Perth 2007 – More Brass Than Class

On returning to my hometown of Perth in 1985 after two years overseas, I decided to flee to Sydney. For me there is an amnesic quality about Perth (although perhaps it’s the same with any place you’ve grown up in) such that time spent away – even years – seems to assume an unreal, dream-like state very soon after returning; I was determined not to forfeit to the encroaching mists the fertile experiences of my time away. Nothing much seemed to have changed back in Perth, but I was not the same person who had left. I had developed a dread of family, and sensed (or maybe just anticipated) an agenda to absorb me back into the fold, where I would soon return to ‘normal’ as part of an homogenous blobby structure that rejected change as some potentially lethal threat to its existence and like white blood cells attacking bacteria, sought automatically to eradicate it. I felt that I would concede some hard-won independence of spirit if I hung around longer than a few days, so before the week was out off to a new life in Sydney I went.

It surprised me just how different Sydney was from Perth. In some ways I felt more foreign than I had in Europe. I knew nothing of my new home, and had no friends there to educate me. I didn’t even have a car, which had been a given in Perth. Taking public transport and walking, I set out on a reconnaissance mission in search of a place to live. Dodging a bottle as it flew by me and exploded against a wall just as I emerged from the train station for my first look at Redfern, hurled by the pursuer of a madly running miscreant who pelted past like a small truck, it occurred to me that my mission was going to be a little more challenging than anticipated. Redfern, then some years from the gentrification that would follow, felt dangerous – like an undetonated bomb – and I didn’t take long to conclude that it wasn’t for me. I explored North, inner West and East before I decided on a 3-person share house in Kensington.

In the two years in Sydney that unfolded, I learnt much about my newly adopted city, and through inevitable comparing and contrasting, discovered a few disconcerting things about Perth.

Firstly, there was an exciting buzz about Sydney that I had also tapped into in other great cities during my travels in Europe and Asia that was entirely absent in Perth – and still is. It is something, I suspect, that is only possible in a metropolis of millions. There’s a sense of community that you get walking amongst thronging crowds in a big city, an intuitive understanding that “we’re all in this together”; “this” is something to do with being part of a city with a strong, unique identity that is acknowledged nationally and internationally, that has history and globally recognized landmarks, a developed and evolving cultural personality, that has a sense of self-assurance quite unlike the catty parochialism of Perth (the resentful junior sibling, stuck on proving itself an equal), and most exciting of all, that is a hub. That is something you cannot fully understand if you have never lived (and I mean lived – not travelled) outside Perth, perched, as it is, all on its lonesome way o’er on the windswept West coast.

Dwelling in paradoxical harmony with this big city sense of community is a liberating anonymity. You feel released to ‘be yourself’ and to push that wherever you wish – in my case, this was probably enhanced by my (grateful) distance from family and the ties that truss, and relief at the stark contrast with Perth. Anyone who comes from Perth will confirm that it’s “a small place”. You rarely go anywhere without bumping into someone you know, and many’s the time you beat a hasty retreat into the nearest shop to avoid some unwelcome blast from the past intruding on your present. There’s a feeling you can’t get away from – or with! – much at all.

There is a myth in Perth that Sydney people are rude and unfriendly, the implied corollary being that Perth is polite and sociable. I found the opposite (my Redfern and some other ugly experiences notwithstanding). People I met in Sydney invited me to social gatherings as a matter of course. Not infrequently, workmates included me, the newcomer, in weekend barbies or get-togethers at their homes, sometimes with the offer to put me up for the weekend. While such invitations were not uncommon in Sydney, it is rare indeed in my experience for Perthites to put themselves out like that, especially for a new acquaintance at work. Ask any recent arrival in Perth trying to establish a circle of friends and they’ll confirm that it is not easy.

Perth is about as cliquey as it gets. It is commonplace for people to retain their school friends all their lives, which is ok in itself, but there is a tendency to cling together with molecular tenacity, effectively insulating the group against “intruders” – partners, of course, excepted (more or less).

Outsiders are habitually regarded with suspicion, and ultimately shunned (politely) until they’ve paid some pretty substantial dues – and by substantial, I mean years! Ask any immigrant. Ask any “Eastern-stater” who has made the move West. Shit, there is even a division between those who live North and South of the Swan River that goes way beyond the merely geographical! Not to mention Fremantle and Perth, whose differences and rivalries now find obvious expression in the arena of AFL football, never so fiercely as in the legendary Western Derby clashes between the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers, and their bitter aftermaths. Of course, this sort of tribalism is not exclusive to Perth, but the Perth-Freo rift runs much deeper than football rivalry. My father spent a lot of his working life in Fremantle, and recounted instances of old-timers at the Fremantle Workers Club proudly declaring that they’d never been to Perth, and intended never to cross the bridge over the Swan to that despised foreign territory!

Insularity and division are hallmarks of Perth society, which comprises micro-communities whose focus is inwards. The greater community seems bound together only by locale – except in sport, where the crowd locks into a fierce parochialism that has always been there, roaring its hostility at invaders from the East and its jubilation at Perth team triumphs – with Victorian AFL teams copping the worst stick, naturally. (Nothing wrong with that. The greatest moment I have witnessed in any sporting context was John Worsfold’s bone-shaking hit on Hawthorn hard-man Dermott Brereton deep in the pocket at Subiaco Oval’s eastern end in the early 90s. That ecstatic moment of perfect poetic justice united the crowd in a delirium of wild applause that was just unforgettable. A rare and profound 5 minutes of community unity.)

Am I generalizing? Sure! And whatever has been true of Perth is a-changin’ fast with the massive inflow from, mostly, the dreaded Eastern States, England and South Africa grabbing for the spoils of the mining boom and a place in the abundant sun of the west. But are the changes for the better? Some yes, some no – these changes will be the focus of coming blogs. One thing I will say now, though, is that the growth has come way too fast, leaving the place in a state of transition in which we now have most of the disadvantages of a big city, but few of the advantages. Perth of yesteryear – which, for all its small-town faults, did have some desirable qualities that set it apart from other Australian cities – is lost to progress, and the place it has become is in a mother of an identity crisis.

I want to return for a moment to differences between Perth and Sydney, specifically to one that hit me between the eyes some months into my first year “over East”. Like all great cities, Sydney has a vibrant inner city life, which contrasts starkly with its suburbs where the bulk of the population lives out their lives as anywhere. The urban and suburban are worlds apart: the distinction between these two worlds is unavoidable and insistent. This distinction, quite honestly, did not exist for me until I left Perth. In fact, until I moved to Sydney, I didn’t even know the meaning of the term “suburban”. Of course, I knew the word itself, but used it without understanding what the hell I was talking about – Perth is all suburb! Let’s play the other side of the record, Sam: there IS no true inner city life in Perth! It is no accident that the city proper is referred to as the CBD – indeed, that’s all it is: a central business district. No apartments, few bars or restaurants other than those catering for the day crowds, no fountains or sculptures worth a photo, and there is no reason to go there after the shops have closed, except maybe to King Street if you’re a café yuppie and on Friday nights to some after-work pubs.

Whatever changes have been wrought in Perth in recent years by the massive influx of national and international arrivals looking to cash in on the mining boom, a happening inner city scene is not one of them. Rather, there has been an unseemly suburban spread LA style; the new housing developments along the northern corridor, especially, are unimaginative and soulless, sandy suburban expanses that the admen stoically insist are communities.

Thus far, dear reader, you might rightly accuse me of crying stinking fish in my own backyard. There must be something good about Perth?! And of course, there is.

The beaches. Oh, the beaches. The glorious sea that laps, washes, pounds against Perth’s rim is my church. A dip in the brine on a still summer morning is a baptism, the ripping winds and scowling oceans of winter a sanctuary from human complication, a comfort and an inspiration. For me, very often, the coast of Perth is the only redeeming quality of this town other than its dulling but assuring familiarity. If it were not blessed with this coast that I am spiritually connected with, I would not live here. It’s the one positive constant I can fall back on. The waters of the Indian Ocean will one day receive my ashes. Need I say more?

Others have made the valid observation, and I’ll make it again, that almost all Perth’s assets are environmental. The Swan River, asphyxiated though it is becoming due to past mismanagement and current community ignorance, lethargy and selfishness (ban front lawns – but that’s another story) is picturesque, its surface a pleasant playground for the well-to-do. King’s Park is a dramatic national park, uniquely positioned in a central vantage point overlooking the CBD and the Swan River’s widest expanses. The hills and surrounds can be nice for those who bother to explore them. And certainly the weather is pretty damned fine. Lots of sun, relatively clean air, some ridiculously beautiful days in the middle of winter that beat summer in full bloom in some geographically underprivileged locales.

The stock response of Perthophiles when asked to identify the reason for their enthusiasm is “the lifestyle”. They wax lyrical over barbecues, as if singeing flesh over flames was somehow precluded elsewhere. Then there is the great outdoors – true, there is plenty of opportunity for playing outside, whatever your game.

“Casual” and “convenient” are other standard Perth descriptors that are tossed around as liberally as Cresco lawn fertiliser, but do they still apply? In truth, I don’t see Perth as any more casual than elsewhere in Australia, and its convenience is diminishing with every new arrival.

The freeways and main roads are now choked at peak times with the vastly increased numbers of commuters that the boom has attracted, and suburbs are metastasising further and further out from the city centre.

My favourite beach of the last 20 years, once the haunt of a few score regulars and random tourists, is now so crowded on weekends that the car parks are full by 10am on plum beach days; if you get there later, forget it. You’re relegated to one of the shitty dog beaches, where the spine-cracker waves dump right on the shore. The good beaches are not quite as cramped as Bondi yet, but getting closer by the summer.

The Perth institution of going to the footy can no longer be taken for granted. Eagles matches are usually booked out and members snap up most of the seating available anyway. Dockers fans are more fortunate, but their tribe is growing and it is only a matter of time before their games sell out more often than not, also. When a decent sporting stadium will be built, or Subiaco Oval re-developed (again), is anyone’s guess.

Queuing outside popular restaurants, once unheard of, is now commonplace. Ditto Rottnest Island. The days of the spontaneous holiday on Rotto are finished. Holidays during school breaks must now be booked a year in advance, and even then, you have to queue to score a place in the ballot system that operates to ensure holidays at the island are not gobbled up by the same people time after time – some actually camp out overnight to guarantee themselves a spot in the ballot! The Southern coastal areas, too, are now booked out in advance during holiday periods.

“Convenient”, then, is looking like an imposter on that wrinkled old list of plusses.

In the past, “affordability” was one of Perth’s big advantages, but no more – and here, finally, I get to the primary concern of this blog: the rocketing real estate prices of the last few years and the impact this is having.

A few weeks back, buried in the middle of Saturday’s West Australian newspaper, was an article about a uni student living out of a backpack at friends’ places as he struggled to find rental accommodation he could afford. He had left Canberra to take up a scholarship studying architecture at UWA three years previously, when rent was a manageable $60 per week. With the rapacious grab for property in all locations that has become a feature of the booming property market of the last 3 years, previously affordable student housing areas have become “hot”, pushing the values into the stratosphere and tripling rents. The architecture student complained that with Perth becoming “so hard to live in” he was considering moving back East, or even to London or Barcelona.

This raises a couple of pertinent points. Quite abruptly, a yawning gulf has appeared between the moneyed and the battlers, or more accurately, between those who own property and those who do not (yet another division in a place already full of them). If you are not on a very good income and do not own a house now, you probably never will – not unless you win lotto or inherit significant money or property, or make a resounding success of yourself. At best, people on ordinary incomes will have to settle for a long-term mortgage on an apartment, not a house, which in itself is a fundamental change in Perth lifestyle. The house and backyard, once a birthright here, the latter mythologised by Tim Winton as an archetypal site of childhood drama and discovery for kids growing up in Perth, are now far beyond the reach of many. Perth was always a place of space, where you had room to breathe. Not now.

I saw a report a few weeks ago that ranked Perth’s median house price with Sydney’s – impossible to conceive only a couple of years ago. So, if living in Perth is now as expensive as Sydney and other great world cities – and more expensive than Melbourne – does it have enough to offer? Does it offer the bang for buck of Sydney and Melbourne? London, Barcelona, Paris, Rome, New York? It has “great city” prices, but is it a “great city”?

Pshaw! It’s a piss-elegant little pretender way too far up its own arse, mean-spirited, lacking soul, lacking buzz, lacking personality. It is fortunate in its natural environmental locale, but does that compensate for its shortcomings? For its self-centred human environment, where personal material gain is the overriding objective, and the driving force behind its astonishing recent growth spurt? For its cultural and geographical isolation, and the defensive parochialism that breeds? For the big-city disadvantages that the boom crowds have brought with them, the exploding cost of living, the strain on the infrastructure that was never anticipated or planned for?

These are the sorts of questions many will be asking in coming years, as they sit back in their dizzily valued homes, contemplating the suburban wilderness that enfolds them, thinking of the lives they left behind and wondering why eating lotus in the desiccating sun of the West never seems to fill their hunger for – what? – something more. Something that the mere material spoils of a mining boom cannot approach. Something with heart.

Perth Sold

© Ross Buncle 2007 – All Rights Reserved

31 thoughts on “Perth 2007 – More Brass Than Class”

  1. From the uproar over daylight savings and the bell tower to the constant rejection of extended trading hours .. Perth people LIKE the lifestyle and its stale ways.

    Its a perfect environment for families and a god awful one for young, single folk.

    Do what everyone else does .. live in London until your married then come back to Perth to retire amongst the beautiful beaches. If you can afford to.

  2. Sprittiny,

    Certainly agree with you about this joint being family orientated…those bloody “Baby on Board” stickers that have proliferated here for decades say it all.

    I imagine it still is, as you say, “a godawful [place] for young, single folk”, as it was when I could classify myself thus. And lemme say, for those older folk who have not taken the usual family route, sentiments do not change simply on account of being around too long to be considered “young”.

    You know, I don’t think “everyone else” lives in London until partnering off and returning to lotus-eating country…many stay in this sarcophagus, content to take the annual package hol to Phuket (or – pre-bombings – Bali), confident that they’re living in “the best place in the world” – why put that to the test if you’re convinced it’s fact, as many insist it is?

    I like your last comment, and the implication – intended or otherwise – that being married and living in Perth equates to retirement. What is “retirement”, anyway? To me, it’s a euphemism for death.

  3. Nice article. I’m living in London at the moment and was considering a move to WA on my return to find something of the Brisbane I knew as a boy… sounds like it’s been and gone for you too.


  4. Afraid so, David. You might as well stay in London, where you can enjoy the advantages of the big smoke as compensation for the disadvantages. Here, we have mostly the latter at this point in the sudden growth spurt of Perth in its maturation towards who knows what…can you hear the straining of the infrastructure from there?

  5. I liked the way you wrote your articles, but unfortunately I disagree with most of what you say. Perth has really caught up lately and has been ranked right near the top of the best cities in the world to live, above Sydney and other Australian cities, except Melbourne. I agree that while before the majority of the drawcard was our abundant beauty nature wise, we have really boosted other attractions, especially in the arts department, and we are fast proceeding to becoming more and more developed whilst retaining our friendliness and uniqueness. Perth is set apart from other cities in Australia because of the fierce pride we feel for our amazing city and state, any rivalries within would be instantaneously dropped in order to set us further apart from the bustle of the Eastern States.

  6. Hmmm – who did the ranking? Certainly not me. And on what was it based? Since I wrote the article I am more adamant than ever that this place has all the disadvantages of a big city and none of the advantages.

    Check out the peak hour traffic – now worse in many instances, both north and south of the river, than Sydney or Melbourne. Our infrastructure is simply not equipped to deal with this massive increase in population and traffic over such a short time…and now that ‘Sixty Minutes’ has promoted WA as a boomtown cashcow, we can expect a continuing flood from Eastern States and international booty-seekers that will stretch our groaning facilities even further. Add to this the rudeness and selfishness of Perth drivers, which exceeds by a long way their counterparts elsewhere in Australia – or the world for that matter – and you have a recipe for unpleasant commuting into the forseeable future. Great.

    Median house prices are now up with Sydney, which makes life bloody difficult for anyone who is not raking in obscene bucks from the mining boom, and triply difficult for renters. Where’s the great standard of living in that? What I see is an ever-widening divide between haves and have-nots.

    You speak of a boost in our “other attractions” – such as?

    Where is the thriving local arts scene you allude to? Oh, strike that. I have to admit to not being engaged with Perth’s cultural scene at the moment. In the past I have attended some fantastic local stuff: theatre, ballet, symphony orchestra concerts, musical events and some great pub gigs. On the last, while we have an abundance of original rock bands, it irks me that most of the great pub venues have closed to make way for yuppie joints to cater for all the well-monied bores that call Perth home these days. But you are doubtless right that there is plenty going on here culturally, and no shortage of local talent.

    Perth is one of the cliquiest places I’ve experienced; that friendliness you speak of is a locally-perpetrated myth that has been around since I was in short pants. I encounter rude arseholes frequently, especially on the roads. Have you actually lived in Sydney or Melbourne, or are you simply passing on the crap you’ve been told (probably by other Sandgropers who have never lived outside the state). Sydney folk are, on the whole, far friendlier and more hospitable than Perthites, in my opinion.

    As for the vibrancy of the arts scenes and the city generally – both Sydney and Melbourne make us look very small-town. Have you actually spent significant time in either of those cities?

    Oh, we’re unique all right – uniquely boring. The topic of conversation I encounter time and time again is bloody real estate prices, and whether they are going to keep going up, or subside. Fascinating.

    And that fierce pride you mention – what is it, really? I’d suggest it’s a mean-arsed small-town parochialism and a niggling suspicion that we’re largely irrelevant to the Eastern States (although that’s changing, with all the publicity about the bucks they can make here). Something like a younger kid jumping up and down to be noticed by his elders, who don’t really give a rats. Mind you, introduce football rivalry to the mix, and I’ll be jumping up and down with the best of them. But that’s where it ends, for me.

    As far as I’m concerned, Tim Winton said it perfectly in one of his early short stories back in the 80s, in which he referred to Perth as a “puff-chested little rooster” – full of self-importance and noisy arrogance as it attempts to assert itself as something special. Not much has changed in that respect, except that we now have even less to crow about.

  7. OK , guys , so what is so new ?
    Once one has read Samuel Johnson’s ” Journey to the Highlands ” or some such similar title , one is never , ever , surprized that each place is really nothing more than a tinnier pot version of , say , Penzance !
    l mean , what more is there to say ?
    Yours , Alicia .

  8. Thanks for writing about what I experience, know and feel.Your blog has resonated with me. As an Australian or as Perthites perceive me East(possibly evil) Australian I have been living in Perth for close to a year. In this time I have experienced statism( state racism) – an adolescent attitude that stems possibly from an insecure identity born from isolation. Perth has forced me into social isolation – surprising at first but now amusing. Luckily I have internal resources to draw upon and through this period of solitude I have realised that Perth is indeed an immature town and it’s not the place to settle down if you appreciate action, diversity, drive and living capriciously. The predominant attitude here – to be different for just the sake of wanting to discriminate is both appalling and frustrating (especially trading hours). I have travelled around the world, a universal citizen, and appreciate the natural wonders this state offers, a great substitute for friends. Thanks Perth for highlighting how far the rest of Australia has come in terms of cultural awareness, open minds and acceptance. The wine here is great too. I wish some locals would take notice and learn how to go with the flow and grow like their grapes do.

  9. Hi Isabella, and thanks for your comment.

    Yeah, you gotta pay yer dues in Perth as an “Eastern Stater”. It’s always been a very parochial, cliquey place. Actually, I would have thought that would be not be the case so much now, since there have been so many boom blow-ins to Perth and WA. You’d think that would dilute the parochialism somewhat. Apparently not, going by your comment.

    As I stated in my post, I think the main advantages of life in Perth are environmental, but it’s a pity you feel that “the natural wonders this state offers” are “a great substitute for friends.” The natural environment is important to one’s quality of life, but the human environment is far more important.

    There are many occasions on which I feel quite despairing over the rude, selfish, inconsiderate aresholes that have become all too common here, and as I made clear in my post, the rampant materialism of this place is something I just detest. You know, it ain’t all bad, though. For every selfish prick, there’s someone who feels similarly to people like you and me. It’s just that it sometimes seems difficult to find them!

    Nevertheless, I believe that people who are friendly and tolerant and giving attract others of that ilk. Don’t give up. I don’t think it’s valid to stamp the entire Perth population with a big red negative. I mean, there’s me, you, my partner and friends…we’re all top folk, to be sure, to be sure. It’s everyone else wot’s the problem! 🙂

  10. Hello. Very well written. Congratulations. I am 35. I grew up in Fremantle. I always identified myself as being “from Fremantle” – NOT Perth! and yes, growing up, I always referred to Perth as “just” a CBD, when describing WA to visitors. For teh last ten years though I haev settled sown with family (still in Fremantle!) and have “had” to work in Perth. Only now am I realising how much I dislike Perth (NOT Fremantle, Perth!). I might suggest that one of the disadvantages to the social isolation is a possible eraditcation of your own identity, which can lead to depression etc… (ie: “I’m to blame”). I too feel very, very, properly frustrated here. Like my brain is being eaten away. You can work so hard to “amuse” yourself here in Perth and can be left to think you are at fault when as the author of this blog suggests, that Perth itself is a bit of a “twighlight zone” where intelligence and life have no voice/oxygen. End of rant!

  11. Thanks for your positive comments about my post, Moodiboy.

    Obviously, we have some attitudes and perceptions in common, even if I hail from the wrong side of the Freo bridge! Bet you’re a bloody Dockers supporter, too!

    To be honest, although I do think Freo’s still got a lot more character than Perth (certainly the CBD area, anyway), it too has started to go down the gurgler IMO. Horribly gentrified these days.

    Still, it’s the best we’ve got this far west of Melbourne!


  12. WOW great article. Having been born and bred in Perth and been around to a few places around the world and around Australia, I absolutely agree with this article, it could not be truer. Sorry to say this Perth but the city is arrogant if it think it can be comparable to places like Sydney, New York or Paris. What exactly does Perth have to offer that other cities dont have? Melbourne alone is 10 times better and I consider that to be the best city in the country. The problem is attitude, there is no change, no culture, no development and too much reed tape. Who gives a flying rats bum about beaches and weather, let me tell you a thing about those two overrated claims. Beaches in Perth, while naturally beatiful, are sorely lacking the infrastructure and the resources in which to cater for the public. It’s water and sand and nothing else, once you seen it, that’s it. Unless you surf who cares? And the weather? Boring monotonous weather that never changes, is always too hot which just makes the days just drag on and become dull and lifeless. You cannot tell me that 40C weather for 3 months straight is good weather, it’s not. Face it Perth, you have nothing on other cities, its like a small city trying to act like a big town but its not. As much as I oppose government in all its form, at least they are trying to make the place a decent place to live, but the people are so backward in their thinking that its fine as it is. It’s not, and we are getting left behind in the dust by the rest of the country.

  13. My husband and I lived for 5 years in Ottawa Canada (back in late 80’s/90’s) and regularly travelled to cities like New York, Toronto and Montreal. We have a baby in Perth having returned from Ottawa when he was 7mths old. We found that Canadians were very friendly in general and neighbours would invite you back to their place for BBQ’s (Yes they can BBQ also). The people there just seemed to be a bit more genuine and interactive, its a generalisation but definately noticeable. When you went shopping they stopped to talk and said hello to our son and interacted. Since coming back to Perth due to getting work in the Oil and Gas industry and having parents here it has been absolute torture at the mothers groups trying to break into all of the cliques in them. People have not been interested to diversify and get to know us. In one case I was told that I could not go to the mothers group as they were all friends who new each other.

    We will probably go back to Cananda some day probably retirement by a lake or something.

    There are good things about Perth also as you pointed out so I dont want to be targeted as a complainer as can happen in Perth. I always see thoes car stickers ,”If you dont love it…leave”. We are citizens here and husband was raised in Perth from the South side…Rossmoyne. What we wanted was to find people that wanted to be genuine and nice but we are yet to meet them. Anyway enough of a rant.

  14. Reading this in 2012, I can’t help but feel that all the concerns in this article have now only become worse. I’m Perth born and raised, currently 21 and a student, and after 3 years of renting found myself priced out of the rental market and back with Mum and Dad. Yesterday I paid $32 for two drinks at the Belgian Beer Cafe. I missed the last bus home (it leaves at 11.17), and a taxi costs close to $30 even though I live in Kensington, right over the river and no more than a 10-15 minute drive to the city.

    On the other hand, I’m currently studying law and feel lucky for all the professional and business opportunities that now exist in Perth for educated people- and it would be hypocritical of me to say that I won’t take advantage of these opportunities, because I plan to. But they’re not enough to make Perth a nice place for young people to live.

    Thanks for writing an article in 2007 which I’ve found relevant 5 years later.

  15. Hi Liam, and thanks for your comments. Really appreciate your acknowledgement.

    Yes, I agree that the concerns I expressed when I wrote this article are now glaring ones, in 2012. The rental situation is dire, as your situation demonstrates. There is a community park across the road from where I live, which had become “home” to a young(ish) woman and her dog, until the authorities locked up the toilets overnight due to “unsociable behaviour.” Apparently, this lady could not find rental accommodation due to vastly over-empowered landlords imposing a no-pets policy, and was prepared to sleep rough to keep her dog. That’s the sort of thing that happens when demand outstrips supply so disproportionately.

    The authorities evidently didn’t notice the young guy with Victorian plates sleeping in his car overnight in the parking bays bordering the park. He, also, was not your typical vagrant. By day, he would sit in his car with the door open working on his computer, and grab a set of weights to do some exercise when he needed a break. Probably one of many cases of Eastern-staters migrating over here on the assumption of a big-paying mining job, and finding the reality does not match the expectation (depending, of course, on qualifications and experience).

    Funny, in the almost 20 years I have been living here, I have not seen anyone sleeping rough until the last 2 or 3 years. My bet is that this is but the tip of a shameful iceberg.

    And yes, prices have continued to inflate over here – just one of the many distortions we can thank the fucking mining boom for.

    Why shouldn’t you take advantage of the opportunities here once you’ve finished your law studies? That’s one of the upsides to boomtown. At least you’re making the effort to gain qualifications in an area that, presumably, appeals to you, rather than dashing up north to score a couple of quick tickets that will reap a triple-figure income in the mining industry. Not that I blame young people for doing this. The thing is, we’re being left with a vacuum in all sorts of services industries and other jobs areas as a result, which is making life very bloody difficult for, say, hospitality business owners, not to mention inconvenient for customers. Another distortion. Add them all up and you arrive at the dysfunctional joint we now are.

    Just one thing. You state that the upsides of the boom are “not enough to make Perth a nice place for young people to live” – and fair enough. But I’d add that it’s increasingly less appealing for older folk, also. Many boomers are whinging along similar lines to me, and talking of voting with their feet. Some I know have made the move to Tasmania in search of the type of lifestyle they once took for granted in Perth. While I think that is a little drastic, my partner and I have been tossing around the possibility of moving down south or to country Victoria for years. But we’re still here, and complaining more as our sense of place and belonging is being eroded. At some point, you’ve got to put up or shut up, and as the years roll on and Perth becomes less and less like the place it used to be, and more and more like places Perthites were always glad it was not.

    Best of luck with your future endeavours, and here’s to some balance being restored in this place, before it’s ruined beyond repair. That, as with everything else these days, it seems, depends on China. Very unhealthy, being in a state of dependency like that, but that’s Perth – and Australia – in 2012.


  16. How refreshing to read all of this. I think they should just hand out anti-depressants at the perth airport… What a boring fascist backwater.. where else in the western world do people stand obediently waiting for the traffic lights to tell them to cross the road when there is NO car in sight? Once a man made the terrible error of crossing the road without permission from the traffic lights in ‘relaxed bohemian’ Freo and a policeman yelled ‘ya fuckng idiot wot ya doing!?’. And the things they say to each other, bleh, like ‘another day in paradise’ or ‘where in the world would you find beaches like this’ (oh I dunno, google ‘beaches’ you parochial nutters and then google shark attacks, stingers etc), ‘its a great place to bring up kids’ , ugh, check out that freakily high rate of dosing kids with ritalin, the crime rate, the crap schools, etc.

    and the racism… not only do most perth people think aboriginal people are sub-human but they think anyone who wasn’t born in perth/ freo whatever is inferior… it is beyond con$ervative, witless, repetitive, ugly, shallow and moronically hedonistic – i read they put lots of fleuride in the drinking water, that and the relentless violent brain cooking heat, the lack of culture, and the covert but powerful social prohibition against having ‘opinions’, the generally oppressive brutality of the consciousness there must eventually create a kind of snarling stunted mind that attacks anything slightly not WA

    it is creepy.. i wish david lynch would visit and do a series based on it..

    there is something a bit wrong with the place, think invasion of the body snatchers or the stepford wives,

    most escape as soon as possible

  17. Bit over the top, exit! Actually, since I wrote this post it seems to have become fashionable to diss Perth – and as soon as the mob arrives, my instinct is to go the other way. Perverse, I know.

    I stand by most of the observations I made, but your post strikes me as lacking any semblance of balance. I wondered, in fact, whether you weren’t taking the piss? Irony can be hard to pick up. In the end, I concluded that there are no real signifiers in your writing to hint at irony, so I’ll have to assume you are serious.

    Fascist backwater? Wha’? What’s your definition of “fascist”? Some cop paying out on a jaywalker? Seeing that would have pissed me off too, but doesn’t exactly rank up there with Adolf and the Reich, does it?

    Yeah, hearing Perth declared a paradise gets on my pip also, and I recoil from all the family fuck stuff. But the beaches? Surely Perth’s have to rate as among the best metro beaches in the world! Where do you find cleaner water at a better summer swimming temperature, with clean white sand stretching as far along the coast as you can see? Credit where it’s due, puh-lease! Yeah, I admit I have a strong attachment to our beaches.

    Re: ” freakily high rate of dosing kids with ritalin, the crime rate, the crap schools” – generalisations, surely! And “freakily high”? And are you really asserting that in these aspects Perth is worse than other Australian cities? I kinda sorta don’t think so. Am with you on Ritalin being over-prescribed, although I am only going on news articles etc. No personal knowledge.

    Your charges of racism come across to me as uninformed and offensive. I’d contend there is but a small minority who hold such attitudes, and I do not think this minority is over-represented in Perth. I say that as someone who’s lived here most of my life, but I guess a lot depends on where you do and who you interact with. How long you been here? On what do you base your accusations?

    Fluoride in the water? Yes, in Perth and Australia-wide – and based on sound research. Dental caries has plummeted since it was introduced. Don’t wanna drink tap water – don’t! Simple. I have no time for anti-fluoride folklore.

    Lack of culture? I’ve said similar, but I’ve been reappraising in recent years. This is a tired old furphy. I suspect there is plenty going on in Perth ‘culturally’ (suspect because I don’t much engage with the local cultural life and therefore don’t have an informed opinion) – certainly, there’s plenty going on in Australia generally.

    Re: “the covert but powerful social prohibition against having ‘opinions’, the generally oppressive brutality of the consciousness there must eventually create a kind of snarling stunted mind that attacks anything slightly not WA.” Wha?

  18. Perth has to be the most ignorant city in Australia. Since moving here I wouldn’t even know we have a place called Canberra. Colin Barnett?, now I know about him, he’s the president, right? Perth people have been inflicted by the west winds for too long. Their heads are so far up their collective arses that they don’t even know there is a whole country out there beyond Norseman! Your driving skills are absolutely crap, by the way, and you think your pristine beaches make up for the bland suburbs? Give me Port Phillip any time. Such character, charm and greenness. Perth people are made up of Brits, Irish and South Africans who couldn’t give a shit about other cultures. I have never worked in an environment where it’s the done and proper thing to put down anyone not born in this country. My boss actually waves her head when talking about a Pakistani or Indian client! Oh, Oh excuse me, I’m a punjabi Indian, (insert waving head!). Perth people are beyond racist. You people can’t drive for shit, the light is GREEN, move on so we all have a chance, dickhead! Whoa..merge? Hang on I need brakes for that daring driving skill! An on ramp to a freeway? Hang on, they’re all going to fast for me! Fuck, Perth is crap. Wake up! And by the way, Canberra is a little town just south east of Bali and North of Chapel Street.

  19. And another thing, you bring out great bands but then don’t appreciate them when they are guests in your fair city. I went to see Josh Pyke at the Art Bar and stupid ignorant hipsters spoke through his entire set. Then I saw Missy Higgens and the same thing! You rude people! Then I saw Parkway Drive at Challenge Stadium and dozens of punters filed out just before the first encore! Like, hey shows over, time to catch a bus! Pathetic! I’ve seen more enthusiasm at a sunday market detergent demonstration.

  20. the way, the Eastern states are Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and a little known island island called Tasmania. The relatives, family and friends of yours don’t come from “The East”, like it’s some magical place only captured in Hollywood. We live in states of Australia…you should look them up some time. How arrogant. I ask people all the time, “oh where’s your daughter/friend/brother?”, and they reply, over the east. Perth people don’t even give the Eastern states a fucking name.

  21. Exit, I’m with you. My sister says, Oh it’s a good place to bring up the kids. But they call all cars that look beat up “Boong Cars?”. Hey kids, go for it! Nice way to strive for equality. When I first moved over here all my friends lived North of the river,(a bit like the yankees and dixie), they asked why I would consider this because of the gnoongas. I love the fact I can go shopping with the Gnoongas! Better than listening to all the South Africans talk about democracy and the demise of the Kaffirs! The most racist state in Australia,

  22. i should point out that I live South of the river, OMG, why would you want to live in Belmont? That’s where all the Ngoonas live!

  23. Hey Michelle, I’m with ya, not one of the types you’re railing against! Did you read my initial post, or just my response to exit?

    Let’s run through your gripes.

    I agree with you about Perth parochialism! That’s a quality that has always been prevalent here, and is probably to do with our isolation. As a Perthite born and bred (rare these days), I had no idea just how separated Perth is from the rest of Australia until I lived in Sydney. How could I have known without some means of comparison? As I wrote in my post, I had no concept of suburbia vs urban because Perth back then was just a conglomerate of suburbs. Quite simply, there was NO inner city life. It’s not so different now, despite attempts to lure people into the CBD outside business hours.

    No argument about the driving over here – it’s the worst I have seen anywhere in the world, including SE Asia. Actually, for all its apparent chaos, Saigon, for example, is a traffic miracle in that despite the congestion and lack of Western-style system, people cooperate to keep the whole unbelievable thing running pretty damned smoothly. If they didn’t the whole city would just grind to a halt. To a far lesser extent, the same is true of Sydney. People are more courteous on the roads there than here because if they didn’t cooperate the traffic would jam.

    Perth, OTOH, is now far more crowded on the road than a decade ago, yet the spite and selfishness of drivers remains unchanged. I make a small protest against this by always letting people in and being as courteous as I can, and in the last few years I have noticed a few others doing similarly. But overall, Perth drivers are appalling.

    I share your aversion to the racist attitudes you mention, and to the prevalence of blowins from the UK, Ireland and Seth Africa. It’s a gross generalisation to attribute them with all the racism and cultural ignorance you refer to, but it’s true that there’s a shit element among them.

    However, it’s not true that “Perth people are made up of Brits, Irish and South Africans” – not yet. I can see how you’d reach that conclusion, though. The northern corridor is virtually the exclusive province of these three nationalities, and it does seem that Perth has become a bit of an enclave. I hate this, and I can tell you that many folk who have lived here all their lives or longer than the duration of this cursed boom feel the same. I especially abhor the sense of entitlement I’ve encountered in some of the poms. I have actually heard the comment that as colonialists they have the right to be here! This fuckhead was serious.

    As for “stupid ignorant hipsters”, I’d suggest to you that this specimen can be found nationwide. In fact, there are probably more of that breed in Melbourne and Sydney than here.

    Dunno what you’re going on about telling me the names of the Eastern States cities. I can only think you didn’t read my initial post. Anyway, you’re way wrong in lumping me in with the parochial Perth mindset you so detest.

    I don’t relate to your equating the north-of-the-river suburbs with the Deep South of Yankland. Think you need to be here a bit longer (if you can bear it – haha). It’s true that there is a north-south divide in Perth (which I discussed in some detail in my initial post), but it’s nothing to do with any sort of division over aborigines. Nothing whatever. I wonder about your friends, or whoever gave you that impression, but as a Perthite from birth I can tell you they’re way off the mark with that one. I find the whole notion quite whacko.

    And just one thing. If you’re going to label an entire city population ignorant (which I suggest is ignorant in itself, as is any stereotyping), and promote yourself as wised up and culturally aware/tolerant, you should at least look up the spelling of the name of the local indigenous people. The spelling is Noongar (pronounced “nyoongar”).

    So, while we share more points of agreement than disagreement, I reckon you need to take care not to shoot down your own credibility with some extreme newbie misinterpretations, some unbalanced perceptions and overreactions, and some ignorance of your own. A particularly apt idiom in the context of your “Gnoongas” comments is that one about the pot calling the kettle black.

    I do understand your need to vent, though. But shit, if you are walking around so full of bile, why not just go somewhere you like better? We do have a functioning airport, so you’re only ever a few hours from liberation! Then again, I could apply the same observation to myself.

    Happy New Year, ya grump.

  24. I have found it so interesting that your insights from five years ago are so particularly relevant now, even more so perhaps than then. I never used to mind Perth so much, it was home, but in recent years I feel the city and I growing ever further apart. Is it possible it was a nicer place to be back when it didnt seem to feel it had so much to prove? It was affordable, its people less obsessed with ‘getting ahead’, it just felt generally more relaxed and welcoming, less judging. In short it wasnt trying desperately to be something it simply was not. How could, or should, it even bother? It was by no means a world class city, but nor did it pretend to be, and with its many infrastructure short comings in return you received a seemingly easier pace of life.

    And then of course along came China…and the rest, it would seem, is history. No disrespect to the Chinese of course! I now feel I have a myriad of big city disadvantages, without the big city advantages. Ive never worked so many hours to keep up with so many unreasonable consumer demands. Ive never encountered such anger and impatience and, dare I say, senses of entitlement. When you meet new people the first thing they ask is ‘What do you do?’, meaning how much money do you earn – perhaps just a convenient lead for them to then tell you how much money they in fact earn, in this time when oil and gas occupations seem somewhat more important than those in medicine. I witness so much judgement over the suburb you live, the car you drive and the square meterage of your home (do you own or rent, that way I know where to place you on my social ladder?). Suddenly an obscenely huge home in a nondescript carbon copy suburb in the fringes of the metro area (lets face it, cant afford a McMansion in the inner city!), a brand new car and maybe a boat and an annual, or biannual, trip to Bali are the signs you’ve really ‘made it’. And its important to have a wealth of material posessions in said home – otherwise what on earth would your high school friends (who conveniently all live in the same estate) and your mothers group possibly think? And certainly dont forget the ‘Baby on Board’ sign for the back of your brand new four wheel drive, why someone might intentionally run up the back of you without it!

    But I digress – in spite of all this domestic bliss (one must ‘settle down’ prior to 30 so as not to go against the grain) and people going on about how its the greatest city in the world to live in (based on some very lovely beaches, some unrelenting sunshine – at 5am – and of course the annual or biannual trip to Bali, for comparisons sake), I cant help but notice a pervading sense of discontent in the community. And I use the term ‘community’ very loosely. People are downright rude. They are abrupt and at times quite aggressive. Tolerance levels are extremely low. Why then, in this ‘worlds greatest place to live’, in this land of plenty, a land gleaming and new and sunshine shiny where a trip to the beach makes up for, it would seem, absolutely everything, are people deliberately cutting each other off in traffic, beating each other senseless for little or no apparent reason, and giving out mouthfulls of swearing peppered abuse in shopping centres for accidental bumpings? The first and latter of which both happened to me, just yesterday. Do I blame the fact that it was not in a great suburb and what do I really expect, or is this a city wide phenomenon? I know the answer. For its not the first time and it wont be the last. And unfortunately its not unique to this suburb, unfortunate as the place may be! People seem so unhappy, but why?

    Could it be that behind the glittering shimmer of the Indian Ocean and the piercing blue sky lies…nothing? Is that really it? Are we all sun and no substance? Does the shallowness of the city itself reflect in the personality of (some of) its inhabitants? I keep searching for the soul of this place, but I cant find it. Its hard to find much in an endless sprawl of suburb after suburb, each a copy of the one before. Neighbourhoods give way to bland shopping centres and their concrete car parks and a myriad of fast food outlets. We drive absolutely everywhere, meaning the streets are devoid of people but filled with cars. Its as though we have taken the worst of American culture and made it our own. And we wont hesitate to tell you how ‘great’ it is. Particularly those who have no other point of reference (except maybe Bali!).

    Im fortunate enough to travel far and often. Possibly because I did go against the suburban McMansion and early motherhood grain, shock horror! This is why I know we have a long way to go and a lot to learn. About multiculturalism (we say we have it – we most certainly need a lot more), about history, about social tolerance (of course I generalise here – I do not suggest the likes of Syria to be more tolerant than us), about forming a unique identity and about general good manners (oh and also good fashion sense but now I’m really just nit picking!).

    I recently spent a couple of months in Europe. During this time I encountered nothing but civility and politeness, even in huge, heavily populated metropolises such as Paris and Berlin. Famed for being rude, I found the Parisians to be a shining example of decent manners and good behaviour, compared to Perthites. I stood at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on New Years Eve amongst hundreds of thousands of others, different races, different demographics, all merrily celebrating with champagne – and no trouble to be seen. I cant even begin to imagine the social disorder and mindless violence that would have errupted during the same scene in Perth. We cant even be trusted to have a quiet drink during our own Australia Day celebrations, without violence errupting. Its completely abhorrent. And I will never begin to understand why it is so. Is it the great divide and or clash of the bogans (and dont we have plenty of those – despite their new cashed up status, money will never buy class!) and the yuppies, and the distinct lack of middle ground? The two speed economy? Are we just an insecure city and people trying to prove ourselves, still?

    Of course I could go on about the cost of a drink in a bar or a meal in a restaurant (Paris is now cheaper, to my surprise/horror!) but its been done to death. We all know the price we pay to live in this city. My question is, what does it deliver in return? Long working hours, closed minds, plenty of cookie cutter suburban values…but I’m still looking for the substance. Big cities are alive, they have an inexplicable vibe, a personality of their own. Perth it seems is still very much trying to establish one. Until then…

  25. Hi Miss L, and thanks for your expansive, well-reasoned, thoughtful and balanced comment.

    You’ll know from my initial post and the follow-ups in the Comments thread that I agree with just about everything you’ve said. It’s interesting to me that we have so much common ground. I might be wrong, but I suspect we are generations apart – yet we share almost identical perceptions of Perth, its changes and the reasons for them, and its social milieu. Nice to know there are others with similar values and views. I shouldn’t be too surprised, though; I find I get on much better with younger people than those of my own age. Dunno whether that says something good or otherwise about me, but that’s how it is.

    I’ve said many times since the boom took hold of this place that we now have all the disadvantages of big cities, but few of the advantages. You’ve expressed the same in almost identical wording.

    Yet, a friend of mine of the same vintage is adamant that Perth today is far better in just about every way than 30 years ago. It’s constantly intriguing to me that perceptions can be so different – and gratifying when I come across someone who is on the same wavelength.


  26. Perth is still the same today. The least friendly and inviting place that I have lived in Australia. What a shame because it is a beautiful city. Just full of closed people.

  27. Thank you for your post Rolanstein. I can relate to your article as I have lived in both Sydney and Perth in my lifetime. I was born and bred in Perth for nearly 29 years and I didn’t have much of a social circle growing up. I was a lonely type in primary and high school and I guess I didn’t see the need to make friends. But over time, I realise you need friends to build up your self-esteem and to enjoy life as well. I feel like Perth people’s behaviour is different, alot due to the ‘isolation factor’ with Perth being so far away from any other place.

    I definitely agree with you about the ‘bang of the buck’. Living in Sydney , you definitely get value for your money whether it be related to: entertainment, sports, theatre, spending money at certain businesses, education and travelling /doing touristy things.

    There is an extremely cliquey crowd in Perth. It does start from the high school/university that you attend. Look I didn’t attend a top tier high school in Perth (at the time I never really thought about it). I found alot of these students from these ‘elite schools’ had a narrow-minded view of people outside their social circle. A high school means alot of things in Perth. It’s the question that gets asked first up when you get into university, at say UWA, “What school did you go to?” Because there are only 7 boys high schools and 8 girls high schools, that is a fairly cliquey market. It’s a question that figures about your social upbringing. It’s a question that I despise but I can understand why its gets asked.

    I got socially rejected from alot of people in Perth and it hurt my confidence. Part of the reason why I left Perth in 2014, was to build up social circle. You know there is a problem with your life, if no friends are calling you out on a Friday or Saturday night. Compare that to Sydney, where the crowd is alot more open, non-judgemental of your background and it is generally easier to strike a conversation with a random.

  28. Thanks for your contribution, David T.

    Certainly share your views on private schools. I detest that snobbery and classist shit, and as you say, it remains alive and well in Perth. Gotta say, though, I noticed the same stuff in Sydney during my time living there.

    Needless to say, relate to the rest of your comments, also.


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