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History of Fremantle

High Street looking west 1905-1906. Photo Fremantle History Centre Click on thumbnail to view image gallery

The heritage of the Whadjuk Nyoongar Aboriginal people of the South West region of Western Australia goes back tens of thousands of years. The area now known as Fremantle is known by Whadjuk people as Walyalup, meaning it was place of the Walyo or Woylie, a small Brush-tailed Bettong.

Visitors to Fremantle can learn some of the stories of the Aboriginal inhabitants, past and present by taking a walking tour with an indigenous guide with Fremantle Indigenous Heritage Tours and by visiting one of the Aboriginal galleries that display contemporary Aboriginal artworks.

The first Europeans arrived in 1829, when Captain Charles Fremantle claimed the west coast of New Holland for the British Crown. In June 1829, Governor James Stirling came ashore to establish the Swan River settlement at the mouth of the Swan River.

Soon after, a settlement was made 20 kilometres upriver at Perth, the present-day capital of Western Australia. Between 1850 and 1868, convicts were sent from Britain to provide labour and help the struggling colony grow–they built some of Fremantle's notable heritage buildings, including Fremantle Prison and the Fremantle Arts Centre

The boom days for Fremantle were the years of gold and wheat, at the end of the 1800s, when the port was the gateway to the rich goldfields and pastoral lands to the east. The town grew quickly over the next few decades, becoming a city in 1929.

Fremantle's impressive suite of late Victorian and early Edwardian buildings date from these years. When the boom-times ended, Fremantle's importance declined and economic activity moved to Perth. This helped to save the city's fine architectural heritage, which was largely untouched by clearing for new development.

It is Fremantle's port that has always been a focal point of the city's prosperity. A limestone bar crossed the entrance to the river was removed and the harbour was deepened as early as 1897.

It was a key home base for Allied naval ships during World War II. After the war, Fremantle was first port of call for thousands of immigrants from war-torn Europe. Many stayed to build new lives in Western Australia.

As Perth grew in importance through the 1960s and 1970s, Fremantle’s economy slowed. A turning point in the city’s history was the America’s Cup Defence in 1987, which revitalised the city and showcased it to the world.

Fremantle was again showcased to the world in December 2011 when the world’s best sailors converged for Perth 2011 International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Championships.

Today, Fremantle is Western Australia’s biggest commercial port, handling a variety of freight. The adjacent fishing port is home base for a large commercial fishing fleet.


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