Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Perth, Our Welcome to Western Australia

Perth was founded in 1829, primarily because the British were afraid that France would set up a colony in Western Australia, which explains its relative isolation from other major population centers. But while I was there, the image of the map of Australia--and its place in the world--was firmly in my mind. It felt remote to me.  "Here we are down at the bottom of the world," I thought, as though top and bottom make any sense on a globe, but then that's how we conventionally think about it, isn't it?

We enjoyed a few nights' stay at an Airbnb apartment in Perth, and although we usually choose to have an entire house or apartment to ourselves, in Perth we chose to stay with a host. We had our own private bathroom and access to the rest of the apartment, where we were able to relax.

The owner, Anna, who works at the University of Western Australia, was a gracious host, in spite of having injured her leg the day we got there. (Sorry, I can't find my photos of the living area, but I was quite taken with the views from the balcony, both during the day and at night.)

One night, we even saw fireworks across the Swan River. The river, which we overlooked, eventually opens up to the Indian Ocean at Freemantle. Anna kindly gave us a ride to Freemantle when she was feeling better, and we enjoyed exploring the port town, with its attractive colonial architecture.

While relaxing in Freemantle, we met Erika Roper, a researcher who studies black cockatoos. (There are three species in Western Australia, and I have forgotten which species she studies.) However, it was a great pleasure to meet someone who has devoted her life to this research and who cares so much about these beautiful, threatened birds.

Kevin with Erika Roper.
I had wanted to visit Rottenest Island, which is off the coast of Freemantle, but sadly, we had to forego that trip. When you are traveling long-term, you have to weigh every excursion and sight, because if you do everything you'd like to do, you'd quickly run out of money--and we had months to go! 

Rottenest Island got its name from sailors who mistook the quokkas, the small marsupials that practically overrun the island, for rats. But quokkas are adorable, and I wanted to see them on the island, where they are known to be relatively tame.  However, the roundtrip ferry ride to Rottenest would cost us about $100 (U.S.) round trip. That might have been fine if we were going to spend the day. But there isn't much to do there except swim, snorkel, bicycle, and see the quokkas. Since Kevin doesn't like to swim and won't snorkel, and my knee won't let me cycle, that meant we would be spending $100 to picnic and see the quokkas.  We decided to spend about $12 and see them in the Perth Zoo instead.

Quokkas are cute! (Image from dreamstime.com.)
I have mixed feelings about zoos. I recognize that zoos do valuable work in saving some endangered species. But I think that the animals should have adequate space and consideration and large, social mammals like whales and elephants do not belong in zoos or aquariums. So I was a little saddened to see that the Perth Zoo still has an elephant. But the zoo did give us an opportunity to see Australian animals we might not otherwise have seen.

The zoo grows eucalyptus just for the koalas.
For example, koalas are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. But we saw them in fairly close quarters at the Perth Zoo. And while there are places in Australia that actually let you hold koalas, the experts frown on that, because humans can pass diseases to koalas. So we were content just to see them.

The kangaroos and wallabies at the zoo seemed to have a lot of freedom and a fairly spacious area.  This guy seemed a bit bored though. What do you think?

While we were there, one mother tried to hurry her dawdling children along: "Come along now. We can see kangaroos at Nanas."

I smiled. The only kangaroos I ever saw at my nana's house were ceramic ones.

Because the animals have free-run of the enclosure, signs ask you to be careful when leaving:

We were careful and although I would have liked to bring one home, I realized that was hardly practical!

We were shown around the zoo by John, a local resident and docent who is 80 years old. He so obviously loves the animals and his volunteer job. We were lucky to have  a private tour, because no one else showed up on time at the tour point. He was a delightful guide, and he told us he has flocks of parrots and cockatoos in his back garden every morning.

Kevin chatting with John.
Perth has a free bus for its downtown area, and Anna's apartment was right on the bus line, so we easily went downtown on the bus, but because we could never figure out which stop we needed for the return, we usually walked the mile-plus back to the apartment. (Every street seems to have multiple bus stops.)

Perth's Art Gallery of Western Australia provided an interesting diversion, featuring a wide diversity of artists. Sadly, we had just missed a large exhibit of aboriginal art, but there were still some striking works.

This sculptural grouping was intriguing, because it was so realistic. I had to look at it closely and for a long time to make sure it was not performance art.

With its natural beauty, comfortable city, warm people, and enjoyable art and architecture, Perth offered a pleasant welcome to Western Australia, and we could hardly wait to see what more this region would deliver for us.

Note: As mentioned earlier, although we crisscrossed Australia, visiting Sydney on both the way to Western Australia and back, I have grouped our experiences in Eastern and Western Australia for the purposes of the blog.

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