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A Museum Person's Visit to Western Australia

All photos are taken by myself or my partner and all opinions are my own. This is not your standard blog and rather is a compilation of all my Instagram posts from my trip.


Last year I headed west to attend a conference and while there I was able to visit a number of great Museums and important cultural centres. For those planning their own Museum and cultural fuelled Western Australia trip here is a quick rundown on some of the highlights that I shared over on my Insta.

The undeniable figure of WA, the Quokka. Like everyone else we fell in love & got snap happy (June 2022)

The June public holiday fell on one of the Monday’s that we were there and while most Aussie’s know that the June public holiday is the “Queen’s Birthday” and many also know that WA have their public holiday on a separate weekend at this time, I doubt they know why.


As much as WA is very different the public holiday was also publicised and celebrated differently to what I was used to hearing and seeing back on the east coast. This holiday in WA wasn’t really associated with the “Queen’s birthday”, rather it was billed as “WA Day”.

Why I wondered and what is WA Day? From what I saw and heard while there I figured it was just a day to celebrate WA – after all that is what the add on tv was saying.


Since coming back home and catching up on my reading I have discovered that there is more to the story behind this public holiday. WA Day actually remembers the establishment of European settlement in WA and is celebrated in lieu of the Queen's Birthday. It was on 2 June 1829 that the Swan River Colony was established (now Fremantle), making it the first European settlement in the west. Interestingly, Perth wouldn’t be established until over two months later on 12 August 1829.


Blog Contents:

1. Fremantle

2. Rottnest Island

3. Perth

4. WA Surrounds


STOP ONE: FREMANTLE

Fremantle Sunset (June 2022)

First stop on my West Australian trip was Fremantle. Of all of the places I have visited around the world Fremantle has to be up there in the places I’d easily travel back to often if I could. I knew very little about Fremantle before I arrived, however everyone recommended that we visit and so we ensured we stayed there for a few days. This was a great option as we really got to explore what the port city had to offer.


When we first arrived, I was blown away by how historical the city was and that most of it seemed authentic! It is so rare to find a city with such great historical buildings still standing that survived the era of “knock it down”, also known as the 1970s and 1980s.

My first question was “why” and “how” was this city preserved as such a great representation of the past?


I suspected the reason was because the city didn’t go through the same development as other major cities across Australia


So what is the story of Fremantle in a nutshell?

In 1829 the British established the Swan River Colony (today Fremantle). The British were not the first Europeans to step foot in Fremantle though with the Dutch having travelled the region as far back as the late seventeenth century.


It wasn’t until 1850, when convicts began to be transported to Fremantle, that the settlement began to flourish and many of the buildings that are still standing today as icons of Fremantle were erected (e.g., Fremantle Prison - keep reading).


Fremantle at sunset (June 2022)

The onset of the WA Gold Rush in the late nineteenth century saw great capital pass through Fremantle and many of the grand buildings that still stand today were a result of Fremantle becoming the gateway to the fields and thus an important economic hub.


Flashforward to today and the city still looks very similar (building wise) to what it would have looked like at the turn of the century. I wanted to know more about the city so I started reading the many books I purchased while there but all books represent Fremantle's history pretty much the same: 1829, penal colony, gold rush and then jump forward to today skipping almost 100 years of history. Why though? Did nothing happen in the intervening years?


The answer to that is yes and no.


As the gold rush ended and Perth began to become more established Fremantle turned more into an immigrant port. For this reason, many migrants passed through the city, and this is illustrated in a great exhibit at the WA Maritime Museum. During World War Two, Fremantle became an important naval base for the Allies with US sailors calling the city home for extended periods. Despite that though the city was pretty much left as it was but in the long run that is what has made Fremantle what it is today.


These are just my observations and interpretations of the history of Fremantle, but it is that history and the vibe of the city that will keep me coming back. I highly recommend a visit!!


The Fremantle Dog Statue

As we made our way on foot to the WA Maritime Museum we came across this statue of a man and a dog. Straight away I realised the man was likely an immigrant, newly arrived as I knew this to be a big part of the Fremantle story and he was carrying a suitcase and model ship. This theory was confirmed when we looked around the Museum as it depicted the migrant story in its exhibits, and it would have been on these docks that many migrants arrived.


Fremantle Dog Statue (June 2022)

So, if that is who the man is then who or what is the dog? At the time I didn’t really give it much thought, assuming it was a dog of some significance but when I got home and looked up the statue, I discovered many people pointing out that the dog is facing the man. In fact, many people suggested the dog was confronting the man.


The statue is called “Southern Crossing” and was sculpted by Tony and Ben Jones in 2002. The dog actually a dingo.


The Dingo, an Australian animal, is confronting the man which symbolises the uncertainties migrants faced when they arrived in Australia.


Fremantle Fire Station No. 2 (1908)

While in Fremantle we stumbled upon this building and straight away (without seeing the current name) I recognised it as a fire station. It seems I can’t go anywhere without coming across things fire related!


Now a hostel this was the old Fremantle Fire Station (June 2022)

Built in 1908 and opened in 1909 this was the No. 2 station of Fremantle until 1977 when a new station was erected. At the time of its construction, it was designed to also house the local ambulance.


Around this time, in the mid-1970s the heritage significance of the building was recognised, and it was added to a number of local heritage registers; this was in the face of authorities wanting to demolish it for a new station. In 1993 it was added to the WA State Heritage Register and today is a backpackers.


When we walked past work was being undertaken on the façade.


Interestingly, I have read that during World War Two the building was occupied by US Marine’s who were based in the city.


Fremantle Prison

Let me start by being honest: no matter how historic a prison is, I really don’t find them high on my must-visit list. While they hold important history and show a perspective of the human experience that many hope to never live, I often find them difficult to visit – that is unless the story is presented in an easy to digest way. Perhaps I’m being a whimp or not open minded enough but I don’t like the idea of visiting prisons as a tourist. It may seem ridiculous but I just don’t like the emotion they produce. Having said that, I generally will visit these historic places and usually find something fascinating, followed by a spending spree in the gift shop to buy up all books on the subject.


This is what happened at Fremantle Prison.

Fremantle Prison (June 2022)

Everyone said we had to visit and while it was on our list it kept dropping down the list as we stumbled across other more appealing places until finally, we made it to the prison.

Straight away you can’t deny the heritage and history found within the walls and I was amazed to discover that it was an active prison until 1991. Yes, this 1850 building was used until just thirty years ago to house prisoners!


This is what I found most fascinating, and I spent quite a bit of time exploring the more recent history and watching the videos of prisoner stories from the 1980s and 1990s, amazed that it was still used so recently! This era was earmarked by a prisoner riot in 1988 which caused over $1.8 million in damages and saw guards taken prisoner.


Not surprisingly the prison was closed shortly after and almost immediately was not just locally listed as a heritage asset but was added to the World Heritage List, the only world listing for WA.


The history held here cannot be denied and the one good thing that has come from little advancement or modernisation to the prison over the years is that today it is one of the rare surviving intact historic prisons in the world.


Fremantle Prison Hose Cart

While we visited the prison I cam across this hose cart in the treatment area of the heritage precinct. The prison houses a viewing section of the conservation and treatment which allows visitors to see curators and conservators at work.


As you can clearly see the paint is peeling off the cart which is why it had found its way into the conservation room. To help the public interpret what was transpiring the team had put together a great label that explains the process.


The hose cart was stored at the prison and according to the information provided in instances of fire emergencies prisoner labour was provided to the city during the later years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century.


This would NOT have been the arrangement by the time the prison closed in 1991!

Yes – it seems everywhere I visit I come across fire related items and history!

The hose cart in the conservation area of Fremantle Prison (June 2022)

WA Shipwreck Museum

The standout Museum for me in Fremantle has to be the WA Shipwreck Museum. I really didn't know what to expect as I hadn't heard much about it compared to the Maritime Museum (which is also well worth a visit but falls second in my mind to the WA Shipwreck Museum). The Batavia exhibit is incredible and of course I am a sucker for maritime history of all kinds!


Photos do not do justice to the Batavia exhibit, WA Shipwreck Museum (June 2022)

What is the Batavia and why should you go to the WA Shipwreck Museum to see the exhibit?

The Batavia was a flagship of the Dutch East India Company, launched in 1629. While on her maiden voyage the Batavia was wrecked on Morning Reef, the first Dutch ship to be lost off the west coast of Australia.


The ship carried approximately 341 people on board, of which two-thirds were officers and sailors. Over the course of the long voyage to the Dutch East Indies (remember they travelled south around Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean) tensions had been mounting amongst the crew.


Around 268 people who survived the wreck were left scattered across two islands while 48 people (crew and some civilians) set out for the port of Batavia (modern day Jakarta, Indonesia). It took the party 33 days to get to Jakarta and when they arrived some of the crew were executed or arrested due to bad behaviour prior to the wreck, owing to the accusations of the Commander.


While this occurred in Jakarta a rescue vessel was sent in search of the survivors however it took 63 days for the rescue party to make it to the site of the wreck. Thus, the survivors had been abandoned in a foreign place with no food or water for close to 100 days – well 100 days for those who survived the violence that befell them on their island prisons.


A few days after the party of 48 left the wreck in search of rescue, the Batavia finally broke apart and sunk, taking 40 men with it. The highest ranking officer left behind was the third in command Cornelisz and to this point he’d made the journey miserable for a number of the crew and passengers. He would make it much worse.


The entrance to the WA Shipwreck Museum (June 2022)

Determined to remain in control, Cornelisz set about with his plan of eliminating almost all of the survivors. He sent some to Seal Island where he thought they wouldn’t survive and after he saw them moving around longer than expected he sent men over to kill them all. He sent various people off on fruitless errands only to have them drowned by his followers. He oversaw the killing of not just other sailors and civilian men but women and children. He did however keep some women alive, a fate worse than death for some.

While Cornelisz killing rampage was underway a group of sailors had found water on another island. The group had been warned about what Cornelisz was doing so when his men arrived to strike a deal with them (or more likely kill them if they didn’t agree), they were ready for them and defeated Cornelisz men.


Angered that his men had been defeated by others without weapons Cornelisz headed to the island of the men himself. It was here that they captured him, and his villainous reign came to an end. Around the same time help arrived.


Those involved in the mutiny had their right hand cut off while Cornelisz had both of his cut off then he was executed. In total just 116 survivors made it to Batavia.


This story isn’t very well known and thanks to the exhibition at the Shipwreck Museum it has been commemorated. A portion of the ship is on display after having been recovered from the sea floor after all of these years. That itself is well worth seeing while the tragedy of the sailing is something hard to believe but explained well across the displays.


STOP TWO: ROTTNEST ISLAND

The cutest face ever! Terrible selfie skills on my part but this guy got the memo (June 2022)

Wadjemup Museum, Rottnest Island

The Wadjemup Museum, located right in the main settlement (where you get off the ferry) is well worth making time to visit. It is small (compared to many of the Museums on the mainland) but it tells a very important history and is presented in a modern way having been re-opened in December 2020. You don't need to spend long inside to realise there is more to the island than just the Quokka's. As someone who knows a lot of Aussie history I have to admit my WA history is a bit lacking but I never realised the island was originally used as an Aboriginal prison and then labour camp from very early until relatively recently (1838 - 1931). I was amazed to read that around 1910, when the tourist potential of the island was realised, the prisoners were shipped back to the mainland for the holiday season so as not to come into contact with the well-to-do! There is so much more to the story of Rottnest Island and of course I picked up a book while I was there so I look forward to continuing to learn more (watch this space for sure)!


I can't end this section on the Museum of Rottnest without recommending a visit to the island. It is one of the best places I've travelled in the world and I highly recommend ensuring enough time on the island by staying in one of the many accommodation options.


STOP THREE: PERTH

View of Perth's Swan River from our hotel room (June 2022)

Boola Bardip WA Museum, Perth

I often have Museum envy over Government funded (OR simply just funded) organisations with amazing exhibits thanks to nice budgets BUT I'm not just envious of the brand new WA Museum I am IN LOVE! Every gallery provides another interactive opportunity for people of all ages to engage with and enjoy. Us big kids touched, pushed and smelt (yep smelt) everything on offer just as much as the toddlers running around the galleries! For anyone wanting to see just how exciting (& of course educational) a Museum can be I highly recommend Visiting the Boola Bardip WA Museum in Perth! You could easily spend an entire day there! I would go so far as to say it's worth a trip to Perth just to visit, especially for Museum-going folk!


The Mint, Perth

Before I visited Perth I knew I wanted to visit the Mint as I’d seen it pop up in articles but I wondered why the Mint was in Perth?


Firstly, it isn’t active anymore with the melting house now out near Perth airport since 1990 but prior to that the Mint operated continuously since 1899. The federal Australian Mint is today in Canberra, but when you think of the history of WA it makes sense that a Mint was needed close by given the success of the gold rush! I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that prior to visiting!

The Mint and statue "The Strike" (June 2022)

We enjoyed a guided tour at the Mint and saw a live gold pour that is well worth timing your visit to see.


The highlight of the visit to the Mint’s Museum is the one tonne gold bullion coin that was cast in 2011. It is the largest coin in the world and legal tender! The Museum has a number of interactives that make it fun for adults and kids of all ages, including the ability to find out how much you are worth in gold!


The statue outside the Mint in Perth is of William Ford and Arthur Bayley who found gold close to Coolgardie in 1892. This is what sparked the WA gold rush seeing the population grow from 40,000 to 160,000 within a few short years. The sculpture was created by Greg James and is called “The Strike”.


King’s Park, Perth

This park is phenomenal! Everyone told me that I needed to visit and while I like a good park and scenic walk, I didn’t have it high on my priority list, especially as the weather hadn’t been great.


Our second-to-last morning in the city I thought it best to make the trip up to the park given people still kept telling me to visit. As we drove up in the rain, I wasn’t sure how long we would stay but then as we approached the park the clouds cleared and we had a beautiful morning.


Using the gps on my phone and the markers throughout the park to ensure we visited all of the key places we spent a long-time walking many of the tracks, visiting key points.

We discovered the firefighter’s memorial and the Pioneer Women’s Memorial as well as numerous other scenic spots.


When you first arrive you will see the war memorial that looks out over the Swan River, and this sets the scene for what can be a great walk mixing culture, history and nature.

I recommend (just like everyone else did to me) taking the time to visit this park when you are in Perth!


The Pioneer Women’s Memorial is a beautiful statue surrounded by a pond with fountains that spurt in a pattern. When the wind is strong, be careful as you will get wet!


The water jets symbolise the path the pioneer women trod on their way to WA where they faced the unknown. The sculpture is by Margaret Priest and was opened in 1968.


Entry to Belmont Museum and Library (June 2022)

Belmont Museum, Perth

As part of the AMAGA conference I took part in a site visit to the Belmont Museum, located in Belmont 7km east of the Perth CBD.


In recent years the Museum had been relocated into a brand-new building alongside the library and it is great to see that a local Museum has been made accessible for all of the community by having it in the Museum. It is an interesting concept and may be a way to help encourage everyone to visit a museum.


The exhibits provide a great way for all ages to interact with the history of the region and to learn about what makes their place unique. From what I learned and saw while at the Museum and within the community it seems that Belmont Council have a great program of cultural activities that engage the community, making it a great place for all ages to interact and feel included.


A rather simple but progressive idea when thinking of what other councils offer (or don’t offer) across the country.


DFES Education and Heritage Centre, "Perth Fire Station Museum"

The final place to talk about is probably one of the most important that I visited during my time in Perth, WA. This is of course the original Perth Fire Station (well the first purpose-built fire station in Perth), that today home to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Education and Heritage Centre.


Commissioned in 1899 the fire station was opened on 1 January 1901 and is today heritage listed. The building is beautiful and open to the public with numerous contemporary displays of firefighting and rescue history and activities.


It is free to visit and staffed by volunteers who support the small DFES team in operating the Museum as well as undertaking research and conservation work.


The building ceased to be used as a fire station in 1979 with restoration work on parts of the building taking place throughout the 1980s, ultimately opening as an education centre in 1985.


STOP FOUR: WA SURROUNDS

The Pinnacles, The Coral Coast

Located just two hours north of Perth in the Nambung National Park this is a MUST VISIT site for anyone making the trip to WA! Yes, it is “just a bunch of rocks” but go in with an open mind and at the right time of day to experience a great natural site.


The Pinnacles at sunset (June 2022)

The magnitude of the Pinnacles is hard to comprehend, even when visiting, as they seem to just keep going. Most visitors don’t seem to step beyond the entry point but we walked as far as we could before realising that if we didn’t head back before the sunset we were likely to get lost as the rock formations go as far as the eye can see.


These rocks are made of limestone and were formed around 25,000 to 30,000 years ago after the sea receded leaving these natural deposits of limestone to form. Some of the rocks are huge!


We visited at sunset which made the experience all the more scenic as we watched the sun set on the beautiful landscape.


Wave Rock

According to what locals told me when we stopped for a much needed break after making the 4 hour drive east of Perth, it was only after a photograph of the rock formation was entered into a New York photographic exhibit in 1964 that it became a popular tourist attraction. The formation dates back much much further though and has been formed by wind and water erosion. Think of that for a moment as the rock is about 4 hours east of Perth and therefore a major water body. The formation is 14m high and I was surprised to find you can climb to the top which isn't for the faint hearted, especially when it's windy!


Corrigin Dog Cemetery

While we were in Perth and travelling out to visit Wave Rock we stumbled upon a very unusual site in the what was literally the middle of nowhere! This was the

Corrigin Dog Cemetery.


The cemetery is a one of a kind and began in 1974 when local man Paddy Wright was searching for a place to burry his beloved dog Strike. He started something and soon other locals were burying their loved dogs there as well!. Throughout the 1980s headstones were added and it became a true cemetery for man (and woman’s) best friend! It was never intended to be a tourist attraction, but it has turned into one!


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