Friday, 11 May 2012

Freo as a child-friendly capital

Each Thursday my four year old nephew visits my wife for the day. Byron (now that he is at kindergarten he insists on being called Byron instead of Bubba) absolutely loves hanging out in Freo.

Playing at Bathers Beach is his favourite activity, and according to my wife has given him rich life experience in topics like:

(A)  anatomy (topless backpackers)

(B)  risk management (stinging jellyfish - his solution was to make my wife go in first), and

(C)  alternative hygiene methods (a homeless man came for a bath one day, an experience that my wife said also provided an unfortunate follow-up to the first anatomy lesson).

So apparently Notre Dame isn't the West End's only educational outlet.

I hang out with them when I have the opportunity, and although I've unfortunately missed all the classes in (A) thus far, getting a chance to see Freo from the point of view of a four year old boy has offered up some unique insights.

I think that there are some wonderful opportunities for Freo to become the child-friendly capital of Perth.


For all its proximity to the ocean, there is actually very little water in Freo beyond what exists on the fringes of our city. This was brought home to me when a water pipe burst in the High Street Mall and a hundred children and even more pigeons immediately appeared, like ants at a picnic.

The kids were splashing around, floating leaf-boats, and seeing if they could make the leak more spectacular by applying pressure to the flow (most stopped short of actual vandalism only because of a lack of tools and parental vigilance). The pigeons were equally thrilled, drinking, having baths, and probably even playing the pigeon equivalent of leaf-boats too, if only we could recognise it. They were certainly having fun.

When two council employees rocked up to cut off the water, Byron sidled up to them and started having a chat. I'm almost certain his goal in this was to observe how they turned off the water, for the express purpose of reverse-engineering another child/pigeon water festival at a later date, but whatever his motive, the unsuspecting council workers were very accomodating. They informed Byron that the reason the pigeons were going nuts was because there was actually very little fresh water around Freo.

This tweaked my interest for two reasons. Firstly, because I was immediately struck by what a transforming feature water could be to the Freo urban environment, whether in the form of a traditional fountain or the more jazzy (and, I suspect, more water wise and less susceptible to anti-social behaviour) water features one sees these days, like the misting poles at Kings Park. Secondly, because kids adore water. A good, simple water feature is more interesting to Byron than run-of-the-mill play equipment any day, and has the advantage of being appealing to grown ups too.


I never quite appreciated how playgrounds have changed (for the worse) since my childhood until Byron came along. In general, play equipment around Perth seem to be pretty bland and boring. The Kings Square play equipment is a classic example of what I am talking about. Reflecting on my childhood, playgrounds were opportunities to put my imagination to the test, to take risks and learn life lessons.

I recently came across a great little article (click here) showcasing some of the best playgrounds from around the world. Here are some of my favourites.

The Blue Whale in Plikta park, Gothenburg, Sweden. Designed by Monstrum.
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

Water Playground in Tychy, Poland. [Photos via]
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

Belleville Park play­ground, Paris, France. Designed by BASE.
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

I really like that many of these playgrounds provide kids with different ways of playing, depending on what interests them on that day.

So what are some opportunities for Freo?

Kings Square immediately springs to mind. What better way for Council to live up to its placemaking values by ensuring that kids are well and truly catered for in the heart of our city. The Esplanade has all the makings of a great playground. It would be great to see ongoing additions to this playground so that over time it can be recognised as one of Perth's best in the future.

Seeing the city through the eyes of a child

Another great opportunity for Freo is to take advantage of the natural curiousity of children. Walking around Freo with Byron, I now appreciate that kids are full of imagination and a sense of possibility. It is something that as adults we tend to forget. My favourite article that I have come across on twitter so far this year really reinforced this point for me. Here are some more pictures taken from the article, but I really do recommend that you check it out here.

Things look different from at the eye level of kids.
Source: Chris Berthelsen via  

Edges and tracks provide opportunties for kids to test themselves that we adults take for granted. Source: Cris Berthelsen via

What I really like is that are some opportunities for doing little things around the city centre that engages the imaginations of kids.


One day there will be a community vision for Fremantle. I'd like that vision to encompass Fremantle becoming the child-friendly capital of Perth.


  1. A water feature like they had at PICA in Perth that is like an interactive artwork was highly popular with kids, who would undress to their undies and wait for the bursts of water into the air to get soaking wet, run between, etc. them would be fantastic for Kings Square. It looked great and was a load of fun.
    I believe it is going to be re-installed at Forrest Place.

  2. Another excellent post Michael.