Perth, Western Australia: Journey to the end of the world

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Perth, Western Australia: Journey to the end of the world

For many years I thought Perth was in Western Australia. Then I went there. My recollection is this: up at around 5am to get a taxi to the airport to wait two hours before departure, three hours to Melbourne or Sydney or wherever it was to wait another two hours before the five hour flight to Perth.

It seemed to take a couple of days to get to Perth, and when I arrived it was the middle of the afternoon and about 40 degrees.

I concluded that sun-burned Perth wasn't part of Australia but was actually hanging off the edge of the Earth, which it is.

It is surrounded entirely by desert: the big red one to the right and the big blue on to its left which comes with shark warnings. No one need warn you about dangers of the big red one, they are evident when you leave the city limits and see the barren ground, withered trees and the occasional burnt-out car body.

My sister who once lived there used to come over unexpectedly Biblical in her assessment of the place: "They build their houses on sand," she would say darkly.

She also noted that you could live there 25 years and locals would still consider you just another temporary resident.

Perth does have its many charms however: the river is beautiful, especially at night, and there are pretty parks and some snappy modern architecture.

And there is the sunshine. Which made me feel especially sorry for the three teenagers I saw huddled on a street-corner in a piece of shade. They'd picked a bad place to be Goths in.

I met some fine if slightly crazy people like the hearty fellow who, while on a business trip to head office in Japan was lined up for a photo after dinner with the head of the company and, as a result of too much sake and beer, dropped his pants just as the snapper shut.

He lost the local franchise "in the wink of an eye", he said with hoot.

There is an outlaw mentality about Perth which is engaging and even admirable: there were fire warnings when I was there yet the city still threw a massive and damn fantastic fireworks display on the tinder-dry grass in an inner city park; it has tossed up unscrupulous businessmen who went on to become dishonest and disgraced millionaires; and I wish I had bought some Duff Beer while I was there.

They'd started manufacturing the stuff knowing full well that The Simpsons' lawyers would eventually find out. As they did. But in the meantime someone had made money and had a laugh, so that was okay.

A year or so ago I was in a pub in Sydney and, as you do in friendly Aussie bars, got talking with the wizened fellow next to me.

We talked about the usual things -- sport, the heat, sport and various beers -- and it came up that he had come from Perth originally.

I said I'd been there and some guys I'd met talked about "Australians", meaning people in Sydney and Melbourne mostly, as if they weren't part of the same country.

"We aren't," snapped the old guy, fixing me with a steady if slightly blurry stare, waiting to be contradicted.


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