New Zealand / Australia Diary
Monday 7 May 2012
I had truly become the Rainbringer in the latter stages of my trip - the last few days in Hobart had been mostly under grey skies (mostly) and my nights in Perth had been often accompanied by the percussion of raindrop on rooftop. There was a more muted watery drum solo through Sunday night and although breakfast started out with a side order of drizzle the day picked up swiftly and by the time I was ready to head out the sun was breaking through.
The breakfast table had a surprise for me - my book had arrived! Yes, despite all the problems & disappointments it had all come good in the end and I finally had my own copy! After a swift glance through I packed it in my suitcase, something to savour over the jetlagged nights waiting for me back home.
For my last full day in Australia (for a while, at least) I'd decided to give my hosts the day off and go exploring the delights of Perth on my own. Last time I was here (my only previous visit) I'd not seen much of the city itself so I was interested in nosing around, and I still had a nicely full wallet and space in my luggage so some shopping wasn't out of the question either.
Pat drove me to the nearest train station (Guildford, another incongruous English name) and from there it was a twenty minute journey into the city centre. As we glided (glode?) along through the suburbs the houses moved closer and closer together, eventually merging into what looked more like urban housing to my suburban eyes. As we came in to the central station the trackside buildings were lined with graffiti that could easily have been murals, apart from the decidedly unconventional subject matter which looked like tattoo parlour decoration or sci-fi cover art. Still, not a bad introduction to the city.
Perth was decidedly more of a city than Hobart, coming out of the train station I found myself swept into a multi-level shopping mall and it took a while to disengage and make it down to street level. The pedestrianised city centre was filed with shops that were a bit more swish but considerably less funky, filled with stuff for the locals rather than the visiting tourist. I wandered for a while with the general intention of reaching the riverside, which eventually I arrived at. I'd just missed a river cruise but I wanted to see more of the landside first anyway. King's Park had been recommended as somewhere I should make a point of seeing and as the sun was still shining bright it seemed like a good place to start. The park was just far enough out of the city centre to not appear on my tourist transit map but I worked out where it must be and found a CAT stop that would take me there.
The Central Area Transit bus system was a great thing for the indecisive tourist - three 'loop' bus routes that ran continually (I never had to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for one) and were free to use, you just got on and off as you pleased. As the rain came & went or my feet grew tired or I just wanted to investigate another area I'd find a nearby stop and jump on. They weren't just for tourists - around 5pm the one I was on filled up with workers obviously heading home from the office.
I bussed around to the park area, climbed Jacobs Ladder - a tall & winding staircase, filled with serious joggers trotting down and slogging up - and was soon wandering around King's Park itself. The park was delightful, combining botanical gardens with general urban green space, and its position high on a ridge with rolling contours offered spectacular vistas. I spent over two hours just following the paths and taking in (some of) the sights. Not just the sights - the susurrus of the breeze through differing leaves & bushes was punctuated by sharp bird cries, still sounding strange & primal to my domesticated ears. And every so often I found myself caught in wafts of perfumed air, not just the almost constant background hint of eucalypt that I'd gotten used to but other, sweeter smells, hard to identify or trace to a source, that would suddenly transport me to another world. A real rollercoaster for the senses, a garden of earthly delights.
The park contains a memorial to the victims of the bombings in Bali in 2002, which includes a viewing platform over Perth Water, a wide section of the Swan river that borders the city. The platform had an inscription which said something like open your heart and let the river carry away your grief which I found very moving, a rare example of a memorial acknowledging the mourners as well as the victims.
During my wanderings I found signs to the 'Reflection place' which I thought might be a still pool with interesting optical reflections but which turned out to be a collection of benches & small pavilions, shielded from each other by vegetation & decorative screens and with long views over the river valley. The largest one looked like it had been set up for weddings & other formal occasions but the others felt more like spaces for personal reflection or existential musing. With my trip almost at an end and a new job & home waiting for me back in the UK this seemed like the ideal spot for a bit of inward contemplation so I sat and thought, pondering on life, the universe and, well, everything. The initial feeling of stillness was slowly subverted by rustling leaves, bird calls and those exotic smells, drawing me back into the world.
From King's Park I returned to the city and spent the rest of the day criss-crossing its streets, primarily on foot but with several opportune (or occasionally random) trips on CAT busses. It was an interesting experience, especially where the older, obviously Australian parts of the city brushed up against the more anodyne & anonymous modern centre and where the great Temples Of Sport stood majestic and imperious. But slowly the places I wanted to visit seemed to grow further & further apart and I realised I was tiring and it was time to head back.
As it was getting on I decided to eat in Perth before catching the train home, however I found myself in a strange state of indecision. The city, like most I'd visited in Australia, had a huge selection of restaurants, cafés, bars & bistros but somehow none of them seemed quite what I was looking for - too cheap looking, too snooty, too bright, too noisy, etc. etc. This matched my shopping experiences (my bag remained empty of purchases), nothing I saw seemed quite right or it would have some flaw that made me hold back from bringing out my money. Normally I'm pretty good at making decisions so it was a bit unsettling to find myself dithering like this, what was going on with me? More existential grist for the mill.
Eventually I found myself in an almost deserted Asian canteen where I had a delicious plate of my (by now) regular spicy noodles. It felt like there was a much stronger East Asian influence in Australia than during my last visit, most obviously in eating establishments where the previously ubiquitous Italian places had become almost an endangered species. In virtually all of the airports I'd visited, surely the most sensitive cultural barometers of our transient age, the most popular spots were noodle bars of some kind and it seemed like this was the food of the future. Very sci-fi too, from Blade Runner to Firefly.
Full of tum and weary of foot I made my way to the station and caught the (prompt, clean, popular & speedy) train back home. From there it was, after tea & chatting with my hosts, off to a long, restorative shower and from there to bed. Tomorrow was the long journey back to Britain.