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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Osborne

Fremantle Day

first stop Fremantle Arts Centre, a restored limestone building with lots of reincarnations – a lunatic asylum (1861), women’s home, US naval submarine depot, Fremantle Technical School, threat of demolition, restoration, Fremantle History Museum and today Fremantle Arts Centre. There were two exhibitions, Idols, showcasing the work of Sri Lankanborn Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, whose brightly coloured, grotesque looking idols, created variously with ceramics, plastics, resin, wooden beads, shells, even found objects, evoked images of cultural significance inspired by his homeland. Whereas the black, squat stoneware bearded male (with arms akimbo) and female figures of Hong Kong born Renee So displayed a simple stylised beauty of shape and form, as did the machine woven pictures of legs, incorporating some aspects of the stoneware figures. (We coveted the ladies!) A dark and quiet place by Victorian, David Noonan, was a monochromatic (black, grey, white) film of many layers, merging, fading, standing out, of disparate images from “the world of the stage – actors, sets, props and designs – juxtaposed with geometric abstraction.” Fascinating to watch and try to interpret exactly what it was we were seeing. Next stop Fremantle Prison, another convict-built limestone building (commenced in 1852-in use till 1991). Transportation: The transportation of convicts to New South Wales in 1788 was a political imperative to reduce the number of prisoners in the hulks, particularly as, after the War of Independence, America was no longer an option, and the hanging of miscreants for petty crimes was abolished, but also to create a new British colony in the Asian region. Most of the men, women and children transported were young and convicted of petty crimes against person or property. The first of the 9721 convicts who came to WA arrived on 1 June 1850, the last ‘passengers’ in the Hougoumont arrived on 10 January 1868. The story of Transportation was told in a series of ‘picture boards’ with maps, history, a handful of individual stories as well as artefacts such as 25 kilo weights, shackles, handcuffs, and documents. Of particular interest (to your scribe) was poetry by John Boyle O’Reilly, the first Fenian to escape to the US from Fremantle Prison and who was instrumental in arranging for the subsequent Catalpa escapade. We also visited the “modern” Prisoners’ visitors’ room, where more story boards detailed life in prison in more enlightened times but still in somewhat archaic conditions; as well as an archaeological display of artefacts and a glimpse of an underground cellar. Then it was back to the cool, green courtyard of the Art Gallery for a light lunch; a detour to Monument Hill for a birds’ eye view of the city, from where we could see the huge cruise ship “Celebrity Solstice” which dominated the port; then home via Leach Highway.

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