I don’t mind that much when people talk about our town. I get it’s a bit weird to some. To paraphrase Churchill: it’s an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, sprinkled with patchouli.
But an ongoing conga line of serial whingers on social media and this recent article by Nathan Hondros have started to get on my tits.
It’s like they parachute in from some unnamed nirvana into the worst spot they can find, and the predictable bleating starts. Worn out, run down, they shriek. Unsafe. Empty shops. You can’t park. Hippies. Poor people. It’s hell on earth. Or at least as close as a place described as ‘rocking a Soviet era eastern bloc vibe’ can get. (note: if that’s a dig at King’s Square, Nathan, it’s hard to look your best with a wrecking ball through your guts.)
In other words, precincts and problems that mirror just about every other interesting city of any character anywhere in the world. Find me one without, I’ll buy you a beer.
I’m pretty tired of it. And getting royally jacked off at airy suggestions about what Freo needs to do to suit them. More private investment. Less of everything that isn’t shiny.
Where the Nathans see “run down and worn out”, I see charming and sassy. Even a little louche in parts. That’s the point.
I see the Capri, the old Italian family restaurant in the Strip that’s been there forever. Wood veneer on the walls, the cheap nylon curtains that hang in the window, the vinyl, plastic covered menus that still feature a soup of the day, often minestrone or chicken noodle, that’s always been free with your main course. It’s been run by the same family since the 50s, I believe. It’s never going to make the top 100 best restaurants in the world, but it’s part of Freo’s beautiful, beating Port heart as much, if not more, than the establishments funded by private investment where food is more for Instagram than eating.
I see the Navy Club in the West End, where you take a slow lift to the top floor and walk into the best view in town. You can look over the Port, across to the Round House, all the way down High Street. It’s a bar full of people I imagine some would dismiss as ‘run down or worn out.’ They’re stalwarts and salt-of-the-earths, straight-talkers, raconteurs. Ex mariners who can find a beer at a good price and buy a ticket in the chook raffle. You’re not allowed to wear your hat indoors. They tell yarns and have a laugh that’s not always that pc. Private investors would shunt the lot out to a cold, soulless brick and tile cave in the suburbs where the view is of the car-park.
I see the dingy old high-rise block of flats in Adelaide Street, dirty beige brick, where the corridors all slope slightly, and the entry smells tinny and a bit damp. Our own Leaning Tower of Pisa if designed by Charles Bukowski. In no danger of being overrun by tourists. But you don’t have to be a discontented Subiaco lawyer with a penchant for a second investment property to afford the rent, and you can still walk to the train station.
I see our much-maligned working port, our run-down passenger terminal, the bulky container vessels, the cranes, our giant iron giraffes, our harbour sentinels. The old traffic bridge that’s barely held together after being hammered once too often by a straying ship in a storm. Private investment would love to send the lot down to Kwinana, raze it and build slick faux industrial apartments and sell them for millions. I catch the train across the harbour every day to work, and my heart swells. Even on its worst day it smells and looks like home.
I love the new wave of funky small bars, and I love eating great food, there’s a wealth of that all through if you choose to wander even a block away from the Strip. I love the bookshops and the small boutique art shops that rent out shelf space to a range of artists, some who craft robots out of old tin cigarette cases and rusty spanners and sit them next to bulbous lamps made of test tubes filled with fairy lights.
I love driving out to South Mole near the lighthouse, watching the big ships come in and out, hopping back in the car where the view’s still good when the Doctor gets sharp and chill.
I love the weird mix of houses, the old Italian mansions with their tiled front porches and stone lions, next to an architecturally spectacular reno of an old Freo limestone semi, bumped against a beaten down weather board place, where the window frames are scarred by the relentless salt air. No block after endless block of spiritless McMansions here.
I love the old nonnas that line up along Wray Avenue on Christmas Eve, outside the tiny narrow butcher’s shop that sells the best turkeys in town. On the street where no-one can find a park and you can always get good tomatoes for 99 cents a kilo.
The glorious oddball hippies with ideas, that paint crazy colourful murals on the side of coffee shops, wear funny hats and refuse bike helmets.
I love it. The new, the old, the grim, the broken. The dirt, the age.
The worn out and the run down. Especially that. Not despite that, because of that. If you don’t get that, you’re unlikely to get Freo.
Private investment is fine although I’m always fighting a vague suspicion of it. The Mayor, in his recent blog gave us an update, if you’re interested.
I too, remember the America’s Cup and like a lot of Freo people, complained about never being able to get a seat at my coffee shop, and worried about the impact of big business, and also worried where we’d be without it. But it swept in and swept out as it tends to do, fickle as the wind. It’s no savior. The city that endures is the city that retains its pride in the old as well as the new. The city that values the worn and the tired as much as the youthful and the shiny. Maybe more.
I get that I’m one-eyed.
But from my point of view, if you have a problem with Fremantle, then the problem is you.