October 12-15 Perth
The caravan park here at Karrinyup Waters in suburban Perth is superb. I’m not often inclined to recommend a place by name, but this park is worth a mention. It’s only 10 minutes from the city centre by car and is on the public transit route - Karrinyup Waters Resort and Caravan Park.
The park is set on a small lake, complete with resident ducks, geese, and big black swans. They all come ‘round in the morning to see what’s for breakfast. We aren’t supposed to feed them at our site and we discover why. Steve was giving the BIG swans some cereal ...and one of them let loose with a BIG load right in front of us. Just what you want to look at while you are eating and very hard to clean up off of the rough concrete finish.
The swan was not pleased when Steve shooed him away after that ...and a few minutes later I was sitting in my chair with a bowl of cereal in my hand when I felt a presence – Darth Vader looming over my shoulder. It was the big black swan, his head equal with my head, staring at the bowl of cereal in my hand. I just kept saying "NO!" and eventually he backed off, but it was touch and go there for a few moments.
In big cities we find it most convenient to use public transit. In this case the train station was only five minutes away so we left the van there in secured parking for $1 (till 9 pm!). An all-day pass for trains, ferries and buses is $7.60 each.
Arriving at the downtown station we didn’t have much of a plan, other than “seeing Perth.” We’d read all the tourism propaganda and frankly, just didn’t read anything that rang our bells. Still, since we were here, we felt obliged to give Perth at least one day’s look-see.
Wandering out of the station we bumped into a big plaza called “Forrest Place.” As it happened, there was a big event going on in the plaza – Catholic Education Day. From first thing in the morning till 4 pm that afternoon, there was a constant line-up of entertainment from the local Catholic schools – concert bands and pipe bands, singers and dancers, clowns, mimes, and stilt walkers. There was a fashion show of “fantasy designs” by teenage girls that made me very happy I never mothered teenage girls – made my hair curl to see what these girls were fantasizing.
A more innocent bunch were demonstrating solar cooking – baking up broccoli and fish and chocolate biscuits in solar ovens made by lining boxes with tin foil then covering with plastic wrap and placing in the sun. There was representation from the agricultural college too – kids in big hats cracking whips and grooming a huge bull they’d brought along to scare the townies with I’m sure.
There were lots of pint-sized clowns prancing around the plaza. When I asked them what they were up to they told me, “Cheering people up.” They were charming. Some of the performances were grade-school amateur time, others were excellent. When we returned to the plaza for lunch we were treated to a performance by a concert band from Corpus Christi College – absolutely first rate.
There is a tourist information booth at the end of Forrest Place so we wandered over to get a city map. A chipper little lady, a tourism host volunteer, took us in hand and set out a list of things for us to do – several days worth, actually.
We agreed to make our first stop the Perth Mint. We didn’t really want to go, but all the brochures said this was the “premier attraction in Perth” and the lady insisted it would be a thrill of a lifetime. Since we didn’t have a better plan ourselves, we set off.
Travel in the central business district and beyond is exceedingly easy – there is a free bus system – CAT buses that follow a blue, a red, and a yellow route. These buses are marked with a big picture of a CAT and have their own special stops. There are maps to show you where to get off for this or that place of interest. So we hopped on the blue line and headed for the Perth Mint.
Found it no trouble. Entry fee – $9.90 each. The mint is housed in a sturdy old stone building. We were ushered into a courtyard with a diorama of a gold prospecting camp. A guide was giving a talk about the Perth Mint’s early days and the size of the nuggets that were found in the Kalgoorlie area, site of Western Australia’s big gold rush.
Then it was on to the room where they press coins. Behind glass windows, staff were at work pressing commemorative coins. They sit at a big machine that looks like a drill press. They put one silver disc on the machine and press a button. A safety window comes down and the press chugs up and down for a few moments. The window goes back up and the person takes the coin out and examines it. Good ones go on a tray, one level thick on paper. Rejects get tossed into a basket to be melted down and tried again.
The fellow told us that for $2 we could press a coin – so we did. Why, I don’t know. But we did. Now we have a commemorative coin ...to do what with?
Then it was off to the “pouring” room. Every hour an outgoing young fellow goes through this shtick of donning heavy protective gear and taking a bucket of gold out of the furnace, pouring it into a mould, cooling it, and dumping it out for everyone to see. No photos are allowed (silly). And as he says, that same bar of gold has been melted and cast, melted and cast, thousands of times now. At $9.90 a tourist head, they’ve made more money off that gold bar then all the others in the building I am sure.
From there it was into the vault to ooh and aah over gold bars, big and little. There is even a 400 oz gold bar secured in a plastic case which visitors can attempt to lift by reaching their hand through a hole in the plastic case.
One exits by making the mandatory tramp through the gift shop. That was it.
Back to Forrest Place for some lunch and another listen to the bands and singers. We are finally getting used to Australian coffee. At home we drink percolated coffee – served in bottomless cups in restaurants. Here you get a cup of cappuccino – and only one. We’ve learned to enjoy a “Flat White” which is a cappuccino with milk. Costs upwards of $3 per cup and that is one cup, period. Even so, we are getting addicted to them.
I have never seen a city as devoted to its coffee and pastry as Perth. Every direction you turn in has at least three cafes or kiosks selling coffee and the most delectable pastries you can desire – strudels, vanilla slices, almondine tarts, eclairs, custard pies, cheesecakes of every description and chocolate everything, never mind cakes, fruit flans, and trifles. Even department stores have coffee kiosks every which way you turn. We need to get out of this town before we gain any more weight!
Lunch over, we head off to the museum. This is not one building, but a collection of buildings erected at different times. Apparently each building had it’s own architect and none of them liked what the one before had done. So the floors are purposefully built at different levels and hallways and doors are offset so they don’t easily match up. Today, architects have linked the buildings with ramps and foyers. The linkages are sometimes a bit eccentric.
Because we were the only ones to arrive at tour time we had a private guide. A knowledgeable young man took us around, explaining about the buildings and gave us a detailed introduction to the hall that explores the history of Western Australia. Very interesting. Lots of photos, movies, and artefacts about early life in Western Australia.
Then natural history halls offered displays of shells, butterflies, and birds. There was also a hall full of “exotic animals” including a "Canadian Brown or Grizzly Bear” and a moose. We let them know that this pathetic looking little bear was definitely NOT a grizzly bear.
The bear would have been obtained as a specimen animal, sometime around 1900. It was the fashion, in those days, to fill museums with exotic animals that the locals would not otherwise be able to see. Which explains a natural history hall filled with stuffed zebras, tigers, and bears, but no kangaroos or wombats.
Another hall offered a photo exhibition – taken by the first police constable in the Northern Territories. He took many shots of Darwin and surrounds. He also took hundreds of photos of the aboriginal people ...and they seemed to be happy with this. They are all bare breasted – both men and women. In many of the photos the people are entirely naked, which was apparently how they preferred to walk around at the time. But when these photos were shown in the finer salons of the day, people complained. So in later photo shoots he put a length of cloth around the middles to cover the genitals – but most are still bare breasted.
There were other displays at the museum, one on photos of insects, a whole hall of aboriginal art and artefacts, and stuff on diamonds and dinosaurs. But we were too tired to take any more in and the museum was closing by then anyway.
We were very taken with Perth. It is an unpretentious city. There’ve been no Olympics or Expos here to dump truck loads of federal dollars into gentrification projects – Perth is just Perth. People live and work here. Lovely old buildings coexist with shiny new ones. The streets are packed wall-to-wall with shops of every possible description. It’s a city that bustles with activity – except that at 5 pm everyone bustles right on out and it shuts down tight. Shops and restaurants and all those coffee bars pull down their security shutters and that’s it.
One weeknight we sat sipping our coffees in Forrest Plaza and noticed a real change as the sun set. As the chi chi cafes pulled down their security gates, you could see the plaza coming under new management for the night – lots of goth looking characters with multitudinous piercings, ripped fishnet stockings, and drug paraphanelia. It seemed like the right time to head back to our cosy little campervan in the suburbs.
The next night was a Friday and the atmosphere was completely different. The shops and cafes and plazas were alive with people right through the evening. We watched buskers and dancers and a group of young people engaged in a series of moves – performance art conceived somewhere between marital arts and modern dance. It was highly athletic, two performers moving with/against each other at any one time, all done to the beat of a drum and the voices of their colleagues. It was pretty amazing to watch.
Even as we waited for our train back out to the ‘burbs, arriving trains were spilling hundreds of young people back out into the city for a night at the clubs and bars, laughing, flirting, anticipating a good time.
People seem happy here. Always exceedingly friendly, interested in conversation, helpful when you need it. I asked one fellow what time it was and he told me. A few minutes later he came running back up the road. “I apologize,” he said. “I told you 4:30 and it is actually 4:37.”
The next morning we head directly for the famous Fremantle markets. “Freo” as they call it, is about 30 minutes south of Perth, although these days the towns just kind of mush into each other. Freemantle remains a real working class, port kind of town. There was a certain amount of gentrification as a result of the Americas Cup events, but aside from some chi chi coffee shops, it didn't seem to really "take". They have re-made one of the old “sheds” on the waterfront into a shopping and restaurant area but that’s about it.
Fremantle also has the free CAT bus system circling its downtown core so we take a seat and do a joyride around town. What we saw was mostly older buildings, very 1950s, little new building. There is an area called “cappuccino row” where the old buildings have been renovated into chi chi coffee bars and cafes but otherwise there didn’t look like there’d been much change since Steve was last here in the ‘60s. At that time he'd flown into town from Darwin (there was no viable road at the time) and hung around for a few days waiting for a freighter to Southampton.
The Freemantle Markets are a hodgepodge of stalls in some very old buildings. A veritable rabbit warren of shops opening off of shops off of shops. A mix of locally produced product and stalls full of Asian imports. I was quite taken with the work of one woman who had embedded wildflowers into clear plastic – she’d made fridge magnets and pendants and broaches and trivets and wall hangings. Very pretty.
Other things for sale? Herbs and spices and garlic ropes. Tarot card readers and palm readers as well as several stalls of snake oil – substances purported to cure everything and anything. There were hand-embroidered and smocked children’s clothes; colourful candles and of course, the ever-present soaps. Tons of jewellery and a fellow selling boomerangs. Steve told me they were phoney and I didn’t believe him but when I put one back on the hooks it fell down and broke in half. That boomerang wouldn’t have brought down many roos in the bush.
There was also food stalls selling delectables like pies, satays, samosas, etc. There was a large fruit and vegetable area – everyone was selling strawberries but they were not at all sweet. Most veggies looked very attractive. I bought some Medjool Dates – very expensive at $20 per kg ...but fresh and plump and unbelievably good. A lady was handing out samples of fresh asparagus and it was amazing – tasted just like peas in the pod, fresh from the garden.
Caught the ferry up the Swan River and back to Perth - $17 each. Not particularly scenic but a pleasant ride in the sunshine. The ferry dropped us at the Swan’s Bells Quay in Perth where we caught the free CAT bus up to London Court – an alley of closely packed, turn-of-the-century, multi-story shops. Steve wanted to see a camera repair man about getting the mis-threaded filter off his lens and had been told he’d find a good one there. I noticed a sign in a window saying, “If you need a haircut, Nena has the time NOW.”
So I took that literally and went in . I actually had to wait 10 minutes but I got my haircut for $35 and I think it is a pretty good one. Steve got his camera fixed for $10.
Every great city has it’s city park and Perth has Kings Park so on the way out of town the next morning we make a detour to check it out. It’s on the top of a hill overlooking the city and has really magnificent vistas of the city and the Swan River. Also has some significant war memorials and along its avenues, trees have been planted and dedicated to the fallen heroes of the wars. It’s a stirring sight, driving up from the city and into the park – the drive bordered by these old sentinels – tall and stately – towering over the drive, dwarfing the likes of us. Very moving.
At one place there is a memorial to holders of the Victoria Cross – Steve mentioned that there seemed to be at least fifteen – a huge number for a country the size of Australia.
We spend the rest of the day winding our way south from Perth, arriving in the charming little seaside town of Busselton for night. Tomorrow we’ll check out Cape Narturaliste and the caves of Nigilgi.