Rediscovering The Allure Of The West
It was love at first sight. The start of an affair that has lasted half a lifetime. And here was the chance to rekindle it.
I first fell for Perth on a voyage to the UK. Sailing into the rolling swell of the Great Australian Bight the sense of adventure had taken hold.
By late-morning the horizon of Western Australia loomed on the starboard side. A land of white sandy beaches, warmed by the sun, washed by a gentle surf. A string of Norfolk pines running along the low bank of sand dunes.
That was soon followed by a drive along the wide reaches of the Swan River, up to the famous Kings Park and around the city centre. Frosted glasses of beers at a riverside hotel. I liked this place from the start and knew I would make it back … some day.
That day came sooner than expected. Just two years later I flew down to Perth from Darwin in the Northern Territory after working out at Wave Hill.
I wanted to catch up with some friends who lived at Cottesloe, a beautiful beach suburb of Perth. Just about the opposite of where I had been working.
The red sand of the Wave Hill area may have seemed like we were at the world’s biggest beach but we were perhaps 500 miles from the ocean.
At Cottesloe, my friends were about 200m to the surf. The Ocean Beach Hotel, affectionately known as the OBH, was 400m to the north and the Cottesloe Hotel – the Cott – was 400m to the south. The surf club was right on the beach.
And now … half a lifetime later … I am on a late-night flight from Brisbane to Perth. It’s probably the longest direct flight you can take in Australia without needing a passport.
The plan was to get re-acquainted with Perth and see how she has changed over the years. Go up the Swan Valley and have lunch at a winery then head down to the south west, explore the beaches and wine areas of Margaret River, Albany and Cape Leeuwin.
There was also the chance to do some hiking along the Cape to Cape Track and the remote headlands as well as the tall trees around Denmark and Pemberton.
But on landing at the airport at midnight it was best to stay at a hotel nearby. One of those places so typical of airports … on the main road and being only 15 minutes from the city it was understandably popular with fly-in, fly-out miners.
The next morning I go for a walk at sunrise to get a fresh feel of the place. Good walking and bike paths beside the road to the airport. Then after breakfast it’s time to drive into the city and walk along the banks of the Swan River to the new Perth Stadium.
It’s on the opposite bank to the WACA … the much-loved home of the Western Australia Cricket Association that was officially opened in 1893 and became so symbolic of Australia’s love of sport.
The new 60,000-seat riverside stadium is set among parkland and logistically modelled on the Melbourne Cricket Ground with two new train stations and buses right to the gates, and pedestrian access from the city being made easier by a magnificent footbridge across the river.
It will be home to Australian Football League matches, big concerts and other international sport fixtures.
“We think we’ve got it right,’’ two lighting specialists tell me as they install portable generators for tonight’s match.
“The whole stadium just opens up at the end of a game and spectators can be out in minutes.
“We still love Melbourne though, going across there.’’
So much of the Perth skyline has changed yet the graceful Swan River remains timeless. Such a magnificent natural feature flowing through the urban landscape.
It’s a sunny Saturday and the sky is that special blue I have only seen here in the West.
Cottesloe is crowded. Even more popular than when I was here last.
Driving, looking for landmarks that I remembered … or thought I did. It’s funny how your memory plays tricks.
I was certain the Cottesloe Hotel was further down in a dip than this, and that the surf club was closer to the breakwater.
And here was Overton Tce, where I stayed. It’s a lot busier at the corner store.
The OBH is different. Gone was the terracotta tiled roof effect, and instead it was all render and smooth lines.
So I find a car park up behind it and started walking.
A young woman is picking olives from a tree in the front courtyard of her townhouse.
It seemed so appropriate … and a reminder not just of the climate but the openness of the people.
The sculptures for Sculptures by the Sea were quite amazing … thought provoking as well as amusing, entertaining and encouraging.
The sea breeze was strong … much stronger than the cooling Fremantle Doctor that was renowned for coming in from the south west on a summer’s day.
And the light out there is different. I get what photographers mean when they say they love shooting in the ‘Australian light’. It’s natural. It shows everything.
The OBH had a strong sporting background. I think that came from the owners back then having been connected with the media.
It was $5 for a room on my first stay … after that late night flight from Darwin it was simply a matter of wherever I could get a bed. Now, prices start about $100 and most likely gets you a sea view from this beachfront position.
The $10 all day Sunday breakfast is brilliant value and the Sunday Session would have to be the best you could imagine.
The Cott has retained its architecture … perhaps even accentuated that classical style of the early to mid 1900s. And it’s a lot busier.
Cottesloe is a great spot to have a meal, and to watch the sun set over the ocean. Not the sunrises over the ocean we are used to on the east coast.
That is what takes a bit of getting used to – the fact the ocean is on the other side when you are trying to find your way around Perth.
Cottesloe is like a 1970s Bondi or Manly. Popular morning or night with swimmers, surfers, joggers and walkers.
On this day it seems half of Perth is here for the Sculptures by the Sea. Big and small sculptures, either simple or intricate to nudge the imagination.
The sculptures are on the lawns, on the sand and even around the lifeguard tower.
The people here seem open and honest. You know, like the people who live next door.
Sandy, a school teacher who has always lived at Cottesloe, right from when they delivered bread or milk by horse and cart, tells me it’s all about the beach.
A lot more people now, and traffic. People from all over the world but still with a neighbourly feel.
The drawback is the distance from the other capital cities of Australia. Yet that also means it is closer to South east Asia, Africa and Europe.
The sea breeze is fresh from the south west and the port infrastructure of Fremantle loom on the horizon.
Out to sea is the famed Rottnest Island, which became a world-wide destination this year after tennis star Roger Federer visited and did a piece for Western Australia Tourism.
Of all the islands I’ve been to, this one stands out over and above all the others. Greek, Whitsundays, sandy keys, coral atolls … Rottnest gets my number one vote.
The protected nature reserve is home to the quokka, a small wallaby-like marsupial.
Hike, surf, fish and explore at more than 60 beaches and 20 bays, from secluded coves to surf breaks. Cycling is one of the best ways to get around the Island.
The Rottnest ferry leaves from Fremantle but when the wind is up and the swell is choppy they don’t run the service.
It won’t be running today but I’m headed for Freo anyway. To catch up with another mate from Perth I had met in London all those years ago.
And off I go…