Australia is, for the most part, crammed into the southeastern corner of the continent. It was Australia's wartime policy to defend only about a third of the nation, to the south of Brisbane and east of Melbourne. So basically, nobody cares about Perth. Which is a pity, because it's actually quite a nice place.
Perth is perhaps the most isolated city in the world. It is on the west coast of Australia, about a third of the way up. The nearest capital city is Adelaide, which is half a continent away. Not that Adelaide is somewhere you'd like to be closely associated with...
Perth is on the Swan River. This is a tract of water1 that is used for many functions, from sailing, waterskiing, rowing and fishing to swimming for those who don't mind jellyfish.
The Perth metropolitan area extends from around Rockingham in the south to probably as far north as Quinns Rock. It would take you only a couple of hours to drive from one end to the other, though why you would want to is beyond me, because neither place is particularly exciting.
As you may have picked up already, Perth is typical of the 'laid-back' Australian attitude. It is very much a carefree and relaxed city. The suburban structure means that people are not as hectic as elsewhere, as does its isolation.
People in Perth are pretty friendly. They won't say hello to you in the street, but they will give you a hand if you need it. This is one of the best things about the place, especially if you drive a dodgy car that regularly breaks down on the freeway.2
The cultural centre of Perth is Northbridge, which is right next to the Wellington St Train Station and only a two minute walk from the city centre. Here you will find:
- Perth Art Gallery;
- Alexander Library;
- Western Australian Museum;
- Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts;
- The Blue Room3; and
- a host of independent art galleries and music venues.
Perth is not a very exciting place to live - though that's precisely why a lot of people like it. But if you know where to look there is actually quite a lot to do.
Nightlife is very much restricted to the weekend, or at certain venues midweek. The most popular areas for pubs and clubs are Northbridge and Fremantle, as each has a multitude of venues available at any one time. International visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the low prices of alcohol in Perth, which naturally enhances any nocturnal activities.
Apart from the traditional drug and alcohol fuelled forms of entertainment, Perth has many beaches. There are family beaches (Hillarry's), surfing beaches (Cottesloe), dog beaches (Swanbourne) and nudist beaches (also at Swanbourne).4 The sand is white, the surf is good, and there are relatively few shark attacks.
A small island off the coast of Perth is one of the city's most popular holiday and day-trip destinations. A one-hour ferry ride will take you to a wonderful haven in which cars are banned and bikes rule the roads. This is a place where parents can abandon the kids knowing the worst that could happen is that they come off their cycles. Or crash into a tree. Or fall in the salt lakes. Or drown. OK, so maybe abandoning your kids is not such a good idea, but Rottnest is still a cool place.
One of the most popular uses of the island is Leavers' Week. When Tertiary Entrance Examinations are finished at the end of the year, thousands of newly-graduated youngsters converge on the island to drink far too much alcohol, smoke far too much pot, and sleep with far too many people. Not to mention clashing violently with police on the beach. And losing the bond on your house. Or having your tent stolen by some little snot from Christchurch Grammar...
The other major destination for school leavers is 'down south'. This generic title describes an area of land on the south west coast and only a little bit inland. It is a major tourist destination because of its varied landscapes.
There are beaches, including those around Margaret River where the surfing Masters are held now and then; forests, especially near Pemberton where the Gloucester Tree5 is growing; and wineries where, surprisingly, wine is made. Actually, WA has built itself quite a good reputation for its wine.
The antithesis of 'down south' is, amazingly, 'up north'. A vast expanse of land exists above Perth, with a whole different set of landscapes. There are more beaches, deserts, and even tropical areas for the keen tourist to visit.
While Sydney is the Olympic city and Melbourne is the Australian sporting capital, there is no shortage of physical entertainment in Perth. It is well represented in:
- Aussie Rules - West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers;
- soccer - Perth Glory;
- basketball - Perth Wildcats;
- netball - Perth Opals; and even
- lacrosse - don't ask me what the team is, though.
Make sure you don't miss Perth if you visit Australia. It may be isolated, but it's certainly worth the effort. Especially if you go Down South, Up North and to Rottnest Island!