There is nothing better or more exciting than arriving at a new place and it slowly unfolds, revealing its history and characters. In my humble opinion a walking tour, either guided or self-guided, is the perfect way to discover secrets, stories and often a little sadness.
Lace up your walking shoes, we’re off to stroll the streets of Perth.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia (WA), our country’s largest state. WA is BIG and great swathes of it are dry and harsh, and consequently it really wasn’t on the radar of the English colonists in the early days. They much preferred the ‘easier’ pickings of the East coast, especially the colonial outposts of Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne.
It was only when belated rumours started to filter through that the dastardly French were eyeing off our West Coast, that our English forefathers decided to get a wriggle on, send off their fastest sailing ship and rapidly plant the Union Jack flag in the West’s sandy soil.
Job done. Now what?
Now that they had sailed all that way (approximately 2 187 nautical miles or 4 050km from Sydney) I guess they thought they should at least have a bit of a look around. What they saw pleased them very much.
Cruising up the Swan River, they observed the lush pastures and plentiful fresh water, and this lead them to believe that this new land was perfect farming country. Little did they know that the lushness only extended a short distance away from the very fringe of the river and then it reverted to the lightest, most fragile and sandy soil you could find anywhere in the Australia.
All of this history was revealed to us by Vaughan, our passionate Perth City walking tour guide. It is fabulous when you meet someone who truly loves their job, even when it is volunteer job.
We had joined the Convicts and Colonials Walking Tour, coordinated by the happy team of volunteers at the Visit Perth City office found on the Murray Street Mall. They had a truly diverse selection of free tours on offer including:
- Art City
- Icons of Influence
- The Big Boom, and
- Perth Town Hall.
Even with all those tantalising topics, it was a simple choice as our only option was to pick a time and tour that worked in with our all-too-short schedule. Naturally, I wanted to join every single one, but that would have to wait for another visit.
We strolled up to the Visit Perth building (look for the weird alien structure in the middle of the pedestrian mall) and were pleased to see that we were only a small group of four people, plus our guide. The tour was advertised to run for 90minutes and, yet we found that 145 minutes later Vaughan was reluctantly winding up his spiel.
As we wandered the quiet Perth streets, Vaughan wove a story of the First Nation’s People, the arrival of optimistic settlers, and then the reluctant convicts. It was fascinating to hear how the races worked together, or didn’t, and the significant impacts the colonisers had on the landscape. Like so many other places in Australia, white man disregarded the thousands of years of knowledge possessed by the local Aboriginal people and this caused the colonialists even more hardship.
The Swan River Colony was established as a free settlement in 1829, but the harsh conditions, poor soils and scarce rain, meant that many hopeful settlers quickly saw the error of their ways and fled on the next ship leaving town. This led to a severe shortage of labour and from 1850, convicts were imported as a cheap and plentiful solution to the problem. Even though the convict transport programme only lasted 18 years, the Colony’s government got their money’s worth resulting in a large and diverse range of public buildings and other infrastructure.
Our tour ambled around the Perth CBD, only covering about five city blocks, but it was jam-packed with a wide variety of architecture styles and stories. Highlights included the Perth Town Hall which took a team of 15 convicts, working every day, three years to build and Government House – the only Jacobean-style vice regal residence in Australia.
The tour took us past the Supreme Court building, the Old Court House and the elegant St George’s Cathedral, home of an ultra-modern knight-and-dragon sculpture. We also strolled through the Old Treasury building now home to a swanky hotel, hip bars and cafes, and an Ugly Men’s Barber Shop!
While all these buildings are impressive, it is the stories – a blend of intriguing, incredible and sad – that bring the structures to life:
- the contentious ‘0’ mileage marker hidden at the corner of an old building indicating where all distances in WA are supposedly measured from,
- the story of Audrey Jacob who shot her lover at a ball at Government House and yet was able to escape the death penalty because she was only a woman, and
- the disastrous impacts on the local Wadjuk Noongar people as they were forced off their land and their food and water sources disappeared.
After all that standing around on hard surfaces our feet and knees were tired and ready for a rest. Part of me just didn’t want the stories to end, but the siren call of coffee and cake from the many cafes we had passed on our tour, was the perfect excuse to pause and reflect on all that we had seen and heard.
History is not always good or right, but it is always fascinating.
What was the best walking tour you ever did?
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 we 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: The Visit Perth Information Kiosk can be found in the middle of the Murray Street pedestrian mall. You can also collect a themed map for a self-guided walk of Perth.
When: Most tours start around 1015am, but check their website for your tour of choice.
Why: For history, a chance to stretch the legs, to get the lay of the land, to learn something, to be entertained and more.
How: Two feet and a heartbeat. Or catch one of the free CAT buses to get into the CBD.
Who: Everyone, although it may not be fast-paced enough for young children.
Related Posts: For a detailed look at one of Perth’s highlights, check out my roundup of Elizabeth Quay.
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: Tim Winton is a famous Australian author and sets many of his books in his home state of Western Australia. For a novel set in the suburbs of Perth and following lives of two families of battlers, grab a copy of Cloudstreet. Go straight to Book Depository.
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