Saturday, April 27, 2013

Penguin Island

For our last day in the Perth/Fremantle area we once again drove south to Rockingham. This was a good plan on our part, since once we finished there we were continuing south to Margaret River, probably the second or third biggest wine region in Australia. Might as well do a little less driving wherever we can. We were going back to Rockingham to visit Penguin Island, which as the name suggests is home to a colony of Little Penguins, which are adorable. You may remember them from when we visited Kangaroo Island last year.  Penguin Island is a five minute ferry ride from shore, and could actually be walked to since the water never gets more than a couple feet deep. This is the sign that greeted us when we stepped onshore. Awesome.

The island itself is not very big, and you can walk the circumference of the island in about 30 minutes. We were there mostly for the penguin feeding show. We had a little bit of time, so we fanned out over the island looking for the best picture opportunities. They were not hard to find.

A boardwalk had been built around much of the island which Greg was a big fan of since baby strollers and sand do not go together.

Enough of that stupid scenery on to the penguins! Oh my god, they are so cute!

Greg pointing out the penguins to Immy. She wore a dress for Penguin day since it's a formal occasion. After all, they were wearing their tuxedos so it's important to be appropriately attired.

The park attendant had a great speech about the penguins, but I don't think anyone heard a word of since you know, adorable tiny penguins. We like to think in this picture the penguins are saying, "Hey, Lady! Less talking. More fish throwing."

This is pretty funny. About midway through the show, a crow flew down to the feeding area. He's apparently figured out the daily feeding schedule and knows when to drop by to score some food. After landing, making a giant commotion, and stealing a few fish he flew back off. The birds in Australia are really smart. He has also been know to steal sunglasses, and apparently has a huge collection hidden somewhere on the island.

While it's cool seeing penguins at a feeding, this is what made the whole day worth it. We stumbled across this little guy in the wild, nestled under the boardwalk. How cute is that?

For the second part of our day on the island we had booked a glass bottom boat tour that would take us to a couple of the small surrounding islands where a colony of seals lived. Immy was excited.

Also on the island is a colony of pelicans. Not as exciting as penguins, but still pretty cool. Laurel snagged this picture of one of them taking off. Those birds have giant wingspans!

The week before we left, Laurel and Olivia went to a trivia night where one of the questions was, "Which Australian state has the most islands?" They guessed Queensland (because of the Great Barrier Reef) and got it wrong. Had we gone on this trip first, we would have known the answer was Western Australia because off shore islands are just everywhere. On this particular one the seals had claimed a nice section of sandy beach for themselves. All the big guys were passed out in the sun, but this one little guy was having a good old time flopping about in the water.

Holy crap, look at that Pelican War going on in the background! Apparently, pelicans are vicious.

Here was our guide. Eating a sandwich while driving the boat with his foot. That is kind of awesome. And perfectly Aussie. He goes for a swim every morning with the seals, and has been doing this for the last 15 years. He had some epic seal-related injury stories and huge scars that would have probably stopped us from swimming with the seals, but he didn't seem concerned. He was a fascinating individual.

After we got back from our cruise we had a few last minutes to take some pictures and soak up the perfect weather before our ferry took us back to shore.

The rest of the day was about a three hour drive south to our second base camp for the trip- Margaret River. That's not very exciting though so we'll leave you with an adorable picture of Laurel, Olivia, and Immy. See you next time!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fremantle Prison

We celebrated the first day of the year by traveling to Perth's biggest historical attraction, Fremantle Prison. Constructed from 1851 to 1859, it was built from limestone rocks cut out of the hills on site. All this was done by the first prisoners of the facility. That's right, they made them build their own prison.

Fremantle was the largest whaling port in the Indian Ocean during the 1800s. At first, Fremantle Prison was the site where the convicts were sent. These were men that were convicted of crimes in Great Briton that were sent to Australia as punishment to be used as forced labor, i.e. slaves, for the duration of their sentence. The site of the prison started as a large, limestone hill. The hill was carved out, and limestone harvested, shaped, and used to construct the prison by the convicts. After it was built, the prison was used to hold Australian criminals. It mostly held men, but also had a women’s building as well. By men it meant officially males 13+ years, however, records show that boys as young as 8 were held there next to murderers and sex offenders. It’s hard to imagine that such a place was still being used as recently as 1991.

This is the kitchen. A cook was the best job you could get as a prisoner, because it meant you knew what was in your food. The prison continued a tradition of the British Navy, since aboard their ships was how most prisoners arrived in Australia. Every Friday was fish and chips day, a tradition that is still honored around the world, including at Greg's office. He had never really thought about before, but there you go.

There was a small church on the prison grounds so that the prisoners might repent their sins. The murals on the back wall had an interesting story. The warden wanted the ten commandments and other holy scripture painted on the back wall, but since it would take almost two years to get the paint by boat from England, one of the inmates had an idea. He consulted with some local Aboriginal artists, made paint using their ancient Aboriginal methods, and painted the walls. That was over a hundred years ago, and the paint is still as vivid now as it was then. It has needed no touching up or restoration in that time, even in the Australian sun. Amazing. Clearly the Aboriginals know things we still don't.

Measuring 1.2 meters by 2.1 meters, this was an inmate's cell in 1852. Rainwater was collected in tanks on the roof and brought to the prisoners in buckets. This is why the prisoners were happy to be out in the yards all day building the walls and roads around them. It beat being confined to this.

In 1899, the Royal Commission determined that the cells were inhumane, and knocked down adjoining walls, doubling the room size for each inmate.

However, that cut the number of prisoners the facility could hold in half. In 1960, they ran out of space, so bunk beds were installed in each room, essentially returning the living space per inmate to what it was originally.

Aside from the terrible living conditions, why was this place so terrible? Mostly because they never bothered to update the 1850's construction. Insulation, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing were not added to any part of Fremantle Prison until after it was shut down. Prisoners were given a bucket to use as a toilet, a situation that did not change when inmates began sharing a room. Perth and the surrounding areas were going through a sweltering heat wave during our visit. The daytime high was 40+ degrees C (100+ degrees F). Our tour guide told us that during a heat wave like we were experiencing, the temperatures inside the cells would range between 50-55 degrees C (122-131 degrees F). It took 2 years after the facility was closed to get the smell out. On top of that, the soft limestone walls that formed the cells were the perfect breeding grounds for insects. This meant that at all times of the year, the walls were literally crawling with millions (not exaggerating) of cockroaches and other insects. Fremantle Prison was shut down in 1991, 80 years after it was declared condemned and unfit for human habitation.

Until 1991, it was prohibited to paint on the walls. The only exception made prior to this was for an inmate known as Peg-leg Pete for "therapeutic reasons." They didn't elaborate. He was an extraordinarily talented artist. However, our tour guide reminded us that, behind the mind of that artist lived a monster guilty of some of the most violent, abhorrent crimes against women. He then told us that Peg-leg Pete is 68 and still alive today. He lives in a small town not far from Fremantle, and his every movement is watched by the authorities. That is seriously disturbing that he is, 1. Still that young and 2. Technically a free man.

In the last 12 months of the Prison's operations some prisoners were granted permission to paint on the cell walls and on the walls of the exercise yards, as a farewell gesture. Here's one by an Aboriginal inmate.

The solitary confinement cells. This is where inmates went both for further punishment during their sentence and the night before their execution to help them contemplate their fate and find repentance. The only light came from the small window in the wall. Gruesome. Greg is sad in this picture because, 1. He is in solitary confinement and 2. They put the baby in a corner.

This was the stockade used to punish prisoners by whipping with a cat of nine tails. The boy here demonstrating the position was volunteered by his younger brothers. The prison had a punishment policy. If you were sentenced to a 100 lashings, you would get a hundred lashings. Now, a doctor would be on hand, since a cat of nine tails is such a brutal weapon. After about 10 strokes a prisoner would not have any skin left on their back. From anywhere from 15 to 25 lashes the whipping would have to be stopped or the prisoner would die of loss of blood. At that point, salt would be rubbed into the unconscious prisoner's wounds to prevent infection and he would be taken to the doctor to recover. About six weeks later, when he had sufficiently healed, the whippings would be resumed. This process would repeat until the full 100 lashings punishment had been reached. That is the most brutal, hardcore thing I have ever heard.

And this is where the prisoners went to die. Death row criminals were hung, and over 40 inmates died in this room. It may have just been the heat and the noise in the small room, but Immy started crying almost immediately upon entering. Greg took her outside.

After the guided tour there is a small museum you can walk through which had some interesting facts. This is a bust of the Irish prisoner, John Boyle O'Reilly, who was one of the few men to successfully escape. He caught a boat to America where he enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper editor before dieing of an overdose of sleeping medicine.  

In comparison to Port Arthur, which seemed to be populated by people who had committed nothing more than a misdemeanor, Fremantle was used for the worst of the worst. Even then, it still seems inhumane. While depressing due to the subject matter, this was an incredible experience. We all agreed afterwards that while none of us had expected it to be, this was one of the highlights of our trip. Our tour guide was amazing, and had so many fascinating stories. Many of the tour guides (not ours) are actually former prison guards, so they have many tales of first-hand experiences. We still can't believe this place was running in 1991. If you ever go to Perth, this really should be on your must-do list.

After our trip to prison we went out for lunch in Fremantle to chill out and decompress. Immy was pretty excited about it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rockingham and NYE

After a day spent inland going north, it was time to do the complete opposite. We drove south about 45 minutes to the small town of Rockingham. It's basically a little inlet that shoots into the bay, and has a ton of water activities. The one we had come for was the all-day Swimming with Dolphins tour. I mean, how can you resist that? The only downside is that the boat is not very baby friendly, so we had to leave Immy at home. Fortunately, Tina was more than happy to spend all day alone with her bouncing, smiling granddaughter. Here are the four of us, fresh on the boat and excited to go see some dolphins!

Look, there's one! Super close, too.

We weren't really sure what to expect by this tour. We figured maybe we see a dolphin or two in the distance, maybe we don't see any, but man we were blown away. We saw dolphins right and left, and just all over the place, within feet of us. Here's a whole family just hanging out.

Strangely for an Australian organized tour group, this tour was meticulously organized. They split the boat into about six different color groups, with three groups out in the water at a time. They had us get in a line and hold on to the person's belt in front of you with the lead guide doing the swimming. The rest of us were kind of just pulled along behind, so we could focus on looking for and taking pictures of the dolphins. It also ensured there weren't sixty people splashing in the water at once scaring off the dolphins. Smart.

This guide had clearly scored the coolest job lottery. She had one of those personal water motors and she just swam down and played with the dolphins to keep them interested and around. Best job ever, right? We're also pretty sure that her great grandmother was probably a dolphin because she was an insanely good swimmer and could hold her breath forever. She was just using a snorkel and went down pretty deep and stayed down for several minutes at a time. Impressive.

At one point the boat found a pack of roving male dolphins, so we decided to have some fun. They kicked the motor in gear and tore off, creating a big wake behind us. The dolphins swam up alongside and used the wave created by the wake to "surf." Apparently this only works when it's a group of males- they all get excited and try to out do each other. Boys!

Here we are modeling the latest in wetsuit fashion.

We had a great day. If you are ever in Western Australia, definitely take a day and go down to Rockingham for the dolphin tours. It was amazing!

That day also happened to be December 31st- man this year has just flown by. Fortunately, Olivia and Tina had bought Immy an outfit for the night. She was ready to party in style!

We went out to one of the local pubs for a nice, laid-back dinner. They still had their Christmas tree up, so Immy got a chance to model her fancy dress with the grandparents.

After pictures it was sleepytime. No midnight celebration for Immy, too sleepy. See you in 2013, guys.


After dinner, Greg, Laurel, and Olivia went out to the harbor area of Fremantle to check out the New Year's Eve nightlife. We ended up at the Little Creatures brewpup for a couple drinks, and during that a street drum crew showed up to entertain the guests. It was pretty awesome. Now, since we just had a baby, we definitely did not make it to midnight. In bed by eleven, we're so wild and crazy. Olivia stayed up to watch the fireworks on TV, but fell asleep on the couch at 11:52. Fail. We're going to blame our collective lameness on Perth's 3 hour later timezone.