“Ten minutes or so,” the guy at the pizza place says. I nod and walk out. And then walk on. Down Canning Highway, towards Freo.
I should have known that when I started out to the pizzeria and found out that the girl at number 196 keeps chickens (who by comparison in size to Trouble the cat MUST be over 5 kilos), that I would go exploring today.
And so I walk past the carpark of the swim school where either someone has bled to death after an accident or dropped a jar of tomato sauce while loading groceries into the car because there was bright red on grey splashed across two bays.
The Catholic Church on the corner makes me smile – they have strung their trees at the front with Christmas baubles and a question I have always wanted to ask a priest pops into my head: churches used to offer sanctuary, no questions asked, their doors always open – when did that stop occurring? Even as a quiet place to wrangle my thoughts I would be gratified knowing the door was open at 2 am if needed.
At the corner, still giggling at the baubles, I turn and start walking up Preston Point Road, up a limestone hill.
To me this is still Fremantle, really, it can’t not be. If it has limestone, strands of faith, old buildings and things like chickens still in someone’s front yard, it must be Fremantle. I sometimes think Fremantle is something like the TARDIS, wherever I stand I can see something from a different era, whatever it was like in that time.
So it saddens me a bit when just behind the church an old cottage is set apart, wrapped up in bright yellow CAUTION tape and I wonder if it is just the rickety verandah they are worried about or whether it will fall apart from the inside first. I wonder if it was a cottage at all, being so tiny or whether it’s the ground itself that’s unstable, limestone falling, eroding away.
Further up Preston Point and the residents amuse me, here and there behind the old houses fronting on to the street, I can see those that have taken one look at steep limestone hills and like mountain goats decided that they were no deterrent to turn of the century architecture. In between I see bits of the hill that were too far beyond any grasp of physics or engineering to try to level flat enough for a cottage and a road you could put a horse and cart on.
Lots of residents sit on verandahs, feet up, nursing a drink. At Quiffs (at least I think that’s the store’s name), the only store on this street so far, someone comes out to hang up Christmas wreaths and next door, well, I like whoever lives next door. They own a wheelbarrow called Sherlock. Further up the street number 18 is being sold, huge turn of the century rooms with large ceilings and wooden floors and all.
I wonder if this road goes on forever, where is the beloved Swan? What if I want to go fishing?
I move on up to what seems to be the crest of the hill and much to my delight, I am now in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island for here is an Anne of Green Gables house at number 24 complete with tower and turret like balcony on it. And down below, Preston Point Road goes on forever and I see glimpses of what can only be North Fremantle but none of the Swan and there are so many houses and development here I am starting to wonder if I have turned back on myself and meandered around eastwards instead. I try to recall the map but I cannot.
Opposite number 24 is the unassuming street Bolton Street and on a whim I dart across the road and into the street. Bolton is quiet and it brings you to the edge of Reynolds Road, home to fabulous hidden away houses and if you stand near the wall of 2 Reynolds Road across the street from a house named Hygeia, you see water. I can see the Swan River, I can see a boat moored on it, I can see North Freo, the Fremantle to Perth train moving past and a police car coming across the Stirling Highway bridge. I can see the Indian Ocean, I can see the sky. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I could live here for a lot longer than I previously thought – seeing this makes me content to do so.
The pizza needs picking up and I have no smartphone or camera with me so there are no pictures to take and I turn back, slipping out of Bolton Street and on to Preston Point Road and walking back down the hill to Canning Highway. The higgedly piggedly nature of the housing still amuses me and as I walk past I categorise them, a few new ones but mostly old cottages, turn of the century, almost Arts and Crafts like and then the Art Deco Catholic Church.
I stop on the sidewalk and then move to look at the plaque – 1940 – Australia Modern and Art Deco influence and just before the Second World War. I know no one notices these things anymore but, 1940 and prior to World War II? I wonder how long it took to build and whether it offered solace for those who lost others in World War I or whether they knew they would need it just a few more years after they built it. Did someone know and did it work?
Amazingly, I pick up my pizza and it’s still warm. I head homewards. At 196, only one chicken remains in its coop, the rest no doubt in the backyard. I think about the kind of attachment people have to physical places and things, about how it becomes part of their culture and identity. How dangerous it can be to write about certain places and things because people can be possessive over meaning.
How I am attached to places too – weird places as well – alleyways in Fremantle, a street in Sydney, that giant tree in the field/garden in my old school Ladies College in Colombo that we could never really climb up beyond a certain point because the trunk was too smooth, the branches were too high and we were, well, ladies with skirts and someone somewhere would have given us black marks if we ever did manage to do it.
I look at the other side streets. There is a lot of the world to explore, I won’t be able to get to it all and I, I seem to dive more into the unseen side of things, the emotional, the mental rather than the physical.
But the sky over Freo today is pink and orange and the grey clouds have linings of pink blood red as the sun sets. And I have pizza and a book to write. The rest of East Freo will have to wait a little while.