Fremantle is the ideal place to learn about Western Australia's pioneering history...
You can experience extraordinary stories of convict prisoners, maritime heroes, murderous mutineers and pioneering settlers at an excellent range of museums and attractions.
Known as the world's best preserved example of a 19th century port streetscape and boasting Western Australia's largest collection of heritage listed buildings, Fremantle possesses a depth of character that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
The Round House Precinct
In a country predominately settled by convicts, it is not surprising that the first permanent building to be built in Western Australia was a prison. The Round House Prison, so named because if it's unusual 12 sided shape, was built in 1831 and is an essential part of any itinerary for visitors to Fremantle. The Round House Precinct originally housed a courthouse and gallows all within a fifty metre radius from the prison, and today, a "Whalers" tunnel leading from Bathers Beach below the precinct through the hillside to the town, can still be traversed.
The Fremantle Prison
With a ratio of three convicts to every one free man, the town quickly outgrew the tiny prison and was forced to build a larger scale prison precinct. The Fremantle Prison is now one of Western Australia's premier heritage attractions. The Prison was built by convicts in the 1850's and was used continually as a place of incarceration and punishment for almost 140 years. Visitors today can explore the Prison's fascinating history on an entertaining Prison Day Tour, Tunnel Tour Adventure or Spooky Torchlight Tour.
As a working port city, Fremantle also claims an intriguing maritime history. The Western Australian Maritime Museum is especially popular with its stunning maritime design, set on Victoria Quay at the entrance to Fremantle Harbour. Here you'll find Western Australia's maritime history well documented through a series of world class displays and presentations. The Maritime Museum is also home to the internationally renowned Australia II yacht which contentiously won the America's Cup from the Americans in 1983.
The Shipwreck Museum in Cliff Street is another absorbing attraction. It houses the original timbers from the infamous 17th century Dutch Batavia shipwreck which sank in 1629 further north at the Abrolhos Islands. There are also exhibits of gold and silver coins, furniture, crockery and cutlery as well as stories of bravery, survival and of course mutiny from the shipwreck.
Another intriguing museum in the vicinity is the Army Museum of Western Australia which showcases the entire colonial and post-federation periods through to the end of World War II.
A tale of tall ships
Fremantle officially began in April 1829 when the tall ship HMS Challenger arrived in the waters off the Western Australian coast near the mouth of the Swan River and formally took possession of the land. Close thereafter Captain James Stirling arrived from England to establish Fremantle as a free settlement when approximately 400 settlers arrived in the tall ships HMS Sulphur and Parmelia in June 1829.
Fremantle has since won worldwide acclaim for its expertise and craftsmanship in boat building as well as replicating historic sailing ships. In Fremantle, you can view two fine examples of historic sailing ships. The Duyfken 1606 Replica at the Fishing Boat Harbour, is regarded as the most precise replica of a 16th century tall sailing ship ever made.
Or, get a taste of what it is like to be on board an 1850's style barquentine tall ship with Leeuwin Ocean Adventures. Three hour sails depart from Fremantle and visitors can take part in ship activities such as hauling lines, climbing the bow sprit, taking the helm and going on a ship tour.
Fremantle Arts Centre
How about visiting the character building housing the Fremantle Arts Centre? Housed in a convict build neo-Gothic style building from 1860, and set in beautiful gardens, the centre is also a fascinating heritage site. It now houses gallery spaces, a cafe and a gift shop. While appreciating the exhibitions, you can learn about the centre's fascinating history as a lunatic asylum and shelter for homeless women.
Explore Fremantle's history
You can experience much of timeless Fremantle on board an historic Fremantle Tram Tour which fills you in on the secrets of old-time Fremantle or jump on board a guided Fremantle Urban Walking Adventure with Two Feet and a Heartbeat - a non-traditional route through this amazing city, exploring its many heritage buildings and streets. Or follow one of the self guided heritage walking trails below. Maps are available from the Fremantle Visitor Centre.