Talking to my friend Joanna on the weekend got me thinking about the town where we met and both did a lot of our growing up: a place called Fremantle, in Western Australia. Fremantle is a little port town by the ocean, about half an hour from the WA capital of Perth. I lived there on and off from age 16 to 28, and that place and the people who lived there hold the happiest memories of my life.
What I remember most about Fremantle is the sunshine. That hot Perth sun would bathe everything in golden light through the summers. It was perfect beach weather, and Fremantle was right on the water. My friends and I spent many happy days on the beach, whiling away the summer. I think I was part sea-creature back then, and still have a touch of salt water in my veins to this day.
The best thing of all about my town was the people. Fremantle at that time was like a little tear in the fabric of ‘normal’. It’s history was working class, because of the port industry. Then the America’s Cup came, and ‘Freo’ got a facelift. Old buildings were restored, and public spaces created. Artists moved in, and so did some followers of Osho, a popular Indian guru of the 80’s.
Soon, hippies, creative types, spiritual seekers and eccentrics took over the town. On any given ‘workday’ the cafes in town would be spilling over with locals, not one of whom had a full time job. Prices were cheap, as this was before all the craziness of the Australian property price boom. I was living on a student allowance plus part time job totalling about $300/week. Rent was averaged $80/week so I had plenty of money left over if I lived simply, and more importantly, I had plenty of time.
I went to uni a few days a week (studying film, drama and basically anything that took my fancy). I waitressed on weekends, and in between I went to yoga classes, ate healthy food, went to the beach lots, sat around philosophizing in cafes, and had endless cups of tea and chats at friends’ houses. On the weekend nights for entertainment you just headed into Gino’s, the most popular café, ran into loads of people you knew, and found out where the parties were that night. Freo house parties were legendary affairs, usually involving bonfires in huge backyards, fire-twirling, impromptu music with djembe drums, guitars, and singing, and often a disco ball with trance music in the lounge room for good measure.
It’s all changed now, of course. The property and mining booms quadrupled rents in the space of a few years. The hippies all had to get full time jobs, and studying arts at university is now a luxury few young people can afford. The yuppies have moved in bigtime, the famous markets now cater to the tourists, and ‘old Freo’ is increasingly hidden and fading fast.
But I remember those days, walking along the streets I loved so much in the baking summer sun, crickets lazily ticking, and the giant heads of sunflowers nodding in the sea breeze. I remember coffee at Gino’s on a weekday, yoga classes by the wharf and fish and chips at Cottesloe beach at sunset. I live in Tasmania now, which has its own kind of beauty, and I know I’ll find a new kind of community. But I wonder if I’ll ever feel as happy, and alive, and at home in a place again as I did in that little town by the sea in Western Australia. I really hope so.