Good Reading : October 2007
22 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2007 Fremantle has always had a slight bohemian tinge to its character.The mix of Italian and Portuguese fishermen, left-leaning wharfies, and a dash of Irish immigrants for good measure, has created an environment where writers and artists feel at home. Recently the city established a Writers Walk, which celebrates its past and present local writers, along High Street, one of the best-preserved late 19th-century street- scapes in Australia. When you stand in High Street looking at the ornately decorated buildings, you know that if they could speak they would have many stories to tell.The Writers Walk provides some of these stories, adding immensely to the experience of strolling along this historic street. Fremantle artist Bridget Norton has designed and built art installations incorporating quotes from the work of five writers on 2.4-metre-high markers.The markers celebrate the lives and works of John Boyle O’Reilly, Xavier Herbert,Tim Winton, Joan London and Kim Scott. John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irish political prisoner who was gaoled in Fremantle Prison in the 1860s, escaped on a whaling ship to Boston, from where he organised the escape of six more Irish prisoners. O’Reilly later became a newspaper editor and wrote the novel Moondyne, based on his experiences as a convict in Western Australia.The high limestone walls of Fremantle Prison have loomed over the city since the 1850s.The convict-built gaol was in use until as recently as 1991, but now tourists can join a tour through the cell blocks and bleak exercise yards.Tour guides relate the stories of daring escapes, and the gift shop has a good selection of books about John Boyle O’Reilly and other historical figures from the convict era. Xavier Herbert’s most famous novel, Capricornia, is set in Northern Australia, but his autobiography Disturbing Element describes life in Fremantle in the 1920s. Herbert lived there between the ages of 12 and 24 and remembered how the Salvos banged their drums while noisy crowds spilled out of the picture shows and vaudeville theatres. The Fremantle that Tim Winton describes in Cloudstreet is a much quieter place. It’s where Perth locals come to fish from the wharf, or buy fish and chips to eat in the park on the Esplanade – two activities that are still popular in Fremantle. Until travel by air became the norm, the port of Fremantle was the western gateway to Australia. For the many migrants who came by sailing ship, steamship, or ocean liner, their first glimpse of the country was from the deck as they entered Fremantle Harbour. Arrivals and departures from Fremantle are a theme in Joan London’s award winning novel Gilgamesh. A permanent exhibition at the West Australian Maritime Museum at Fremantle remembers those times; one display shows a suitcase full of the possessions of a Dutch migrant. Embroidered aprons, Delft tiles and children’s books in Dutch are vivid reminders of the homesickness felt by immigrants.The museum shop stocks a large range of books on the state’s colourful maritime history, dating back to the journeys of 17th-century Dutch seafarers. Bill Campbell, the proprietor of a secondhand bookshop at 48 High Street, also finds that books on maritime history are popular with his customers. Bill has an enviable lifestyle, as he writers’ city The port city of Fremantle in Western Australia is a place where artistic and cultural influences have blended together and matured harmoniously, like a well-aged port. SUSAN HALL discovers that this vibrant community is also a haven for writers and book lovers. vintage port Sailing ships still dock in Fremantle. The Maritime Museum can be seen in the left background. The Writers Walk marker with quotes from John Boyle O’Reilly’s Moondyne, a novel published in 1880. Writers Walk markers blend in well with the heritage buildings along High Street.