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Xavier Herbert (1901-1984) lived in Fremantle between the ages of 12–14 where he attended Fremantle Boys’ State schools and Christian Brothers College (CBC) Fremantle and began his writing career here. Herbert wrote the longest Australian novel, Poor Fellow My Country, for which he won the Miles Franklin Award. His best-known work is possibly Capricornia.
The passage that is highlighted on his 'totem' (on the 'Writers Walk') comes from his autobiography, Disturbing Element, and reflects on the pub heritage of Fremantle.
Besides the big ships, steam and sail, were the little ones, the tugs, yawls, schooners, ketches, the tight little pilot pinnace that could battle any sea, the dredges eternally groaning and grumbling as they bucketed up the river mud, the diver’s tender with the man in the helmet coming up in a cloud of silver bubbles or going down.
There were the things ashore that served the ships, steam cranes and electric gantries, coal grabs and whip [sic] winches, spare parts of ships like propellers, anchors, chains through the links of which a boy could crawl, and the stuff that went into the ships or came out of them, sandalwood, karri, jarrah, mother-o’-pearl, wool, wheat, hides, multicolored mineral ores, and curry, coffee, sulphur, crated automobiles and railway locomotives...
The town itself was no less colorful than its waterfront, peopled as it largely was by seafarers and globetrotters that the ships of half a century had left behind. The packed shops and restaurants, the wine bars, pubs, hash-houses, wash-houses, whore-houses, doss-houses, were run by people of all breeds ... Everyday was a market day in that town of ships’ chandlers and providors and sailormen and globetrotters ashore. The narrow streets seemed always to be thronged, always uproarious with voices, the clatter of horses’ hoofs and the roll of iron wheels, the honking and grinding of the clumsy motor vehicles of the day, the clanging and groaning of the old fashioned trolley cars.
Xavier Herbert, Disturbing Element (Melbourne, 1963), 95-97.
Garry Gillard | New: 18 October, 2017 | Now: 26 October, 2023