Capital of Gold
Perth, 13th November - 5th December
Everyone reading this text would know that in the English language there are two words for a big village - town and city. The first one used for small areas such as Balchik or Dobrich, and the second for the big ones - like Varna, London and New York (although I like to classify Dobrich as a city too). But in Australia, the settlers have created a new type which is bigger than the biggest places we know. London covers 1,500 square kilometres of English soil. New York barely reaches 800 sq. km. Well, Perth, on the other hand, takes up 6,400 square kilometres. I would not call that a town for sure; I wouldn't even use the word city for it.
Perth, like the other 5-6 major Australian cities, is a metropolis. The places here haven’t developed from small farms and villages that had to compete for land. On the contrary, here they had all the territory they could want in order for this one settlement to grow - called Perth. There are 125km between the northernmost and southernmost point of the city and further 50km inland. And within this metropolis of Perth, there are 30 areas: 20 cities, 3 shires and 7 towns. Everything is classed as Perth. So maybe for your comfort, imagine Perth being more of a county than a city.
Maybe now it becomes clear to you how 80 per cent of the Western Australia state population lives in only one city-metropolis. Fuelled by the huge mining industry.
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MENTALITY AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS
It is ten in the morning and we can already see the city. We know that in one way or another this is a new chapter of our travels. The beginning of part Two of Three. We are coming to see our Australian family and to relax into their care.
While we are still on the city’s highways we feel that the driving style is different - a city style. No one takes you into consideration, everyone only thinks for themselves. Coming from the empty roads, we will have to quickly get used to this new mentality. And in our attempts to pay attention to every unskilled driver, we also notice their personalised registration plates. We haven’t seen anything like it - every other car has its own writing and each of them more simple, kitsch and inadequate. “HERI8” is written on a BMW i8 with a female driver and correspondingly a “HISQ5” is on a black Audi Q5. Obviously the miners around here don’t know what to do with their money if they reach such extremes when spending it.
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Our first proper moments in Perth start at Point Walter - one of the many small beaches on the river Swan. They are so lucky in Perth with this river - accessible, safe and perfect for a beach day (with children). It is neither like the Brisbane river - muddy and full of sharks, nor does it have the waves and currents of the ocean. Here, the children are happy and the parents - calm.
It doesn’t take us long before we see personally where the name of the river comes from, as well as the symbol for Perth when a family of black swans approach the shore - endemic for the territories of the “Down Under”. Two adults with two fluffy nicks. I even manage to touch one as their dad looks the other way.
And the name Perth was given to the settlement in only 1892 when the British started to officially develop the mining industry, as well as the prisoner business. A name, once again stolen from their native British territories and in honour of some high-up diplomat. They didn’t have to think about it too hard and it was a great opportunity to impress - this time the name was after the Scottish home of the current Secretary of the Colonies.
Nic’s day begins with a bang. A four-year-old Aya and a two-year-old Shadow run into the room together and directly jump on top of him. I think their tactics were without faults! Nic is awake and looking for an escape.
Okay, let’s go see Perth! We take Sava to school and with some instructions from Eli park ourselves in the centre of the city. Yesterday she gave me a full list with an exact sequence in order to visit Perth properly so we start right away.
The car park is right behind the square with the three most central state buildings - the museum, the library and the art gallery of Western Australia. The museum is unfortunately under construction currently. They are building a brand new modern building to accommodate the old one and triple the exhibition space. Well, we will not be lucky to see it finished unless we stay for another 5-6 months.
We also pass the spacious, modern atrium of the library - full of art and social hubs. How could you not take in your laptop and relax into one of the comfy chairs dedicating your time to work when the access is free to everyone anyway. But for now, we shall move onto the gallery. The square between the three buildings is inviting and relaxing. The steps in front of the library - a perfect place to sit with a cup of coffee. And perhaps that is what we should have done at 9 am when the gallery isn’t yet open. But we won’t be Vassya and Nic if we won’t prefer to fill free time with food … second breakfast. After we satisfy the restless hunger we flip the list upside down. We should have finished at Elizabeth Quay but instead we head to the bay first and start from there.
If I was to determine a specific goal for the urban development of Perth in the last 10 years, also visible for non-architects, it would be the construction of social squares. New multifunctional infrastructures which give new life to forgotten parts of the city and which connect historical buildings with new hotels, museums and housing. They are simply places for walks and leisure but they carry the feeling of something new and different. And also offer an opportunity for the city’s collection of abstract and big sculptures to be displayed. There are a few such areas around the city - perfect for the designers in spirit on Instagram.
Elizabeth Quay is the new modern docks on the river Swan - a project from 2016 in honour of the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. A design to attract people to the foot of the skyscrapers, next to Swan Bells - the modern river bell tower and in close proximity to one of Perth’s cathedrals - St. George. A ferry quay, two towers of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and cosy restaurants, green areas, a children’s’ playground of natural materials, a designer bridge and unique sculptures … Well, how could the entire city not want to spend their time here enjoying life?
Walking away from the water we pass different buildings and areas - classical low architecture with huge gardens or modern skyscrapers without gardens. A clear divide between two different moments of the development of Perth. In one of the parks, we stop and observe the arranged “engine” of these changes - the ores of Western Australia. On a tall obelisk, an arrangement of all the minerals found in the state - a memorial also known as the Harmony of Mineral. Created in 1971 when Western Australia counted its millionth citizen. And next to the obelisk “flows” a river and bronze kangaroos alongside to drink here.
Our next stop is the cathedral of St. George. In front of it, we are welcomed by an abstract sculpture - white static veil, carried in the wind around a tall pylon. I am glad I didn’t try to decipher the inspiration for it by myself. According to the sign, this is a modern interpretation of the well-known scene when Saint George slays the dragon. A new look around a classical building. The Anglican cathedral is 130 years old but like many other cultural and historical heritage of Australia, it isn’t a particularly unique one. As Nic said, it is much more of a typical English church than a cathedral.
We pass the city library of Perth (not the state one) and walk onto the high street - shops, shops and more shops. A Tudor style facade draws us and leads us onto a small alley filled with more shops. London Court is a logical name for such a project. Of course, its creation was a completely modern affair and there is nothing medieval about it but it is also the perfect tourist trap. If I were the manager, I would require all shopkeepers to adhere to the vision of the street with correct signage, costumes and even products, but I am not in charge.
And from here we are only a few steps away from Perth’s business district, meaning all the office skyscrapers. Modern, tall, glass, clean, spacious. But! I had never imagined that a metropolis can be so calm, balanced and quiet. Even in Sofia in August you can’t see such a thing. Where are your business people, Perth?
There may not be people, but in the middle of November, the streets are already full of Christmas decorations. The city has arranged a path through the centre with different lighting installations. A perfect way to walk the people through every spot. By Elizabeth Quay, there is a big Christmas reindeer and from the city library hang snowflakes. On the square next to the gallery and museum you can see a colourful house and every evening on the facade of St. George there is a vivid projection. The places are numbered and if you wish to tick all twenty-seven stops off the route… there, you’ve seen all the key aspects of Perth.
But all of a sudden, we realise in slight shock, something that up until now was only a vague idea - our Christmas will not be cold, snowy and cuddled. It will be incredibly hot, sweaty, on the go and untypical. And that is exactly why their traditional decorations look so out of place. Shiny reindeer, colourful bobbles, sleighs and nutcrackers aren’t the right representatives of the summer December of Australia. I don’t think we knew exactly what we’re getting ourselves into when we planned to have Christmas down here.
The list is almost finished at 11 am but we don’t want to yet leave the centre of Perth so we look for other interesting sights. Google suggests that we try the mint. At first, we don’t want to spend all that money on the tour but it turns out they do a gold pour so we decide to give it a go.
On the way, we stop at St. Mary’s Cathedral which is most likely the airiest and brightest church I have even been into. Around the altar, the catholic cathedral is traditional stonework. But to the west, it is fully glazed. Our first guesses are around the events of the war and the bombings. But as it turns out, the building process simply took so long that the third stage of funding came into the new century and the architects decided to bet on something modern and different. I don’t blame them, I think their idea is wonderful and cosy.
The tour of Perth Mint turns out to be a wonderful walk through the history of the Australian gold rush. Australia has the second-highest yield of gold in the world after China and the refinery in Perth purifies 95% of the gold on the continent - they are a big deal. We are told about the biggest golden nugget found. We are told the story of when Australia separated from the British mint. We are told about the social life of the first English mint manager and his wife. In England, they were members of high society and often visited the royal family in London, but arriving in Australia they were surrounded by miners and gold diggers. In order for the Misses to meet the handful of other wives in the area and for them to adhere to the etiquette and not mingle with the workers, the manager took all employees to the local pub every Tuesday afternoon. He even paid them for the hours spent with a beer in hand if they could find their way back to the refinery before 5 pm in order to punch their cards for the day.
In Perth mint, you can also see the biggest gold coin in the world - 1-tonne of pure gold. Under the face of Elizabeth II, it says that the coin is worth one million Australian dollars, but its value in gold according to the rate of the day is closer to $60-80 million. Canada and Australia had a long-standing argument of who has the most valuable pure gold coin. In order to stop the debate and to honour the visit of the queen in 2012, the Australians decided to pour one tonne of pure gold with the queen on heads and a kangaroo on tails and to put it on a pedestal over a special vault to keep it safe during the night. Not that anyone could simply roll out one tonne of gold.
Here they also keep a piece of the purest gold in the world - 99,999%. There is also a golden bar behind bars. The space between the bars is large enough to fit your hand through and try to lift it but also small enough to not be able to take it out. It turns out that it is almost impossible, anyway, to lift a gold bar one-handed. You can also weigh yourself on scales that show your value if you were made of gold (according to the rate of the day) - well for scales like this our second breakfast today was worth it. I am close to 5 million and Nic is over 5,5 - precious kilograms. One of the kids convinces the tour guide to show us how the vault works so we also observe the precision with which the big coin sinks down and appears again.
But we can’t miss out on the “gold pour”. Today there is no gold being processed in this building as the modern refinery has been taken out of the city. Therefore, we are led into the old foundry where instead of the countless furnaces it used to hold there is only one and seating for spectators. After putting on a few layers of protective gear, our tour guide opens the furnace where the metal has been melting in hot calmness since the last visitors andwe are temporarily blinded. It is so bright inside that we need a bit of time for our eyes to get used to the change. She tells us the details of the process, the history and the kilograms of gold that can be scraped off the ceiling every few years. But the information comes in one ear and out the other until she turns off the lights so we can turn our attention only on the liquid glowing gold. In only a few minutes she is holding in her hands a bar of 99.99% pure gold (only two 9s after the dot). Well, we will not forget this easily!
After the golden impressions, we pass Yargen Square - the most recent square in Perth which houses countless hip cafes, shops and restaurants. “Guarded” by a huge rusty statue of an Aboriginal. I told you they like creating new social spaces here.
Our main goal is to finally make our way into the state library. Well, it is not only closed before 10 am but also doesn’t work on Tuesday. Guess what day it is today. In the entire world it is known that museums and galleries are closed on Mondays, but we are in Australia. On this continent, there is absolutely no institution that follows any conventional rules on working hours. Restaurants and cafes are closed on Sundays, or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays … They work only in the afternoon or only in the morning … The museums too pick their days off with their eyes closed, making planning a walk on the streets impossible. Will there be a place open for coffee; will you find breakfast or lunch or dinner; could you sit somewhere for more than an hour? When we are in situations of weird uncertainty in Bulgaria we say: “Could someone tell you? Do you dare ask?” Well, we do not dare ask.
But if we won’t be seeing the gallery, let's get back because Aya isn’t at daycare today and I would like to spend the afternoon with her. On the way back while we are still on the freeway we receive sad news. News that we have been expecting but were definitely not prepared for. Thor, our small fluffy hamster, has died in the night. We knew something wasn’t right last time we saw him on a video call. He did not look his normal self and was very lifeless and shaky. But we both pretended like we could see nothing and like all was well with the creature. Nic does his best to hold back the tears while he drives but he doesn’t manage before we reach the house. Silly little hamster! We loved you so much even though you didn’t have the capacity to love us back. We had so much fun with you and hope that we have you a good life! And Aya loves seeing pictures of you so much. Goodbye, little one!
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In the early afternoon after work, Eli suggests taking us for a walk at a new place. Sava has a playdate after school so she doesn’t need to rush to pick him up. We are going to King’s Park or the botanical gardens of Perth.
The gardens are large, much bigger than what we manage to see today. They are situated above the city with a wonderful view. We see the entire collection of skyscrapers and Elizabeth Quay in its full glory below. The paths are surrounded by all plant kinds of Western Australia and you can see plenty of fluffy flowers, prickly stems, bottle trees and blooms. And if we are not amongst endemic bushes then we are in the centre of big green fields. Eli says that in the warm seasons they are perfect for live concerts. Even now they are preparing a stage.
We walk slowly, observe and soak up. We have plenty of time to pop into the overpriced gift shop of the park. Designer items of wonderful materials but the prices are impossible. A wooden memory stick is $120. No, thank you. A quick juice, a last look from the high hill and King’s Park is crossed off the list.
We arrived only yesterday but today we are already meeting Fremantle. It will be a short meeting, but we shall remember it. Eli is rushing to not miss out the opportunity to take us out for lunch in between the household tasks. So she takes us to Fremantle to one of those alternative hipster places with a fully vegan menu, a yoga studio, a mini kombucha brewery and a zero-waste shop. Lunch is incredible and the desert even more so!
Freo, as the locals call it, was the first Australian neighbourhood for the family eight years ago. But it is also the first Perth neighbourhood altogether. This is where the first settlers arrived in the 17th century and here is where the metropolis started growing from - the first house, the first port, the first prison. That is why Freo is an inseparable part of modern Perth - everyone has heard about it and everybody has visited it, probably dreaming they could afford to live in the area.
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For a few days now, my body is desperately trying to get sick and my cold officially settles in today - sore throat, runny nose and untypical tiredness. So we start the day slowly with a bit of work. However, we decide that we can’t stay closed off in the house all day again although I am not feeling my best so we pack up and go for a walk around Fremantle.
The walk is aimless and unorganised - simply wondering on the street getting to know the town that considers itself a city. Truly one of the few places in Australia where you can see character, history and culture. The buildings are old and kept up and the new ones are built in a similar style. The architecture doesn’t go above 4-5 floors and you can hardly see glazed facades or exposed steel. We are surrounded by bricks and small alleys.
After a visit to a pharmacy to stock up on vitamins, we accidentally find an art installation. There is no information on the outside but just a thick black curtain covering the entrance and a small sign saying “Come in!”. We go in.
Inside we enter an impossibly dark hall except for a wall of small holes that let light through and look like a background for a cabaret show. We get closer and realise those are actually four walls and the glazed ceiling lets the light through small plastic cylinders inserted horizontally into the wall. If you look through them you see the walls inside covered in light - painted white and around every cylinder there are shapes in different colours. You can walk into the heart of the installation, surrounded by white walls and colourful triangles. Well, the pictures here are obligatory.
After the art installation, we get to the Round House. This is the first permanent building in Fremantle and therefore the oldest standing one. And about its function, it will not surprise you - the first prison, right on the shore. The place is miniature and is only a museum now. In every cell, there is information about the life of the first prosecuted people arriving at Western Australia territory. The stories don’t sound nice or even human. There is another prison in town - big and scary with extravagant and even adrenaline tourist tours. But we didn’t get to it, primarily because of the price of the tickets. Next time.
Eli was hoping they could join us this afternoon to have a beer in Freo’s brewery Little Creatures but the plans didn’t work out. Well, we’ll go see it anyway. We walk on the streets, take pictures and don’t miss the views behind every corner; we pass a big green field with a ferris wheel. Little Creatures Brewery is right on the marina and is housed in two barns not just for the brewing process but also for a restaurant and event spaces (for example, the wedding we saw a few days later). But currently, with my cold, we don’t exactly want a beer so will try and come back.
We are completely exhausted but also don’t want to go home. We look for something to fuel our adventurous spirit and … my immune system. We find it in a cup of hot chilli chocolate. It is not typically Australian, though there is nothing typically Australian. It was spicy and weird and I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Yesterday’s question of why we don’t spend more time exploring the city is pushing me today to gather my strength and go out. I am not yet in good shape after spending two days in bed ill but I will find enough energy for a walk.
Eli sends us on the route from the Crown Hotel to the Stadium (the Burswood neighbourhood, according to Google) and we follow the instructions. The day is wonderful and I can’t wait to catch up with the diaries from the last few weeks. Perhaps some grass next to the river would be suitable enough.
It seems like the hotel itself is a pulling point of this region. It is built out on a huge area with an older and a newer building and spacious gardens. All of them arranged to be seen from the riverside alley and inviting you to visit. Well, we will not be tricked for now. We’ll only take a few pictures of the black swans in the lake.
Until recently this walk led only to the Perth stadium but today there is a new sight - Matagarup Bridge. A pedestrian bridge that has been connecting East Perth with Perth for only 16 months - directly before to the entrance of the stadium. The facade is created by a twist of black and white structures. In it, I see a dance between a white and a black swan. After all, the bridge is above Swan River. The sign explains the symbolism to be aimed towards the merging of two cultures into one. And wouldn’t the local endemic black swan and the white one, arriving later on ships, be representatives of those two cultures?
We reach the middle of the bridge to immerse ourselves into this connection but there isn’t much for us to see on the other side inside the housing estates of East Perth. We return to the restaurant next to the stadium - Camfield. They claim this is the largest pub on the continent and if we judge by the number of craft beers on the menu they might be right. My head is now causing me a lot of pain and I am in a state of weightlessness so the option of writing is thrown out the window. We order fresh juice and some chips with the hope that it will recharge our batteries but all I wish to do is cuddle back in bed. I go to distract myself in the shade of the riverside trees but all hope is lost.
No, we don’t want to go home yet. Can’t we find a shopping centre to walk around aimlessly? The closest one is next to the state gallery. Yes - it isn’t a Tuesday today, we can go see it. The gallery is relatively small and the pieces exhibited don’t date far back in time. The collection is modern and new. You can hardly see a classical painting on the walls but we are surrounded by different and unfamiliar media. Our walk through the rooms is colourful, light and very nice. And upstairs there is an exhibition entirely dedicated to the designing and building of the gallery. A design based around the existing pieces in the collection …
We also do a quick lap of the shopping centre. However, the moment we step inside I am taken aback - what cameover me to want to come here?! In a mall before Christmas!
Our days in Perth are coming to their end but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen it all. Eli, for example, mentioned yesterday that we have still not been to Cottesloe Beach. And since the waves are too small for surf lessons today we are left with enough time for a walk there.
Cottesloe Beach is one of the most beloved beaches of Perth like Bondi is to Sydney. This is one of the most well-visited sand strips. Here began the first surf clubs of Western Australia. It is also home to the India Teahouse - a wonderful and huge building on the beach which is, unfortunately, currently unused. There are many local debates held to decide the future of this historic place.
The beach is famous also with its annual event Sculpture by the Sea. The heritage from that event can be seen throughout Perth. Crazy and memorable sculptures dispersed on the streets of the city attracting attention from afar. But it all starts here when every year artists from the entire world gather on these sands to create.
We wander, observe the sculptures and the surroundings but mostly enjoy the vivid blue colour of the ocean. I can’t miss the opportunity to go in for a quick dip before we leave. I already have my bathing suit on.
Perhaps you are noticing that this story doesn’t tell it all. Somehow it is hiding so much more. That is because I decided that for three weeks in Perth we have too much to say and the chronological style wouldn’t do it justice. Today I introduce you to Perth as a city. A place unlike any other we have visited.
But our time in the capital of Western Australia holds much more memory - of family and adventures. Memories of a home and not just a location to pass. Therefore, we will not say goodbye to Perth now, although chronologically this is the time to do so. I am leaving you with anticipation for more.
Vassya (and Nic)