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Did some errands, buying stamps and sneakers, walked around. Fremantle has not been renovated to death; outside, at least, it still looks like a typical Australian town. Its heyday was approximately 1880-1910, so the sidewalks are generous and the place is human-scale---I saw a notice up about protesting a six-storey development. The commercial buildings along the main street have verandahs (is that the word?) stretching over the sidewalk, shading it. This feature encourages the ground-floor restaurant operators to put tables outside; it creates a tacit extension to the inside space, invites pedestrians (room, usually ample, is left for foot traffic) to stop, and in the case of non-restaurant businesses, encourages window shopping rain or shine. Amenity pays dividends!

Things are expensive here; it's not the GST, either, that's modest. Prices are very high, even in "cheap" stores. Food is universally high, even for produce I think must be locally grown. Grapes are pricey. Candy is pricey, a Mars bar costing about double what it did in the Falklands. I ordered a salad and iced coffee takeaway for lunch; the coffee contained no ice, but did have cream on it (and they asked if I wanted ice cream); again lack of clarity of concept. Ice. Coffee. Please. The salad had seen better times, perhaps just 24 hours previously, perhaps just 2 unrefrigerated hours. Cost $14.

Then I went to the Maritime museums, both of them, which are said to be good. The collections are in two buildings a short walk apart. They've dedicated one to the crowd-pleasing subject of shipwrecks. The information on conservation of underwater finds is as interesting as the process of locating, identifying, and excavating. Just now they're also hosting an exhibit on Dutch voyages of exploration of "Terra Australis" which for centuries was interchangeably used for what we know now as Australia and Antarctica. (The lack of a catalogue is very unfortunate. There is a brochure, but it is not a catalogue; it is incomplete and uninformative.) The VOC (the Dutch East India Company) had specific ideas about what it wanted, and it also had very thorough, well-thought-out procedures for its captains who were sent prospecting, as it were, for new lands. They examined Australia as thoroughly as possible under the conditions they worked in, and saw that it didn't offer commercial opportunities: the people uninterested in trade, the place itself lacking anything obviously saleable. So fairly early on, the Dutch turned their attention northward toward richer pickings.

A fascinating story of shipwreck is told on one of the panels; I gather this is well known in Australia, but not to you, very likely. On October 27, 1875, a ship named the Stefano [not, I must observe, an auspicious name] was wrecked by running onto a reef off of the northwest cape of Australia. It was an Austro-Hungarian ship from Dalmatia and the crew were Croatian. Ten of the 17 crew made it to land, but they didn't know where they were. English-speaking Aborigines tried to assist them, but the crewmen spoke no English; the Aborigines gave them a chart that had washed ashore from the ship that they'd found, hoping it might help them. The Aborigines also gave them water---in very short supply in that area. After some days, the crewmen (thinking themselves farther south than they were) decided to trek southward (toward settlements) and set out, but the difficult country and their lack of knowledge of it kept them from making much progress. Essentially, they could not find food or water; food and water existed, but were difficult to extract. Another band of Aborigines aided them at Cape Farquhar; again they tried pressing south but could not get through the extremely hostile landscape. Returning to Cape Farquhar they lived on oysters until December 21, when a cyclone hit. Two, aged 16 and 20, survived the aftereffects and after a lapse into cannibalism (they were probably half-mad with suffering), were found again by the Aborigines, who took them in and nursed them back to health. The Aborigines tried to communicate with them, pointing north, saying "ciolli," and by April had traveled with them to Exmouth Gulf, where they lit a huge signal fire. They had in the past had amicable dealings with a captain named Charles Tuckey, in the pearling trade; when Tuckey saw the fire, he came ashore to investigate. And so two surviving young men were rescued. As with all stories, there are threads in this leading off in every direction.

The main museum is smaller than I expected---indeed, the two together are not large. Its backbone is local history, the upper floor dealing with history of shipping and immigration in Fremantle and pearling. There's a minimal whaling exhibit (a replica Yankee whaler from Mystic). They do not have (at least on display) a lavish collection of boats. A full, extensive collection of publications accompanies the main museum's special exhibit on Surf Life Saving Clubs in Australia. Not peculiar to Australia, but certainly reaching their greatest heights here, the macho clubs didn't recognize women officially, but many women qualified and did the job anyway---at a local level, some clubs were worse than others and some placed maintaining the clubs' very essential services above maintaining male superiority.

I liked the museums. It would be nice if they could do some exhibit-swapping with some of the other maritime museums I've been to lately---I bet that Halifax's museumgoers would enjoy the shipwrecks and the surf life saving, and the Fremantle clientele might like a Titanic exhibit.

Found myself near a supermarket, after leaving the museum, and went in; I don't really need to buy food yet (I will when I have the camper) but I was wondering what was available. I bought three bananas, a six-pack of 600-ml bottled water (I feel it's overrated but the local water's taste-ably hard; bottled is handy for tea-making), a 600-ml gatorade, and three nectarines. And an insulated carrier bag, which will be very useful.

When I returned to the hotel, I found A in the bar, having tea; she said the youth hostel was dingy and spartan, and she didn't fit in with the clientele (unsurprising), so she moved to the hotel. We went up the street for dinner, to a small restaurant where a party of British tourists discussed one member's divorce (lots of adultery, my goodness) and, unfortunately, many very boring and tedious subjects loudly. Still, the barramundi with lemon butter was good, properly cooked and adequately sauced. A plate with a piece of barramundi on it and two 2" wide, 1" high potato galettes (and a few shreds of spinach): $34. Seems high, but the $30 main course has been popping up in San Francisco for a while. Vegetables are extra; no sauce, just steamed vegetables. I'd eat there again!

Tomorrow I have a reservation on the Rottnest Island ferry. I had hoped to stay over there, but it's fully booked (it is a very small island).


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July 2008

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