PERTH: WAY OUT WEST
Is going like a ghost town.
All the clubs are being closed down.
Is coming like a ghost town.
Bands won't play no more,
To much fighting on the dance floor.
A little unfair, but when I stepped off the plane on a Sunday afternoon and found my way to my accommodation, I couldn’t help having this song running through my head.
It started sounding even more loudly when the receptionist informed me that “ everything would be shut by now” 5pm that is.
It started shrieking through my brain when I said “ what, because it’s Sunday?” and he replied “ nope, it’s pretty much closed by this time most days.
Oh my God, I had come to Bournemouth.
He did point out a small area on the map called Northbridge and said that this was where most of the restaurants where. So, as soon as I had dumped my bags and showered away the misery of five hours on Quantas’ flying gulag, I headed out in search of supper.
I wandered through the Central Business District (CBD) which was deserted as advertised and across a small footbridge to Northbridge. Hardly a culinary hub but a few blocks with a number of restaurants which were mainly of the obligatory Asian or Italian Pizza variety. I selected one at random and filled the yawning chasm left by my refusal to eat “ something in foil” on the plane with a huge plate of noodly something or other for $15.
I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to fill the next four days and I felt more than a little dispirited when I headed off to bed at about, oh, all of 8pm.
Still, I had not predicated my visit to this city, officially the most isolated on Earth, for the food, which is just as well, but for the opportunity to see a part of Australia that is currently undergoing a boom not seen since the gold rush.
And, in truth, I have to say, Perth is actually a thoroughly agreeable city despite the fact you can eat better in a Wimpy Bar.
When I woke the next morning, the sun was streaming in and the view down towards the Swan river from my room was enough to have me leap out of bed, into a pair of the most fetching ¾ length trews and to head out of the hotel for an early morning stroll.
There can be few better located cities on the planet and, when I spent the next couple of hours walking around King’s Park and The Botanical Gardens, it was not hard to imagine why this is one of the fastest growing cities in Australia and why it is a magnet for emigrating brits looking for work in the burgeoning mining industry. The salaries are high by any standards and the quality of life (restaurants excluded ) is considered one of the best in the country.
For all that, it does still retain a pleasing frontier town quality about it and nowhere is this more obvious than in it’s neighbouring port suburb of Fremantle. They told me it had changed a great deal since it hosted the America’s Cup in 1987, but it still holds on to its history as the first point of entry for the £10 POM and its past as a seedy port and a magnet for victims, mavericks and outcasts. I loved it and only wish I could have spent more than one day exploring its fabulous architecture.
I also wish I could have spent more time there as the one day I did spend there is a vague memory clouded by ten pints of beer.
It all went so well to begin with. A short train journey and I arrived fresh faced and ready for a day’s civilised strolling about the town of “Freo” as the locals call it. A cup of tea and a healthful bran muffin ( regular as clockwork, thanks for asking) on the Cappucino Strip where most of the population of Fremantle seem to spend all their time and then a walk along the beach and a nose around a couple of shops. Happy as Larry and Larry with a glowing tan to boot. Then I made my big mistake.
One of Perth’s few contributions to the foodie world is that it is home to a number of the best microbreweries in the country ( the influence of ex pat Brits and other Europeans, I imagine ) and one of the most famous of these is Little Creatures in Freo. I am a bit of a fan of their work, so it would have been remiss of me to visit the town and not visit them. What a fabulous place. A cavernous, modern bar with the brewing tanks on full show. The food looked pretty good too and I sat down outside under the shade of a tree and sucked down a pint or two while I read my book and waited for the food I ordered to arrive.
“good book?” a gravely voice said. I looked up to see an leather faced man give me an amiable grin. “yeah, not bad” I replied not encouraging further conversation. “what’s it about?” Oh God, he wanted to be my friend. I placed the book down with an audible and slightly rude sigh and we started to chat.
Jim, as he turned out to be called, was actually, a rather engaging chap. An ex pat Scot who moved to Australia in the 70’s and like so many found himself arriving in Freo on a vacation and never leaving. We started swapping rounds of beer. That is a dangerous thing to do with either a Scot or an Australian. When you do it with a combination of the two, you are bound to suffer the inevitable consequences. In this case, ten pints later, the world was a blur and I had no idea where I was or how the hell I was going to get home, if indeed I could remember where home was.
The next morning, I woke up in my hotel bed, fully dressed with not clue number one about how I made it there. Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch were all in good order, so no one had, apparently taken the opportunity to take advantage of this gorgeous piece of half Welsh half Asian ass while I was indisposed. So, Jim, if you are reading this, I can only assume you poured me into a cab, for which I am grateful. But, next time, just let me read my book, eh?
If I was grateful to have got home in one piece, I certainly wasn’t grateful to remember that this was the day I decided to head out to Rottnest Island, about 30km off the coast of Perth across some, er, interestingly wavy sea. I showered quickly in as much cold water I could bear and jumped in the back of a cab just in time to make the ferry I had already paid $69 when I had no idea I was going to drink my own body weight in cold beer the day before.
What a journey. “ it has been quite smooth recently” said the appallingly cheery guide on the ferry as the boat lurched from side to side in an action directly opposite to my stomach and I began to join that long line of people ( predominantly female ) who wished that Simon Majumdar was dead.
But, we made it, and I did the only thing that any sane person who has the mother of all hangovers and has spent at least an hour hurling his guts over the side of a boat can sensibly do. I went and hired a bike.
Rottnest Island is stunning. A former prison colony, it is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Western Australia and, so popular in fact, that they limit the number of people visiting in Summer by way of ballot. On an Autumn weekday, however, it was nearly empty and I was able to do a cycle/vomit/cycle/vomit tour of the island with only the resident Quokkas as company bar one old man who took this scary and slightly unedifying picture of me trying hard not to spew after a particularly tough hill.
By the time I was ready to catch the afternoon ferry, I was feeling ever so slightly more human again if not particularly up for the foodie splendours of Northbridge, so I bought a take away and headed back to my hotel for an early night.
By the next day, I was right as rain again and decided on a little R&R on Cottesloe Beach and to finish off my visit to this odd little place with the prerequisite (non Alcoholic – still recovering see?) cocktail at The Indiana Beach Club while watching the sun set over The Indian Ocean.
So that was Perth. I think I may have eaten better in its Scottish equivalent, but, as ghost towns go, it’s one of the best