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Fremantle. This quaint colonial port is gearing up to host the America's Cup races

By John Edward YoungStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 10, 1986



Fremantle, Australia

IF you happen to wake up on a Sunday in Perth and find the streets deserted and not even a restaurant open, it's because everyone has skipped down to neighboring Fremantle. Whatever Perth lacks in quaintness or charm can be found here, just 12 miles west, where the mouth of the Swan River smiles out upon the Indian Ocean. Twenty minutes by car and decades away in time, Fremantle is Western Australia's principal seaport and gateway to the West.

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It may not have the flash or tidy appearance of Perth, but it has all the timeless style of a well-loved Chanel suit -- slightly faded and a bit frayed in spots, but still elegant.

Five miles off the coast of Fremantle, the America's Cup races will take place.

Here nothing's shiny except the sun, and nothing sparkles but the sea. Strict ordinances stop any new building from rising more than four stories. The modernization that has happened to Perth is not going to happen here.

What still do exist, and are painstakingly preserved, are those wonderful old buildings of the colonial period. Fremantle Prison (now a museum), built by convicts for themselves with great limestone slabs and sinister squinty-eyed windows, stands in strong remembrance of those days.

The architecture here is a strange and wonderful blend of wild, Wild West, Mediterranean, mock Tudor, and a dash of Bermudiana that all comes out -- at last -- as Australiana!

Walk down any street here, and see how architecture and history come together. Fremantle is a city as proud of its past as it is of its present. Everything that possibly can be has been, or is being, restored. Numerous fa,cades are painted with soft ice-cream tones of peach, vanilla, and pistachio.

Many of the old recycled buildings have new tenants. A certain trendy, quasi-Bohemian life style has developed. Artists' colonies are cropping up alongside the ubiquitous boutiques and the occasional tattoo parlor. The skinny old German Consulate building, with its farcical fa,cade, is now home to a rather seedy nightspot, Tarantella, referred to by the locals as ``the tarantula.''

Not that everything is old here. A multimillion-dollar complex of restaurants has gone up by the sea to feed the expected thousands of visitors. And you can still get fish and chips to eat down on the rocks.

More than 12 meter yachts ply these waters. Fremantle is a working fishing village. Prawns, snapper, garfish, Westralian jewfish, barramundi, and crabs are hauled just offshore. They virtually guarantee a fresh evening meal. From November to June, great loads of rock lobster are disgorged from boats, processed, and flown around the world.

Millions of dollars are being spent on the coming cup races. And not everyone is thrilled. A cabdriver put it this way: ``I'm not much for all this fuss. I mean, where are they going to put everybody? . . . And who's going to pay for all this? I'll tell you, everything is based on America being the challenger. . . . We've got to win it again just to pay for all this building going on.''

Another man in Perth put it this way: ``Personally, I'd like to see the cup pounded into a Frisbee. I got a knock on my door last week telling me my rent's gone up $30 a week. They want me out so they can rent my apartment.''

Although you do hear a disquieting word here and there, most people seem to be caught up in the vigor the cup race is stirring. ``We love all this restoration here,'' an elderly woman commented. ``I'm sure it would have happened anyway, but now it's all coming together faster.'' She, too, echoed, ``But we'd better win the cup again to pay for it!'' She went on to say, ``It [winning the cup] has put Perth on the map! And it's been good for the cup races, too.''

Two points on which everyone seems to agree.