Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A short walk around Fremantle with Hügel and friends

Wednesday 26th November, 2014

On Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd November as part of the public program for Horizon I led two guided walks around Fremantle, following an imagined route taken by Baron Karl von Hügel. On the first day four people joined the walk, two of who were Fremantle locals. Our walk on this day was punctuated by childhood reminiscence from the locals. Their stories reminded me of the countless generations who have walked here in the years prior to and between Hügel’s steps and our own. Thus reminding me that the stories unearthed on our walk do little more than scratch the surface of human interaction and memory laid down in this place.

The second walk was mostly artists alongwith more recent arrivals and visitors to WA. Again, the walk was peppered with local knowledge and discussion. The rhythm of the group ebbed and flowed following the pace of conversation, traffic and footfall.

This is the first time I have walked with others in this way. In opening the process of walking and reading Hügel’s journal to fellow walkers, his writing and how it sits within the contemporary landscape revealed itself in new ways. Whilst I would not suggest it is better than the solitary experience of walking alone—or with one other— the act of reading his words out loud in front of a group heightened Hügel’s dramatic turn of phrase. His theatrics, read aloud, coupled with the act of walking through Fremantle, prompted avenues of thought I would not have ventured down alone.

After the walk, a number of the locals told me they had walked on streets for the first time today, only having driven along them before, despite having lived their for many, many years. Others also described the experience of walking without having to make decisions about route or destination, of succumbing to the moment, of having to do nothing more than simply listening and looking, and how this was surprisingly freeing. The experience of looking anew was accentuated by the unexpected liberty associated with the foregoing of control.

I cannot record the experience each walker, so instead I include some excerpts from Hügel’s journal that I read on each walk.

Jo and Tim with a huge Eucaplyt (possibly introduced from the East Coast), Stirling St
photo credit: Michele Elliot

Sunday 8th December 1833  p. 54

This morning I only went for a short walk round Fremantle. I had been particularly attracted to the great diversity of the plant family (Labiatae) which covered the whole of the plain with its variegated flowers. So far I had not been able to find any seeds by which to identify them. This was the purpose of today’s walk and I found what I was looking for and discovered that my unknown flowers belonged to the genus Prostanthera (not Prostanthera, possibly Westringia, Hemiandra or Hemigenia). I found enough seeds of every species to encourage me to hope that they will germinate in Hietzing—a splendid acquisition for our gardeners.

Crossing the road en masse
photo credit: Michele Elliot

Wednesday 27th November, 1833 p 23

A few hundred paces from the township, the vegetation starts. One of the unique characteristics of the plants of New holland is that the beautiful shades and colours of the flowers reveal themselves to the observer only when he views them carefully at close quarters. So, too, the richness and variety of the flora in all its splendour do not strike the eye till you are close up. The cheerless grey-green changed to the most varied shades of green, from the lightest and brightest to lush dark hues, mingled with brilliant flowers of every kind, in untold numbers.

I roamed around this world of colour as if intoxicated. There were no new forms not known to me but it was quite late before I found a familiar species—Dryandra plumosa* which grows prostrate here covering large patches of sand. I must confess that my foot was about to tread on the first one I saw, but at that moment I had such a compelling feeling of being in my own garden that I stepped right over it so as not to damage it.

* Dymphna Clark writes this is a South Coast species, and that possibly he saw Dryandra nivea (Labill), which is now renamed Banksia nivea (Labill)

A few hundred yards from Fremantle Town Centre
photo credit: Michele Elliot

Wednesday 11th December  p. 59

The only stone found around Fremantle is that strange kind of limestone. This occurs less frequently round Perth. Higher up you find hard sandstone. Granite has not been found in parts of the colony explored so far, although the Aborigines carry pieces of granite with them to open the Zamia nuts. Since, as mentioned above, the Aborigines cannot penetrate far into the interior, granite will most certainly be found within the boundaries of the colony. One special mineral is cinnabar [red ochre], which the Aborigines dig up at certain places known to them. This of course indicates mercury. It is of a most beautiful colour and is used for painting their faces and their hair.

Next to the Round House with Ric and Kate, Hügel's first landmark and the only extant building from this time.
photo credit: Michele Elliot
Panorama of the Swan River Settlement, 1831 by Jane Eliza Currie
Painted two years before Hügel visited the colony it still is probably a fair depiction of what he found. The Round House (prison) and Garden Island in the distance.

Wednesday 27th November, 1833  p. 19 & 21 

Skimming over the high seas before the gale, the frigate rapidly drew nearer the coast, which soon emerged from the haze. The first building to come into view is the prison on the hill nearest the sea. Then we saw the grey, sparsely vegetated hills rising behind it, the small houses of the town of Fremantle with a few ships off-shore, and the sandy beach with the wrecks of two large ships. About three or four miles from the town, we eased the sails and fired shots for the pilot, whom we then saw rowing towards us.
Naturally we were all on deck to greet New Holland. Not one of the officers had been at Swan River before... Cheated of their expectations, they all gazed in silence at the land towards which the frigate was speeding so majestically over the foaming billows. I myself was especially disappointed. Coming from the steamy skies of India, I expected to find here, at Lat. 32°, Syria's cloudless skies, or at least the clear skies of Greece. I had confidently looked forward to meadows of unmatched green, to trees and shrubs covered in flowers and fruit in the early southern summer, the entire country a picture of Nature untouched by man.
But how very different was the scene presented by this distant land, so frequently the object of my longings. There it lay before my searching gaze—totally lifeless, no other word would do. A shade of grey enveloped the shapeless line of mountains—scarcely higher than hills—beneath an overcast sky of the same hue. There were occasional trees on the hills, but even these seemed to be stretching their withered branches up to heaven as witness to the poor soil.
No sign of cultivation, not a single patch of green pasture was to be seen on the land rising behind the shore. Not a living soul was to be seen in the town built in the sand. Nothing moved but the foaming and menacing sea.

Reading by the Round House
Photo credit: Michele Elliot
Pausing for shade and words
Photo credit: Michele Elliot

Saturday 7th December, 1833  p.53

Nature has been very niggardly in the matter of providing a livelihood for the Aborigines. There are no indigenous cereals, no fruit except a small berry, pleasant to taste but so minute that it would seem to have been created as a bad joke. There are no milk-producing animals and no domesticated animals except dogs, who consume part of their food supply. There are no wool-producing animals, no vegetables, no tubers except for Dioschorrhoea hastifolia. (Native Yam, Indigenous name: Warrine)

Warrine or Dioscorea hastifolia (Indigenous and Scientific names)
Photo credit: Friends of Queens Park Bushland

Tuesday 3rd December, 1833 p.40

I was accustomed to the heat of India, but nowhere there did I find heat as oppressive as on this walk. Admittedly, this may have been largely due to the breakfast we took in the boat before I set out. I intended to drink a glass of brandy and water, but Captain Lambert mixed up the bottles and gave me brandy and gin. Being exceedingly thirsty, it was only after I had swallowed a few mouthfuls that I noticed the mistake.

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