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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Fremantle Maritime Museum

Past, present and future all come together to be enjoyed at Fremantle Maritime Museum.

Open from 9.30am to 5.00pm each day of the week it is located at Victoria Quay, Peter Hughes Drive, Fremantle it is an easy stroll from the train station if you are taking public transport. There is paid parking at the museum and ticket inspectors frequently patrol the area for unpaid fees. The exhibit costs $17.50 per adult, or $10 concession.

Preceeding the museum is an interesting display of over 400 panels displaying the names of migrants who landed in Australia by sea. They are called the Welcome Walls. There are also Welcome Walls in the town of Albany, further south in Western Australia. More than 21,000 migrants arrived in Fremantle, and these walls celebrate their contributions to the economy and culture of Western Australia.

Type in a last name on the website link below and find out more information about each migrant. This is also great research tool if you study genealogy (family tree).

The friendly staff member Brendan that greeted me gave excellent directions on where to start my tour and the highlights to see. He also mentioned that they offer guided tours, no extra charge, at 10.30am and 2.30pm each day, as well as upon request.

There are 3 levels at the museum, accessible both my stairs and lifts. It is disabled friendly, and there are plenty of sitting areas to rest if needed.

In 1983 Australia won a yacht race in Perth called the America's Cup. The New York Yacht Club had successfully defended the America’s Cup for 132 years, until the Australians representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club won the cup on home ground (well, home sea to be accurate) in Perth. Seven races determined the winner, with Australia fighting back from a USA led 3-1. At the end of the sixth race, it was 3 each, the decider was on the final race and they yacht Australia II crossed the finish line by a winning margin of 41 seconds. I remember watching it on TV as did most of the nation. Our Prime Minister at the time was in Claremont, Western Australia and famously said "Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum". Today the museum is the resting place for the actual yacht (and the famous Australia jacket that Bob Hawke wore that day).

It is great to see the full size of the yacht and the lifesize mannequins representing the crew in their sailing positions.

One strange Perth phenomonen that I had never heard of before spending time in the city is the Fremantle Doctor. Not a physician as you might think, it is the name of the wind that blows from the ocean across Perth suburbs, and cools the air temperature down by several degrees in summer. The origin of the strange name is unknown, and the 15-20 knot winds can often make visits to the beach in the afternoon a bit windy.

There is an information display on the Doctor here.

The museum is situated on the water and large glass windows overlook the water, such an appropriate spot to build a maritime museum. Looking outwards, it feels as if I am on the back of a cruise ship ready to depart on a holiday.

But it is not just sailing that is displayed here, fishing is a big part of Western Australia. Australia’s coastline is about 60,000kms (37,000 miles), with the WA coastline (including the islands) being 20,000kms (12500 miles), which means there is a lot of ocean to fish.

Displays of fishing abound in the museum, and cover pearling, lobsters, prawns and crabs. There is a huge display case featuring a 5.15metre (17 feet) long male megamouth shark that was washed ashore at Mandurah, south of Perth, in August 1988. That shark is long!

In 1948 John de Ceglie (an Italian immigrant fisherman) and his friends started the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Fremantle, to ensure a bountiful and safe fishing season. There is a community prayer to the Madonna, Queen of the Universe and Star of the Sea. This is followed by a large procession from the Basilica to the shore and topped off with an evening firework display. There is a lovely display of historical costumes used in the parade, and information about the Blessing event.

On the second floor a mezzanine floor with glass sides allows you to see the life sized yachts and boats from above as well as from the ground floor looking up. It was a great vantage point. There are various areas where you can sit and watch video presentations.

There was a lot of information about fishing, and I discovered that in 1953 Australia was the first country to claim resources of the entire continental shelf. From 1979 our territorial waters increased from 12 to 200 nautical miles and there is a display showing illegal fishermen in Australian waters.

On display is a glass bottle with a paper message and twine, believed to be the world’s oldest message in a bottle. It was found in 2018 on the beach 180kms north of Perth. On 12 June 1886 Captain Diekmann commanding a sailing barque Paula on a voyage from Wales to Indonesia threw the message in a bottle 950kms from the Western Australian coastline. Sailors did this between 1864 and 1933, throwing thousands of bottles into the seas. They would write details such as the date, place, ship name, route etc on the message and ask the finder to fill in the back with details of where it was found and return it to a German Naval Observatory or the nearest German Consulate. This is only the 663 note returned, and the only bottle used in the experiment to be found. A remarkable discovery. There is still treasure to be found out there it seems.

A lot of the exhibits are permanent, but the museum often hosts visiting displays. When I visited, they were showing a photographic display of photos taken by Massimo Sestini of the Italian twilight skyline, taken from police helicopters. It was visually beautiful, the large photographs lit up and it made you feel as if you were there in the helicopter with him. Massimo is an Italian photographer, based in Florence, Italy. It was a two year project, and the display is touring to major cities around the world. It is great that Perth has had a chance to see these stunning works of photojournalism.

The museum is a place that you will want to spend many hours entertaining your way around. There is a coffee shop on site with indoor seating, and a beautiful outdoor area overlooking the water. This is a perfect spot to break up your adventure with a quick snack and drink.

Of course, there is a gift shop in case you wish to take home a souvenier of your day.

Currently closed due to Covid-19, but worth noting here, for an extra entry price you can explore a submarine. Brendan advised that the tours run half hour from 10am to 3.30pm and almost always booked out. The tours are run by enthusiastic volunteers. A quick look at the museum's website shows they welcome volunteers.

One last thing to note about the museum, on the second Tuesday of each month the museum has a Free Tuesday, with entry by donation. This does not apply to the submarine or special exhibits. I think this is a wonderful idea especially for people who may not be able to afford to come normally.

Whether you are a visitor to Perth, or a local, this museum is a fabulous way to entertain yourself and learn more about this beautiful and vibrant ocean side city.

Happy Travels!

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