Site Based Research Trip: Fremantle Roundhouse and Historic Buildings

Historical facade of the Fremantle Municipal Tramways, building now apartments and cafe.

View down High Street to the Town Hall.  Note that the historical facades have largely been preserved.

The Fremantle Round House is the oldest permanent building in Fremantle.  The design is that of a Panopticon, an idea attributed to Jeremy Bentham.  It was used as a prison for indigenous and colonial prisons up until 1886., when the Fremantle Prison opened, and as a police lock up until 1900, after which it became a residency for the Chief Constable and his family.  In 1936 it became a part of the Fremantle Heritage Trust, when they decided they wanted to make it a tourist location, but these plans were obviously interrupted by the war, and so when my book begins, it was not in use. It sits atop Arthur's Head, and overlooks Bather's Bay, once known as Whaler's Bay.  Today, it is a popular tourist attraction.  In the book I am writing, it is my protagonist's favourite place to sit and draw.

The Pilot's Cottages, built 1904, were once used as residences for the Harbour Pilots, but now house artist studios and galleries.

This ball was dropped at 1pm every day between 1900 and 1937 to signal the correct time to navigators.  

View from the Roundhouse (North???)   

I have heaps more photos, so I will be putting these up slowly over the next week or so.  Some of the photos are taken by me, and some (the better ones, probably) were taken by my Mum, whose camera we were using.  It was a beautiful day in Fremantle, even though it had been slightly overcast all day, but as Mum said, the clouds were playing for the camera.  The closer we got to the water, the windier it was.  There were at least three weddings going on, and I tried VERY hard not to get these people in my shots because as I kept saying to Mum, they are NOT HISTORICAL.

For those who might not be familiar with the term, site based research is the practise of going to places where your writing is set, and smelling the air, feeling the surfaces, listening for the sounds. So, in Fremantle yesterday, yes, I did sniff flowers and seaweed, lie on the grass with my eyes closed, touch the limestone walls of the cliff at Arthur's Head, take photos and read signs with the other tourists, and in other words, I focussed on being present in the place.  Fremantle as a place has been hugely inspirational to me in writing my book and I couldn't imagine setting it anywhere else.  It saddens me when people talk about how dodgy Fremantle has become, and I have to say, it's not the place that's dodgy, it's just some of the people who go there.  For the most part, Fremantle is artistic, multicultural, it's full of families, and music and beautiful old buildings, and I love it.


  1. Emily, well done on the forthcoming KSP residency (I'll be there in May). Saw your profile on Amanda Curtin's post, and I think your historical novel sounds very interesting. I'm writing a biography of KSP's early life, and you mentioned you were going to read another book by her. I wonder if Intimate Strangers might be the next one to read, as it was published in 1937, and is the only one of her novels set in Perth. There's some scenes in Freo, though mostly in the amalgam beach suburb of Calatta. Another novel which might be worth reading is J. M. Harcourt's controversial Upsurge! (1934), also set in the Perth of the 1930s, and very much about class issues.
    - Nathan Hobby.

    1. Hi Nathan, me again! Good news... during my mentorship today, Amanda Curtin brought me copies of the books you recommended so that I can borrow them. Thanks again, looking forward to immersing myself in the era.


  2. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for your interest in the book, it's always very heartening to hear people say that they don't find it dead boring as a concept :) The novel by KSP that I will be reading is Haxby's Circus, but I will definitely be tracking down the two novels you've mentioned, and thank you so much for recommending them.



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