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The population of 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 cared about Perth. Which is a pity, because it's actually quite a nice place.
Perth is the most isolated state capital city on Earth, which speaks volumes about the place. 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 boasts a population of just over two million. It only has one two-storey mall, discounting shopping arcades in the city proper, but you should never point this out to the locals as it upsets them.
Perth is situated smack-dab on the Swan River, a murky brown mucky waterway prone to chemical dumping by the local turf club, and inhabited solely by brown jellyfish. The river is also the water source for a delightful locally brewed brand of beer which shares its name. Needless to say, Perth denizens are justifiably proud of the river and the city itself, which, built on re-claimed swampland, has a tendency to flood in winter. One day it may sink.
If you are planning a visit to Perth, or any part of Western Australia, you might appreciate the tips below, which will make your stay more enjoyable all around.
- Visit the King's Park Botanical Gardens at least once and examine the astounding array of native flora and fauna. Stay and watch the sunset over the river.
- Visit the Perth Zoo once.
- If you value your life (and hotel accommodation), do not compare Perth with any other city in Australia or in the world, unless it is to say how much better Perth is.
- If asked which footie team you support, your immediate reply should be along the lines of 'West Coast (or the Eagles), but I wouldn't mind seeing the Dockers win occasionally'. If asked what soccer team you support, it's the Glory.
- Don't visit Perth in winter (that's summer for all you in the Northern Hemisphere), especially if you are a Pom (because it wouldn't be too much of a change for you). It is not only soggy, but smoggy as well, due to the standard method of heating homes (smoke-belching wood-burning fires). Visit in summer instead, even though it'll still be smoggy due to the bush fires. It's usually possible to fry an egg on the street at eight in the morning, but you should only attempt this if the tar hasn't already melted.
If you're starting to get the idea that Perth is a bit dull locals will tell you that's precisely the way they 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 alcohol-fuelled forms of entertainment, Perth has many beaches. There are family beaches (Hillary's), surfing beaches (Cottesloe), dog beaches (Swanbourne) and nudist beaches (also at Swanbourne)1. 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 Tree2 is growing; and wineries where, unsurprisingly, wine is made. Actually, Western Australia 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; and even
- Netball - Perth Opals.