Western 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.
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 monoliths 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.The 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.
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.