House Nerd

Follow House Nerd

Follow on Bloglovin

Peeking into People's Places

Search House Nerd

FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre

Posted Wednesday, December 4, 2013 in: Obsessed With

It was October 31st that I went to Fremantle Arts Centre to have a coffee with my fellow blogger friend Amanda. She had told me I had to visit and that I would absolutely love the gift shop, FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre. I remember the date because we found it funny that on Halloween we were visiting a place reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in WA!

I hadn’t been to the Fremantle Arts Centre since I was a teenager, and had only a vague memory of what it was like inside. I was wowed by my visit. I even felt kind of stupid that I hadn’t ‘discovered’ how awesome it was before, despite having lived near Fremantle most of my life! Adding this spot to my list of fave Perth coffee spots.

I FOUND IT: The gift shop at Fremantle Arts Centre, FOUND. How cute are the string lights? Ahh. Photos Meghan Plowman of The Orchard

CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE: FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre has beautiful gifts. Store manager Gabbe Howlett and stylist Meghan Plowman put together their favourite ideas for Christmas gifts – this beautiful blue and white Amanda Harris bowl, Kangaroo for Christmas picture book by James Flora, Noel sign from Sue Codee, Fluid Ink letterpress cards made in Perth. Styling and photography Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

FOUND: FOUND manager Gabbe Howlett has curated a beautiful collection of wares - WA’s biggest range of unique gifts, wares, books and textiles made by local artists and makers. There’s a beautiful outlook from the shop through the gardens and main entry of the Arts Centre. Placemats by Mokoh, colourful ceramics and Christmas decorations in window by Dale Francis. Photography Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

I put a little post on my Instagram and found out that a bunch of you guys already loved FAC (and some were regular visitors!) But lots of you were like me – you hadn’t been here since you were a kid or you had never been at all. So please add this spot to your must-check-out list.

Fremantle Arts Centre is just beautiful. Despite the hustle and bustle of the streets and shops and trucks roaring into Freo just a few hundred metres away, as soon as you walk under the ivy-clad arch into the gardens with their old stone walls surrounding lawns shaded by towering plane trees, everything becomes quiet and cool and Enid Blyton-esque enchanting. It is gorgeous! If you were stressed or feeling tightly wound, it would be impossible to come here and not feel yourself unwind, at least just a little.


But there is a certain irony to a place that feels so lovely. While it is such a beautiful, happy place now, the Fremantle Arts Centre has a dark and unhappy history. It was originally built in 1864 as a lunatic asylum, and constructed by convict labor on six acres of land, opening its doors as a lunatic asylum and invalid depot.

In time, it become something of a dumping ground for inmates (as the patients were called back then) with all sorts of social problems, including prostitution, alcoholism, STDs, conditions of old age, delirium and ill health.

Photos Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.


In 1900 a lady called Catherine Clifford was admitted. She had gotten lost in the bush and was found, but in a state of shock and mentally disturbed. When she was brutally murdered in her room, the asylum went under inquiry and it was found it was terribly overcrowded, at the time housing 219 patients, with some rooms holding 20 patients when they should have held just one.

A newspaper article from October 1900 spilled the details of Mrs Clifford’s death and appealed to the public that the asylum be changed, terming the institution “a frightful evil”:

“A darker, dirtier, more horrible hole than Fremantle Lunatic Asylum is impossible to conceive. The wards are dark, gloomy and ill-ventilated. There are actually punishment cells – little, dark cubicles which the light of heaven never reaches and where the unfortunate maniac raves in lonely misery the livelong night and keeps the whole place awake with his bitter cries. According to a well-known clergyman, who often visits the place, the rooms are frowsy, dusty, and reek with the smell of urine. And it is in this horrible Bastille, this hell upon earth, that the insane poor are confined. We have exposed this disgraceful institution often enough before, but with no effect. Will all be deaf to the voice of humanity and none come to the help of the helpless? Have the people of this colony hearts of stone that they should tolerate such a frightful evil in their midst?”
- The Sunday Times, dated 7th October, 1900

As a result of Mrs Clifford’s death and another suspicious death at the asylum, an official inquiry finally resulted in the appointment of a medical superintendent and a trained mental health nurse. In 1909, the asylum was declared a “poor house”, and became a women’s shelter. Dark stories abound of adolescents with venereal diseases kept under lock and key on the upper floor in the 1930s.

The asylum later became used as WA's first maternity training school while still being home to poor and elderly women, but it was such a hole that several women’s groups campaigned to close it. Their actions finally resulted in its close in 1941 – yet it took nine years for all its ‘inmates’ to be relocated.

The asylum was also as a naval base during WWI and WWII, became Fremantle Technical School and was almost demolished in 1958 but was saved by a forward-thinking Mayor of Fremantle who envisioned it as an Arts Centre and Mariners’ Museum.

It opened as Fremantle Arts Centre in 1973. And now this former lunatic asylum has a gift shop. And a café and a book store. And it is an absolutely gorgeous art gallery space and a wonderful spot to have a relaxing morning. When we visited, children were having their faces painted in the courtyard and running on the lawns. It’s a little bit crazy when you think that once it was home to tortured souls. (I know, I know, but I am a writer and I like to be dramatic).

Photos Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.


After I ‘discovered’ Fremantle Arts Centre, my friend Meghan Plowman and I visited to do this feature on FOUND – its beautiful and very unique gift store.

This shop is awesome. If you want to shop locally for Christmas this year and support Australian artists and makers, this is the place to do it. FOUND stocks WA’s biggest range of unique gifts, wares, books and textiles made by local artists and makers.

WA ICONS: I haven’t been able to take my eyes off the work of Blue Lawn Designs since I first saw their work at Perth Upmarket. Husband-and-wife team Chris McDonald and Claire Bradshaw work out of the ground floor of the heritage-listed Pakenham Street Art Space in Freo, screen-printing botanical and scenic images from iconic WA locations like Albany, Freo, Rottnest Island and Yallingup onto 100 linen tea towels and panels of marine ply. They would look awesome in any kind of Australian home, contemporary or traditional. All photos Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

The store has been open for close to 30 years (under its old name The Craft Shop until it was later re-named FOUND) and was always well-loved, selling wares from around Australia. However it was when Gabbe Howlett took over as manager two years ago that its wares drastically changed. “I decided to take it back to WA,” says Gabbe. “I believed it could be done and no-one really believed we could do it. But now 95 percent of things in the shop are designed and made by WA people. It’s fantastic. There are so many incredible things being made in WA… there are so many clever people here!”

Now the gift store attracts a customer base as besotted with the place as I am. “Our customer base is 50 percent local, 50 percent tourist – and from that 50 percent, half are from over east, 40 percent from the UK, and 10 percent from the rest of the world,” says Gabbe.

Here you will find no cheesy clip-on koala bears or snow globes with the Bell Tower (I’m sure they are out there) but beautiful handmade treasures you keep for life. It’s the kind of store you visit fully intending to buy that gift for a friend or your mum and leave happily clutching something for yourself too. (Well I did).


CHANGING THE FACE OF FOUND: FOUND manager Gabbe Howlett never intended to work in arts or in retail – she initially got a degree in Sustainable Environment. “All of my family worked in the arts, but I ran away from it for a while,” she says, admitting that it finally ensnared her too. Now she spends five to six days a week at the Arts Centre, curating FOUND’s range by hunting for people designing and making something special. Styling and photography Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.

HOUSE NERD GIFT GUIDE: Looking for a lovely present? Meghan, Gabbe and I whittled down some of our favourites from FOUND. Future Shelter Christmas ornaments, Vasse Virgin body lotion made in Margaret River, Green Pickled Peaches cookbook by Chui Lee Luk (Hardie Grant), orange ceramic bowl by Njalikwa Chongwe, little grey-blue ceramic vessels by Stephanie Hammill (I couldn’t resist buying one of these for my kitchen! Beautiful works). Styling and photography Meghan Plowman of The Orchard

ABOVE: Loved these plywood Prayer Rugs by Denmark-based artist Jillian Green, who exhibits with Turner Galleries. And they are only $25 each – cute artwork idea – or for practical purposes too. “We had someone who came in recently and bought eight of them for coasters,” says Gabbe. Photography Meghan Plowman of The Orchard.


A perfect time to check out the shop would be this weekend - this Friday to Sunday is the Fremantle Arts Centre Bazaar, their annual Christmas Market. The event showcases artists and makers who create locally designed and made ceramics, woodwork, prints and artworks, jewellery, textiles, stationery, fashion, cards, sculptures, children’s toys, books, leather ware, beauty products and more.

“We have 50 sellers this year, there’ll be woodfired pizza, a licensed bar, a DJ, bouncy castle… it’s really fun,” says Gabbe. “We have these groups of women that car pool and drive all the way up from Albany and Busselton. You see them walk up here with their big bags and they’re like, “ROIGHT. See you in three hours.”

I’m definitely going to go check it out myself, oversized mama-style bag in hand. The Bazaar is open Friday from 5pm to 10pm, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm. $2 entry, children under 12 free. There's more information on their website and Facebook page. Make sure you try to pop in! 

ABOVE: Meant to be WA's best Christmas market, Fremantle Art Centre's Bazaar is open this weekend, from 5 to 10pm on Friday and 9am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday. Photo from Fremantle Arts Centre.

Check out House Nerd tomorrow for another story on the Fremantle Arts Centre - this one on its alleged hauntings... *makes crap ghost noise* Tell me if you have ever had a creepy experience there. Or do you ignore the ghosts and just go to the Fremantle Arts Centre for coffee or to browse the gift store or art galleries? Or are like you me - had you driven past hundreds of times and yet never visited? 


FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre


An 1890s rambling stone building that was originally built as a lunatic asylum - history nerds will love learning about this plae!


FOUND stocks WA’s largest range of gifts and wares made by local artists and creators, with wares encompassing ceramics, prints, artworks, jewellery, books, textiles, paper products and more


Locals and tourists will love this beautiful gift shop. There are no clip-on koala bears here – this is a beautiful gift store with special handmade pieces from talented WA artists and makers. Come for a coffee in the café courtyard garden while the kids play in the garden, stroll around the art gallery and finish up with a browse in the gift shop.


FOUND at Fremantle Arts Centre is at 1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle . Visit or call 9432 9569. FOUND is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm. Follow Fremantle Arts Centre on Facebook or Instagram.


Meghan Plowman of The Orchard

Have you read?