Where are all the people?
That was our first question as we left our hotel room and started to explore Perth’s CBD. It was a weekday and during business hours, and yet the streets were virtually empty and the vibe was so relaxed it was almost comatose.
Just perfect for this tourist to wander…
Perth, Western Australia (WA) is absolutely nothing like Perth, Scotland and I am always dazzled that the old white colonisers could see any similarities between the two, and that it was good and proper to replicate or impose an incongruous name on a new place that already had a distinct personality all of its own. Flying into Perth (WA) the colours are uniformly dusty green-grey and the soils looks pale and sandy. It is only when you glimpse the sea that a bolt of emerald green-blue provides a bright contrast to the fairly drab landscape. Where is even the remotest comparison to the babbling streams and lush greens of the Scottish Highlands? On the ground, Perth is far more attractive, especially along the edges of the Swan River with extensive walkways, gardens and lookout/viewing points to make the most of the river backdrop.
Perth was established in 1829 as the Swan River Colony, ousting the local Wadjuk Noongar people and irrevocably changing their lives. For many years, the colony floundered with new settlers unable or unwilling to put up with the harsh climate and living conditions, and they were leaving almost as fast as they arrived.
I suspect that Covid19 has had a significant impact on the scarcity of modern-day settlers. The WA Premier (the State’s political leader) has taken an extremely (some say excessively) hard line towards domestic travel over the last 18 months. While that may have been helpful in keeping virus numbers low in WA, it has decimated Perth’s retail and tourism sectors.
It is only a small exaggeration to say that every second shop and office has closed, is for lease or closing down. There simply aren’t the customers on the streets and passing shop fronts. This was even more obvious on the CBD’s pedestrian malls – Hay Street Mall and Murray Street Mall. Both had a ‘ghost town’, and slightly wasteland, feel.
Again, this level of quiet made for easy walking and adopting a typical tourist approach – the aimless amble – to exploring the city. And there is a lot to see!
Perth is a fabulous contrast between the old and new. There is a core of stately old heritage buildings and very few don’t have a soaring backdrop of mining-related skyscrapers. Mining is KING in WA with everything else is a poor second.
Even while wandering aimlessly, it is hard not to notice the proliferation of street art and sculpture. This varies from poetic inlays in the footpaths to large, modernist sculpture. As I have said in previous posts, I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but I do enjoy the colour and interest these sorts of installations bring to an urban landscape.
If you want to explore the city in greater depth and along a particular theme, join a free walking tour starting from the Perth Visitor’s Centre on the Murray Street Mall (look for the building resembling an alien spacecraft) or download load a self-guided map here. They have a whole range of themed tours including The Big Boom, Convicts and Colonials, Art City, Icons of Influence and more.
Navigating Perth is easy with a very straight-forward grid street pattern. The CBD is bordered by the main railway line to the North and the Swan River to the South, so it is easy to orient yourself in that space. Another bonus are the four free CAT bus lines which quickly and conveniently shuttle you around the CBD and beyond. We only used this service once and it was frequent, clean and super easy to use.
Perth is a very walkable and safe city. It is relatively flat with a few small hills to tackle heading to/from the river and up to King’s Park. Or, if you don’t fancy walking, take one of the free CAT buses. Too easy.
Possibly the only downside to our stroll that day, and quite the eye-opener, was seeing the large number of homeless people and people affected by drugs, alcohol or mental health illnesses. I know centres of larger cities can be a magnet for these folk and perhaps Covid19 changed their usual haunts, but for a small city like Perth (not even 2million people), the number felt excessive and out of proportion. This was a stark contrast to the obvious palatial wealth of the ‘big business’ end of town, especially the mining-related buildings. I guess no city is perfect or has all the answers to providing safe and appropriate accommodation for all its residents.
When travel becomes the norm again, consider including Perth in your travel itinerary. It is not Sydney, it’s not Melbourne and it has a personality very much of its own.
Happy travels, everyone.
Have you travelled to a city and found a country town instead?
What: There is a vast array of accommodation options in the heart of Perth. We found an excellent AirBnB only a few blocks from the CBD hosted by Kylie and can recommend it highly. Book here. (As an Airbnb Associate, I earn a small commission when you book through this link and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.)
Where: Perth, on Australia’s West coast is an easy 4.5-5hr flight from Sydney (on the East coast) with a two-hour time difference. Yes, a completely different time zone in the one country.
When: Perth has a hot dry climate. I would recommend a visit at any time of year as long as you are prepared for some serious heat in Summer. They do have some lovely beaches to escape to though!
Why: With our international borders closed, domestic travel has become a priority. Perth is a fascinating city and a great jump-off point to many different destinations within the 2.646 million km² of Western Australia.
How: Grab a public bus from the airport into the city. Uber, Ola, and all other forms of transport are readily available.
Who: It’s an old cliché, but Perth has something for everyone. It is rich in history, museums, the arts and an amazing number of boutique breweries!
Related Posts: If you don’t mind a wander around a city, have a look at what there is to see in the heart of Hobart.
Related Blogs: For a whole range of information about Perth, from its birdlife to child-friendly activities and accessibility-friendly spaces, check out the blog – Destination Perth.
Read About It: For an interesting memoir about growing up in the sleepy suburbs of Perth, grab a copy of The Shark Net by Robert Drewe. Robert describes the simplicity of life when he was a young boy and how this was turned upside down by a serial killer. Go straight to Book Depository.
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