we walk, dripping wet, across to Esplanade Park. Before checking into the Esplanade Hotel Fremantle by Rydges, we have a ride on the Tourist Wheel Fremantle. Installed in 2013, this impressive wheel has comfortable gondolas to view Fremantle from a height of 40 metres. It’s a great way to look down on the port city and put everything in perspective; the harbour, museums and old west end are to the north of the park, shops and markets to the east and just below and to the west of us is Fishing Boat Harbour, sometimes called the fish and chips precinct.


With our ride over we continue across the park and enter the Esplanade Hotel.

The first time I was at the Esplanade Hotel was in 1987. It was the Americas Cup and I was in the lobby when Marc Pajot, skipper of French Kiss, burst in through the entrance, brushing aside anyone in his way, including me. He’d just lost a race to KZ7, the New Zealand challenger, and was a bit upset.

Arriving now with my family beside me, it’s a very different feel from 1987. There’s not the chaos of 1987 and there are less Lacoste shirts and deck shoes as well. What I pick up right away is that wonderful sound you get when you enter atrium style hotels. It’s a hum. There is a life to this hotel. It makes you feel a part of it right away and the warm sunlight streaming in from windows high above the centre of the hotel add to the light, active atmosphere.

As I make my way across to the reception I find myself singing the WA tourism jingle from the late 80’s, “G’day from WA” (Give a smile and say, G’Day from WA!).

It’s not that the hotel reminds me of the 80’s, it’s just that it was a defining moment in our states history and the history of this hotel (the America’s Cup, not the jingle) and I’m finding it hard to shake (the jingle, not the America’s Cup).

There’s so much to do in Fremantle but we’ve elected to choose an easy path for this weekend. I haven’t got a bad word to say about Fremantle museums but for this trip I haven’t got any good words either. We’ve decided to stay away from the Museums and spend some time in the hotel pool. While the kids launch a giant inflatable pretzel, their parents enjoy a drink from the poolside bar before fighting the kids for rights to lay on the pretzel.

Esplanade Fremantle Hotel, a beautiful oasis pool

As the sun sets on our afternoon by the pool, adjoining rooms provide plenty of space for all of us to get ready for dinner. We walk up to South Terrace and meet some friends for dinner at Pizza Bella Roma. Even though the sun has set, there’s still that floating summer evening light and it’s easy to see just how many people are out early for dinner. Along with the throng, cars drive slowly down the strip not for pedestrian safety but so that their drivers can imagine that everyone is remarking on what a wonderful job they’ve done polishing their cars all afternoon and making sure the stereo bass goes up to eleven.

After bruschetta, pizzas and vast veal schnitzels we search desperately for room in aching stomachs for ice cream. Resurrected by the summer breeze on the Cappuccino Strip, we make our way just up the street to Dolce Vita Gelato. No Neapolitan here. This is quality ice cream with a great choice of flavours and plenty of space to pull up chairs and all sit together. As I enter the age that my father was when I was a small boy I am now enjoying the flavours he did that I didn’t. Spearmint milkshakes. Rum and Raisin Ice cream.

With barely the energy to bid goodnight, we part company from good friends and mosey our way back to the hotel, just a short walk away, not quite enough to burn off even the tip of my waffle cone.

The next morning it’s off to the Fremantle Markets. Refurbished and revitalised in the mid 1970’s, the markets draw locals and tourists together.

Fremantle Markets

As a kid, I used to love the market shops and hated the time mum would want to spend choosing the fruit and veg. Now the fresh produce is what I’m drawn to and I have to drag the kids along, telling them we have to look at all the fruit before picking the best and cheapest.

Within the markets, stall owners spruik and buskers of all ages seek a coin for their talents. Outside the markets there are street performers who are engaging and enthralling. Thankful for having my carefully chosen grapes to snack on, the kids sit down to watch as flaming torches are juggled, swords are tossed and spectators are heckled in good fun.

Fremantle Markets

Back at the hotel, there is time for another swim before the Esplanade Hotel High Tea. Three tiers of scones, sandwiches, mini lemon meringue tarts and crème brulee’s in little pots with shortbread lids is the flourishing finale to our Fremantle weekend. What began with a wet, wild rush has ended in splendid, indulgent elegance.

A casual, refined High Tea, Fremantle Esplanade Hotel style