Some people might wonder why, of all the places in Australia, I chose to settle in Perth. At first visiting I admit, itâ€™s not the liveliest of cities. After cruising the lush, tropical city of Cairns; Melbourneâ€™s cosmopolitan â€ścoffee cultureâ€ť and the wide & stunning vista of Sydneyâ€™s Darling Harbour, what does the remotest city on Earth have to offer me?
When I first arrived in Perth I was suffering some administrative strife. My account was frozen, my ISA company were withholding money, my phone had died taking with it the pins to my credit cards and in 3 days I needed to organise 2 foreign visas each requiring a 5 day interlude with my passport. After 10 days spent living on the edge of my means on the remote west coast with no phone and no money, my first day in Perth I spent traipsing from embassy to banks to phone repair shops trying to get my life back on an even keel.
On the second day, having more or less got things in order, I decided to do the Lonely Planet city walkâ€¦.and discovered that in the course of the previous dayâ€™s toil, I had basically covered all there was to see in Perth. Basically, not a lot: the Mall, the government buildings, the brass kangaroos, and Northbridge, Perthâ€™s backpacker-ridden answer to Londonâ€™s Soho. I left Perth not too enamoured with it, and set off in search of new adventures in south-east Asia.
I had already decided to return to Australia at this stage however, and submitted my application for a working visa from a remote, jungle location in Thailand. I was accepted, and having been offered a room at a very snazzy executive flat in the east end of town by a friend, I returned to Perth with the plan of snapping up dollars in the mining industry for a year and then zipping off to Melbourne to start my â€śrealâ€ť Australian life.
I arrived at the onset of winter, and yet Perth was still warm & sunny. The skies seemed always to be clear, bright blue and the heat on my back delicious. Occasionally the day would rain in a monsoon-style downpour, but more often than not I woke to another beautiful day and mid-20 degrees. Commonly, I spoke to family & friends in UK who were enjoying their summer, but still experiencing lower temperatures than Iâ€¦.
They say it takes anyone about 6 months to settle into a place, but around the 4 month-mark I had started a love affair. With Perth. Every day I found myself feeling consciously grateful and lucky to be here. So I will try to explain for the benefit of the peanut gallery:
The first reason is that I walk to work every day. I can afford to live so close to the city that I walk from my apartment to the tallest & most central skyscraper in the CBD. When you have commuted 1.5hrs to London and back every day for work, you appreciate the significance of this luxury let me tell you. In fact, I was so vehemently hostile towards public transport that I point blank refused to get on a train or bus for the first 4 months I was here. If I couldnâ€™t walk there, I wasnâ€™t going. End of.
The second: Not only can I afford to live literally spitting distance to the city, but I can also afford to live in an apartment with (I kid you not) a swimming pool, sauna, hot tub and gym. There is no way in this lifetime that I could afford such extravagance in the UK. Unless I married a tycoonâ€¦? Stop dreaming girl! - itâ€™s just not going to happen on my salary.
The third is that I conveniently happen to live 7 minutes walk from a very funky art-house cinema that plays heaps of World Cinema. Now anyone that knows me knows I love foreign films, and so I have spent hours at the flicks patronising the Italian Film festival, the Russian Film festival and all the kooky Cannes film festival winners that no one has ever heard of. Perfetto.
The fourth is simply that Perth is actually stunning, when you get out of the city centre. In the beginning, I was frustrated by the lack of art & culture, but a friend pointed out dryly that I had gone from living in one of the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth to the remotest city on Earth. What exactly did I expect? Instead, Perth has the beautiful Kings Park; a gorgeous expanse of bushland set high on a hillside over-looking the majestic city skyline and the glittering Swan River. It has wide, sandy beaches; Cottesloe, Scarborough, City Beach, all a short train ride from the city centre. It has two major wine-producing regions nearby; Swan Valley, just half an hourâ€™s drive or an hour river cruise away, & the famous Margaret River region, about 4 hours drive away. You can wander round artsy, trendy Fremantle; listen to folky bands or World music; eat fresh fish or lobster salad at a harbour-front restaurant, or have a boozy lunch at the cosy Little Creatures brewery. It has walking & hiking on the World Famous Bibbulmun Track, or you can cycle 12km along the wide, green esplanade that separates the city from the water, stopping for a beer in the sunshine at the Swan River brewery. More on this sort of stuff later..
The fifth is that I managed to get myself involved with the local city farm. When I first arrived I did an internet search for an organic farmers market & was pleased to discover there was one 10 minutes walk from my flat. Soon after I began volunteering there; helping in their permaculture nursery, gaining basic knowledge about growing plants & veggies, & generally enjoying being part of the community. Fast forward 6 months and youâ€™ll find me firmly plugged into the green community. I still help out at the city farm, & I have recently completed an â€śearthcarersâ€ť course in recycling & green action. I have bought a bokashi bin & am educating an enthusiastic but totally green-ignorant boyfriend in the whys and wherefores, with the ultimate (and imminent) goal of starting our own veggie patch. The things I always wanted to do at home suddenly seem achievable: the city farm is close, not an hours train ride away in some remote part of London. The community is immediate, and I run into the same people at festivals & stands as the people involved with green charities & organisations overlap. I have space, & time, & motivation to finally put into practice the things I have hankered to do for years; a sort of â€ścritical massâ€ť as I like to think of it. And probably most importantly, I have made great friends with beautiful people who share my passion & my principals for green issues.
It is with this in mind that I move onto reason 6: the immediacy of friends. At home, if I wanted to see a friend I had to diarise it weeks in advance because we lived on opposite sides of London. Getting there would involve at least an hour journey, usually costing an arm and a leg. Drinks & dinner would be even more extravagant expense, and the inevitable drama of late-night public transport, missed trains, & long waits on cold platforms with freaky, drunken bums. Here, I might be bimbling about on a Saturday afternoon & a friend will call me up, they are 20 mins from my house, can they come over? Half an hour later we are out on the balcony with a glass of something alcofrolic (no doubt purchased from a local winerie natch) putting the worlds to rights.
Not only that, but chores are also dealt with more immediately, because everything is closer. At home if I were referred to a specialist I might have to go to Moorfields Eye Hospital in the city, or the certain type of paint/fabric/cat I want is only to be found in a remote end of West London. So tracking down said paint/fabric/cat requires a massive detour and a large portion of free time from my daily life. Or, if I want the best value car/ceiling fan/lawnmower I might be so inundated with choices for retailers that I might spend an entire precious Saturday traipsing round industrial parks poring over B&Q catalogues when I could be using that time having actual fun.
In Perth, there are really only 1 or 2 shops for each thing. So if I want paint, I go to the paint shop. If I want a knife I go to the culinary shop. If I want a goat I go to the pet shop. And more often than not, I will pass these shops as a matter of course during my general amblings round town on my lunchbreak. I pop out for a smoothie, and lo! Thereâ€™s a cobblers, well, isnâ€™t that just what I needed? And so, this general achievement of chores during paid work hours leaves far more time for what Perth is really all about: PLEASURE-SEEKING.
I was in awe at first of Australians. They say Australians are outdoorsy. A Brit really has no concept of exactly what that means until they have been subjected to a gruelling 3 day self-guide canoe safari, or self-drive 4WD excursion to Fraser Island. But thatâ€™s another story. Seriously, if you approximate the English winter to 9 months of the year, itâ€™s no wonder that we are keen on inside activities. We are heavily into music, clubbing, drinking, and PS3. Itâ€™s no wonder we have a high pregnancy rate & a high rate of alcoholism for these things keep us warm & indoors....
By comparison, the average Australian summer is 6-9 months of the year, and so they are out in it, almost continuously. Is it any wonder they kick our asses at cricket? Perth is especially lucky to have the most sunny days of anywhere in Australia, and is blessed with all the aforementioned gorgeous, outdoorsy places to spend time. So kids here arenâ€™t interested in underage drinking or drugs, or playing video games: they are outside surfing, swimming, sailing, diving, playing cricket, football, soccer, cycling, squash & going to the gym. And the interest doesnâ€™t wane when they get older, theyâ€™re not getting fat & grey like their British counterparts... in fact most of the 40 yr olds I know play sport regularly, if not for a team. My fella for instance (37yrs) plays cricket 3 times a week (trains twice after work & plays matches on weekends), and dives in the sea or river up to 3 times a week. And so, I have followed suit, sloughing off my Brit-aversion to exercise I recently qualified as a diver, so we can take his boat out, catch cray fish for dinner and bbq them at sunset on the banks of the river...
So to put it all into perspective, weekends for me involve one of the following: being in water - boating/diving/swimming, catching/eating/picnicing/bbqing, fresh fish/crays/crabs, drinking locally produced & individually chosen wine/beer, hiking/cycling or gardening/volunteering/socialising with my green friends. And the most pressing issue is wondering just where did I put my sunglassesâ€¦?
So now you have to ask yourself: what on Earth are you still doing there when you could be here?