Still Life in Perth. Part 2.

Fremantle, WA. 28th October 2015.

After all this exciting cultural input I was ready for a break. My room at David’s house had been booked by someone else for four nights so I took the opportunity to visit Fremantle, Freo to its friends, the port city for Perth and the region. Founded at the same time as Perth, Freo was essential to the survival of the early settlers. Because of dangerous access, ships’ captains didn’t like coming there but at the end of the 19th C a new harbour was built and Freo boomed. It’s still a very busy port and the city has a reputation for a more Bohemian approach to life. I found a room via air BnB once more, with a French and German couple who are in Australia studying and working. I happened to be there during the annual Fremantle Festival so hoped to enjoy some of the special events I’d seen advertised in the festival magazine.

After work table tennis in the town hall square. These guys took it seriously too.

After work table tennis in the town hall square. These guys took it seriously too.

The town has a certain buzz to it and is clearly the home of people with an artistic temperament. The square outside the town hall contained table tennis tables, a temporary outdoor bar and a boat. While I was sitting around killing time I saw the table tennis tables get plenty of use. Bats and balls were provided and the players included office workers unwinding after their day’s incarceration. The boat seemed to be a stage for musicians to use. There are two indoor markets. One was a purpose built centre from the 1890s, which has a great mixture of food stalls and what I like to think of ‘this and that’ stalls. Ornaments, trinkets, craft and so on. The second is in one of the former storage sheds on the quayside and has similar products for sale but, in my opinion, not of the same quality.

Purpose built market hall from about 1890.

Purpose built market hall from about 1890.

I went to a couple of comedy events. One was in a pub and enabled people to try their hand at stand-up. Three members of the audience were given bats and if all three were raised before the end of the five minutes then the performer got gonged off. Some of them deserved it but others were very good. I was joined at my table by a very nice and sparky couple called Jason and Kylie. No, not the famous ones of course, but friendly and chatty people just the same. Once Kylie had discovered how I’d reached Australia she declared I was the ‘coolest guy she knew’. Who am I to disagree? She also told me that Freo has a policy of welcoming and looking after homeless people, which accounts for the surprisingly large number of people I saw pushing trolleys loaded with possessions around the streets. As a native of the city she was very proud of this attitude and I think I would be too. They are both very well travelled, fitting it in around their four kids.

Typical Freo building.

Typical Freo building.

The next night I went to a more formal comedy show, held in the town hall. It was hosted by a very sharp, gay comedian called Rhys Nicholas, who was straight out of the Graham Norton mould and was very sharp funny. It was another very good show with about ten acts all told.
The third show I went to was called Diva, a one woman play about an opera singer who had lost her voice, her man and her cat, the later by suffocation when she accidentally sat on it. Billed as a black comedy, it had its funny moments but was mostly very sad and moving. A fine performance from the writer/actor.

Fremantle Roundhouse

Fremantle Roundhouse

Freo has plenty of history to see. Near the waterfront is the Roundhouse, Western Australia’s first permanent building and used as a prison. The town also houses what was WA’s main prison, Fremantle Gaol. This was worth a tour around and the knowledgeable guide, who had a nice line in low key understatement and bad jokes, told us plenty of dark tales from its past. The place is huge and was built by convict labour in the 1850s. Up until 1850 WA was a non-convict state but the need for labour to build infrastructure changed that situation.It must be very galling for them to have to build their own prison cell. It was extended several times to reflect the state’s growing population.

Main prison building, outside.

Main prison building, outside.

And inside.

And inside.

It was WA’s main prison until 1991 and included a gallows. Condemned men only spent two hours in the cell next to the gallows. They were taken there from the normal cell, given breakfast, a mug of brandy and a priest, then blindfolded and marched to the hanging room. As soon as the rope was round their neck the lever to open the trapdoor was pulled. Deadly work done very quickly. A very depressing place. The hangman came from Melbourne to ensure he couldn’t be recognised by any of the victims’ friends or relatives.

The convict system was harsh in that people were transported from Britain for sometimes relatively trivial offences.  However most of them were for quite serious ones. It was used as an alternative to hanging, although it’s worth bearing in mind that hanging applied to many offences. Sentences were usually for seven or fourteen years but convicts rarely served the full period provided they behaved well. After a period ranging from one to five years they were given a ticket of leave,  then a conditional pardon and finally a certificate of freedom. At that point they could, in theory, return to Britain but very few did, primarily because they couldn’t afford it. So they slowly integrated into the community, worked on cattle stations, joined the mining booms or whatever took their fancy. By the time WA decided to take convicts the system was in decline and there were enough ordinary settlers in most parts of Australia for them not to be needed.

The final drop. Not at all pleasant.

The final drop. Not at all pleasant.

 

Back out in the sunshine I continued the theme of unfortunate events with a visit to the Wreck Museum. WA’s coastline is very treacherous, with small coral islands and submerged reefs. They claimed at least five ships belonging to the Dutch East India company, as well as many others over the years. One gallery was dedicated to the Batavia, the most famous of these wrecks. Behind the story of treacherous seas and jagged reefs lies a tale of mutiny, murder and survival the like of which has probably never happened before or since. I won’t go into details but I read an excellent book called Batavia, by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Peter Fitzsimmons, that made fascinating reading. The story is well worth checking out.

Part of the Batavia's stern, recovered from the sea bed.

Part of the Batavia’s stern, recovered from the sea bed.

I also enjoyed a visit to the Maritime Museum, which details the growth of Freo as a port and a fishing industry centre. Outside the main building an Oberon Class submarine can be found. HMAS Ovens can be toured around but I didn’t take it because my shoulder would have been at risk from all the scrambling about inside.

HMAS Oven.

HMAS Oven.

The port was the arrival point for thousands of immigrants, from all over Europe. There are boards outside showing the names, dates and ships of all those who came through the port. This included children from orphanages in the UK who were sent on the long sea voyage and given to adoptive families once they arrived. Their fortunes were very mixed. Some did very well, others were mistreated. But there was no going back if they didn’t like it. To me this kind of treatment has a Dickensian ring to it and shows the authoritarian attitude prevalent in the 1950s towards people who had fallen on hard times.

A statue dedicated to the orphan immigrants.

A statue dedicated to the orphan immigrants.

A few quotes from new arrivals.

A few quotes from new arrivals.

Many immigrants felt cheated by the honeyed publicity that had tempted them there, finding life a real struggle. Others did well and thrived.But Australia also had its share of dodgy dealings. In the 1930s it introduced a White Australia policy and this was used to deny immigrants from Sicily, Malta and other places the fishing licences they needed and were entitled to. So they banded together to form cooperatives and thrived despite the racist treatment. Freo is still a busy fishing port but its main business is centred around freight, with over sixty five million tonnes passing through during 2014, mostly in containers. The old storage sheds have been put to a variety of new uses, such as the aforementioned market.

There are a number of these panels with the names of all those who came to WA via Fremantle and the ships that brought them.

There are a number of these panels with the names of all those who came to WA via Fremantle and the ships that brought them.

Saturday marked the end of the festival week and was celebrated with a parade through the town. Various groups of people took part, from organisations as diverse as a circus school, the WA police pipe band and a very large group of people protesting at the proposed construction of a freight bypass route which would destroy, they say, huge areas important to wildlife. Personally I enjoyed the various dance troupes who were invariably colourful and energetic. One very nice touch by the organisers was to provide plenty of coloured chalk along the parade route and to encourage people to draw pictures, slogans, poems or whatever on the road surface. There were plenty of kids and adults expressing them selves ahead of the parade coming through. The whole event was great fun.

Preparing the ground. Express yourself.

Preparing the ground. Express yourself.

WA Police Pipe Band

WA Police Pipe Band

Doing the Bosanova.

Doing the Bosanova.

Noisy protest.

Noisy protest.

All of this fits in with the attitude the town clearly adopts. Bohemian in many ways, and the town centre mostly contains turn of the century buildings with a particularly Aussie colonial flavour. Easily recognisable by their verandahs, supported by intricate cast iron pillars, most of these well preserved buildings were pubs, hotels, cafés and eateries of various kinds. One section of road is referred to as Cappuccino Strip on account of the large number of coffee outlets along it. It always seemed to be busy. One of my favourite places was Cicerellos Fish and Chips Emporium. With the exception of a few pizzas, everything they sell is from the sea and comes with chips, or salad for the faint hearted. Portions are large, the restaurant is huge and is handily located on the waterfront. Dotted among the tables are large tropical fish tanks, just to create the seafood atmosphere. There’s even one in the gents toilet. A fantastic place.

Deep inside Cicerellos. About as strange as it gets.

Deep inside Cicerellos. About as strange as it gets.

Leaving the best until last, perhaps the most wonderful sights I saw while I was in Freo were when I took a whale watching trip. The humpback whale travels from its feeding ground in the Antarctic waters, where it lives off krill, all the way up the western coast to the warm winter waters off the Kimberly region to breed. Once the calves have been born they head back down again, to coincide their arrival with the southern summer. They spend three months feeding and then do it all over again. Amazingly they only feed while in the polar waters, living off their reserves of fat the rest of the time. As they head south the calves feed off their mother’s milk and grow from five metres at birth, up to ten metres by the time they reach the feeding grounds. Meanwhile their mothers teach them survival skills as they travel. We were lucky enough to come across a mother and calf who were accompanied by a ‘minder’, often present to ward off predatory sharks. All three were ‘breaching’, leaping backwards out of the water and splashing back in again. It isn’t really known why they do this. Possibly to remove parasites, possibly just for fun. Our guide told us we were lucky to see this degree of activity as it’s unusual. Lucky? I felt privileged. We were able to watch all this for about an hour before we had to head back. It was a fabulous trip.

Breaching Whale.

Breaching Humpback  Whale.

Freo is easy to get to from Perth by train and is a very welcoming place for visitors. The hot summer afternoons are cooled down by the Fremantle Docter, a cooling south-westerly breeze that picks up later in the day and must provide a pleasant change from the hot city on summer days. It was a great place to visit.

Street art, down by the swimming beach.

Street art, down by the swimming beach.

Perth once more
After my short sojourn in Freo I headed back to Lathlain and took up residence once more with David. On a couple of occasions I helped him with some repairs to his collection of bikes. We fitted some new indicators to his Yamaha SR400; a new speedo to the same bike, when I took the opportunity to teach him to solder; and we worked on a Kawasaki 250cc GPz he’d bought which had been laid up for some time. With a new battery and fresh petrol in the tank, it ran quite well. He sold it at a profit a couple of weeks later. One evening we went to look at a Suzuki DR650 he’d seen on Craig’s List. It was a bit tatty but had been owned from new by the seller and was at a decent price. He bought it and now wants to get it ready for some long distance rides. I think I may have had some influence there!

One of the Dutch treasure ships.

One of the Dutch treasure ships.

AGWA. Art Gallery of Western Australia. Unsurprisingly this can be found in Cultural Square and I enjoyed a couple of fascinating visits there. A new exhibition had just opened, Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices. Lots of information about the Portuguese and Dutch spice trading activities in the East Indies. Some lovely maps and artefacts, along with paintings of ships etc. The gallery had developed an App to help provide more information about some of the exhibits. So I got all modern and downloaded it. I was able to scan a symbol next to the exhibition and then enjoy the extra information. The other galleries had some excellent paintings and sculpture although some of the modern art left me a bit cold. I very much enjoyed a sound and vision display, centred on four musical performances by immigrants who demonstrated some very special musical styles, as found in their homeland. The best one was the Mongolian who played their two stringed cello-style instrument while demonstrating Mongolian throat singing. Very haunting and very different.

Mongolian throat singing. Here's a link, if you want to watch and listen http://tinyurl.com/jfbx8j3

Mongolian throat singing. Here’s a link, if you want to watch and listen http://tinyurl.com/jfbx8j3

Travelling man from over 100 years ago.

Travelling man from over 100 years ago.

Lifelike sculpture from the modern art gallery

Lifelike sculpture from the modern art gallery

Cultural Square also houses the Museum of WA, which had several exhibitions. Some of them related to flora and fauna from the region, some about the earth and evolution, two more were about the settlement of the area and the effects on the indigenous population. During the Heritage Weekend I’d been to a talk given by a local family of Aboriginal heritage, which also included a short walking tour showing some areas of the CBD that had been special to them, so this exhibition fed in to that. The daughter of this family had a history degree and she told me that the treatment meted out to indigenous populations met two of the four categories that constituted slavery.

Australia's less attractive story.

Australia’s less attractive story.

Looks kind, acts evil.

Looks kind, acts evil.

All of the exhibitions were excellent and one of the galleries is housed in Hackett Hall, the former public library. The hall itself was as interesting as the immigrant stories it portrayed.

Hackett Hall, a very nice interior.

Hackett Hall, a very nice interior.

T Rex.

T Rex.

It would be true to say that I spent some of my time in Perth just loafing around – let’s call it recovering from my injuries – so I was pleased to take a trip out to Caversham Wildlife Park for a change of pace. The excellent transport system got me there easily and there was a courtesy bus waiting at the entrance to take me to the visitor centre. It’s a fascinating place and although it was a hot day, I was happy to stroll around looking at the various animals. I’d seen some of them before but many I hadn’t. All of the Aussie mammals were there, along with many of the reptiles and, my personal favourite, most of the larger birds.

Cassowary.

Cassowary.

 

Black Swan, as seen on Perth's coat of arms.

Black Swan, as seen on Perth’s coat of arms.

One of these was a Cassowary. A very strange bird, not unlike an Emu but with a large lump on the top of its head. They only live in the far north of Queensland and I was disappointed in not seeing one when I was up there. Having watched so many birds in Australia I’ve decided they’re my favourite animal. There were some interactive events: up close and personal with a wombat; feeding kangaroos; watching sheep shearing. The last is worth seeing and is almost a work of art. A shearer will get $2.80 per sheep, which doesn’t sound much until you learn that he’ll shear up to two hundred in a ten hour day. The same guy showed us how to crack a stockman’s whip and explained how it works. Something to do with the tip of the whip breaking the sound barrier as it’s flicked backwards, which produces the crack noise. He emphasised that the whip never touches any animal, it’s the noise that makes them giddy-up.

Shearing.

Shearing.

Feeding

Feeding

Sleeping.

Sleeping.

Loafing.

Loafing.

Preening.

Preening.

Chorus line.

Chorus line.

David has two other rooms that he rents out. One was occupied by a Czech couple, Jan and Dona. They had signed up for a four week English course. They both spoke it very well anyway but wanted to improve. An Austrian couple arrived at one point, Uwe and his fiancé Tatiana. Uwe had contracted Dengue fever in Hawaii and was ill in bed. Tatiana wanted to look around Perth, so we went into the city together a couple of times. The first time we joined one of the Orientation Tours, run by the visitor centre. It went to several places I’d already seen but some I had not. Tatiana, with her wedding day in mind, went off looking for shoes. That evening Tatiana cooked all of us a meal to celebrate her 30th Birthday. Uwe was still out of it, although he showed his face briefly.

Uwe and Tatiana.

Uwe and Tatiana.

Jan and Dona.

Jan and Dona.

On the second occasion we followed the art heritage trail, looking at all the street art. There’s a surprising amount of it, all around the CBD and Northbridge. It’s a very funky mixture of wall paintings and some great sculptures.

Great sculpture.

Great sculpture.

Funky wall art.

Funky wall art.

Birds of w a feather.

Birds of w a feather.

I did manage to get some socialising done. I met Gilda on three occasions, the first for a nice lunch at one of the many cafés in Albany Highway. The second was on 11th November, when we drove around to various leisure areas, close to the rivers or the sea. Perth has plenty of nice places for residents to spend time at and relax. We managed to be at on of them at 11am so were able to sit and reflect while looking out across the river towards the city. It was sobering to think of all those young men who sailed from Fremantle to Gallipoli from the city. Soon after that we went to Freo, where Gilda treated me to lunch in a fish pub. Speciality of the house – sea food platter, and very nice it was too. We’d noticed an old fella sitting in the corner with his son or grandson, and Gilda caught his eye. We went over to chat to him. He was a WW2 veteran and had been to the service in Kings Park. The medals he was wearing belonged to his uncle, who had died at Mons during WW1. It took the family a long time to locate his grave but when they did they went to visit it and were the first family members to have done so. A touching story for Remembrance day.

Gilda and Harry.

Gilda and Harry.

One sunny morning found me heading out to Mandurah to meet Andy and Jane, friends from England. They were visiting Jane’s daughter and son-in-law so it was too good an opportunity to miss for seeing friends and for catching up on news from home. Lizzie and Anthony have been here about two years. Anthony was a policeman in Kent and London and it turns out he was first on the scene at the Lee Rigby incident. Australian police carry guns and we had an interesting discussion about whether UK police should be armed too. He says that because of tight gun control in Aus the police almost never use theirs and he feels the same would apply in Britain. He used to be against the idea but experience here has changed his mind. Food for thought. The only problem is that once that route has been gone down, there’s no going back.

Escaping from the London winter. Jane and Andy.

Escaping from the London winter. Jane and Andy.

Andy, Jane and I had a very nice day out. We visited the war memorial, which we all liked. It’s only ten years old and is very tasteful. A recent addition saw a new installation which honours the recipients of seven Victoria Crosses, earned at the Battle of Lone Pine Hill, Gallipoli. Seven trees have been planted, each with a plaque in front of it with the recipient’s name. Very nicely done. After a nice lunch we went back to Anthony ad Lizzie’s for tea, cake, chatting and playing with little Jacob. He was delighted when I gave him my used train ticket, but then he’s only two years old. Mandurah is a very nice place, centred on a new marina and harbourside shopping area, an ideal place to have caught up with some good friends.

Mandurah war memorial.

Mandurah war memorial.

Local bird life.

Local bird life.

VC Tree.

VC Tree.

Another trip out of town saw me visit the Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Run by volunteers, there are two big warehouse type buildings stuffed with planes, aero engines, helicopters, control tower desks and assorted paraphernalia. In the first building I saw a Flying Flea, mini helicopters, a WW2 Catalina Flying Boat and several displays concerning the early days of aviation in Australia. The development of passenger and cargo aircraft helped open the country up by reducing journey times and making remote areas more accessible. Essential support for settler families became easier, the Flying Doctor service being only one such example. Small planes became an important part of cattle and sheep station life, even being used for mustering.

WW2 Catalina Flying Boat.

WW2 Catalina Flying Boat.

Wright R3350 engine, all 3,000HP of it. Used tp power the Boeing B29 Super Fortress.

Wright R3350 engine, all 3,000HP of it. Used tp power the Boeing B29 Super Fortress.

The second building was dedicated to WW2 aircraft and equipment. A Tiger Moth, a Spitfire and several interesting examples of the kind of equipment that was parachuted down to resistance fighters. But the biggest and best exhibit was a Lancaster Bomber. Close up, these things are huge! The display and information regarding this plane was excellent, including a thirty minute video filmed in the cockpit during the flight of one of the only two Lancasters still flying. What a great place the museum is, staffed by volunteers who do all the work of restoration too.

 

WW2 Lancaster bomber.

WW2 Lancaster bomber.

Rear gunner. Possibly the most vulnerable place to be on the whole plane.

Rear gunner. Possibly the most vulnerable place to be on the whole plane.

Finally, after six weeks of trying to keep busy, the day arrived I had been waiting for. Friday 13th is supposed to be a date to avoid but I welcomed it with open arms. At least, I hoped I’d be able to open my arms after six weeks in a sling. My hospital appointment was at 10am, I was there in plenty of time and keen to hear the news. Last time I went I was told off for using my arm instead of keeping it in the sling. Since then I’d tried to be really good and use it as little as possible. Well, it worked! The doctor looked at the x-ray, declared himself satisfied and told me to bugger off and never darken his doors again. Or, to put it another way, he discharged me. But he gave me strict instructions not to lift any heavy weights for another six weeks or so, ‘and that includes’ he said, ‘picking your bike up out of the dirt!’ OK Doc, point taken, no off road riding for a while. I was delighted and I got on with organising a flight back to Karijini NP.

Two of David's friends, Amy and Anton.

Two of David’s friends, Amy and Anton.

A bit more socialising to be done before I left. I met up with Pawel, a Polish guy I’d shared a room wth in Astana. He’d been stuck in Bali, held up by the fall out from a volcanic eruption. But he’d met a nice German girl there, Denise, and we had a good evening out together. They’re heading for Melbourne so we’ll meet there too, with any luck.

I also went with David to visit Anton, one of his friends, for dinner. He was a trainee ship’s engineer but jumped ship in Melbourne many years ago because of the harsh treatment. He went to work in the mines and eventually took citizenship. A typical Aussie immigrant story. He’s also a very good cook.

Perth has lots of nice buildings like this art deco former cinema. I love 'em!

Perth has lots of nice buildings like this Art Deco former cinema. I love ’em!

On the day before I left Perth I met Gilda once more and we had a day in the city while her car was in for its service. We walked around some shops, had a nice Dim Sung lunch and went to the modern art gallery – and mostly wished we hadn’t. Then we went to her brother’s house, where she was staying, and I met him and his family. Lyndon, Jude and their kids, Jae and Ellen, are lovely people and over dinner they told me of plenty of places to visit in WA. A great day with Gilda again and I hope to see her before Christmas.

Perth celebrates my departure by turning on its Christmas lights.

Perth celebrates my departure by turning on its Christmas lights.

Forty five days in Perth. Unbelievable how slowly time can go when you want to be somewhere else but also how quickly it passes if you’re busy and occupied. I managed to be both at various times but I think I’d made the best of an enforced rest. I’d met several of David’s friends, spent some quality time with Gilda, with whom I get on very well, and dug deep into what both Perth and Freo had to offer. Perth is a great city, in my opinion. People have said to me it was just a country town, twenty years ago. Now it’s a modern city but with plenty of history to enjoy. Kings Park must be one of the best examples of inner city parks anywhere, there’s any amount of modern shops in the CBD but also plenty of specialty places elsewhere. I visited several of the suburbs and was reminded of London in that they’re all different and work hard at displaying their charms. There’s plenty going on in the CBD and every Friday, throughout the warmer months, Forrest Place is host to an eclectic collection of ethnic food stalls, accompanied by musical acts. It was great to see that most of the people seemed to be locals. It’s true to say I wouldn’t have seen so much if I’d just visited Perth on the way through. But I was definitely very glad to be heading back north, about to be reunited with Doris and to be continuing my journey once more.

While out with Tatiana looking at the artwork, we came across this beauty.

While out with Tatiana looking at the artwork, we came across this beauty.

Still Life In Perth. Part 1

Perth, WA. 6th October 2015.

Captain Stirling reads out the declaration of the founding of te Swan River Colony to fellow settlers.

Captain Stirling reads out the declaration of the founding of te Swan River Colony to fellow settlers.

Six weeks in Perth. An attractive proposition? Maybe, maybe not, but if they’d been able to fix up my collar bone at Tom Price hospital it would have been six weeks in a small mining town in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes you have to count your blessings. Gilda, my favourite radiologist, collected me from the hospital and I was able to stay with her for two days at her brother’s house, enough time to find a more permanent berth.

Pinned and plated. How it looks inside.

Pinned and plated. How it looks inside.

How it looks from the outside, two weeks after the operation. It's healed up nicely.

How it looks from the outside, two weeks after the operation. It’s healed up nicely.

Ever heard of Air BnB? I hadn’t until Gilda suggested it as a way of finding somewhere to stay. At that point I’d spent most of the day trying to find a hostel that could guarantee me a bottom bunk, had decent wi-fi and wasn’t too expensive. By the time Gilda made her suggestion I was in a fog of detail that I couldn’t see through so was glad to have another avenue to explore. And what a great suggestion it was. I quickly found a place out in the suburb of Lathlain and near a station, where the single room was a bit cheaper than the norm because the house was undergoing some renovation. My host, David Chong, is a Chinese Malayan whose family emigrated to Australia when he was sixteen. His main profession is that of photographer and his garage and garden are full of motorbikes. We very soon hit it off and I felt at home straight away.

Mine host, David.

Mine host, David.

Air BnB is a website that connects people with rooms to let to people who need a place to stay, short term. It’s just a case of searching in the area you want to visit, seeing what’s there and booking the dates. It’s a typical internet business, which seems to me to be the proverbial money for old rope. All they do is display the adverts and collect the payments. They add a percentage to my costs and take a percentage off the payment to the host. I worked out they’re making 20%. Because David and I got on well he was happy to go under the radar and deal in cash once the initial period had expired, I’m pleased to say.
My time with Gilda at her brother’s had been good fun. He has a Razorback called Indi, and we took her for walks in a park that backs onto the house. Another dog was staying there too, a huge Bull Mastiff called Bosko. Gentle as anything but too big to chance walking out with. It also became very possessive of Gilda, following her everywhere as if it were her bodyguard. It kept looking at me with a ‘keep your distance matey’ kind of expression. I duly kept my distance! We enjoyed an Indian meal too and, all in all, I was beginning to adjust to city life.

Sunset selfie with Gilda, down in Fremantle.

Sunset selfie with Gilda, down in Fremantle.

Settled in at my new abode I tried to make some plans. It was only a ten minute walk to the station and a ten minute journey into the city centre via the frequent trains. I intended to see as much as I could of what Perth had to offer but also to relax as well.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia.It was first settled relatively late, in 1829, by Captain James Stirling, who had visited two years earlier and found good land. The problem was that he didn’t explore very far and therefore didn’t realise that only land near the Swan and Canning Rivers had any potential. He lobbied the Home Office for agreement to start a settlement and, having decided the colony wasn’t going to cost the taxpayer any money, permission was granted. There were rumours that France was interested in the area too, which must have helped. So a non-penal colony was set up further along the Swan River and Perth was born. The town of Fremantle was also set up next to the sea and was the entry point for shipping into the colony.

Perth city centre, nearly two hundred years after settlement.

Perth city centre, nearly two hundred years after settlement.

Settlers spread along the rivers and coasts in their search for good land but the colony grew very slowly. In 1850 convict labour arrived and the infrastructure benefited from the 9,000 pairs of hands that became available until the convict system was disbanded in 1868. But it was still only a small town of 3,000 inhabitants. Until, that is, gold was discovered!
By the 1880s Perth was slowly expanding anyway, having recently built a railway that linked the city with Fremantle and Guildford (just up the coast), and having recently been linked to Adelaide by telegraph. The Port of Fremantle had been reconstructed so that large ships could now enter the Swan River whereas formerly they had to lie offshore and be loaded by lighters. But the discovery of gold in the Kimberly region in the north,and at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie inland to the east, lit a fuse under the rocket of rapid expansion. The population more than tripled in the 1890s from fewer than 9,000 to over 27,000 by 1901. It was the entry point for huge numbers of gold and land hungry immigrants and the city reaped the benefit. Large municipal buildings were constructed and shops and offices followed. Western Australia finally gained self determination in its government in 1890 and officially became a state. Up to then it had been ruled by a Governor-General.

City of Perth's official Black Swan coat of arms. Adopted from the black swans found on the river.

City of Perth’s official Black Swan coat of arms. Adopted from the black swans found on the river.

During the twentieth century the city grew and suburbs developed, often in tandem with the railway. In the 21st century another mining boom, this time of iron and other minerals in the north of the state, led to more rapid expansion. It attracted thousands of skilled migrants from across the globe, especially Britain and South Asia. The Greater Perth area has a population of around two million in an area larger than Greater London, whose population is over eight million. So there’s plenty of room.
Needless to say an area of land close to two rivers had many attractions for the indigenous population. Unfortunately it is also needless to say that they were gradually driven away by settlers and their activities. ‘Improvements’ to the area slowly denied the Aboriginals access to their traditional food and resources. Their story is a small part of the injustice visited upon all of Australia’s first peoples but I’ll talk more about these issues in a future post.
For now, my mission, and I chose to accept it, was to spend my enforced absence from the highways and byways of WA in having a good look at what the city had to offer. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not about to give a blow by blow account of six (weeks) in the city and will concentrate on the highlights.

Wesleyan Chapel,from 1865. A sign of a growing and successful city.

Wesleyan Chapel,from 1865. A sign of a growing and successful city.

The city centre is usefully compact. Coming out of the main station and crossing the busy Wellington Street I entered the pedestrianised Forrest Place, which leads to the pedestrianised Murray Street. Here I found a visitor centre and got hold of some maps and other info. South of Murray Street lies the pedestrianised Hay Street, with easy access from one to the other via a number of shopping malls and plazas. The east and west sides of this rectangle of retail delight are bounded by Barrack Street and William Street. South of Hay Street lies St Georges Terrace, once the riverside esplanade, and full of the early government buildings of what was a relatively new and growing city. Reclaimed land has moved the foreshore a bit further south and it is divided from the former esplanade by a huge, grassed recreation area. As I discovered, this is used for public events as well as lunchtime leisure and relaxation. Development continues at Elizabeth Quay, due to reopen early next year.
Talking of green areas, to the west of the CBD lies a long ridge, called Mount Eliza, and upon it is Kings Park. This is a huge area of parkland and native bush which overlooks the Swan River. I enjoyed a couple of visits there. Nearby is the State Parliament building and other buildings associated with it.
To the north of the station, on land that starts to rise up from the CBD, is Perth Cultural Centre, a square which houses art galleries, museums and the State Library. To the west of this lies Northbridge, Perth’s area of bars, restaurants and nightlife. Edgy at times, slightly downbeat too. A place for the tourist and lunch taking worker in the day, and fun seeker at night.

The Palace Hotel, from 1896. Another sign of a successful city.

The Palace Hotel, from 1896. Another sign of a successful city.

During my first couple of days at David’s place in Lathlain I explored the local area, bought food, had a haircut and so on. Albany Highway is the main commercial street in the area and is a very busy shopping centre, with a decent mall but mostly small businesses, something I like to see. Lot’s of cafés and coffee shops, along with restaurants of all types. This road runs into the city centre and I decided I’d walk there along it at some point. On Friday evenings there is an area which specialises in different ethnic foods and gets very busy as people start to relax into their weekend. Lathlain is typical suburbia. Several through roads but with smaller streets running off them. In some the houses are well spaced out, with a decent bit of land. In others they are rather crammed together. Small apartment blocks abound, reflecting the nature of a busy city whose inhabitants live busy lives. David’s house used to have a lot of land but it had been sold for development before he arrived. Even so, he had enough room for a large garage cum photo studio, and enough garden space for a caravan and some of his motorbike and scooter collection.

Boys will be boys, and sometimes girls too. Having fun at the Oktoberfest.

Boys will be boys, and sometimes girls too. Having fun at the Oktoberfest.

My first weekend was spent exploring the city centre and on Saturday I managed to discover an Oktoberfest and a bell tower, which has very close links to St Martin-in-the-Field church. A definite mix of cultures there. On the recreation area by the river was a huge fenced off area. Inside there was music and drinking. When I’d walked along the river earlier I’d seen people eating and drinking at a riverside pub, all dressed up in German folk costume and wondered why. When I found the site of the Oktoberfest all became clear. I decided not to go in, especially as tickets weren’t cheap, so I sat outside instead watching the Lederhosen clad guys and the buxom German wenches go by. Strangely, the most buxom of the wenches were actually guys in fancy dress. Seeing so many people walking past brought home to me how popular tattoos are among Aussies. I don’t like tattoos and especially not on women. Many of them were big and they wound up their legs and across their backs. Horrible! And then while I was sitting there I got hit on! A Vietnamese woman sat next to me and started chatting. Pretty soon a sob story came out, all about how her visa was about to run out; how her mother gave her to her aunt when she was a baby; how her aunt sold her but despite this, she tries to support her. I listened to all this and told her I didn’t have any money to give her and couldn’t really help her. I knew what she wanted before she even asked. So before too long she said goodbye and moved on. I wonder if she found a anyone to give her money? I doubt it somehow. Aussies aren’t stupid.

A Vietnamese named Vom. Hustling for all she was worth. Or maybe all I was worth.

A Vietnamese named Vom. Hustling for all she was worth. Or maybe all I was worth.

Next to the river is the Swann Bell Tower. This is Perth’s Millennium Project building and has a very nice design. Themed as a ship, it is clad in copper and shaped like a sail. Its main role is to house a set of eighteen bells, twelve of which came from St Martins. They had been installed there between 1725 and 1780 and needed to be replaced. They were too heavy and caused the church foundations to move around when rung and were at risk of damaging them. Lighter bells were to be made. Usually the old bells would be melted down to make the new ones but it was decided to gift the them to Australia to mark the bi-centennial of the founding of the first colony in 1788. Australian mining companies therefore supplied the copper and tin for the new bells for free. To the donated twelve were added five more, paid for as gifts by businesses in the cities of London and Westminster. The eighteenth was paid for by the WA government.

The Swann Bell Tower. Perth's Millennium project and home to eighteen bells.

The Swann Bell Tower. Perth’s Millennium project and home to eighteen bells.

On Sunday the bells were in full use as there’s a practice session in the morning, followed by a bell ringing display afterwards. And I’m using the word ‘display’ deliberately. Swann Bell Tower is one of the few places in the world were such close observation of both the bells and the ringers can be made. There are windows that look down into the ringing area and higher up the tower are the bells themselves, swinging away loudly just behind some plexi-glass. The ringers were engaged in Change Ringing, better known as Campanology. It gets its name from the fact that the ringing order of the bells is constantly changed, meaning that there’s a conductor in charge of it all. I spoke to one elderly ringer who said she’d been enjoying her hobby for seventy years. Blimey!

Campanology in action.

Campanology in action.

Watching the bells gets hypnotic after a while but before I went too goggle eyed I realised that each bell swings through an arc of just under 360 degrees and is struck twice by its clapper. There’s a limit to the ‘tunes’ that bells can play but they definitely set up quite a good melody and a very pleasant sound that touches the memory from way back in time.
The bells of St Martins used to be rung to celebrate all sorts of events. Included in these were the departures of Admiralty sponsored voyages to far flung places. This means that the twelve bells gifted to Australia would have been rung to celebrate James Cook’s departure on the voyage which led him to Australia. Now that’s what I call continuity.

Going like the clappers.

Going like the clappers.

Perth has a very good transport system. Twenty first century rail improvements have helped he suburbs grow. New lines were developed, stretching out in all directions and terminating at the central station. They run a pre-pay card system, similar to London’s Oyster Card, divide the area into zones and offer concessions to the old and young as well as free transport for them at certain times. Where I stayed was four stops away from the CBD and cost $1.20 at the concessionary rate. Even the standard fare was only $3. I thought this was very reasonable. I wasn’t actually entitled to a concession fare but the ticket inspectors didn’t seem to care just as long as I had a valid ticket. They come from machines which take cash or debit card.

Got a flat tyre on your bike? It's the little that count. Found outside my local station at Victoria Park.

Got a flat tyre on your bike? It’s the little that count. Found outside my local station at Victoria Park.

Within the city centre there are CAT buses (Central Area Transit). These are free, as are normal buses within the same area. All in all a great system and as there are hordes of Transit Police all over the place, it is also very safe.
The Visitor Centre offers free guided walking tours each weekday morning and afternoon. The morning one is an orientation tour and it takes the visitor to the key areas in the CBD as well as a brief stop at some of the key buildings. In the afternoon the walks are themed and are therefore a bit more in depth. The guides are full of enthusiasm and knowledge and invariably have some good stories to tell.

The kangaroo displays the builder's dissatisfaction.

The kangaroo displays the builder’s dissatisfaction.

One that I enjoyed very much was about the building of the General Post Office. It suffered delays due to WW1 and to a general lack of money. The builders got a bit fed up with not being paid and when they installed the Australian coat of arms over the door they played a trick. Instead of having the kangaroo looking at the emu opposite it, they had it made with the kangaroo looking over its shoulder towards the treasury building, as if to say ‘Where’s my money?’ It was some considerable time before it was noticed.

South entrance to the slightly bizarre London Court.

South entrance to the slightly bizarre London Court.

Another slightly bizarre place is London Court, a closed shopping street built with an Elizabethan theme in the 1930s. The buildings all have Tudor style beams across them, with leaded windows and fine copper detailing around them and the doors. The shop signs mostly have Shakespearian names on them. A rich merchants fancy certainly, but a nice curiosity for all that. Set into the wall at each end, above the entrance arches, is a niche with statues in. The guide, having discovered where I was from, asked me if I knew who the subject of one of the statue was. I told her it was Dick Whittington, London’s first Lord Mayor, easily recognisable by the cat. She already knew that the other one was Sir Walter Raleigh.

Tudor themed buildings in London Court.

Tudor themed buildings in London Court.

Dick Whittington and his cat look down on the shoppers.

Dick Whittington and his cat look down on the shoppers.

Perth runs an annual Heritage Weekend during which it’s possible to visit buildings that are not normally open to the public. This is the same as London’s Open House weekend and I picked up a brochure, but found I was too late to book some of the more popular venues. Even so I visited some sites which helped gain an insight to the development of Western Australia, how it functioned, and its role in deciding the fate of the Commonwealth of Australia.
I visited the Constitutional Centre, which included a tour around the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet offices. They are housed in buildings which used to be the Bishop Hale School, Perth’s first grammar school, built in 1867. Jarrah Wood had been used extensively in the building and the furniture, such as the cabinet room table. This beautiful hard wood is found only in WA and was exported all round the world, including London, where it was used as substrate for roads. There were many nice art works from local artists, including Aboriginal. The Constitutional Centre is also housed in some of the old school buildings and has permanent displays explaining how the WA state and its government came into being. Once again, this is a topic for another time.

Part of the display at the Constitutional Centre.

Part of the display at the Constitutional Centre.

Next I went to the Parliament Building where there were events celebrating women’s suffrage and the election of the first female MLA, Edith Cowan. I attended a presentation in the Upper Chamber of Parliament and a play in the Lower Chamber. Sounds boring? Not really. WA was one of the early adopters of female suffrage, introducing it in 1899, although the right to stand for election came later. That’s thirty years before Britain. Puts us to shame really. A walk around the building was interesting too and was a good way to avid the rain. I was impressed by the easy access and the level of welcome the public is given. There is a Legislative Assembly and a Legislative Council, and their respective chambers are relatively small but impressively laid out. The corridors had permanent displays detailing the history of the state legislature and how it operates. As someone who enjoys both history and politics, it was an enjoyable visit for me.

Display in the foyer of the parliament building.

Display in the foyer of the parliament building.

Milestone dates and some of the key players involved in women's advancement in WA politics.

Milestone dates and some of the key players involved in women’s advancement in WA politics.

By way of a complete contrast to the Heritage Weekend, I spent some time exploring Kings Park. Although some of the land had been dedicated as public space earlier, the four square kilometre area became Kings Park in 1890. It is a mixture of botanic gardens, native bushland, which covers two thirds of it, and various specialist display areas. There is an education centre and good quality public facilities – visitor centre, café etc. During my two visits there I joined one of the free guided walks, which took us into the bushland for a revealing tour and talk. It’s simply amazing how diverse, ancient and well adapted Australia’s plant life is. Many of the plants we saw were the same as those eaten by the dinosaurs. Their ability to adapt to conditions such as extremes of heat is incredible. One plant has evolved its roots so that they hold the base of the tree clear of the ground to avoid the heat. There are dozens of variations among the species, some only existing in small areas. I’d discovered this when reading the info boards at the various sites I’d visited, but it was even better to have a knowledgeable guide explain it all.

It's easy to imagine the Australian outback as featureless. But it isn't, not when there's plants like this one.

It’s easy to imagine the Australian outback as featureless. But it isn’t, not when there’s plants like this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

The Botanic Gardens have sections which reflect the flora from various parts of the state. There is an elevated walkway through part of the gardens giving a literal birds eye view of the trees. Many of them are so tall that to look up at them from the ground would have been meaningless. There is an area given over to some fountains, among which was a statue of Edith Cowan, and there is also a very nice water garden.

A section dedicated to the flora of one part of the state.

A section dedicated to the flora of one part of the state.

And another dedicated to traditional uses of plants.

And another dedicated to traditional uses of plants.

The park houses Perth’s War Memorial but on a much more personal level there is an ‘Honour Avenue’. The verges of some of the roads through the park have been planted with Lemon Gum trees and plaques dedicated to Perth’s fallen servicemen from both world wars have been placed in front of them. This park is one of the world’s largest inner city parks but it’s touches such as this that make it very popular with both locals and the five million visitors it attracts each year.

All abut Honour Avenue.

All abut Honour Avenue.

One of the trees, with plaque.

One of the trees, with plaque.

One of the most interesting places I visited was the Perth Mint. Because of the amount of gold being dug up in WA, and the fact that it had to be sent to Melbourne to be minted into coins and bullion, Perth was very keen to get hold of this lucrative process. In the 1890s the Royal Mint in London was finally persuaded to allow a third Australian branch to be built in Perth and it opened in 1899. It remained part of the Royal Mint right up until 1970, when it was transferred to the Australian Government.

Royal Mint, Perth.

Royal Mint, Perth.

Statue dedicated to one of many 'Lucky Strikes' out in the goldfields.

Statue dedicated to one of many ‘Lucky Strikes’ out in the goldfields.

The official tour began with how the mint came to be and some stories about some of the huge gold nuggets found out on the gold fields. Tales of the gold rush followed and how Perth, as a thriving and rich city, owes it all to the miners and their gold. Did you know that all gold came from outer space? Me neither, but it seems that the chemicals which eventually came to be gold are not of this earth.

Gold comes from stardust. Strange and wonderful.

Gold comes from stardust. Strange and wonderful.

We were taken down into the old furnace room to see how an ingot of gold is made. A crucible made of clay mixed with graphite is filled with gold dust and heated in a furnace to 1200C. Gold melts at 1063C but it’s heated to the higher temperature to allow time for pouring. Otherwise it would solidify too quickly. As it is they only have a minute before it solidifies. Once poured into the ingot mould it is quenched to cool it down. Because the crucibles absorb tiny amounts of the gold they are crushed once their service life is ended and the gold is extracted. On the same theme, when the furnace operation was moved to a new building and six of them were closed, the bricks from the old furnaces were crushed and $200,000 worth of gold was extracted. Then they scraped all the soot off the ceiling and recovered a further $20,000 worth. That was after ninety years of ingot making.

I reckon I'm worth it.

I reckon I’m worth it.

After the demonstration we were all invited to stand on the scales to see what our ‘weight in gold’ would be worth. At that particular moment’s gold price I was valued at $4,355,565.32. I weigh in at about about 75kgs.
On display is a huge gold coin that was minted in 2012 when QE2 opened the Commonwealth Heads Of Government meeting in Australia. It weighs one tonne and is 99.99% pure gold. It has a face value of $1 million but is worth more than $55 million at the moment.

It's big, heavy and very, very valuable. Made from 99.9% pure gold.

It’s big, heavy and very, very valuable. Made from 99.9% pure gold.

In among all these cultural delights I was also happy to sit around and not do much sometimes. The weather was mostly dry, sunny and warm and I enjoyed some walks around the local area. I was able to help David with a couple of jobs on his bikes and the house, just to help me feel useful. I couldn’t help feeling like a spare part sometimes, having been busy and active for so many months prior to my enforced rest. But circumstances forced a change upon me anyway. More about that in the next update.

Resident of Kings Park, enjoying lunch.

Resident of Kings Park, enjoying lunch.