Char Char Bull, Kings Park II & Freemantle

An account of our last few days in Freemantle & Perth before travelling across the Nullarbor Plain to Freemantle on the Indian – Pacific. This was part of a trip undertaken with my father in order to eventually meet up with our relatives in Adelaide, before that however we had a week of adventures in Western Australia where we got to know places such as Freemantle, Perth and Albany.

The Toyota Kluger which we’d hired from Hertz in Freemantle was still available for us to use for more one day after our return from Albany because it was not due back until the Tuesday morning. Before the trip down to Albany I had thought of going off again for another long ride on the Monday but now I knew that would be asking for trouble. To get to any place of any size, such as Bunbury which was further down the coast, would take at least 2-3 hours and then once I’d hung round there for a couple of hours I would have to drive back again. I had thought originally of even trying to get down as far as Margaret River but that would have been impossible, or at least exceedingly stupid to the point of being dumb. Basically it was too damn easy in Western Australia to bite off more than you could chew when it came to how far you thought you could go whilst behind the wheel of a vehicle. Even someone like me had now got to the stage of the game where I knew that although I could do it if I wanted to, it would have been incredibly tiring, possibly dangerous and really rather pointless. I would have had hardly any time at my place of destination before having to turn around and drive all the way back again. So instead of all that I listened to the advice of the friendly concierge girl at The Esplanade who recommended I take the Kluger north of Perth along coast, to the Hilary Boat Harbour which was no more that 20 km up the road from Freemantle. Along the way it would be possible to for me stop and view some of the beaches within Perth city limits, to get out of the Kluger at wherever I happened to pull up and take a few walks by the ocean. Sounded pretty good to me!

We had breakfast slightly later than usual and after we were finished Dad said to me that he was going to give the Kluger and my proposed drive along the coast a miss. Our two day trip down to Albany and back had been quite tiring for him and he thought he might also now be getting a cold which was probably down to all the travelling and clashes in temperature, because it had been a different climate down in Albany, somewhat colder. The weather in Perth was obviously different too from what it had been back in England, profoundly different as a matter of fact, so I guess it could all add up to trouble as far as his immune system was concerned, making it tougher for him to roll with the punches. Dad therefore told me I should shoot off in the Kluger and that he would have an easy day in Freemantle, mainly staying in and around the hotel. After breakfast we went for a short walk together and I stopped off at an Aboriginal artifact and craft shop to buy a couple of postcards to send back home. I think the people there were a little disappointed that it was only a couple of postcards I walked out with, not one of their magnificent didgeridoos or fabulous boomerangs, but there you go, I was not a big spender. It was another beautiful day, a full on stunner, with the sun shining brightly and not a cloud in the sky when I got back behind the wheel of the Kluger. I was now really looking forward to my ride up the coast, hoping to get an eyeful of another bunch of incredible sights. Wearing my Ray Bans and Billabong cap I slowly made my way out of Freemantle and over the harbor bridge to North Perth, staying clear of the city centre. Since it was a Monday and still out of season for that part of the world, the places I stopped off and visited on my way to the Hilary Boat Harbour were peaceful to the point of being almost deserted. They seemed to be the answer to anyone’s dreams if what you were looking for was a place to live in the sun with the wondrous Indian Ocean right on your doorstep. Things would no doubt be different when the holiday season kicked in as it was clear the surfing scene was a very big deal on that part of the coast, immaculate surfing clubs with facilities second to none dotted all over.

It was nice for me to see, but to drop in for little more than a snapshot in time would have been pushing things, as it was a world which I was not and never would be part of. Walking on the beaches with my shades, Billabong cap, jeans and pale skin made me feel a bit clumsy and self-conscious as deeply tanned and super fit jogging couples either in swimsuits or shorts passed me by and disappeared into the distance. It would simply have been too much for me to imagine that I would somehow effortlessly blend into such a scene because I wouldn’t have, I was miles away from anything like that. Guess I might still dream to myself that if circumstances required I would be able to make the transition without too much of a problem, but the reality was rather different. I had spent too many years working out of the east end of London for little more than a couple of bags of rice not to have become wearily fatalistic as to what was to become of me, or rather, what wasn’t!

Now the main reason why I wanted to make the ride up to the Hilary Boat Harbour was because that was where the Aquarium of Western Australia was located. Since reading about it when I had been doing my researches on the internet prior to coming out, I felt it would be a good place to visit. It had fish, lots of them, and many other strange creatures of the deep which only lived in that part of the world. It was more or less midday by the time I rolled up at the harbor, which was a somewhat sprawling but clearly popular place, full of trendy boutiques and shops, some massive eating houses offering the usual fare of steaks, fish and chips, fried chicken and pizza to the masses who appeared all too willing to want to lap it all up, just like me I suppose, at particular times of the day. Even on a Monday there were a fair few people milling around and I thought it would probably be quite stressful if you got stuck there in the busy season, the hot season, the lets make a hell of a lot of noise with our kids season. The size of it all disorientated me for a while and it took a little bit of time for me to locate the aquarium because it was not well signposted, or rather it might have been more the case that I was feeling a little bit spaced out from my drive back from Albany the day before. Not seeing what was right in front of me in other words!

I was somewhat relieved when I finally did find the aquarium and where I duly handed over the not inconsiderable entrance fee of $28 AU for a ticket. The names of all the sea creatures I can’t remember now, and seeing them all consigned to swimming around for the rest of their days in those tanks did make me feel a little bit sad, nevertheless I spent a fascinating couple of hours inside reading up on the maritime history of that part of the Indian Ocean. Some of the facts recent research had come up with were simply astounding, such as the whales we had seen the day before in Albany who had been tagged, with a view to learning more about their migratory patterns. From what had so far been recorded, those whales certainly covered a lot of ground, went on an incredible journey in fact, all the way up from the Southern Ocean of Antarctica and along the west coast of Australia before heading out into the depths of the mysterious Indian Ocean and diving down to a part of the sea no one quite knew the location of. How mysterious is that? The other main impression I took away with me from visiting the aquarium was that just as Australia had a considerable number of the world’s most deadly creatures on land, it also had them in the sea as well. There were too many, way too many, which had been catalogued and classified by the aquarium as being extremely dangerous, with words and phrases such as “fatal” and “no known cure” all too common in their description. Most of them seemed to apply to the many forms of jellyfish which were in Australian waters and it certainly made me think twice about ever going in the sea there that was for sure, so maybe it was good not to fit in! From what I read, if something didn’t kill you, it would still be able to cause “extreme pain” if it happened to bite you.

By the time I stepped back out into the bright light of day from out of the aquarium it was mid-afternoon and I drove the Kluger out of the harbor to go a couple of miles further on up the coast before deciding to turn around and return it to the Hertz in Freemantle by 5 pm. It was not due back until the following morning but as I was not intending to do any more driving I thought there was no point in waiting, I just might as well get it out of the way there and then. There was also another factor to bear in mind and that was I would be saving on the not inconsiderable $25 AU parking fee I would have to pay if I parked it for a second night in the car park of The Esplanade. On my way back down the coast to Freemantle, driving through Perth suburbs such as Scarborough, City Beach and Cottesloe, I passed endless estates of brand new houses. There was a little bit of a construction boom going on in North Perth that was for sure, all available land being eaten up to satisfy the appetite of its expanding population, plenty of work then, if you had anything to do with the building trade. The feel to these places was not for me, but I am sure for many what I was cruising past in the Kluger most certainly represented the land of dreams and if that was so then the best of luck to them, there were certainly far worse places you could end up in this world than Perth. But to my eyes it all appeared to be a little bit monotonous, each one exactly the same as the last, but then again just what the hell did I know about anything, sitting there behind the wheel of a hired Kluger from Hertz with my Ray Bans on?

Delivering the car back on time came pretty close to being a traumatic experience because when I drove back into Freemantle I badly overshot the freeway I was supposed to turn onto and soon found myself a good few miles further in from where I was wanted to be, too far down the pipe in other words. I even saw one of the Red Rooster chicken houses we had passed the day before on our way back in from Albany, and I knew from that I was way too south of where I needed to be. Trouble was that it was fast approaching  the 5 pm cut off and I was running out of time, but after somehow managing to get my bearings, more by luck than design, I made it back to the Hertz office by the skin of my teeth. Make no mistake there had been a good few minutes in which I was as full of stress and agitation as I’d ever been, a million miles away from the free an’ easy holiday spirit which had seemingly so far been all pervasive. Instead it was I was back to a “Bloody fucking this, bloody fucking that”, cursing of the situation. But that was just the way I was wired, there was not much that I could do about it at the end of the day. When I had a goal set in my mind I just had to see it through, no matter how pathetic or modest that goal might have been when compared to the big picture. In this case it was simply the desire just to get the Kluger back to Hertz before it shut up shop for the day, something for which I was more than prepared to cut a few deals with the gods in order to achieve, but also shake my fist at them if they failed me. Needless to say I was full of relief and happiness when I signed off all the paperwork and made my way out of the rental office. The only thing left for me to do after that was wait at a stop on the highway for a bus to take me back into Freemantle. Job done, such is the stuff that dreams are made of I guess!

By the time I returned to town it was around 5.30 and I decided to stop off at the Cappuccino Strip for a coffee. The coffee house I chose was busy, in fact they all were, and I sat myself down at a table on the sidewalk with a cup of flat white. There was no doubt that on closer inspection quite a few of the inhabitants of Freemantle who hung around there were a little rough around the edges. Just a couple of tables along from me were three grizzled looking bikers nursing beers and wearing shades, one of whom had no arms and was sitting in a wheelchair. Every once in a while he would slowly bend down to take a sip of his beer from a long metal pipe which was sticking out of top of the bottle, quite a heavy scene if truth be told, sun or no sun. Yes, Freemantle had a distinct feel to it of being the last place on the line for a number of people who were there, after that there was nowhere else to go, only the ocean.

It was this, along with the combination of it being a busy port and a favorite hang out place for those on the backpacker circuit, which gave Freemantle its unique atmosphere. Or at least that was how it appeared to me. There were plenty of cheap hostels where you could stay the night in dormitory accommodation for a very reasonable price, there were coffee houses galore where you could sit around all day and watch the world go by and bookshops such as Elizabeth’s where you could spend hours and hours just browsing through all the stuff they had. In addition to all this there was also the fact it was an easy place to walk around both day and night, plenty of streets and buildings were easy on the eye, and it was safe as well. I had already made countless circuits of the town and I loved it, couldn’t get enough of walking down its streets, staring up at buildings seemingly so full of history and so well preserved. Still it had to be acknowledged that in parts, pockets, patches, Freemantle most certainly wasn’t sophisticated or genteel, but there was nothing wrong with that, far from it in fact.

Back at The Esplanade I caught up with Dad who had laid low for most of the day recovering from the trip down to Albany and trying to shake off his cold. He told me he had not really ventured out much at all so I stayed with him awhile and we had a chat together in his room before I went back to mine to rest up for a bit. Fortunately Dad was well enough by the time evening came along for us to go down and have a couple of nice cold beers in the hotel bar where we had our usual conversation comprising all things Australia and what we were making of it. There was a conference taking place in The Esplanade for delegates from the Australian refuse industry and it was their final night in town, so they were all letting their hair down a little bit. Being the kind of place it was, there was little doubt that Australia would have had a large number of rules and regulations when it came to how people should dispose of their rubbish, and these were the ones who were in charge of the system. Not that it stopped them from getting pissed of course!

This time we headed out to the Char Char Bull steakhouse out on the waterfront. Yet again we had another top quality meal with excellent service and yet again we washed down steak and chips with some of Western Australia’s finest wines both red and white. We were eating well in Freemantle there was no doubt about that, in many ways it was so brilliantly simple that a part of me would have been able to carry on doing the same thing night after night for a very long time, days into weeks, weeks into months, forever even. Just think it was the combination of great food and attentive service which made all the places where we’d eaten in Freemantle so damn excellent, that and the fact it was accompanied by plenty of alcohol. As far as both Dad and I were concerned it was exactly what we wanted to do of an evening when on holiday; to drink a couple of cold beers whilst having a good chat, followed by a meal of usually fish or steak and chips washed down with a couple of glasses of wine, white or red, and usually from Margaret River.

went to the Char Char stompin’ ground
of the empty bottle,
where on the back of a black roarin’ bull
happiness was found

Tuesday was our final day in Perth as on the Wednesday we would be catching the Indian-Pacific at 11.30 in the morning, getting on board for a two day train ride which would take us from Perth to Adelaide in South Australia, going across the vast and empty Nullarbor Plain. It was kind of hard to believe when I woke up that it was now our last day in town, time had passed so quickly, and I had loved every minute of it if truth be told. Like so many things you get to really enjoy, it seemed like it had just been a dream, just a crazy fast moving dream which was now nearly over. Yet again the weather was superb as I sneaked a look outside whilst walking through the foyer of The Esplanade in the morning with Dad on our way to breakfast, which once again comprised of cups of coffee, bowls of fresh fruit along with toast and pastries picked from the buffet, but none of the fried stuff, as we’d been on the chips the night before down at the Char Char Bull. For my final day I had thought it would be a good idea for me to head back into Perth and up to King’s Park, to finish off seeing what I had begun a few days before on my first visit. Dad was still fighting off his cold, and although the beers followed by a steak washed down with plenty of wine had done him good, he was still under the weather, under the cosh, which meant it was hit or miss as to whether he would accompany me for one last final ride into town on the metro.

Nevertheless after our leisurely breakfast Dad came out with me with a view to going into Perth as well, something which I encouraged him to do as he had been hanging around The Esplanade on and off for a few days now and I think he needed a bit of a change of scene. However by the time we got to the metro station and were sitting on the train he told me he really didn’t think it was a good idea for him to go in after all and so he bailed out, saying that he would have another quiet day in Freemantle instead. I tried to persuade him otherwise but I could see he had made up his mind and I knew if I forced things with him it would only make things worse, best in other words to leave him to do his own thing. This meant I was on my own again, taking the slow crawl into Perth on the metro. It didn’t matter Dad wasn’t coming, it would have been nice if he had for sure, but at the end of the day I used to flying solo and had been for years. 

Before heading up to King’s Park I once again took some time in Perth walking the streets and taking another bunch of shots with my digital camera. I was not interested in anything in particular, just scenes as I happened to see them, more or less random with no set plan. I also called in on an internet café and checked through my emails since I didn’t have email on my phone. Guess that ten or even five years ago internet cafes were everywhere, but now they were few and far between as people used their mobiles and other devices for all forms of communication. After all we live in a time when things move very quickly, before you know it you are little more than a dinosaur if you don’t keep up with the march of progress relentlessly rollin’ on. But then again dinosaurs didn’t do too badly did they? Who’s gonna bet on us being on the planet longer than them?

Not only was the weather clear and sunny, it was also the hottest day we’d had so far, nothing like what you’d get in high season, but still pretty damn toasty nonetheless. This time I saved myself the pain of waiting for the free bus to take me to the park and walked up there instead. It really did not take that long, but all the same I realized that by the time I got there I was already a little tired and that was because it was a walk which was uphill all the way and undertaken in the heat of the late morning. Guess it might have been because of this that I soon walked into the middle of King’s Park and got completely lost. I wasted a lot of energy by way of trying to blame it on the fact there just weren’t any decent maps or signs to let you know where you were, but the fact of the matter was I’d just not had the awareness to pay enough attention to what I was doing and thus avoid taking a wrong turn. Thing was that King’s Park was not like a normal city park in the sense that it was an open piece of green surrounded by buildings close by, no, it was more like a miniature example of the Australian wilds planted in the middle of the city with lots of big bushes and strange trees in it. All of which saw me work myself up into quite a state of agitation trying to figure out just where the hell I was and not having much of a clue about it.

Being lost in the park went on for some considerable period of time, and the longer it continued the more irritated, tired and even miserable I felt about it. Suddenly the good times were no more! Within the confines of my mind I was having a good old rant about it, cursing the authorities for not having put up more signs to let people know where the fuck they were. Consequently I kept making wrong decisions as to what was the right direction in which to go, thereby making things worse. The whole exercise began to bug me like a son of a gun as my return visit to King’s Park was not turning out the way I had expected. Guess it was just as well I wasn’t in the real bush as I don’t think I would have lasted too long, would have soon got disoriented and confused before keeling over in the sun. Another dumb fuck! Needless to say at the end of the day it all ended without too much in the way of real drama as I eventually bounced myself out of the mess I was in, out of the park in other words, even if it was at some obscure exit point on one of its furthermost edges. From there I was able to walk back in, this time with my bearings intact after taking the precaution of properly studying the map at the entrance. All the same by the time I was finished I still felt both tired and irritable. The second visit to King’s Park was not quite as it was meant to have been and in the end I was just glad to get out of it, which was in stark contrast to a few days ago when I had more or less departed in a state of deep enchantment. This time I even jumped on the bus and took the free ride back into town, as there was one waiting, rather than wasting more time by walking back in. Suppose in one sense it confirmed to me what I always suspected, that to try to repeat a good experience is often asking for trouble because things rarely come off by way of trying to find that initial magic.

My afternoon in Perth wound down with me checking out a branch of Borders Bookstore and from there buying a rather hefty tome on the history of Australia. At the time I thought I would read it from cover to cover because I was suddenly interested in all things to do with Oz, but in actual fact I soon struggled with it and I guess that was for the simple reason it turned out to be incredibly boring. Maybe it was just the way it was written, or maybe it was just me not being able to tune into the level of detail the book provided on obscure historical events from a couple of hundred years ago which meant very little to me. Talking of boring, there was now no doubt in my mind that the metro ride back out to Freemantle from Perth really was a bit of a killer. There were way too many stops, simple as that, completely unnecessary as no one seemed to get on and off and there was quite simply not enough speed when it was moving. It could have all been so much better if they’d just taken the time to work out what was relevant and what was not in terms of places to include on the route. Then again, I guess it might just have been the mood I was in which made me see things it that way after toiling in King’s Park , but I don’t think so!

My final evening in Freemantle saw me take a few walks around its centre and quiet streets yet again, probably because I couldn’t get enough of it, could have carried on doing the same thing for weeks. In many respects, I’m really not that complicated, as long as I get to walk until I feel tired that is enough for me, no sessions of great introspection needed to get to the meaning of life. I also ate on my own this time as well, because as Dad was still battling his cold, he had more or less hung around The Esplanade all day and he was not even up to going out for a beer that evening, which meant that things must have been bad for him. Since he was abstaining from alcohol I decided to give it a miss as well, being my first booze free night since the whole trip begun, which was now over a week ago if our night at the hotel in Heathrow was factored into the deal. But that was OK, we’d been having a great time living high on the hog, so to come back down to earth for a little while was fine by me. Keep things straight, keep things simple!

For food that night I made my way back to The Waterfront and had fish and chips. No great surprise there, that’s for sure, but this time not from Kaili’s, the place where we had ended up on our first night in Freemantle. No, instead I went to Cicerello’s, another notable fish and chip restaurant next to the water, where I sat outside and ate them in the breeze, ate them pretty quick as the winds coming in off the ocean were really rather strong and even a little bit chilly. Despite these less than perfect conditions the fish and chips were quite simply tremendous and when I left Cicerello’s it was yet again with a belly full of Australia’s finest. A few months of this kind of diet might very well do me no favours because when it came to the fried stuff I had little or no control when a big plate of it was placed in front of me. But then again it was my last in town, tomorrow Dad and I would be on the train, the Indian Pacific to Adelaide, so what the hell. For the first time since landing in Australia we would be moving away from the coast and heading inland, which was something I was now very much looking forward to. Freemantle had been great, fantastic even, Perth and Albany too, but within the confines of our holiday schedule it was now time to move on and see some more of this vast, mysterious country.

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