Tag Archives: Perth

The world’s most livable city

Melbourne Southbank

It seems the word’s out on the world’s most liveable cities, and for the seventh year in a row MELBOURNE, Australia, has lifted the trophy!

Ha ha.

You gotta wonder. It seems “The report considers stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure in 140 different cities around the world.” I wouldn’t have thought any of those factors would vary all that much between the Australian capital cities.

I can’t help thinking that picking a liveable city has to be a tad subjective. I mean, if you’re a dead keen sports watcher, then Melbourne’s your town. One hundred thousand people would be sure to turn out to watch a tiddlywinks championship. Coffee – yes, the best in Oz, I’d say. Food, culture, gardens – it’s all there. They’ve got trams to get around (and get in the way), and it’s not too far to a number of natural wonders like the Great Ocean Road, Echuca and the Murray, snow in the Australian Alps etc.

But it’s also a grey, grim place in the colder months. I recall when I moved from Perth to Melbourne in May 1996. On my last weekend in Perth I went down to Trigg beach for a walk in bright sunshine. Autumn is beautiful in Perth – not too hot, calm, blue skies. I arrived in Melbourne and immediately bought myself a trench coat and some spencers. It was f***ing freezing. All the trees were bare, the skies were grey, and everybody wore black.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I first lived in Melbourne when I was in my twenties. The thing that struck me at that time was you could go to parts of the city (Richmond, Prahran, Carlton to name a few) and the shop signs would be in Foreign. You’d go into a shop, the people would see you coming, pop out the back, and wheel out their sons or daughters who could speak English. It was a real eye-opener. So were the Victoria markets where you could get food from Everywhere. You could walk from Flinders Street station up to Lonsdale Street via the lanes, where you’d find restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of specialty shops. Then you’d reach the Myer Emporium, which was an Aladdin’s Cave where you could get everything. I loved all the bookshops, too.

But the traffic! Pete and I used to do the daily grind from west of Bacchus Marsh to Melbourne CBD (about 80km one way, which took roughly an hour). Ten years ago when we got out of town for good the suburbs were already beginning to spread west and the commute time was creeping ever higher, which meant we had to get out of bed earlier and earlier. The house prices were rising, too. Melbourne’s just behind Sydney when it comes to affordable housing, and it will catch up pretty soon. Sorry, Melbourne. Not missing you at all.

There are two other Aussie cities in the top ten – Adelaide at five and Perth at seven. I’ve never lived in Adelaide, although I’ve visited a few times. Apart from the fact that the state’s economy is a basket case, it looks like a nice place. With the Barossa and other wine and food areas so close by, food is great. And you’re near the wonderful Flinders Ranges, as well as down the road from Lake Eyre and the outback. It’s also not all that far from Melbourne, so it’s not hard to drive there for a football match or a concert. It has a Mediterranean climate, so on the whole the weather’s great.

Perth CBD

But my pick of the cities on the list (because they’re all large cities) is Perth. I grew up there from the age of four (and a half). The city by the Swan. Perth water is only about a foot deep, but it looks impressive. When I went Over East to Canberra for my first job after Uni, my sister and her husband, who lived in Melbourne, picked me up at the airport for a quick run around the city before my plane left for the nation’s capital. Frank drove over a little hump bridge and said, “That’s the Yarra (river).” I was completely underwhelmed. And on that subject, Adelaide’s river Torrens is even less compelling. They had to dam it so there’s at least a lake. Perth is built on the edges of Perth Water, with Kings Park’s Mount Eliza rearing up on one side. It’s a great place for an aerial view of the city, and the Swan River winding its way down to the Port of Fremantle.

South Perth with Perth Water to the left and the confluence of the Swan and the Canning on the right

My memories of Perth are over twenty years old, but I don’t think the things that stick have altered much. The laid-back, outdoors life style is the thing. The winters are mild, with long bouts of sunshine. I often went to the beach in winter, just to walk. You could always tell the tourists – they were the ones in the water. Nuts. Yes, it can get stinking hot in summer, but it’s usually a dry heat – unless there’s a cyclone hovering around Up North.

Back in the day the population was very English, with pockets of Greek, Slav and Italian immigrants, but nothing like Melbourne. Over the years the city has become more cosmopolitan. Like all the Australian capitals, first class food is everywhere. You’ll find restaurants at the Swan Valley vineyards, along the ocean, by the river, in the quaint older parts of town like Subiaco, and in Freo. I couldn’t argue that Perth is a Mecca for the Arts. Not many big acts make the trek across the Nullarbor, but some do. Still, if you’re desperate, these days a flight to Melbourne isn’t all that expensive. Oh, and that ‘most isolated capital city in the world’? It’s closer to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta than any of the Eastern capitals. Perthites are more likely to holiday in Asia than they are in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane – it’s much, much cheaper.

I have to say, the worthies in Perth have done a rather better fist of urban planning than places like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not much room for parking in Perth CBD, so don’t bring your car. Leave it at a railway station a stop or two out, and catch a free train. There are free commuter buses in the city to get around. The freeways and the railways pave the way before housing estates start, and the satellite city of Joondalup is now a thriving hub. Smart. These days, places like Rockingham and Mandurah have been effectively swallowed up into Perth’s suburbs, but the infrastructure means people can still commute. When I was a kid, people went to those towns for summer holidays. It was a loooong way.

Why aren’t we living in Perth? In a nutshell, like every other major Australian city, it’s too big. We’re over the chase-the-dollar rat race. The climate in Hervey Bay is a bit more humid than I’d like, and bookshops are few and far between. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s small enough to be laid back, and big enough to have a Bunnings you can see from the moon. What else do you need?


A glorious winter morning at the beach






12 – King’s Park

The city and Perth Water from King's Park

The city and Perth Water from King’s Park

Our short visit to Perth was all about old friends and family. We did some wine tasting in the Swan Valley, spent time at the Margaret River Chocolate Company, bought some wine at Houghtons, and had lunch at the Mandoon winery (we all had spicy waygu burgers – absolutely delicious). We had a family dinner at John and Beth’s, walked the dogs, shared a Greek meal. We also had a long lunch with my family – my brother-in-law, nieces, great niece and great nephew – and met my latest great great nephew, Marcus. Pete did his best understanding who was related to who. We drank copious cups of tea and ate homemade sandwiches, quiches, sausage rolls and other High Tea goodies. And we talked, sharing stories and experiences, some many decades old.

All that’s boring to your average reader of this blog. So I’ll share pictures of King’s Park.

We did visit on a Sunday morning before we had lunch with the family – but half of Perth arrived before we did. King’s Park was King’s car park. All the parking areas were full, and every road into the park was lined with cars parked between the trees. Many people walking around seemed to be ignoring all the beauty, glued to their phones. We found out later quite a few of the visitors were on a Pokemon Go hunt.

We went back to King’s Park the next day when visitor numbers were much reduced. Perth’s botanic garden is up there, and every year they present the wildflowers for the people to enjoy. Let’s do that.

The war memorial

The war memorial

One of the many family areas in the Park. You can glimpse the Swan River between the trees

One of the many family areas in the Park. You can glimpse the Swan River between the trees

WA's iconic kangaroo paw

WA’s iconic kangaroo paw

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11 – Perth – the city by the Swan

Wildflowers by the roadside

Wildflowers by the roadside

img_5417Western Australia is world famous for its wonderful springtime wildflowers. As we headed north west out of Esperance the colour show started along the road verges. Swathes of yellow, flashes of red, a dollop of orange, a patch of dazzling blue – and clumps of purple. We were headed for Hyden, a small town on the edge of WA’s wheat belt, for two reasons. For a start it’s on the way to Perth, and second it’s home to Wave Rock. It’s a granite monolith (they’re quite common hereabouts) carved by time and weather into the shape of a breaking wave. After that, nature’s paintbrush got to work with dissolved minerals to paint the wave in streaks of ochre and yellow and white and dark grey. I’d been there on numerous occasions over the years, and I thought it was worth a photo stop.

Here it is.

Yep, I didn’t take a picture. I’m a great believer in preserving our country in national parks. I’m NOT a great believer in making people pay to see them. Sure, ask people to pay to use a camp site. But far too often we’re charged $10 or $12 for the privilege of driving on the roads for a few hours. I reckon that’s one of the uses the Government makes of the taxes I paid all my working life. Years ago, there was a rudimentary parking area at Wave Rock, and you could go and climb over it, and the other carved monolith’s scattered around, for free. Now, there’s a visitor centre selling souvenirs, a café and a camping site. And yet we were asked to pay $10 for five minutes to take a picture? Sorry, not going there. I had the same reaction when we found it would cost us $12 to drive our car around Coffin Bay national park for a couple of hours. The Rock is one of the few reasons why anyone would drive out to Hyden. Why not make it free and encourage tourists to spend their money on food, drinks and souvenirs? And if you’re going to charge a fee, make it obvious up front. Esperance has several large (free) national parks, Kings Park is free… pant pant pant…


So… on to Perth. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the car’s GPS. Obviously designed for more densely populated countries, it showed the location of stations on the Nullarbor – but not road houses. One feature we noticed was its apparent propensity to calculate when we’d arrive somewhere, based on our current speed. (eg, doing 60kph now, but using roads for 110kph). It corrected itself over time, but to start with, it might be an hour or more out in expected arrival. Not good. However, it proved its worth when we approached Perth around 5pm. We had to get over to the north side of the city, which meant crossing the river in peak time. I had visions of going down Greenmount and over the Causeway bridges, through the city centre… Even if you don’t know Perth, you’ll get the idea. ANY city centre at peak hour is a bad move. But our GPS is smart. It knows about traffic conditions. It took us north, off the Darling Range down Redhill Road and over the river further up. It had us using a freeway, but at one point informed us it had recalculated due to traffic congestion, and selected another route. Ain’t technology grand?

We arrived at our friend’s home in plenty of time. I introduced Peter to John and we all sat and talked about stuff, solving the problems of the world, as you do. Beth and I are old friends – we went through uni together – and a few other things. I find it interesting that Beth and John have four daughters and a son, while my Esperance friends have four sons and a daughter. I like to think I’ve donated my slots to one or both of them. I never wanted children.

On Saturday John launched his boat at Maylands upstream from the Causeway bridges, and took us out on the river. The Swan is Perth’s signature, meandering down from its start in the hills, under the Causeway to spread over a wide, shallow, lake-like area known as Perth Water, before narrowing down to flow past King’s Park and under the Narrows Bridge, where it widens again as its tributary, the Canning, adds its flow. After that it flows at a gentle pace to Fremantle, Perth’s port. I wrote a bit about Freo on our last road trip. And I found a fascinating article about Perth Water and its surrounds, which includes an 1838 map. That’s nine years after the colony was founded.

Here’s a map to give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about.swan-mapThe weather wasn’t brilliant, as you’ll see from the pictures, but at least it didn’t rain on us – although we could see the clouds adding to water volumes out over the Indian Ocean.

We went past where I lived for my last year in Perth, past the new sports stadium going up next to the casino, skirted the two race tracks (Ascot and Belmont) and made a brief detour into the new development at East Perth. Although there’s lots of river frontage, developers are always keen to add more, rather like the canals at Mandurah or the Gold Coast. Like most places, anywhere in Perth with water views commands high real estate prices. If the property is on a hill with views, add a zero. Many of you will have heard of Dalkeith, Perth’s billionaires’ row, sort of the equivalent of Melbourne’s Toorak, with it’s crowded mansions stepping up the slope from the river’s edge.

This is an area of East Perth that used to be seriously down market. Developers dug a hole next to the river, then let the water in. These apartments are only a short distance from the city centre. There are, of course, lots of restaurants.

This is an area of East Perth that used to be seriously down market. Developers dug a hole next to the river, then let the water in. These apartments are only a short distance from the city centre. There are, of course, lots of restaurants.

A mother and calf - wonderful to see

A mother and calf – wonderful to see

Oh the memories. King’s park on the North bank (we’ll go there tomorrow). Canning Bridge in the distance, The university looming up on the right. (There was only one university when I went there, so “the university” means UWA.) Down the river past the Posh Houses at Dalkeith and Mosman, under the Freo traffic bridge and into the now very quiet inner harbour where my father and brother used to work. Over there the Oyster Beds restaurant is now part of the Dome chain. But there are still dolphins in the river. We saw two pods, both too busy feeding to stop and wave. And I’m told the little river prawns which had been fished out are being re-introduced. So many memories.

On the way back to Maylands we landed at Perth’s new Elizabeth Quay for lunch. It’s a very recent development, designed to make the river more accessible to people in the city. It also means folk catching the ferry that plies across to South Perth have a very much shorter walk into the business district. I understand there was a lot of criticism at its construction. But I think a lot of people have forgotten that much of the land taken away for the development was actually reclaimed from the Swan for the approaches to the Narrows Bridge. I think it’s a great idea, and I was pleased to see the area so well patronised. We had a lovely lunch. We weren’t really dressed for fine dining, but they let us in, anyway.

Beth and John had a prior engagement that evening, so Pete and I went down the street to buy a take away pizza. We couldn’t work out how to get the news on the telly. There was already a DVD on, so we munched pizza and watched Pirates of the Caribbean III with sub-titles.

Perth city from the river. We've passed under the Causeway bridges and are on Perth Water.

Perth city from the river. We’ve passed under the Causeway bridges and are on Perth Water. That’s Elizabeth Quay in the middle ground.

King's Park and the war memorial. That's the Narrows Bridge in front of us. I remember when that was built for the 1962 Commonwealth Games. I also remember the war memorial at night. It was lit up when nothing else was. It seemed to float in mid air.

King’s Park and the war memorial. That’s the Narrows Bridge in front of us. I remember when the bridge was built for the 1962 Commonwealth Games. I also remember the war memorial at night. It was lit up when nothing else was. It seemed to float in mid air.

These houses south of the river seem to be spotlit by a gap in the clouds

These houses south of the river seem to be spotlit by a gap in the clouds

The world has continued to turn

It’s always interesting returning to a place you knew very, very well. You have a picture in your head, a deep memory in glowing technicolour. The beach, sunset on the river, summer days, winter storms, road junctions, how to get to places. But it’s a moment in time, a photograph. Since you recorded those memories the world has continued to turn.

The coastal plain north of Perth

The coastal plain north of Perth

That’s how it is with me and Perth. I grew up there, lived there, worked there until I finally left in 1996 and haven’t been back since 2005. Even then, it had grown, creeping up and down the coastal plain between the Darling Ranges and the Indian Ocean. So we head out of Geraldton along the coast road, into increasingly familiar territory. Down there, the red sandstone gives way to limestone covered in bright white sand. Grass trees (black boys in my day – politically correct can be so inane) share the scrub with cycads and low, gnarled banksia trees. Spring is beginning and the yellows and purples of early flowering species brighten the drab grey-green of the tough Australian bush.

The ocean is as I remember it. Reefs and low islands line the coast, providing safe nesting sites for sea birds, rich grounds for fishermen – and a deadly snare for one Dutch ship. We drop into the small fishing village of Leeman for a comfort stop. There’s a story in that name – I’ll tell it to you later. But even here, the whisper of the approaching, encroaching city is in the air. Properties for sale for half a million? Out here? In the scrub?

We have fish and chips for lunch at Jurien Bay, sharing the last chips with the seagulls. Back home in Hervey Bay the ibises are the scavengers, but here the sea gulls hang around, awaiting their chance. A pile of chips disappears under a squawking, screeching flurry of grey and white wings. But only for a few seconds. The food gone, they disperse.

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

On to Lancelin and Two Rocks. Back when I was a girl, coming out here was a bone-shuddering odyssey through farm land to a deserted beach where the spear fishing was good. Not anymore. Suburbia has created a beach head. The freeway and the railway follow close behind, providing the logistical feed from the city by the Swan.

We swear a lot at the god-awful GPS in the car which seems to think we give a rats about what servos there may be near the freeway to the extent said information covers half the screen, with no findable option to turn the feature off. Because we want ROAD DIRECTIONS we resort to an old, printed map and sign-reading to avoid the city. We only just manage to avoid having a major, in-car war but sense prevails and we make the eastern suburbs without spilling blood on the car seats.  I’m coming down with a cold. What bliss. Being ill on the road isn’t nice, and I have no wish to share my germs with my relatives, who are in complete agreement.

Sunday is with us. I try hard to stay in bed and rest but I’m not sleeping and the antihistamines are masking the worst of my symptoms so we head on out. If I infect anybody, they won’t know it was me. The city to surf ‘fun run’ is on, so we avoid the city and King’s Park. I have to wonder why they’re called fun runs. This one claimed two lives. Anyway – off to Fremantle, Perth’s port.

Fishing boats against angry lightMy dad worked there when I was young, a grimy, sleepy, industrial port with some lovely old buildings nobody noticed. Then Alan Bond won the America’s Cup and Freo became all the rage. The old buildings were cleaned up, the markets became a Mecca, boutique breweries, quaint shopping precincts in quirky lanes, all kinds of restaurants rose up to support the pre-existing fish and chip shops at the fishing boat harbour. I wonder how much the years have changed her.

I’m pleased to see that Freo is all of those things, only more so. The city is packed with people enjoying the day, despite (or maybe because of) the threatening clouds on the Western horizon. We buy coffee at the fishing boat harbour, which now boasts sit-down venues with fancy fish tanks. Back in the day, you bought your chips wrapped in paper and took them back over the walkway to the park to eat them on the grass under the pine trees. They cost a lot less then, too.

We go and visit the Maritime Museum (what a surprise) and see the mortal remains of the Batavia’s hull on display with its ballast cargo, a portico destined for the fort at Batavia.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel's hull recovered from her resting place.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel’s hull recovered from her resting place.

And here I encounter an old friend, a skeleton I first saw when I was about ten, the victim of Jeronimus Cornelisz’s thugs. I recalled that long-ago meeting when I explained why I wrote To Die a Dry Death. I also think about my recent visit to the site of the tragedy, the Abrolhos Islands just off Geraldton. This man died far from the green fields of his home land.

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

We are too late to get on board the replica of the tiny yacht Duyfken but we can at least marvel at the size of the ship which had arrived on Australia’s northern shores from Amsterdam in 1606. Wow, those guys were tough.

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

And those threatening skies? They provide me with a perfect photo opportunity.