Once known as the loneliest city on earth
The capital of Western Australia, situated in the South West corner of the state. Perth used to be known as ‘the loneliest city on earth’, and with reason. Head west, and there’s nothing but 9,000 km of Indian Ocean until you reach Cape Town. Head east, and it’s 2,700 km of desert until you reach Adelaide. Around the same time, Perth also acquired a reputation as one of the dullest cities on earth. (A visiting Aussie writer remarked: ‘On weekdays Perth strikes me as half-dead – and totally dead on Sunday.’) Nowadays, Perth, the fastest-growing city in Australia, doesn’t feel either boring or lonely.
The famed Indian Pacific train starts its trans-continental journey in Perth, ending at Adelaide.
Perth is the sunniest city in Australia, and has a pleasant Mediterranean-style climate. In winter it averages around 18°C. In summer it rises to around 29°C, usually kept from any excessive heat by the cooling sea breeze known as the Fremantle Doctor.
With now more than two million inhabitants, Perth accounts for more than three-quarters of the entire population of Western Australia (which covers a larger area than Britain and Germany together). It looks all very modern, with its gleaming concrete and glass high-rise blocks dominating the skyline above the blue waters of the Swan River. Many of these date from the boom era of the 1980s. In those days, some local entrepreneurs thought the sky was the limit. When the boom went bust, a number of these high-profile characters ended up bankrupt or behind bars. But Western Australia’s real wealth had, and still has, a very firm foundation. The state has vast mineral resources, much of them yet to be tapped. Up in the remote middle and northern parts of the state, they’re literally digging up the earth and shipping it off in hundred-thousand-ton loads to Japan and other industrial nations. If you’ve owned a Japanese car, you may not have realized that most of its metal probably came from beneath the earth in Western Australia.
Perth has a pleasant easy going feel, but don’t be deceived. Its inhabitants believe in working hard, and playing hard. And this is one of the best environments in the world to do just that. Within easy reach of Perth you’ll find great beaches (ideal for both swimming and surfing), some superb vineyards and wineries, a number of small historic towns, as well as hills and forests that are great for walking.
The city itself is situated on the Swan River, at a point where it broadens out to resemble a lake. Much of the riverside is lined with parkland, and there are lakes where you can see black swans (which have been adopted as the symbol of Western Australia). Perth’s city centre is around 20 km from where the Swan River enters the sea at Fremantle, which acts as Perth’s beach suburb.
There’s not much by way of outstanding tourist sights in Perth itself. If you have time on your hands, the best place to go is the Perth Cultural Centre on James Street (www.perthculturalcentre.com.au). This has a museum with a fine Aborigine Gallery, which will help you understand the often complex and elusive nature of Aborigine culture. It contains some fine Aborigine artefacts. The Marine Gallery includes a superb 25-m skeleton of a blue whale. In other parts of the Centre you can see interesting meteorites, and plenty of fossils.
For those rare souls who are interested in money (rather than how to spend it) there’s always the Perth Mint (www.perthmint.com.au). Here they tell you everything about money except how to spend it. You can even watch the gold being poured, and see replica nuggets such as they found in the gold rush.
If you want to do some shopping, head for the mall complex in the city centre just south of the Railway Station. Running off Hay Street Mall is London Court, a lane of mock-Tudor boutiques.
If you feel the need for open space, try Kings Park, which runs along the shore of the Swan River and is renowned for its flowers in the spring.
If you’ve got a car, you could drive 5 km west of the city centre to the suburb of Dalkeith. This has the local millionaires’ row, complete with glitzy mansions looking out over the Swan River and legal officials trying to deliver court orders.
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