OK, so we’ve only been in Perth about 4 weeks so I suppose I can’t really talk yet – I guess the title of this post should really have been “- the good, the bad and the ugly…SO FAR!”
Well, so far, we are just LOVING Perth!
It seems to have all the things that we love and crave and have been missing for so long, since leaving Auckland, NZ – and just haven’t found in all the other cities that we have lived in so far in Australia.
The wide, open spaces and soaring sky; the lack of crowds; the empty roads and easy traffic; the genial attitudes of the residents; the slower, more relaxed pace of life; the abundance of big, beautiful, ‘natural’ parks, reserves and beaches around the city; the stunning water views & green, tree-lined streets and the ease with which you can get around the city – and out of it too, to the surrounding countryside.
Arriving here, it felt as a if a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders – like coming out of a dark, smokey, noisy bar to stretch and breathe deeply in the cool, fresh air.
But the nice thing is that you’ve still got a metropolitan city on your doorstep, complete with theatres & galleries, shopping malls and gourmet cafes. Oh sure, it’s not Sydney or Melbourne - it lacks that edgy sophistication and grungy style – so you haven’t got your exclusive boutiques and iconic concert halls, and the choice of restaurants, cafes and bars is much more limited…
…in fact, we’ve met a lot of local Perth residents who are very humble about their beautiful home and almost apologetic for their “backwards & boring” (their words!) city. Hah – well, I guess we must be really “backwards & boring” ourselves because so far, we like it just fine and feel that the entertainment options are more than enough to satisfy us.
We have been told repeatedly by a lot of people that the food scene is terrible in Perth – that eating out is very expensive, with high prices for mediocre food. Well, we haven’t been out & about enough so far to be able to comment properly – yes, it certainly isn’t cheap to eat out in general (is it anywhere? Other than Taiwan, that is!! ) although we have managed, the few times we’ve been out, to have nice meals without breaking the bank. But then, we tend to go to cheap & cheerful places, not cordon bleu!
It certainly doesn’t seem as bad as Brisbane, which is where we had our worst experiences of bland, poorly-cooked, expensive meals. I suppose if you’re a really fussy food-critic, then Perth might be a disappointment.
I don’t really have such a sophisticated palate so I’m probably not the best judge. I’m not fussed if it’s not an award-winning restaurant or a bar making world-famous cocktails…and I’m not really into “10-course dégustation menus” or a bit of froth with a fancy name, served on a gigantic white plate the size of a shield.
I just like simple, fresh, tasty food in a pretty place with nice atmosphere and friendly people…a spicy Thai, an authentic Japanese, a cosy Italian, a rowdy Chinese, a good steakhouse and a couple of gourmet cafes in pretty settings…and I’m happy.
(In fact, it’s ironic but it’s taken me less time to find a good local Italian that does delicious pizza here, than it did last year, when we lived next to Leichhardt, Sydney’s famous “Little Italy”. Sometimes, I wonder if living in a big, inaccessible city is a bit like having 122 satellite channels on TV but not being able to find anything worth watching…)
Of course, a lot of Perth’s benefits comes from the simple fact that there’s a lot less people here. Perth has a population of 1.8 million, compared to Sydney’s 4.6 million. That’s a big difference which is translated directly into a less manic, claustrophobic lifestyle. Whether it’s doing the weekend morning walk with your dog or doing the weekend foodshop at the supermarket, finding a parking space or waiting in line to be served, less people just makes things so much easier…
Being less crowded also means that people in general are a lot warmer and friendlier and “kinder”. When we first moved out from the UK to Auckland, all those years ago, the biggest thing that struck us was the “kindness” of the Kiwi locals – how generous they were with their time and how they would go out of their way to help us (like the time we asked a man in a store how to get somewhere and he came out of the store and walked halfway down the block to show us). It was one of the nicest things about moving to NZ and what made us fall in love with the place so quickly.
8 years of living in a place like that makes you spoilt and when we moved to Australia and the bigger cities we lived in, like Brisbane & Sydney, we were really taken aback at the aggressive, pushy, apathetic attitudes of the locals. People haven’t got time for you, service staff treat you like a number and random acts of kindness were few and far between. Of course a lot of this is simply the by-product of “big city living” – and as I said in my last post, it is probably far worse in other big cities around the world. There is a well-known joke that if you have a heart attack in New York and collapse in the street, people will simply step over you and hurry on. I know friends who have moved to Sydney from London and rave about how warm & friendly the people are…so I guess it is all relative.
But since arriving in Perth, it has been refreshing to be met with that “human feeling” again – we’ve noticed a lot more cars letting you cut in to change lanes when you signal or leaving a gap, so you can join their road from a side street; yes, strangers have gone out of their way to help & direct us, and service staff have really taken the time to “listen” and treat us as individuals – and give honest advice, even if it means that they lose a sale. (Like the rental agent who – while showing us a house – advised us to wait a few weeks rather than rushing to rent her property, because the market would cool down once the school term started and we would have more choices.)
Yesterday I ran into the supermarket to grab a bottle of water and as I joined the checkout queue, the man in front of me waved me ahead of him, saying that he had a full basket of groceries. It was just a little thing and I wouldn’t have minded waiting but I was pleasantly surprised and it spoke volumes about people’s attitudes of generosity and consideration for others.
Still – from the other side of the coin – I can see how some might find the lack of people and the “quiet life” here disturbing. Driving into downtown Perth one Sunday, I found myself the only car on the streets…it was like driving into a ghost town.
And I know that shops have only started opening on Sundays within the last 6 months – and still close early on weekends…something which could seriously annoy a lot of people used to the longer opening hours in bigger cities. (I actually find all hours in the “West” too short compared to Asia, where shops usually open till 10pm and you’re used to being able to go out after dinner for a browse…! )
Perth has lots of other negatives too. It’s ironic that while some complaints come from its “sleepy, small-town” status, other complaints come from the fact that – in recent years, due to the growth of the Western Australia mining industry – Perth has become a “boom town.” Because of the labour shortage out on the mines, WA is probably the only place in the world where young, unskilled labourers are able to earn 6-figure salaries. On top of this, the massive exodus of people to the mines meant that few people were left in the cities to do the work – and with little competition, you could charge what you liked. Especially tradespeople…which meant that young men barely out of their apprenticeships were swaggering around, driving their $80,000 utes…
Then there’s the ‘FIFO’ (Fly In, Fly Out) culture – where it’s actually cheaper for companies to fly out groups of workers to the isolated mining outposts in far north WA for weeks at a time. The workers, mostly young men, then return periodically to Perth to rejoin their families or – in a lot of cases – for a bit of R&R and ‘hard partying’. Let’s just say that testosterone, cabin fever, alcohol, drugs, girls, fast cars and a lot of cash are not a good mix. On any given night of the week, there are parts of Perth to avoid if you don’t want to fall prey to FIFO’s out to have a “good time”.
Perth’s status as a “boom town” also means that there is a LOT of opportunistic crime around. Everything from the good ol’ handbag thieves in supermarkets to elaborate rental scams…as we found out ourselves the hard way!
We arrived in peak rental season, just before schools and university terms started, and it was like being sucked into the eye of a storm. Lured either by career opportunities from the mining boom or the promise of a better lifestyle, huge numbers of people are pouring into Perth, from both across Australia and overseas. That’s a LOT of people needing homes and not enough housing to go around. Tenants get desperate, landlords get greedy and rental agents get completely frazzled, their mobiles ringing nonstop with enquiries about viewing times and applications…
To have any chance of success, you had to comb the online rental sites obsessively, several times a day, for new listings, and hound agents for viewing times. These were usually announced at short notice (“Just to let you know there will be a viewing at 33 Pleasant St from 12 – 12:15pm tomorrow”) and come hell or high water, you had to make it to the viewing because you only got one chance. By the next day after a viewing, several applications for that house would have already gone in and it was usually rented by the following evening. It was that fast. If you didn’t have your finger on the pulse – if you didn’t catch new listings as they appeared, go to viewings as soon as they were announced and put in applications as soon as you left the viewing, you didn’t have a chance.
Trying to find a home to rent in this highly-competitive market – especially with a Great Dane and cat in tow – was like trying to make it through a season of TV’s Survivor. Landlords are already generally anti-pets and in the current market, they can be as fussy as they like. And to make matters worse, there is the dreaded Option Fee – something we’d never encountered before arriving in the Perth rental market. Basically, with every application you put in, you have to include 1 week’s rent as well. If the owner rejects you, then you’ll get the option fee back but if the owner accepts and you change your mind (decide to go for another house), you’ll forfeit that money.
OK, I can see where they’re coming from – it protects the owners from being messed around: if someone backs out of your house to choose another house (meaning that you’ll have to put your house back on the market and search for another tenant) at least you’ll pocket the option fee as compensation. But it’s also horribly unfair to the tenants – especially in the current market where owners have queues of people to pick & choose from.
For example, as pet owners, we know the odds are stacked against us and so it makes sense to put out as many applications as possible, in the hopes that ONE of them might be accepted. But with this Option Fee business, you can’t send out multiple applications willy-nilly, as insurance – each one is tying up a fair amount of money and most of all, for every one that accepts you which you don’t take, that’s money down the drain… Of course, you could just take a gamble and send out one application at a time – but most people want to hedge their bets, especially if they want to find a home as soon as possible.
Anyway, so three weeks into this market without finding anything suitable and we were starting to get desperate. I started scouring the private online classifieds and soon came across an ad for a house which sounded perfect. It had all the mod cons, was in a great location and seemed a fantastic bargain at the price they were asking. When I emailed to ask, they were even happy to accept pets! It all sounded too good to be true…which should have warned us. The owner emailed us back to explain that she was a university academic who had suddenly been called away overseas on a research project and so couldn’t show us the house herself but gave us the address and invited us to go have a look and peek in through the windows. Idiots that we were, we never questioned it…we went and looked and loved it and were even planning where to put our furniture in the empty rooms… !
I did finally start to get suspicious though when the owner started asking for references and rental deposits but still refused to give a contact number. I Googled the house address and found it listed in another ad, with a different name and number (and different price!). This time I called and spoke to the real owners of the house – and discovered that we were very nearly the victims of a typical rental scam. Someone who knew the house was standing empty was just going around advertising it as their own. We were not the first and certainly won’t be the last new residents in Perth to fall prey to such scams. The real owners had reported it to the police but there isn’t much they can do to track down these internet criminals…I guess it was just a good lesson learnt for us and thankfully, no money lost!
(Anyway, the good news is that after nearly 4 weeks of hard slog, we finally did find a place to rent which ticked all our boxes – AND accepted pets! Miracles do happen! )
So…yes, Perth does have a dark side and we’ve brushed up against it already.
As for the ugly? Well, I have to say that so far, the city seems green, clean and blessedly free of graffiti. But…I know that we’re currently staying in one of the “nicer” areas and we haven’t really seen all of Perth yet. Like all cities, it will have its uglier neighbourhoods (what got to me about Sydney, though, was how dirty, seedy and graffitied it was, even in our upmarket, expensive neighbourhood! ) – I’m going to make a point of visiting some of the less desirable areas just to get some photos and prove to you that Perth can be ugly!
All this beautiful cleanliness does come at a price. Western Australia has a reputation as a “nanny state”, with heavy-handed punishments for everyday things . We were quite staggered when we saw a sign by a disabled parking space warning that inappropriate use without a disabled parking permit would result in a fine of $1,000!! There are also $500 fines for not wearing seatbelts and strict anti-graffiti laws that probably account for the clean state of the streets and buildings. So far, I’m seeing the benefits more than the negatives but I’m sure, given time, I will probably find it frustrating living somewhere with such strict attitudes.
That goes for everything really. To use the analogy in my last post, I know that I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” with Perth – when everything is new and wonderful and exciting. Like going out on those first dates with a new man, when everything he says is funny and every expression he makes adorable. But whether with partners or cities, things change with time and familiarity – what you used to think was “quaint” starts to get irritating and what you thought was cosy starts to get confining. That’s life, I guess.
But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the romance. And there are happy marriages that last decades. So who knows? Maybe this could be the start of a beautiful relationship…