February 16-20 – Last visit to Perth
When we returned to Perth, we were welcomed by Jenni Woodroffe. Jenni and I go back to 1989, when we met at a storytelling conference in North Carolina. She visited me in Seattle, Washington, when I lived there. In 1994 she traveled to my ranch in the Cariboo, some 575 km north of Vancouver. This was my first chance to visit her, in the south Perth suburb of Como. And what a visit it was. To be able to talk with someone who shares my passion for storytelling and who knows many of the same people I do was sheer joy.
Though she has traveled widely and spent extended periods in other countries, Jenni has always kept her roots in Western Australia. On our second day in Perth she recommended a ferry ride across the Swan River, from South Perth to the centre of the city. Seniors pay 60 cents, surely one of the best short voyages for the money.
We wandered around the waterfront for a while and then took a Cook’s Cruise downriver to the port city of Fremantle. The captain of the boat gives a running commentary, pointing out areas of historical interest as well as all the mansions that line the waterway.
We were impressed by the public land – walking and cycling paths, parks – along the Swan. According to the captain, 90% of the waterfront is open to the public. How different it is in North America. In my home town, I’d estimate that less than 10% of the accessible waterfront is open to the public. What should be a treasure to be shared by all is hoarded by a few. It is a story repeated all over North America.
When we reached Fremantle, we visited the Maritime Museum, wandered along the waterfront, and then caught the free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus. It makes a figure-eight loop around Fremantle, giving a sense of the mix and old and new.
We took the train back from Fremantle, walked to the Swan River, and caught the ferry back to South Perth. As we walked along the river, heading back to Jenni’s, we came across this darter. Intent on potential prey in the water, the bird ignored us completely.
That evening Jenni hosted a storytelling gathering. It was an intimate group, nine of us including Robin, just right for hearing from everyone. I loved hearing about the evolution of the Perth storytelling guild and of the interests and paths that brought this group to the art. And, of course, the stories were sheer delight. At the end of the evening, I felt connected to everyone in the room and grateful to Jenni for bringing us all together.
We had one rest day and then the next day had lunch at the Dux Café with Stan and Joan Fetisow, another couple Robin met on one of his APT (Australian Pacific Touring) travels. The café is steps from Jenni’s townhouse. The food was delicious, the company first rate.
Jenni took us back to Fremantle in the afternoon so I could visit the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre. Staying with a retired children’s librarian and lecturer in children’s services had already been a feast. Each day Jenni would hand me a fresh pile of the best books by Western Australian authors and illustrators, as well as a few non-WA she figured I needed to see. Each day I felt as if I had plunged my hands and eyes into a treasure chest. So to visit the Centre was a bit like coming to a shrine dedicated to the best adults can offer the children they love.
Housed in the restored hospital of the old Fremantle Prison, the Centre connects school groups and others with some of the country’s most talented authors and illustrators. Director Lesley Reece dreamed the centre into existence and now heads a small staff whose collective creative vision is bringing the best in children’s literature to thousands around the state and beyond.
By the time we left the Centre, Robin only had time for a quick visit to the oldest shipwreck in Western Australia. The Batavia was sent out by the Dutch East India Company in 1628. She foundered on a reef and sank near Beacon Island, off the coast of Western Australia. This was her maiden voyage, and the story is worth reading on the Wikipedia site.
After a walk along Bathers Beach, we wandered over to Fish Boat Harbour to indulge in fish ‘n chips at Cicerello’s. A Fremantle icon, the restaurant has been serving customers since 1903.
The Flying Fish in Port Eliot didn’t lose its spot as my absolute favourite for fish ‘n chips, but Cicerello’s moved to the top in terms of location.
We left Western Australia with reluctance. Our stay was too short. We wanted to spend more time with people we visited, see more of the landscape, try more local cheese and fruits.
For me, it was more than that. Jenni is the only person in Australia who knows something more of my story than the face value of a recently retired, sixty-something woman arriving in a strange country.
I have moved 34 times in my life, all but four of those since I left my childhood home in Twin Falls, Idaho, to head off to university.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I have traveled, met extraordinary people, had professional opportunities that have challenged and enriched me, have a loving partner who’s introducing me to yet another country, and have friends scattered around the globe.
But there are times I envy people with deep roots, surrounded by people who know their stories. That will never be my experience, but I think I’m almost ready to stop being such a rolling stone.