Rottnest – Perth’s holiday isle

Perth city from Rottnest

You can see Rottnest Island from Fremantle – in fact, from most of the beaches from Freo to Hillarys. It’s a low ridge just on the horizon. The photo above shows the view looking the other way. When I was a kid those towers in the CBD weren’t quite so prominent, but I expect you could have seen them if you looked.

Just one of the beautiful beaches

Here’s another one, just around from the main pier where the ferries berth

Rottnest is Perth’s holiday island, popular for families, weekends, ‘schoolies’ celebrations and no excuse, really. Private boats stream over there on a fine weekend to enjoy the delights of the local pub (the Quokka Arms), maybe pitch a tent in the camping grounds, or hire one of the cottages dotted around a few of the bays. Or hundreds come for a day trip, zipping over on a twenty-five-minute ride on one of the several ferries.

Bathurst lighthouse. The island has two.

Going down from the lighthouse

The Lodge. We stayed in the apartment closest to the left

Beth and I headed over there for a couple of nights to savour the calm. We stayed in what had been (I’d guess) an officer’s apartment– kitchen, lounge, two bedrooms and a bathroom – at the Lodge holiday resort. It’s heritage accommodation, so a long way from 5-star, but it was more than adequate for our needs. The imperfections (like creaking floorboards) added to the charm.

The only cars on the island are maintenance vehicles, so everybody else uses shank’s pony, or they hire a bike. It’s actually quite amusing watching the pudgy middle-aged folks throwing a leg over a bike for the first time in twenty years and more. It’s not a very big island, a chunk of limestone jutting out of a reef that follows the WA coastline, so it’s not what you’d call mountainous. But the wind can blow hard, and riding up those ancient dunes isn’t as easy as it looks. Believe me, I know (past experience). Walkers have to be careful, too. It’s wise to step off the road when confronted by a gaggle of inexperienced cyclists hurtling down a slope toward you. The island is only 11km long, so it’s not a huge walk/bike ride for the fit folks. But there are hop on/hop off buses for the rest of us, and the ferry companies offer a few boat cruises for snorkeling and wildlife viewing.

A quokka

Rottnest is known for its crystal-clear water, great snorkelling, laid-back lifestyle and quokkas. Quokkas are what gave the island its name. In 1696 William Vlamingh, during his search for the missing VOC vessel, Ridderschap van Holland, landed here and came across these cute little critters. To his eyes they looked more like large rats than anything else, so he named the island Rott Nest. Rat’s nest. In fact, quokkas are little marsupials, so not at all related to rodents. I was interested to discover, on a visit to the island’s museum, that when Vlamingh visited there would have been far fewer quokkas than there are now. The island was uninhabited – the aboriginal people haven’t lived there for thousands of years – and the vegetation consisted of thick-trunked low scrub with a heavy canopy. This provided good cover, but because of the heavy shade, the amount of plants the animals grazed on was limited. When Europeans arrived that all changed. The trees were cut down for fuel and to clear land for agriculture, and the quokka population thrived. Although conservation bodies list the species as ‘vulnerable’ that’s because there are only two populations – one in the southwest of WA, and the other here on Rottnest. They’re doing just fine here, thank you very much. But if something like the terrible disease that decimated Tasmanian Devil populations in Tasmania happened here on Rottnest, it could have a devastating effect. Needless to say, Quokkas are protected by law. However, they’re not welcome everywhere. They are nocturnal, and there are lots around the tiny township in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon, but measures have been taken to stop them entering the shops. Quokkas don’t read very well, but the signs are clear enough. It seems to work.

Taken on our sunset walk

The full moon rises in the East as the sun sets in the West (that’s afterglow on the high clouds)

Rottnest is a beautiful place. I stayed there several times in my youth and it was fun to observe the changes that have been made since my last visit. The dreadful old bungalows with their tatty, pest-ridden thatched roofs have all been consigned to history’s scrap pile. Small, discrete settlements have appeared in a few other places around the coast to accommodate the increased tourist numbers.

The governor’s residence

The summer house (now the pub)

The parade ground at Kingstown Barracks. These days Kingstown Barracks is hostel style accommodation – although its seems the Governor’s Circle area (presumably for the base big wigs) is to be done up for the more well-heeled tourist.

The island also has a history. Its governor had a residence built near one of the salt lakes in the interior. It’s easy to pick – just look for the highly inappropriate palm trees. What is it with Europeans and palm trees? The governor also built a summer holiday house near the beach. These days, we call that the pub. The military built a base here in the thirties to man a number of artillery pieces set on Oliver Hill, one of the island’s high points. They were installed to protect the port of Fremantle from approaching enemy ships. Tourists can visit the artillery installation via Rottnest’s only train (or you can ride your bike – it’s steep). It’s well worth a visit, although for me that’s a memory from the past. You can see pictures of Oliver Hill here.

The settlement

The central point for Rottnest tourists is the Settlement – the distinctive ochre-painted buildings which comprise the shopping centre, with the Lodge a short dawdle away. Over the years the Settlement has expanded, but the essence is unchanged. Large trees overhang a mall area where bikes should not be ridden. The bakery was always famous, and the first port of call on a day trip. It’s larger now, with more offerings, and probably a different baker. The same for the general store, which used to stock bare essentials. Everything costs that little bit more because it has to be imported from Fremantle, but the range rivals anything you’ll see in a mainland supermarket, and they sell liquor. As it happens, we’d brought our own wine, but we stocked up on nibbles.

Quokkas aren’t the only animals on Rottnest. It used to be part of the mainland and a few species have survived in this harsh, dry climate. I noticed a number of pink and grey galahs, but no other parrots, and several small bird species. There is one snake, the dugite, which is right up there with the poison. But like most snakes, make some noise and they’ll run and hide.

Dugite – taken with a telephoto

Rottnest has 2 peacocks. No ladies. Here’s the story.

He showed off just for me.

Beth and I walked many kilometres, avoided quite a few bikes, met a few quokkas, drank some excellent wine and ate some good food. We also learned about Rottnest’s darker side. We visited the small (white) cemetery on Rottnest, with its markers, some still legible, others eroded by time and weather.  Many were children. Life was harsh in those days.

The (white) cemetery

One of the headstones at sundown

But while life was harsh for the Europeans, it was much harder for the aboriginal prisoners brought here in the late nineteenth century. The Lodge where we stayed was built as a prison. In the museum we watched part of a documentary about Rottnest as a prison, and recalling what was said, the prisoners were not necessarily native to the Perth area (the Noongar). Some were brought from the deserts in the North, sentenced in some cases for the crime of killing a sheep. These people didn’t understand white man’s law, and some had very likely never seen the sea. They were brought to Rottnest in neck chains. This site tells the story.

I don’t want to go into details, that’s not what this blog is about. Suffice to say hundreds of aboriginal men died on Rottnest. In time the prison was closed, the cells and warder accommodation were turned into holiday rentals, and the island became a holiday playground. When I was young we knew aboriginal people had been brought here, that it had been a boys’ reformatory, and an internment camp for Italians in WW2, but it wasn’t important, not something you thought about.

Not long before I left Perth in 1996 I remember talk of human bones being found on Rottnest. Naturally, that caused a stir, and people went looking for more. And found them. The  remains of hundreds of aboriginal men were buried in an area being used as a camping ground for holiday makers. Today, the aboriginal burial ground is at least  marked, although the individual graves are not, and people are asked to respect the area (which is no longer a camping ground). Moves are underway to develop the site into a historical feature which people can visit.

Acknowledgement of the 370+ aboriginal men buried in unmarked graves

The burial ground, not far from where the men were imprisoned in the Lodge

There was a stunning piece of artwork in the museum – I regret not taking a picture, but I guess that’s a copyright issue, anyway. It showed a curved surface. Across the top of the curve were a bunch of smiling white people – men, women, and children – waving, looking happy, against a blue sky. Under the curve against a black background was a thick scattering of simple images of people curled in a foetal position.

One last observation. Aboriginal people lived on Rottnest thousands of years ago, before the sea levels rose and cut it off from the mainland. I didn’t know that. This rather good article tells you a little more about the aboriginal connection with Rottnest and its Noongar name, Wadjemup. I found a number of different meanings for the aboriginal word, some claiming it has something to do with the buried people – but that happened comparatively recently, and I think ‘place across the water’ is more plausible. As I said in the beginning of this post, Rottnest is visible from the mainland, a ‘place across the water’.

A couple of ducks enjoying the beach

Australian Pacific black ducks splashing in the shallows

I loved the couple of days we spent on the island. It’s sad that it has become an expensive place to stay, out of the reach of ordinary folk. It wasn’t like that when I was young. If you go, make sure you visit the museum, a little white building near the Settlement. It will tell you a few things you didn’t know about the island’s flora and fauna – and its human inhabitants.

 

Perth – funky bars and street art

Every nineteenth (or earlier) century city has lanes. There had to be room for the night carts, delivery vehicles and so forth. They were often dirty, dingy, places where homeless people dossed down for the night, served as outdoor toilets and were generally unsavoury places to be – especially when night fell.

Melbourne was, I think, the first Australian city to turn its laneways into a cultural experience. Other cities followed suit, and so has Perth. People are living in the city now, so there’s a vibrancy in town which wasn’t around when I lived there. Funky little bars have sprung up in unused spaces (not just lanes). The Aviary is one such, very noisy and filled with youngish people, even at 4pm on a Thursday.

A lot of these places have polished concrete floors and use whatever’s around for seating – metal stools, benches, packing crates – all of which do nothing for this old lady’s back, or for her throat as she shouts to make herself heard over the music and the din of conversation. They offer nibbles-type food – a charcuterie plate, or tapas to eat with your drink before you go out for dinner, or a movie.

But some of the bars are quirky and interesting. One such is Wolf Lane. I’ll let the website do the talking. It’s a fun venue.

Wolf Lane bar interior

The other aspect of the lanes thing is street art. It’s everywhere, livening up blank walls and even imparting a bit of history, illustrating what that area used to be about.

This particular lane is behind a block of apartments that used to be a bank where I worked. It didn’t look like this then.

You don’t need to be the sharpest scissors in the drawer to work out what they used to make in Prince Lane. I reckon I made a few dresses using that pattern myself, in the late ’60’s.

They’re not all bars. This place is the Secret Garden Cafe in the heart of Wolf Lane.

The differences in street art design is striking – anything from a kid directing robots to native animals to Mary Poppins to funky weird stuff. And all these were in quite a small geographic area.

The area is still functional – but at least the bins have a pretty setting

It IS Wolf Lane, after all.

This piece of art was over in Northbridge, livening up an otherwise ugly, utilitarian concrete block

This one was in the inner city, using a drab brick wall as a canvas

I loved it all. It’s vibrant, welcoming and generally fun. And this is just in the Perth CBD. That’s just scratching the surface. There’s Subiaco, South Perth, Fremantle, Northbridge, Leederville and a heap of other suburban restaurant-bar hubs. Here’s a list to try.

Perth’s a great place to visit. Put it on your bucket list. If you need ideas of what to visit, just let me know.

Perth – a mix of the old and the new

It’s fascinating wandering around a city you knew very well twenty years ago. Life goes on and that snapshot in your head is a time capsule. Parts are still accurate, other aspects have changed. Beth and I strolled around the CBD in Perth, sometimes deliberately looking for items I remembered (eg the shish kebab – explained further down), sometimes it was a chance encounter.

The best way to cover some of the visit is to annotate photographs. Please join me as I revisit the past. But before I do, let me show you what the City of Perth has provided to keep women safer – a special parking area, near the lifts and the lights. I think it’s wonderful.

We’ll start off with the convict-built old town hall, set off against one of the towers. They’re starting to put up the Christmas decorations. It has been cleaned and repaired.

Likewise the old Treasury building which is now an hotel

London Court is still there, nestled between two office blocks

This is what it looks like inside – unchanged

A church in the heart of the CBD (there’s another one, too) on St George’s Tce

The Weld Club is a couple of streets closer to the river, in a leafier part of town

I wondered if Paul Ritter’s monument to the mining industry (affectionately known as the shish kebab) was still there. Yes, it is.

This sculpture of kangaroos livens up what used to be (still is) a line of bus stops on St G’s T near the corner of Barrack St and adjacent to Supreme Court Gardens. They still use the old court for criminal trials, although there’s a new building over the road in the Terrace. And the gardens are lovely, leading down to the river precincts.

Speaking of the river preceinct, the river has been made more accessible to the city with the new Elizabeth Quay development. I think it’s wonderful.

This is the old Post Office, near the railway station. I used to work there, but the building has been sold off (as have all the others in the capital cities) and is now retail space. But it has been preserved.

This is a view of the PO’s central sky light

And this is the walkway along the front of the building

The railway line used to divide Northbridge from the CBD, but now the railway has been put underground Northbridge with its museums and nightlife is much more accessible. This is the Brass Monkey pub which has been there for years. It seems the old museum is getting a serious facelift,too, but the architects have been careful to incorporate the old facades in the development.

Beth and I walked back across the land where the railway used to be. Gardens and devlopments are happening, and once again, the old buildings are being included. This used to be a grubby, rather industrial part of Wellington St that flanked the railway.

That’s just a snapshot of Perth. I loved it, loved that they haven’t destroyed the city’s laid-back character, and in fact made it more accessible to people. One bank where I used to work is now a block of apartments, and people are living in town. When I was a kid the last person out of the CBD at quarter past five turned off the lights until the next morning. That’s all changed.

I’ll go into that a bit more in my next post.

Australia from 35,000ft

The first pattern to catch my eye. So like and aboriginal painting

Yes, I know I’m not finished with Europe yet. I’ll get back to it soon. But I’m just back from a week in Perth, catching up with old, old friends and a brief visit with relos, and I want to share a few posts about that, first. For a start it was much better fun, and the weather was great.

Perth really is my “home town”. I wasn’t born there but I spent much of my life there – all my education, all my formative years. I was supposed to go back for a fiftieth high school reunion three weeks ago, but I was ill, so I couldn’t make the trip. But a few weeks to recuperate from my European sore throat and sniffle saw me back to my sparkling best. Although I missed the reunion, I got to catch up with the most important people who would have been there – friends from my primary school days – one I hadn’t seen for close on fifty years, and her sister, who was my best friend at primary school. I stayed with my BFF and her family and we went off to places I’d remembered to see the changes in the twenty years since I moved Over East. I’ll talk about that in later posts.

For now I want to share the marvellous photos I took of outback Australia as the plane flew from Perth to Brisbane. They’re not bad, but they ought to be much better. Sometimes we older ladies can be a bit… um… stupid. I was playing Solitaire on my tablet, trying very hard to avoid striking up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Yeah, I know. But I’m an introvert and chatting with strangers doesn’t come easily. This woman and her husband were not, I guessed, frequent air travellers. She’d brought up the flight info screen that show you where you are, air speed, height, outside temperature etc, and she spent a lot of time reading these details out to her husband who (of course) had a similar screen.

“Ooooh look, Darl. We’re nearly at Kalgoorlie.”

“That must be South Australia now. About a third of the way.”

“Gosh, minus fifty outside.”

You get the idea. Anyway, I glanced out the window and saw a nice pattern outside, so I activated the tablet’s camera, pressed the device up to the window and took a photo. I did that several times, often requiring a fair bit of contortion in the seat so as not to lean on the woman beside me. Bear in mind that I had my camera bag, containing my Canon 70D with 18-200mm zoom lens, set up to take photos in raw format, on the floor at my feet. It remained there for the entire flight.

You may kick me now.

So… here are the photos. I suppose they’re not too bad.

That’s space at the top, and the edge of Australia where the cliffs of the bight give way to the beach

Sand ridges

Don’t know the name of the river

The Flinders Ranges

More Flinders Ranges

Just taken off over Moreton Bay Brisbane, heading North

Over Brisbane and a canal suburb

Nearly home. Inskip Point and the edge of Fraser Island.

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 2

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 3

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 4. And there’s a road

This is just like a painting

More Flinders Ranges

That might actually be water in the salt lake

Just like the Mandelbrot set

A river, and even some human straight lines

 

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?

Cheers.

A glorious winter morning at the beach