The problem isn’t Freo, it’s you.




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.






56 thoughts on “The problem isn’t Freo, it’s you.

  1. Hi Gillian,
    I would like to put a plug in for the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre…part of the Fremantle scene for many years. I took my grandson to see their current brilliant play, ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’. So well acted & produced but sadly to an audience of about 20! I hope this group are supported! They are a special part of the fabric of Freo! My 8 year old grandson loved the story that encompasses the environment, the hardships of farming, the joy of rain after the long drought plus the strength of family!
    We sat in the sun & munched in party pies & rolls & watched a diverse Freo pass us by…& left with smiles on our faces😃😁!


      1. Hi Gillian. Gutsy colum. I don’t lice in Freo but i went to school in Freo and apend alot of money in in Freo. And i like a lot about Freo. Howere not happy you say i aam the problem. We are allowed to have a point of view. Iam not sure everyone is critiscising Freo but mabe parts of it. I believe the council to be to far away from centre and not in everyones feelings. I have written before Freo is for all West Aussies and should not be thought of as a town for a few. Perth should not be run by crack pots. As Perth belongs to all.
        My opinuon

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Mike. I think constructive conversations are great. I was referring to people who seem to find negatives for the sake of it, without anything constructive to add. Then I want to defend our city. Thanks for taking the time to comment


  2. Love this article…. Freo in a nutshell!
    Peeps need to embrace Freo or maybe move on…. “it’s not your kind of town”.

    I was born in Freo in 1952, travelled the world and lived in numerous other cities and Freo is definitely my kind of town! Love it!


  3. You have captured the true essence of Freo, and along with it captured my heart and reminded me why this place is in me always and forever. It’s everything that everyone from outside Freo doesn’t like, that makes it what it is. When you’re a Freo person it’s in you down to your bones, because of everything that ‘wrong’ with it.


  4. Look like I have a problem then Gillo! I’m trying (really I am) but there are only a few good bits for a lot of not so good ☹️ I live ten minutes away but don’t go very often – parking is expensive and shopping ain’t great, except on market days.


    1. Parking is not expensive and is free 20 hours of the day every day of the week for Fremantle and east Fremantle residents with a permit, that one can get for free from the City of Fremantle. There are first one hour free parking spots as well. Roel Loopers


      1. Can we have more FREMANTLE? I just want to wrap myself up in Fremantle, tie a ribbon round it so that nothing that makes up this wonderful parcel escapes or lessens. Fremantle is a great place!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. great article Gillian. Spot on. Town is booming and people don’t even realise. Freo is not just South terrace. Its S. freo, N. freo , West End. Sure it helps to like food, coffee and the odd drink, but isn’t that what freo was always good at. It’s frustrating that peeps cannot see the writing on the wall.


  6. I am a North of the River dweller, Eagles, East Perth supporter but I have lovely memories of Freo. I used to love going to the footy at the South Fremantle ground and going through those skinny openings and sliding down the banks on cardboard at the East Fremantle ground. Love the markets (not the fish smell so much)and roaming the streets looking at the buildings, Roundhouse etc. Love the little homes with picket fences. The Carriage Café on the Esplanade and of course the fish and chips. Nice to catch the train down and wander the streets, visit the Fairy Shop and have a coffee etc. Great read. Thanks.


  7. I love Freo! I even set scenes from my vampire series there (and the characters to a tour of Freo Prison), and I put a note in the front of the book on Cully’s and how everyone should check them out. It’s a really special place, and it’s unlike anywhere else. Although, on a recent trip there, we did call it ‘Little Melbourne’, because it reminds us so much of Melb. in a lot of ways. But I grew up catching a bus up from Rocko and hanging out at the old Alchemist and the Time Zone. Freo has a ‘feel’ to it, and I think it’s either something you ‘get’ or don’t get. If you don’t get it, well… more space for us to park our cars. Ha ha ha 😉


  8. Gillo, that was breath of fresh air! Easy to note that none of the naysayers live in Freo. As a fifteen year resident, the place has grown and grown on me. I see humanity and community above all else and, despite the inevitable occasional downsides of that, it makes my heart sing.


  9. Wonderful article, Gillo. It captures the paradoxical pleasures of living in Freo. Perhaps you have to live here to enjoy It? I do admit, though, that I avoid going into “town” (aka central Freo) on weekend evenings. I moved here in 2005 and felt immediately at home with the casual vibe. So many small bars now! And great coffee/breakfast places!


  10. I am holidaying in Paris right now. Believe me, there is NOTHING wrong with Fremantle. Looking forward to a sensibly priced beer n a bite at The Norfolk


  11. Interesting article and some great points, however, the challenge is the growing number of apartments, especially in Queen Victoria St, so many, and sooooooooooooo expensive. AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS WHAT WE NEED, and also the increase in HOMELESSNESS and people just wondering around either with MENTAL HEALTH issues or from SUBSTANCE ABUSE. Yes, Freo has its character and its charm, its suffering, confusion and loneliness…. what makes this Port Village great is still its people. I love this little town which I have called home for nearly 16 years. I feel REASONABLY SAFE in the evening walking home, have seldom been abused. I am aware of our ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY and the suffering that they experience, for all sorts of reasons.
    I know the FRUSTRATION of not being able to park, it is expensive and not a lot of it.
    I see the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS. I am not blind to the plight of this small village not so small Port.
    I am a member of a church community, I am in a choir, we do our VOCATIONAL WORK here.

    Blessings and love to Freo,Br Francis Mary Cledwyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fantastic article Gillo, dont live in Freo but not too far away, love everything about Freo, its a “ Free” thinking town and has spawned many great people like artists musicians old fashioned
    cafes and businesses, great traditional events like The
    Blessing of the Fleet bring thousands of people into the city. Local festivals featuring every section of the community!
    So much diversity- whats not to love??

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well said Gillo ! We are a country family but I did live in an old workers cottage in Arundel st for six months in the. 70s, as a very man. Two of my younger brothers live in Freo , and many friends and other family live in the hinterland suburbs. It’s definitely the best thing that Perth has going for it. I thought the novel Rhubarb by Craig Silvey captures it best.


  14. Great article, Gillo, all about a quirky little town (city).
    Love Freo and all the bits and pieces which make it what it is. I think the only word missing from your piece is “rustic”. Lots of nooks and crannies which could be labelled rustic.
    Fremantle?, not a problem.
    I look forward to your next item.


  15. I was there this morning (Sunday) to check out all the funky little places, have a coffee and people watch. Please don’t change a thing. I realise some aspects of the 21st century must encroach but. I could have gone to some sterile shopping mall to have a coffee……..

    Liked by 1 person

  16. We’ve only been in Freo for 4 years and we love everything about it and wouldn’t change a thing. It’s beautiful, charming, fun and full of what a City should have and is everything that suburbs aren’t. You can’t beat living in Freo ♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Very good Gillo….but if I can play devil’s advocate, I think a facelift IS required, possibly along the lines of what happened around the America’s Cup time. Something is needed to bring the people back to the city, especially in the evenings where it’s embarrassing to see staff standing in empty restaurants and the feel of a ghosttown all around. I love Freo but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend there aren’t issues……


  18. great stuff Gillo. It took me 40 years to get to live in Freo and now that I am here I’m staying. I am firmly a staunch Freo town stalwart and in your camp as never to be an apologist for what it is. There are only two types of people – those that live in Freo and those that want to. This is also the core of all of our Freo’s problems – we need more people living in the city and not just driving around looking to park closer to their favourite coffee shop. The house I bought used to have ten people and three generations living in it ( I have met some of the family) and now it has four on a big weekend. If we have more people buying the tomatoes in Wray ave, the checked shirts at Bousfields and their grains from the Sister, the shops will start to fill up and the old vibrancy of downtown Freo returns. Leave the port as a working port, don’t replace the Capri windows with funky aluminium frames and lock the Zydecats into Clancy’s for another twenty years.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Good article thank you. But it’s not one thing vs one other. To note that the city is in part still vibrant and historic and beautifully shabby and weather-beaten but also in part decaying and run down… in a bad way… ere be no glorious decline…. is not contradictory nor whinging. This town is …. getting like a ghost town … all the shops are closing down.. including the good ones…. And a beach is collapsing into the sea. And an art space is being turned into a pub. And the funky new bars are not necessarilly as inclusive as the Navy Club or say some of the bars in Subiacco where god forbid there be Lawyers with property portfolios.

    When people listen to you don’t you know it means a lot,
    ‘Cause you’ve got to work so hard for everything you’ve got.
    Can’t rest on your laurels now,
    Not when you’ve got none.
    You’ll find yourself in a gutter,
    Right back where you came from


    1. Hi Sausage Butties, can I call you Sausage? I’m happy anytime to have constructive conversations on any subject. I am not ashamed of how much I love my town, and I’m glad I’m not in charge of finding the balance between maintaining the charm, the history and character, and bringing in new money to sustain it. What I object to and find deeply tiresome is negativity for its own sake. With nothing constructive to offer but whinging. I’ve got no time for it. We are so lucky to live pretty much anywhere in WA. Freo to me is home, and I am deeply connected to it. I hope and imagine others feel the same about where they live.


  20. I’ve lived in Freo since 1991 and love the freedom from the tyranny of the motor car. Love being able to walk down town to the markets and movies, delis and diners, patisseries and pubs. Yes some things do need a reno but three has history and buildings to prove it. Top spot

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Great article Gillo, the perfect rebuttal. Freo is a living, breathing entity, not some modern, soulless, sanitised glass-and-steel enclave. Sure, it has its ups and downs, but there’s life in the old girl yet. To all the naysayers, scratch beneath the surface (if you can be bothered to) and you’ll find out why Freo holds such a special place in so many hearts. Get to know her and you’ll fall in love with her too.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great article Gillo, the perfect rebuttal. Freo is a living, breathing entity, not some modern, soulless, sanitised glass-and-steel enclave. Sure, it has its ups and downs, but there’s life in the old girl yet. To all the naysayers, scratch beneath the surface (if you can be bothered to) and you’ll find out why Freo holds such a special place in so many hearts. Get to know her and you’ll fall in love with her too.

    Liked by 1 person

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