In doing my research for The Warder’s Cottage it has been super frustrating how little information there is on Henderson Street, particularly visuals. I’ve come across the basics regarding its timeline, a little history and a few random stories on Facebook mainly from the 50s and 60s. But, I have found stuff-all about the people who actually lived in the cottages around the Victorian era and surprisingly have struggled to find the Fremantle of my grandparents era. My Fremantle.
I’m taking it as a nudge to be creative.
So when I recently visited after YEARS of trying to gain access – things were very trippy and surprisingly – weird.
Everything seemed wayyyy smaller than I remembered. My recollection was number 13 had the highest ceilings in the world – but not so. When you’re a child everything seems high and impressive.
Excerpt from… So You Are… An Anxious Avocado!
Number 13 felt very wide and open, yet somewhat suffocating. The space had a sense of feeling trapped and isolated. While life was happening outside – once the door was closed and triple bolted – you were relatively oblivious to it all. That could also have a lot to do with Nan’s paranoia of every serial killer on the planet breaking in, so having the tv blaring until you both passed out was her way of preventing that inevitable eventuality (at least you’d be sound asleep when murdered). That and shutting Fremantle out at 4pm every damned day was “the norm”.
Nan: “Ok, time for a bath, then dinner.”
5 year old you: “Ay? Playschool hasn’t even been on.”
Nan: “It’s nearly bed time, love. Come on, get going.”
You: “The sun is still in the middle of the sky, Nan.”
Nan: “Yes and soon it will be dark and then that lot are gonna be drinkin and ya-hooing, so we need to lock up and get upstairs.”
T’was a logic that repelled all rational debate. Non-boat rocking, good girl you had a bath, ate din-dins and traipsed upstairs mid-afternoon to spend the next 8 hours bored shitless. At midnight you’d nearly break your neck balancing on the edge of Nans marshmallow bed to turn the “telly” off. She was right about the noise. You’d lie wide eyed for hours listening to drunken ya-hoos cavorting on the streets of Fremantle and peek out from under the 58 layers of blankets and duvets – sweltering under the weight – waiting to have your throat slit, or poisoned with razor flavoured apples, or kidnapped or one of the myriad horror stories you’d been brain washed into believing were absolutely a daily possibility. Nan snored as soundly as an old brown bear oblivious to this nightly ritual with her frazzled and exhausted granddaughter. She wondered why you constantly slept in.
I prepared myself for some strong emotional reactions and was honestly just hoping to keep it together in front of my cousin and the real estate agent – who so graciously let us in knowing full well we had no intention to buy.
But it never came. Probably because the tenants who came after us – left number 13 in a dark, veritable feral shit storm. What they didn’t touch with their really, really, really shocking take on interior design, the workers certainly bulldozed any remnants of my memories to rubble.
I couldn’t find my past. I couldn’t see it anywhere.
The paisley wall paper my grandfather had put up for my Nan to make it more “homely” – gone. The Bulldogs V for Victory tape markings on the metre box – gone. The entire back verandah where I spent MANY hours playing – gone. The shoddy paving out the back and the heavy silver gate leading onto the laneway where all the hippies and junkies had once hung out – gone. The bright red concrete porch my Nan would get down on her hands and knees and polish until she could either see her reflection or someone would trip arse over tit on – gone. The frangipani tree my grandfather used to pick the best flowers from the high branches so I could put them in my hair – gone. The bloody hippie peace sun stickers randomly remained.
The last time I’d been in the building was the year the government forced all residents (prison officers and their families) out in 1989. I thought revisiting as an adult would have me super melancholy. Instead it felt like a foreign version of the beautiful and bizarre childhood of my mind – I didn’t feel anything at all except spun out.
It was a hybrid shell of its earliest beginnings and a weird mixture of different eras, much like Freo itself – frequently torn between its historic foundations and the modern world.
It allowed me to really imagine my characters moving and breathing and occupying the dwelling in their time because that’s how much of it had been stripped back. All the way to the prisoner laid limestone walls and dusty wooden floor boards.
I would spend HOURS looking out this thing and sitting up on the ledge. There was boarding up where the new railings are now (in the photos below), so no one could ever see up and you had to go out on the balcony to see down. You really did feel totally boxed in. I used to love it when a storm whipped in and the rain would defy the boarding and hit the glass of the window.
The balcony was walled up between the cottages, so no one ever knew if you were out there unless you stood up. It was my favourite place in the world when I could convince my Nan I wasn’t going to climb up and plunge onto the street to my death. I’d sit for hours and people watch, looking out for miles and watching the day as it changed. I don’t think I ever saw a night time view – wayyyy too risky for Nan!
More views from my Nan’s window down onto Henderson Street.
I sure didn’t. There were no fireplaces anywhere to be seen in the house when we lived there, it was as if they never existed. All boarded up and painted over or my grandfather wall papered over them. No wonder it was so friggen cold and draughty!
My room! Very ominous! I don’t even remember the mantle, but I’m sure it must have been there.
This was an odd bod space. I had a bit of a love hate with it. I loved it because it was the brightest place in the whole house most times of the day. Nan didn’t have trinkets or breakables in here so there was actually space to play though it always seemed to be dusty. And the dust in Fremantle truly was ancient dust, like bits of the original dirt and muck from the Victorian era would escape the cracks and crannies every now and then. It had an odd smell, like chalky, peppery oldness. It was eerie.
This was another spot Nan was never keen for me to play. It didn’t harbour the same dangers as the balcony where the chance of kidnapping was high. But it was above the heighest drop point of the stair case and in true Nan fashion there were far too many variables of death or injury, so she would often shut down my pleas to use it as a play space. But the views always had me daydreaming.This view is from the spare room. I never liked the spare room and only began to use it as a teenager when it was sweltering hot in summer in my room. Also I had outgrown my single bed with my long spaghetti limbs and enjoyed the stretch out of the double bed.
The spare room was a bit of a negative force for me. It was the bed my parents used when they would stay, which usually meant triple the snoring! Plus with them around I couldn’t get away with my usual cheekiness. Sometimes my Uncle’s would stay if they were on night shift at the prison, and I would be ordered to play quietly or told I wasn’t allowed upstairs at all which would ruffle my feathers a bit. For the most part, I had free reign of the entire house and got used to reigning over my kingdom with no one else around.
We joke about it now and actually seeing it as an adult, it seems minuscule in size considering the amount of drama it caused! Known as the “death trap” in our family, it certainly was narrow. When we lived there, it was carpeted and the cousins and I would hoon down each step on our backsides at great speed to my nervous nelly Nan’s horror!
When she found out I had started sleep walking she made my grandfather jimmy up a gate that had to be bolted across every single time we were up or down. I did fall arse over turkey down the stairs once and nearly broke my arm. I had to pretend I’d dropped something so Nan wouldn’t have a conniption. I also woke up one night asleep on the spare room floor. I never told her about it – she probably would have gone even more Flowers in the Attic.
The most bizarre thing of all was the back half of the house was not only missing, but any likeness to it’s former self was completely gone. The entire enclosed verandah is now an undercover decking and the door that led out to my grandfathers magnificent bar where many, many, many a celebration was held, now led outside. The infamous lane way no longer exists – at all – and a tiny pathway runs along the bizarre wooden picket fences. Which is a weird concept that the residents will never be able to park their cars out the back. Having said that, there are probably people who still remember the nightmare that lane way caused for the tenants, their visitors and market patrons. I was privvy to much abuse from all parties as we were either trying to get in or out when the markets were on. Fun times.There was always an eerie vibe in certain spots usually where it was darkest. But the attitude that my Nan had towards living there, which was a very negative one, was echoed within the place itself and I remember sensing that as a little girl. Like the wives who would have endured the space from 1850 on – and initially sharing levels with other families – one at the top, one occupying the bottom! There must have been a lot of resentment towards the cottages.
Perhaps that was the vibe I felt in a couple of areas. I would always feel like I had to run in between the hallway and under the staircase as well as the staircase itself. It felt as if someone was coming up behind me, trying to grab me before I got away.
I wish I had taken better photos of the kitchen and the main parlour and the darkest room in the house, the dining room. This was another fire place that was boarded up. I think they had a free standing stove that stood to the right of this picture. It seemed pokey as hell and we were scratching our heads at how they managed to get an oven, fridge, cabinetry and table and chairs in this minute space!
It would be my dream to buy number 13. It would be surreal to do it up again, maybe use it as a place for writing or rent it out to curious tourists. I would have loved to have owned it. It will always be a part of me. I truly adored staying here and miss those lovely days and my beautiful childhood memories of Henderson Street, the markets and Fremantle.