Monday, November 9, 2015 – Thursday, November 12, 2015

Before turning in the campervan we drove to Cottesloe Beach for one last swim in the Indian Ocean. For those of us who are more comfortable in the relative calm of Ontario freshwater lakes, the salt of the sea and the waves breaking onto almost all beaches, save that exquisite turquoise beach at Kooljaman, can be just a tad intimidating. Geoff takes to it more comfortably than I do but nevertheless I plunged in and found myself swept off my feet several times getting dunked completely – and surprisingly comfortably.

Three weeks in a campervan, no matter how comfortable the bed or well provisioned the kitchen still leaves something to be desired in the pampering department. Though I might wish I were more ascetic – think John the Baptist or the early desert fathers and mothers in their caves in the deserts of Israel, Jordan and Egypt – I do like certain creature comforts. Durack House Bed and Breakfast had cotton sheets of a very fine thread count, a king bed in which to sprawl, friendly hosts and a garden where most of the blooms had fragrance. Glorious!

The local neighbourhood had a Monday evening night market with food vendors on the street for several long blocks. We grazed on a Moroccan lamb tomato bisque, Turkish flat bread with spinach, feta and tomato and Thai pork skewers with a hot chili sauce, and chocolate patisserie as if the rest hadn’t been sufficient.

Freemantle is across the river from Perth and has had a reputation as the port and industrial city so we were more than surprised to discover architectural gems in the old town. When many cities demolished their original stone buildings and replaced them with the new fads of glittering steel and glass in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Freemantle let this architectural nonsense pass it by. Today buildings of grace, strength, and beauty line the streets along the Freemantle waterfront, many of them housing Notre Dame University. Our jaws kept dropping at wrought ironwork and golden sandstone, Corinthian columns and classical proportions.

The Freemantle Gaol was built by convicts between 1851 -59 and was still the penitentiary for inmates until 1991, three years after riots exposed conditions in the jail where the temperature in summer would reach 50 (!) degrees centigrade. The riot led to the resignation of the premier and others who had covered up the horrific conditions. We toured the jail including the hanging chamber. When the guide began to extol the executioner’s skills, I left. To be sure it was beautifully built but to make it a source of entertainment was abhorrent.

Art galleries reveal much about the culture of a place. In the Art Gallery of Western Australia the early paintings by European trained artists were pastoral, bucolic scenes of the Australian bush. Not until the early 20th century did paintings begin to reflect the austere beauty of the red, dry outback. We saw the original painting of the print we’ve had hanging for 40 years, Down on His Luck by Frederick McCubbin.

At King’s Park with its impressive avenue of gum trees we were impressed by the stunning view of the harbour with two hillside memorials, the WWI and WWII war memorial and also a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the 2002 bombing in the tourist district of Bali.

Spring is full on here. Wildflowers bring colour not only to the bush but it seems everywhere; the dense vegetation on the sand dunes is dotted with red, orange, yellow, blue, pink and untold number of purple flowers. Most striking of all are the purple jacaranda trees that make Perth look as if purple fireworks have become a fixture along city streets. Not only is the colour vibrant but the trees have a feel of delicate lace. Every time I see a new tree I smile and my heart gives a quiver of delight.

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