The state of Western Australia is three times the size of the state of Texas. Only 2.1 million live here and 75% of them live in Perth. This is truly an empty country. Perth is the most remote large city on earth. Adelaide is 1700 miles away to the east. We are over 11,000 miles from home according to our GPS, the farthest away we’ve ever been. You don’t get here by accident.
We are docking in Fremantle, a town that came on our radar when the America’s Cup races were held here. Australia lost, but the competition brought money and attention to the town and our guidebook has more good things to say about Fremantle than about Perth. We can travel to Perth from the dock down the Swan River, which gives both cities a scenic conduit. Fremantle has done a good job of hanging on to many of its older buildings and has a vibrant downtown pedestrian mall area within walking distance of our dock. There’s an area called the “caffeinated mile,” one coffee shop after another. The climate is Mediterranean and it’s a rare day when it’s not pleasant enough to sit outside people watching and sipping.
Until the recent world wide economic down turn, Perth has had a booming economy because of all the mining going on nearby. We are spending two full days here, because some of our fellow passengers are disembarking and others are taking their place. Today’s tour began driving down the narrow strip of land with the Swan River on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. We passed a number of residential colleges, private high schools as we would call them. Many students board here since their parents are hard at work in the vast hinterland pulling riches out of the ground. Water front housing always costs a premium, but there is so much of it here. Downtown Perth is a nice mix of modern skyscrapers and office buildings along side historic buildings from the early 1900’s, when this city really got going. When we go to Europe our country always feels so young and lacking in history, but Australia is younger yet, especially in the far west. The city was begun by the British in an attempt to keep the French out and assert their primacy over the whole continent. By the time the city really began to be built, the convict labor days were pretty much over. Initially, the city was developed by people who were here of their own free will, but there was so much work to be done and so few hands that about 10,000 convicts were eventually brought in, a far smaller percentage than in the cities on the east coast.
After enjoying the downtown area we headed back to Fremantle on a ferry, cruising past lovely homes and battalions of yachts. If there is an economic down turn going on here, it certainly wasn’t visible.