Perth, Australia

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DISCOVER THE BEST OF Perth, Australia

What does it mean to be “the world’s most isolated capital city?” It used to mean that Perth was a hot, gritty place, surrounded by blazing desert. However, growth in regional mining industries, Asian immigration, and an increase in tourism have given the city a new cosmopolitan character; these days isolation feels like a beautiful thing. With a growing population, Perth is everything a city should be—big, busy, and flush with enough great nightlife, delicious dining, and cultural events to keep any traveler busy and satisfied for days, if not weeks. The weather is generally beautiful, the location—nestled between the Swan river and the sea—is generally great, and the attitude is relaxed in spite of it all. And when you’ve had enough of the city itself, Perth also makes a convenient base from which to explore the region’s more remote attractions—many companies run trips and tours from this hub to pretty much anywhere in Western Australia a traveler might want to visit.

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Get to know Perth, Australia

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Although Perth’s streets are not quite aligned north-south or east-west, it helps to think of them as such, and locals will understand what you mean if you refer to them that way. The north-south streets run parallel to William Street. The east-west avenues run parallel to Wellington Street. The railway cuts east-west through town, separating the Central Business District (CBD) to the south from the cultural, culinary, and backpacker center of Northbridge. Near the center of the city, east-west streets Hay and Murray Streets become pedestrian malls between William and Barrack St. Shopping arcades and overhead walkways connect the malls to each other and to the Perth Railway Station. The Wellington Street Bus Station is a block west of the railway station, across William St.

Central Perth is relatively safe, but poorly lit; it empties after dark, so avoid walking alone at night. In Northbridge, restaurants, nightclubs, travel agencies, and budget accommodations cluster in the square bounded by Newcastle St. to the north, James St. to the south, Beaufort St. to the east, and Russel Sq. to the west. Upmarket Subiaco, west of the city, is a hotspot for chic cafes and cuisine, and has weekend market stalls on either side of the Subiaco train stop on the Fremantle line. The Subiaco Oval is home turf for two AFL teams: the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles.

A few blocks north of Northbridge on Beaufort St., the Mount Lawley neighborhood offers wonderful restaurants and more sophisticated nightlife. Just west of Northbridge, Leederville, one stop north of Perth on the Currambine line, is a pleasant place to spend the day, with plenty of pubs, cafes, and funky shops centered on Oxford St.

The green expanse of Kings Park rises just southwest of downtown, overlooking the city and the Swan River. The train to nearby Fremantle passes through the lively beach suburbs of Swanbourne and Cottesloe.

What to do in Perth

Although it's nicknamed the City of Lights, this nearly-coastal city has just as much excitment to offer during the daytime. Perth’s beaches are easily accessible from the city, yet far enough away to make you forget that they’re there. Families flock to Cottesloe Beach for swimming and mild surf, and Swanbourne Beach is a perennial favorite. The famous Kings Park is a must-see for any nature-enthusiast while animal-lovers should stop by Pinnacles Desert for a gilmpse of a koala and other fascinating creatures.

Top Attractions in Perth

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Perth has received many accolades for its multicultural cuisine. Northbridge is full of Asian restaurants, particularly along William St. Meanwhile, James St. takes you from Greece to Thailand and back again through China and Italy as you walk from William St. towards Russel Sq. Mt. Lawley is also a good place to find cafes and restaurants. There is dining in the CBD, but it’s generally either chains or posh places; if you’re on a budget, it’s not the best option.

The menu

Although Australian cuisine has been traditionally dismissed as an uninspiring offshoot of English “pub food,” Oz eats have undergone a multicultural makeover. European and Middle Eastern immigrants spiced up the Australian menu in the post-WWII boom, and today’s Japanese, Thai, Malay, Vietnamese, and Chinese immigrants pepper the urban centers with ethnic restaurants.

Foreign influences aren’t the only outside forces in Aussie diets. The emerging Modern Australian cuisine—“Mod Oz” in the culinary world—has taken Indigenous fare out of the bush and into the bistro. Traditional, native ingredients are prepared with a fusion of Asian methods, producing a unique and inventive culinary style. French, German, and Italian immigrants have left their mark in Australian vineyards, which are gaining more and more international renown.

Breakfast, or “brekkie,” is usually not eaten out, and most restaurants don’t open until noon. Luckily, the ultimate Aussie breakfast can be made in a hostel kitchen. Just grab a piece of toast and slather on some Vegemite, the infamously salty yeast by-product of Oz’s breweries. Be sure to save room for “tea” in the evening; it’s the largest meal of the day. Also, beware of ordering an “entrée;” it’s an appetizer in Australia. Tipping in Australian restaurants is rare and almost never expected; however, expensive, urban restaurants expect a 5-10% gratuity for good service.

Australian Cuisine

Luckily for vegetarians, Australia’s carnivorous contingent is balanced by its hippie sector: vegan and organic options abound. The Australian continent boasts a cornucopia of exotic fruits, including custard apples, lychees, passion fruit, star fruit, coconuts, quandong, and pineapples. Its meats are inexpensive and high grade—especially the veal and lamb—but the contents of the popular meat pie are usually of a more dubious quality. The doughy shell of this dish is often doused with a ketchup-like tomato sauce to disguise the taste of the meat. Seafood is a less questionable Australian favorite, with regional specialties like king prawns (shrimp), Balmain Bugs (a type of lobster), and Barramundi (freshwater fish).

Coastal Indigenous Australians have eaten crayfish, yabbies (freshwater shrimp), and tropical fish for centuries, and urban Australia has discovered the merits of its exotic indigenous food. With the onset of Mod Oz, menus are increasingly inclined to incorporate wild “bush tucker” like bunya nuts, Kakadu plums, and wild rosella plums. Specialty meats like crocodile meat, Northern Territory buffalo, and the surprisingly popular kangaroo filet are also making a showing. However, the average tourist will still probably find witchetty grubs (ghost moth larvae) and wild magpie eggs a bit too daring.

Self-catering is surprisingly easy in Australia. Most budget accommodations offer kitchen or BBQ facilities, and public BBQs are available at parks, beaches, and campsites. Your best bet for an inexpensive midday meal out is a pub counter lunch, which usually includes generous portions of “meat and two veg.” Fish and chips is another budget Aussie institution, but it’s a bit more tropical than its English cousin. Although still battered, fried, and served with thick-cut french fries, Australia’s version is made from “flake,” slang for shark meat. Australian-style bakeries offer a similar mix of familiar and foreign. They sell breads baked with cheese, onion, or other savory additions; sandwich-ready rolls (like hamburger buns); and blue treats like the lamington (coconut-covered chunk of pound cake dipped in chocolate) or pavlova (giant meringue).

Beverages

Ordering “just coffee” is nearly impossible in Australia, particularly in the cappuccino culture of the major cities. Tea, often affectionately referred to as a “cuppa,” is also very popular. Sweet-toothed cafe fans may opt instead for iced chocolate, a frothy, creamy concoction of ice cream, cream, and chocolate syrup.

Australia produces some delicious brews, and Australians consume them readily. The best place to share a “coldie” with your mates is at one of the omnipresent Aussie pubs. Traditional payment etiquette is the shout, in which drinking mates alternate rounds. If the beach is more your style, throw a “slab” (24-pack) in the “Esky” (ice chest) and head to the shore. Although Foster’s was marketed worldwide with the slogan, “Foster’s: Australian for Beer,” other locals brews are gaining popularity and are definitely worth a try. 

Wine

Australian wines are now among the best in the world. Overseas export started soon after the first vineyards began to produce wine in the early 1800s, and the industry gained renown after a post-WWII influx of European oenophilic talent. The Hunter Valley, the Barossa and Clare Valleys, the Swan and Margaret Rivers, and the Derwent and Tamar Valleys possess some of the best Aussie vineyards. Many cafes and restaurants advertise that they are BYO, or “bring your own,” meaning patrons should bring their own bottle of wine.

Nightlife

Perth’s laid-back attitude keeps the pubs, clubs, and cafes hopping. Northbridge starts partying around 10pm and rages late into weekend nights. Mt. Lawley and Subiaco have more upscale, subdued nightlife. Cover charges are infrequent, but queues are not, particularly on weekends. Formal dress codes are rare, but jeans may get the occasional scowl and most places require closed-toed shoes. Most places require ID to enter, and some will not accept foreign drivers’ licenses, so be sure to bring a passport. Tuesdays are generally dead, so take advantage of cheap eats and take a night off. Perth is also gay- and lesbian-friendly.

Sports & recreation

Spectator sports keep the continent cheering year-round. In winter, Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria catch “footy fever” for Australian Rules Football, while New South Wales and Queensland traditionally follow rugby. In summer, the entire country turns to cricket matches. 

Cricket

The uninitiated may have trouble making sense of a sport in which players can “bowl a maiden or a googly to the stumps,” but even a novice will get swept up in the riotous national enthusiasm for these contests, which can last anywhere from an afternoon to five days. International teams stir up excitement during the summer, when they arrive to battle it out with the Australian national team in five-match tours through Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane. This season is never crazier than when Oz faces its archrival, England, in the Ashes series; the ’06-’07 series sold over 1.25 million tickets. Domestic cricket matches assume center stage toward the end of summer, ending with the Pura Cup finals in March.

Australian Rules Football

For many Aussies, the Australian Football League (AFL) teams fill the winter void that the end of the cricket season leaves. Played on large cricket ovals between teams of 18 players, the game was originally designed to keep cricket players in shape in the off-season. The AFL Grand Final, in September, is a stunning spectacle at the home of Australian sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Rugby

According to legend, rugby was born one glorious day in 1823 when an inspired (or perhaps frustrated) student in Rugby, England, picked up a soccer ball and ran it into the goal. Since then, rugby has evolved into an intricately punishing game with two main variants: 15-player rugby union and 13-player rugby league. On the international level, Australia has had a long history of dominance in the sport. Major tournaments such as the Tri-Nation Series (Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand) pack stadiums and pubs and grab the attention of devoted fans around the world. At home, the National Rugby League (NRL) attracts a large following, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, culminating in the NRL final in September. The only match that even approaches the intensity and popularity of the NRL final is June’s State of Origin series, in which Queensland takes on New South Wales. Both games promise a mix of blood, mud, and beer.

Surfing

Punishing surf and big-time waves have made Australia’s Gold Coast famous among the world’s surfers, but prime surfing conditions are the norm all over the continent’s coast. Local surf shops are generally the best sources of information on competitions and conditions. Visit www.surfingaustralia.com.au for comprehensive coverage of competitions, camps, lessons, and conditions. Web surfers can also find information on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Australasia, the premier pro circuit in the region.

More Sports

Since the Australian national team’s 2006 World Cup appearance (their first since 1974), the “Socceroos” and their sport have become points of national interest and pride. Their performance, the best in the nation’s history, instantly vaulted Australian soccer to a level of international prominence. To watch some more established sporting traditions, visit Australia’s largest cities. Every January, Melbourne hosts one of the premier Grand Slam events in tennis, the Australian Open, and the city’s race circuit is scorched each March by the Formula One Australian Grand Prix. Melbourne garners national attention once again on the first Tuesday in November, when the stylish and the sporting flock to the prestigious Melbourne Cup horse race. On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), both amateurs and professionals fill Sydney Harbour for the Sydney Hobart yacht race. The infamously grueling Ironman triathlons are held in smaller venues; Port Macquarie, NSW, and Busselton, WA, host Ironman Australia and Ironman Western Australia, respectively. The competitors in these races swim, bike, and run over 226km of surf and turf for the simple glory of finishing.

The arts

While Australia has only been producing canvases and novels for 200 years or so, art is woven into the fabric of the nation itself. The rock sculptures and paintings of Indigenous artists predate the arrival of Europeans by millennia. Today, a bevy of artists—both native and otherwise—are continuing Australia’s proud artistic tradition, working in disparate styles and genres that reflect the nation’s diffuse identity and evolving national consciousness.

Literature

The Dreaming

Indigenous Australians have developed their own brand of literature through 50,000 years of oral tradition. Their stories revolve around the Dreaming, their creation legend, which is set in a mythological time where the landscape is endowed with mythic and symbolic status. Narratives of the Dreaming speak to a complex network of beliefs, practices, and customs that define Indigenous Australians’ spiritual beliefs and connection to the land.

Bush Ballads

Perhaps the first Western literary genre to emerge from Australia was the bush ballad, a form of poetry that celebrated the working man and the superiority of bush life to dreary urban existence. The most famous of these ballads is AB Banjo Paterson’s “Waltzing Matilda,” often considered the unofficial Australian national anthem. Henry Lawson celebrated bush life in both poems and short stories, with works like “The Drover’s Wife” providing a popular mythology for this heavily urbanized society.

Early Novelists

Early colonial novels tend to focus on the convict experience, as exhibited by both convicted forger Henry Savory’s autobiography Quintus Servinton, the first Australian novel, as well as perhaps the first real Australian classic, Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life. In the early 20th century, two female writers highlighted the changing face of the newly independent nation. Early feminist Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career is a portrait of an independent and strong-willed woman seeking emancipation, while another female writer, Henry Handel Richardson, documented an immigrant family’s history in The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney.

Contemporary Literature

Since WWII, Australian literature has adopted a more outward-looking, cosmopolitan voice. Voss, by Nobel Prize winner Patrick White, uses the bleak emptiness of Australia’s center to illuminate the universality of individual isolation. Thomas Keneally writes with a strong social conscience: his The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith takes on the issue of turn-of-the-century race relations, and his Holocaust epic Schindler’s Ark was later made into the film Schindler’s List. Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey is known for Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang, an imaginative account of outlaw and Australian folk hero Ned Kelly. David Malouf’s work explores the relation between cultural centers and peripheries in the immigrant experience, and his background as a poet surfaces in novels like Remembering Babylon. Australia’s unofficial poet laureate, Les Murray, celebrates the irreverent with his “larrikin” characters and brought much-deserved attention to Australian poetry from every era, while the late Judith Wright occupies a special niche with her uniquely feminine poetic voice.

Music

Indigenous Music

Australia’s rich musical tradition stretches back centuries to a time when indigenous people sang “karma” songs that celebrated their ancestry. Different regions produced different styles and instruments, but the didjeridu is perhaps the most famous musical contribution of Indigenous Australians. Invented by northern people some 2,000 years ago, the prototypes of these droning wind instruments were created using tree branches.

The Rise of Rock

While classical music and precursors of jazz dominated the modest Australian music scene throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country came into its own with the discovery of rock and roll. Shortly after the sound of Bill Haley & His Comets swept through Australia, the country produced its own rock star. Hard-rocking, hard-living Johnny O’Keefe was a perennial presence on the Australian charts throughout the late 50s, and his fitting nickname, “The Wild One,” was also the name of his first hit. The British Invasion of the 60s also had a major impact on Australia: the Easybeats hit the international scene with their infectious tune, “Friday on My Mind.” The wholesome acoustic sounds of the Seekers led the folk bandwagon, and contributions from sibling supergroup the Bee Gees helped Australian pop stay alive through the 60s and 70s.

The Pub Scene

In the late 70s, AC/DC scored big with their brand of blues-influenced heavy metal. Other groups, such as the Skyhooks, Cold Chisel, and Australian Crawl, grew up out of the pub scene and gained local fame with Aussie-themed hits that refused to emulate sounds from across the seas. In the 80s, politically aware pub-rock bands like Midnight Oil became famous for their energetic live shows. Men at Work broke into the American music scene and paved the way for super bands like INXS in the late 80s and thereafter.

From Indigenous to Indie

After the dance-rock success of Arnhem Land group Yothu Yindi in the 90s, Indigenous music became commercially viable. Examples of politicized Aboriginal “bush rock” artists include the Coloured Stones, the Warrumpi Band, and Archie Roach. Indigenous pop artists in the charts include Shakaya and Christine Anu. At the same time, indie rock was popularized by such artists as Silverchair, Severed Heads, and Savage Garden.

Visual Arts

Aboriginal Art

The rock paintings of Indigenous Australians have covered much of the Outback for millennia, and many of their carvings, sculptures, and stone arrangements still exist. Today, many artists carry on the Indigenous traditions. Australia’s most well-known Indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, is famous for his Western-style depictions of Outback landscapes. His work made him a pioneer in the Aboriginal community, and he received full Australian citizenship in 1957. The frequently abstract and colorful paintings of Emily Kngwarreye have also soared in value; in 2007, her Earth’s Creation sold for over a million dollars at auction.

The Heidelberg School

Led by artists including Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts, and Frederick McCubbin, the Heidelberg School of Australian painting that emerged in the late 19th century is considered to be the root of western art in Oz. Named for the rural area near Melbourne where its painters worked, the style focused on landscapes and depictions of everyday Australian life. Roberts found inspiration in the red land of the cattle station, and McCubbin drew on the thin forests of smoky green gum trees.

Contemporary Artists

Possibly the most famous Australian work is Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series, which tells the story of the folk hero’s exploits, final capture, and execution through a series of vibrantly colored paintings. Other artists in the last half-century who have developed distinctively Australian styles include the acclaimed, controversial Brett Whiteley, Russell Drysdale, Arthur Boyd, and abstract artist John Colburn. First awarded in 1921, the Archibald Prize represents the pinnacle of Australian art and is awarded for special achievement in portraiture.

Film

Silent Era

Australians love a good yarn, so it’s little wonder that the Land Down Under also boasts one of the world’s most prolific, innovative film industries. The world’s first feature film was an Australian production; written and directed by Charles Tait, The Story of the Kelly Gang lasted 70min. and cost slightly more than AUS $2,000. The Limelight Department,which was run by the Salvation Army in Melbourne, was among the world’s first production companies and made several hundred short films around the turn of the century.

Post-war and New-wave

Despite auspicious beginnings, Aussie films suffered budget woes until foreign financing picked up during the post-WWII economic boom. Films like Leslie Norman’s The Shiralee, a joint British-Australian production about a fancy-free wanderer forced to assume responsibility for his child, relied on foreign funding. The Australian film infrastructure didn’t really solidify until the 70s, when generous government support ushered in the Australian New Wave, characterized by films like Peter Weir’s eerie Picnic at Hanging Rock and Bruce Beresford’s war epic, Breaker Morant.

Box Office Blitz

After the critical successes of the 70s, the 80s brought Australian films into commercial favor at the box office, both at home and abroad. Hits like Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee were wildly popular the world over. Films of the 90s were personal, Australia-specific, and often quirky—especially in intriguing character studies like Muriel’s Wedding and Shine. Productions, such as New South Wales-native Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! and Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, demonstrate the multiplicity of themes and styles present in contemporary Australian film. The Land Down Under has sent an astonishing number of its stars abroad; these include Geoffrey Rush (Shine), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!), the New Zealand-born but Aussie-raised Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Guy Pearce (Memento), Hugh Jackman (the X-Men series), Toni Collette (About a Boy), and Mel Gibson (the Lethal Weapon series).

Known for their friendly informality, Australians are quick to adopt a first-name basis with new acquaintances and difficult to offend. However, it’s still best to avoid public pronouncements on sensitive topics like race relations or refugees, and you shouldn’t joke about Australia’s convict origins. “Aborigine” has also become somewhat politically incorrect; use “Indigenous Australian” to be safe.

Smokers beware: Australia’s states and territories have implemented stringent bans on public smoking. Public buildings are tobacco-free throughout the continent, and smokers in licensed establishments—including bars, pubs, and hotels—can only light up in the Northern Territory. Littering in Australia is not taken lightly by its environmentally-conscious populace.

For women, almost any clothing is acceptable if it steers clear of indecency. Tube tops, halters, and tank tops are all common. For men, pants or shorts are the norm. Cossies, swimmers, and togs (affectionate terms for Australia’s favorite garment, the swimsuit) are usually appropriate only at the beach.

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