Perth Living

Perth and Fremantle are fast becoming the favourite places I’ve been to and where I could come back to one day. I never find myself with nothing to do. Most days I’m pulling long shifts in the stifling hot restaurant near the two huge wood-fired pizza ovens, where the only thing they cook well is the books, at least half the staff being paid in some sort of dubious fashion whether it’s violating terms of their visa, hours allowed to work or certifications held. The food is poor despite the reputation it has but its competition nearby is limited, and the beer as flat as Danny McNamara’s voice, I only drink it ‘cause it’s free. When not working I stalk the city usually alone, my friends on different shift patterns to the night-owl one I relish so much, visiting movie theatres with classic names like Luna, Cinema Paradiso, and Astor. There Will Be Blood gave another mighty Oscar performance from Daniel Day Lewis yet he was upstaged by the young up and comer Paul Dano the sometime mute from Little Miss Sunshine, and on seeing The Darjeeling Limited it has inspired me to take the Indian Pacific train from here to Adelaide when I’m ready to leave. The first I saw at the freaky Carousel mall that nearly induces a panic attack in me when I go, the colours and sights and sounds so intense and overwhelming, the second at the more soothing, relaxing, outdoor Camelot cinema in Mosman on a mate-date with Brother Rich. I also took in the somewhat disappointing Dan in Real Life with the normally reliable and hilarious Steve Carrel, and The Masters Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s new epic, the barbarous, murderous, comical, musical ‘Sweeney Todd’. Plus the Rodriguez/Tarantino double bill madness Grindhouse I saw a year ago in the States but just as enjoyable the second time round at the outdoor cinema again, this time in Leederville…:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

But now the real fun is beginning. Out of all the major cities I’ve lived in, Glasgow, New York, London, and places I’ve visited or spent time in Perth is among the best, strange when you remember just how isolated it is, the world’s most remote big city, nearer to Johannesburg in South Africa than the capital Canberra. The city is so new it’s in the burgeoning stage of finding its identity, trying to realize its potential with help from the $2billion surplus it has to spend from the mining boom gripping this massive Western State, luckily leaving me and my friends a surplus of women with a lot of the men away making their fortunes in the mines. Perth’s cleanliness is refreshing. With New York so crowded it will never be anything but dirty, and places like Glasgow and London are so old it would take a century to rub the grime away to make them look fresh again. But Perth is fresh. The trains are quiet and smooth. The fare system, moderately priced, is state-of-the-art, world class, ‘Tag on, Tag off’, charge cards and once you pay your fare it’s valid in any direction for two hours. Being so new, the trains are spotless with carpet on the floor that you know in twenty years when the boom is over and there’s no money to update the infrastructure as is in The Old World United Kingdom and States, it will be worn and frayed, yellow and stained. But after experiencing the British rail system it is now a pleasure to ride a train so effortlessly, especially as they somehow in a city roughly the same size as Glasgow manage to miraculously make them consistently run on time. My commute can go from an hour to ninety minutes but I don’t complain, never wanting to pay the money to the oil companies for gas or pollute the air to save me time that I use to read and learn.

There’s little trouble, especially on the trains, not surprising when you see the amount of transit police on duty, especially at the weekends, all with the same power as a regular police officer. Although I do wonder at times if it is a bit unnecessary when you see eight of them talking and joking and very few people even looking like they would cause any trouble, the population appear quite peaceful for the most part. On a Thursday night travelling through Perth station from Fremantle to Cannington I counted, as far as I could see, twenty transit officers (eight within a five metre radius), and at the most thirty to forty commuters. A ratio of roughly 2:3 seemed a bit unnecessary and I wondered how cost-effective it is. I don’t feel particularly safer than any other city in the world I’ve travelled in using the New York Subway system, Glasgow Buses, London Underground, Montreal Metro, at all hours of the day and night, where you barely see a police presence. Though the sight of the police can be reassuring when alighting at Cannington late at night, there was no-one around in my carriage the night a drunken indigenous man tried to walk off with my push-bike until I grabbed it off him, him in no fit state to resist luckily.

But do not be mistaken, Perth is a Police-State city where you have little civil liberties, something that is sticking in my throat and stopping me from becoming too attached, knowing that I am one step away from being caught on a misdemeanour that will probably end my visa and all plans for travelling world-wide. Not only are the trains over-policed, they routinely walk up the train checking to see if you have a valid ticket. While making sure that you haven’t evaded paying for what you’re meant to, again I wonder how cost-effective it is to have two trained, armed officers inspecting an entire train. No other major city I’ve been in does that, probably because the cost of the relative few gypo’s that skip on their fare is far, far less than the cost of policing it. Welcome to Police-State Perth, where Brother Rich and I were pulled over for nothing more than driving. In Fremantle. Home from work. On a Friday night. By two English police officers. Rich stepped out the car to see what the problem was and I immediately asked the male officer,

“What was the reason for pulling us over” as Rich showed his licence, to which he gleefully responded,

“Don’t need a reason mate, welcome to Western Australia”. To say I wasn’t happy was an understatement. Especially when I was just about to pick up a gram of weed from Polish Mick and could have been caught with it in the car after being pulled over for no reason, unsure if they needed a reason to search me. That still angers me that they have the ability and power to do that to generally law-abiding citizens posing no threat to anyone when their time and resources could be used so much better elsewhere. Rich was then breathalysed, again with no probable cause, and told to take the mouthpiece off and keep it as a ‘souvenir’,

“I don’t want it, it’s yours, you made me do it” he answered gruffly as he always does but this time I didn’t mind him doing it knowing we were safe in doing no wrong , at that moment at least, but I’m never entirely comfortable when the police have such powers unknown to me here.

“It’s got your DNA on it, we can’t take it” to which I later explained to Rich was maybe because if he didn’t they could then have his DNA on file involuntarily which quelled my anger only slightly.

This is in addition to having to agree to have your bags searched as you leave a shop like Woolworths or Target on agreement by walking in. The first time I was approached by the guard and asked to show the contents of my bag I plainly asked’

“Did you see me take anything or act suspiciously?”

To which he embarrassingly told me he didn’t have to, it was the law.

This was nothing compared to time, the last for me, we went to Metro in Fremantle shortly after we arrived here when they fingerprinted us and matched it to an ID to let us get. So furious I was I had one drink then left demanding the next day that they be removed from wherever they’re stored, despite the bouncers explanation it was to ‘keep the dick’eads’ out’. George Orwell will be remembered as an Aristotle in the way he predicted the Big Brotherly ‘protection from yourself’ future that has arisen here and will likely follow elsewhere eventually. This in addition to the random roadside checks scattered across the city where they for no reason other than you being in a car breathalyse you within seconds of pulling you over happening to me our first night in Fremantle within moments of arriving, driving around in the dark in an unregistered bus with four people in it, two seatbelts, one working, one wing-mirror and a load of booze. Trying to find the campsite that we’d called already to be told we couldn’t check in anyway, I was suddenly forced to stop, completely unaware why, maybe there had been a murder in the vicinity, a raping, only to be asked had I been drinking tonight to which I of course answered ‘no’, having rarely, if ever, drunk and drove. But suddenly I remembered that I had in fact had a couple of small glasses of goon that afternoon, panic setting in that on my first night in Perth that I’d been waiting to get to since Darwin so excitedly I was about to be arrested and taken away, leaving my friends to explain a dodgy bus and how I would tell my proud policeman grandfather what had happened. I gave a shallow breathe in and heard a beep, once or twice I don’t know. What does that mean what does that mean? Good or bad good or bad good or bad?

“Thank you, drive on.”

I have never been so relieved, never having even been remotely close to falling foul of the law before.

Not that I don’t think that drunk-driving is abhorrent, I whole-heartedly do and I would never have been behind the wheel if I thought I was impaired, I really only had two or three small glasses hours earlier and a pizza in between but the thought that I could have been in so much trouble for being even slightly over filled me with terror. I think the thought of telling my grandfather and disappointing him the biggest factor in all honesty.

This is in addition to having to agree to have your bags searched as you leave a shop like Woolworths or Target on agreement by walking in. The first time I was approached by the guard and asked to show the contents of my bag I plainly asked’

“Did you see me take anything or act suspiciously?”

to which he embarrassingly told me he didn’t have to, it was the law.

In spite of this I still love Perth. The air and streets are still clean and so far it hasn’t had enough time to develop slums, hoods or ghettos, but areas like Spearwood and Cannington are on their way. And while Northbridge has a popular bar and nightlife scene it has a sleazier side to it with a mixed crowd from backpackers to drug dealers, peep show’s to hookah bars. One night when Brad was here visiting in early January we visited the Hookah bar one of our favourite pastimes in Providence, RI. By the end we had befriended a large Latin man named Sam, plying us with his BYO Jack Daniels offering to sell us pills which we excitedly agreed to. Kirk and I ventured off to his car and after Kirk The Drug Dealer inspected them we bought four for I think about $160 but I was pretty far gone by then so my recollections aren’t perfect. It was unfortunately one of the only times I’ve been sold bad drugs with Brad and I taking one each, his first, to watch Into The Wild at Mosman on his last night, him feeling very little and me feeling next to nothing. I even visited a peep show one night out of sheer curiosity with a friend of Brother Rich’s on his farewell soiree, not that impressed at $2 for forty seconds by the standard of the girl and although Wayne told me that the extra two dollars he put in got him to see her finger herself, I wasn’t too bothered.

Fortunately the population is so diverse here from a variety of East Asian countries, the UK, the US (predominantly in Fremantle studying at the Notre Dame campus tucked away there), New Zealand, Europe, Poland even (sorry Mick!), that there is little racial tension. The Indigenous population (I try not to use the white-man created word Aboriginal) are either less in numbers or visibility but they don’t seem to be as in your face as Darwin. Or as drunk as the ones we witnessed coming through the Kimberley’s in the far-flung forgotten corner of WA, where in places like Fitzroy Crossing you can only buy take-away light beer, or in Katherine where you can’t buy more than a litre of wine after 6pm, frustrating for a group of four hot and very sweaty British boys traveling down the coast. At the moment some towns are dry for the time being as a real Australian humanitarian crisis looms where Indigenous children are regularly born with alcohol-related defects, abused and neglected in addition to the twenty-two adult deaths related to drugs and alcohol found in State Coroner Alastair Hope’s report last week in the region. While Indigenous leaders have estimated that up to twelve young Indigenous people have committed suicide over the past twelve months, a practice rarely heard of in their culture until recently. As I write solutions are being volunteered from creating a more local Government to increasing outreach programs with disagreements arising even within the political parties hindering the process. It would be sad to see such a progressive nation as Australia fail to help the people’s whose land they have taken. While it wasn’t the current generation that effectively stole it they have to take ownership in building some sort of equality.

Back to Perth though, what it is really lacking, and what it is creating as I write, is a history. They are so isolated they know who their own heroes are, proudly displaying their names on the sidewalk in St. Georges Terrace or the town Square in Fremantle’s High Street, erecting statues of MP’s and other public servants, yet no-one else knows them. But that’s changing. The untimely demise of Heath Ledger in New York in January was similar, though less intense, in outpouring of public emotion in Perth as that of Princes Diana dying when I was a boy. Ledger being a son of Perth, and seemingly talented one at that if the latest Batman and his reprised role of the Joker is anything to go by, came from the nearby suburb Applecross where his body was laid to rest. The radio the day of his death was filled with nothing but Ledger tributes and reporters scrambling to find out what actually happened. Was it suicide?, were the Olsen twins involved?, who owned the apartment, was it because of his split from Michelle Williams? At first I ridiculed the reaction not realizing he was from Perth, but I thought of the reaction in Scotland being similar if Ewan McGregor were to die so felt guilty at mocking them so harshly, especially for making fun of Emily who I was with that day at the beach trying to learn to surf. Maybe that’s why she didn’t want to be with me. I was a bit of a dick’ead that day. The reaction was somewhat over the top though. But as a result of Ledger’s influence a new Perth starlet on the scene is a young model-turned-actress, an MTA apparently, Gemma Ward who is coming up in a new movie Black Balloon that has been making waves at some international film festivals. Both Ward and Ledger were even in Fremantle over Christmas dining at the restaurant across from mine, bringing home the sadness of his death, him described as a very down to earth young man. Though sadly I will never forget his cringe-inducing performances in his early role as a warrior in a terrible TV show called Roar that I sometimes unfortunately watched on late night British TV. Sadly it may have taken Ledger’s death for Perth to gain some international recognition with friends from the UK and US calling and texting all day to ask me what’s it like over here and how sad it was.

To me it was just another human being dead, no different from the woman who just passed away in the local hospital. But hey maybe I’m too cynical.

The music scene though is thriving, recently spawning a documentary aptly titled Something In The Water about the abundant artists dominating the Australian charts with the unrivalled John Butler Trio starting in Freo, and other bands like The Waifs, Eskimo Joe, Little Birdy and The Panics all emanating from Perth, WA. This summer an array of national and international artists have stopped by in this pristine post, on the tip of basically a Western Australian desert, from The Police, Air, Jack Johnson, KT Tunstall, Ian Brown, Ray Davies, Sinead O’Connor, John Fogerty, Xavier Rudd, Kanye West, Queens of the Stone Age, Duran Duran, Jesus and Mary Chain, Cypress Hill and Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club.

My love affair though has been cemented by the FutureMusic festival we ventured to, headlined by the Electronic masterminds, my Heroes, The Chemical Brothers complimented with a mind-blowing set by Roger Sanchez following on from Eddie Halliwell diving five feet face first arms akimbo from the stage over the security perimeter into the mad crowd as Sanchez got the first tunes pumping sending the crowd even madder as I filmed it inches from where he landed on my digital camera.

I’m paying for it now though on Monday night. I’m behind the bar in fucking Sandrino, Fremantle and my head feels like its caving in.

Perth Living

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