Way Down Upon the Swan River

December 17:  For my psecond Perth post, I thought I’d give you an overview of the city.  It’s actually a very nice city and there’s a lot more to do here than I expected.  In its list of unique characteristics, Perth claims to be the most isolated state capital and the third windiest city in the world (behind Wellington, New Zealand and Chicago, Illinois).  In fact, when the “Fremantle Doctor” blows in off the coast, Perth is relieved of its summer heat for awhile.

Perth, as seen from the Swan River.

Perth is situated on the Swan River, which drains about 121,000 square kilometers, before it empties out into the Indian Ocean in Fremantle.  The river is pretty wide but only about 3.5 meters deep.  Lots of sailing goes on, a dolphin or two may appear, and multi-million-dollar homes line its shores.

This record-setting $57-million-dollar home includes a swimming pool, a cinema, tennis courts, and a bowling alley. It was owned by mining heiress Angela Bennett, who sold it to fellow mining magnate Chris Ellison. The original asking price was $70 million.

As you may have gathered from the information above, Perth’s biggest industry is mining.  Perth has experienced tremendous growth in the past several years, as a result of the local mining boom. The mining industry now employs almost 2% of Australia’s total population, up 65% from 2006. Within just a few hundreds of kilometers, iron ore, nickel, uranium, gold, and other metals are found in abundance and are being extracted from the ground. Most mining companies will fly their employees in-and-out of Perth (so that towns don’t boom then bust around the local mining area), and so people are moving to Perth in record numbers.  From June 2011 to June 2012, Perth saw a population growth of 2.5%, the largest in the state of Western Australia.  In addition to scientists, engineers, financial analysts, and other professionals, many “backpackers” are coming to Perth to find quick work for lots of pay in the mining industry. I heard one story of a young woman who drives a tractor back and forth from Point A to Point B, making $500/day, working eight days on, six days off.   She won’t do this for the rest of her life, but the job gives her plenty of spending money to see the world.  It’s a common story.

Perth has always been associated with mining of some sort, starting with the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie in 1893.  The Perth Mint, Australia’s oldest (1896), was established to process the gold, as it continues to do today.  Up to 2000, the Mint’s refined gold output totalled 4960 tons, representing 3.25% of the total weight of gold produced by humankind.

Perth Mint (from 1896). The statue, "The Strike", was designed by Greg James (1991).

Perth’s town hall is a really pretty building with an interesting history. Built in 1867 on the highest point in Perth, it is the only convict-built capital city town hall in Australia, and some people say that the arrows in the bell tower are secret messages from the convicts to each other.

Perth's Town Hall (from 1867).

A popular meeting place is Forrest Place, which was completely renovated in time for the Queen’s visit in 2011.  There is a large open space for concerts, many cafes, and great people watching! Most people, I’m told, meet at the “green thing” , the $1 million dollar sculpture that Perth’s residents love to hate.

Overlooking Forrest Place, near the Murray St. Mall.

I really didn’t expect Perth to have so many interesting things to see and do, and I definitely missed some good ones, such as Kings Park, the Perth Zoo, or the Bell Tower by the river.  There’s a good chance I’ll be back, though, so I’ll add those to my list!

Other links:
Pfirst Perth Post
More about mining: BASF opens new facility
Perth’s largest property is for sale
Read about the puggles!

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