Feature by Fleur Bainger

When visiting Fremantle and Perth, don’t stop at the main drags. Venture just a little further out to discover their hidden histories.

Perth: The East End

In recent years, Perth’s East End has been passed over for its shinier neighbours, like the swish West End or hip Northbridge. But back when Captain James Stirling first founded Perth as part of the Swan River colony in 1829, the East End was at the centre of the action. Now, efforts to invigorate this heritage precinct reveal it’s still well worth a visit.

Not just for architecture buffs, the self-guided Architecture Walk, downloadable or available through the Historic Heart app, will take you on a trail of buildings from a bygone era. The only indication of the 21st century comes from the vibrant murals and planter boxes painted by local artists.

There’s plenty to marvel at – from the Gothic revival style St George’s Cathedral constructed entirely of handmade bricks, to the former Salvation Army Headquarters designed in the Federation Free style of architecture, complete with a turret. But there is also plenty to buy, eat and imbibe.

The Art Deco Criterion Hotel is the oldest continuously licensed pub in Perth, serving drinks since at least 1848. It’s still open for well-priced, unfussy fare. Pier Street is a gorgeous period streetscape – and home of Dada Records, one of Australia’s longest standing independent record stores.

Perth Treasury Buildings

State Buildings, Perth

And don’t leave without popping into the State Buildings, the old State Treasury that was repurposed into a thrumming dining and retail collective. Caffeinate at Telegram Coffee, sip a rarefied local drop at Petition Wine Bar, or feast on foraged fine dining at Wildflower.

Petition Kitchen

Petition Kitchen in the State Buildings  

The East End also boasts a concentrated cluster of museums – download the Historic Heart app for a self-guided Small Museum tour. The Museum of Perth, housed in the circa-1931 Atlas Building is a good place to start, with exhibitions, a micro-cinema and a retail space selling books and vintage prints.

The Perth Mint is another must. Established in 1899 in response to the giddy gold rush of the 1890s, it’s still in operation today. Watch liquid gold being poured in an original melting house or check out the largest gold coin in the world – it weighs a tonne and is valued at over $50 million. There’s a cafe to refuel at afterwards.

Perth Mint

Perth Mint

The Old Court House Law Museum is also a highlight. Designed in 1836 by Henry Reveley, the colony’s first civil engineer, it’s the oldest museum in WA – and probably the most pivotal too. Back in the 1800s it was the hub of the city, laying the roots of law, education and religion as it variously functioned as a courthouse, church and classroom.

Fremantle: The West End

Just a 30-minute drive from Perth city, the port city of Fremantle has a heady history. Largely concentrated in the city’s compact West End, it’s a precinct that boasts an impressive 250 heritage-listed gems and is the largest single place to be included in the State Register of Heritage Places. As you weave through the grand Edwardian and Victorian buildings, built under gold-boom exuberance, you’ll discover tales of folklore and history from shipwrecked explorers to runaway convicts.

Since it opened in the 1850s, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison has seen executions, floggings, wrongful imprisonments, riots and elaborate escape plans. The Torchlight Tour, an after-dark journey through the prison’s bleak history, spares none of the gory details. Or you could head underground to the watery labyrinth built by former prisoners for a Tunnels Tour. You’ll traverse submerged passageways in a replica punt, spying artefacts along the way.

Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison

Another place with an eerie history is the circa-1830 Roundhouse. WA’s oldest public building was originally a jail for colonial and Aboriginal prisoners. But, with its prime position atop the Arthur Head peninsula, it’s great for taking in sweeping views of the Cockburn Sound.

The National Hotel

The National Hotel

Hungry? In recent years, the West End has exploded with trendy eateries in repurposed heritage spaces. Bread in Common is a bakery-cum-restaurant in a converted heritage warehouse. It serves freshly baked bread and a farm-to-table menu against a sophisticated backdrop, incorporating some of the original 1898 elements. The delightfully quirky Moore & Moore, in an old merchants’ warehouse, is also a winner for house-blended coffee, first-rate breakfasts, and an on-site art gallery.

The National Hotel has been a watering hole of choice for Freo locals since the 1880s – until 2007, when a raging fire completely gutted the building. Thankfully, the three-storey Federation-era hotel has been beautifully restored and reopened for business, with luxury suites, a bar and live music space, and a rooftop garden with views all the way to Rottnest Island.