Perth – Is this Really The Real Australia? Update: Yes
Perth, Western Australia. Most isolated capital city on Earth, and home to around two million people simultaneously hugging the coast of the Indian Ocean. Physically, Perth is a downtown core of shiny skyscrapers, surrounded by a vast sea of mostly single-level detached bungalows. After the endless suburbia actually ends, lies the worlds greatest expanse of, well, nothing. After travelling for more than 600 days, through three continents, and altogether too many countries to count, I’ve taken a holiday back to Perth – the city I once called home. This is my first visit to Perth as a “tourist”. A city I know better than any other. But what is Perth really like?
Australia, for almost all of it’s inhabitants, is life in suburbia. Perth is no exception. Urban-landscapes of suburban swathes are not what you’ll ever see in the glossy tourist brochures. Sure, some of the Australian stereotypes you may have seen are very real – our suburbia includes miles of clean sandy beaches, and people enjoying BBQ’s, in giant houses with huge gardens, swimming pools, big blue skies, and even the occasional kangaroo.
However, the un-promoted reality of life in Australia is endless low-density residential sprawl, shopping malls packed with all the international franchises that you already know, and a population of car-dependent citizens who want good schools, safe communities, low taxes and cut-price-big-screen televisions. It’s a denuded land-ocean of kids, sports, cars, shopping, and despite being constantly in my sight, the Perth suburbia, like most suburbia, is invisible to the rest of the world.
Although some may say that this isn’t the “real” Australia, the fact is that life in suburbia is the reality for almost every Australian. Staying at a five star hotel in Perth is something that only tourists do. Personally, I’ve found floating around from one generous friends house to another, absorbing invisible Perth suburbia, is a far more interesting way to spend time here. But I’m lucky. Tourists may need the hotel, I’ve got the friends, and the unfortunate reality is, getting to know the real Australia is almost totally impossible for the average visitor. It’s not just one “side” of the Australian lifestyle that most tourists will never see – sadly, most tourists will never experience anything, at all, of the real Australian lifestyle.
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All over the world, I have seen people’s faces light up when they realise I’m Australian. But do they know the real Australia? Not for one moment am I suggesting the real Perth, or the real Australia, is not deserving of the “lucky country” moniker. What I am saying, is that people around the world are enamored with the marketed image of Australia – the amazing outback landscapes, the cute fury animals,and the endless deserted beaches. In reality, Australia is probably not what you think it is.
Perth is a typical Australian city.
To me, these days it’s also the invisible suburbia where most of my friends live.
It’s no longer my home, but it’s the real Australia.
PS, the clock hasn’t stopped. This really is a quick rest back “home” in Perth, Western Australia. My journey has crossed the 600 day mark, and I’m just getting started. In a few days I’ll be heading off again, slowly making my way back to Belgrade…
17 thoughts on “Perth – Is this Really The Real Australia? Update: Yes”
I know what you mean Nate, unless you have the chance to experience the country by staying with locals, going from one hotel to the other won’t let you really appreciate and sometimes discover the real country. That’s why I like to couchsurf when I can, to see the place through the eyes of the people which live there. I went to Perth many years ago and for a very short time, unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to see it for what it really is as you said, that’s why probably didn’t make me go “wow”.
Hi Franca. Yes, Perth is a tough nut to crack for tourists. However, I think you’re onto the right thing with couch-surfing. I haven’t joined up yet, but I can see how valuable it would be in certain countries. Including Australia!
Nate: Glad to see you are enjoying chillin’ at home. I find the US and Australia have a great deal in common. The suburban sprawl and sameness of everybody and everything gets old. After spending a few weeks in Eastern Europe a few years back, I could really see how bad it was when we arrived back in Kennedy. Unfortunately there is a globalization of homogenization creeping into every country in Europe. I won’t be around that much longer and once I move to Eastern Europe, I won’t see the worst of it.
Hey Mike… yes, it’s quite a reverse-culture-shock. Every experience is homegenised – compared to many places (in particular Eastern Europe as a recent example for myself), everything here seems a little character-less. And I agree – it’s happening all over the world these days, the trick is – if you’re trying to avoid it – is to get yourself to a country that, as you say, doesn’t have the worst of it.
For now… ;)
I did a google earth drive up the coast and my god it is sprawl for miles… Sort of like Denver or Phoenix. But it is home to you though, you do not live there anymore. Still
, I want to do a major coastal / ride the perimeter of Australia on a motorcycle. Or sail it in a small catamaran.
Who is still a dreamer….
Hi Laurence. Yes, if there’s one thing Perth is good at – it’s sprawl. There’s nothing quite like it – apart from some American cities as you mentioned. I’ve been to Phoenix some years ago, and it actually reminded me of Perth.
Now, as for your dream, go for it mate! But, you will need a lot of time – it’s a big island!
Also a dreamer…
“the fact is that life in suburbia is the reality for almost every Australian.”
This might be a slight over exaggeration. There are enough apartments and townhouse, terraces in Sydney to absorb the whole of Perth.
The ABS states that in 2011 around 75.9% of Australians live in detached housing. A very high figure indeed but it does mean 1 in 4 Australians do not live the suburban experience you describe.
But going back to the topic at hand, as a tourist how do you get to know ‘the real’ anywhere without living there for a number of years?
It’s not really a detached housing vs non-detached housing thing – it’s a suburbia thing. Your ABS reference makes no account of city vs suburbia. Many people live in villas/flats/apartments, in suburbia. Far more than 75% of Australians live in suburbia. It’s a great land of low density homogeneous ‘burbs, and it’s where almost all Australians live. Even in Sydney (96.3% live outside of the 25 square kilometres of central Sydney – source, ABS). In Perth, it’s even less that live in the city center.
As for the topic at hand, I’m not sure there is an answer. Getting to know the “real” anywhere is a difficult challenge, no matter where it is.
Ahh That brings back memories – Sevenoakes Street, Queens Park.
My parents purchased my first gold fish from the pet shop that was next door to the barber’s.
The pet shop is long gone. It was knocked down and the block has been vacant for over 30 years.
The news agency must have been closed for 15 years now as well.
Suspect their owner is waiting for gentification to come and make them a lot of money…
And a very pricey suburbia at that!
You noticed, Andrea?
I completely agree with this post. Even, When I planned to visit Australia, I saw hell lot of brochures and crossed my limit of excitement. When, I actually reached it was little less than my expectation. No doubt, Its very good place to explore and ofcourse it totally depends on the way we think.
It would be an interesting question on your travels back into eastern Europe as to what motivates the locals there. i.e. do they wish for a suburban house, a crime free location, great schools for their kids, low taxes and good tvs. Then maybe based on your finding you could rewrite Maslows motivational hierarchy if they prefer for alternative ways of living. It would certainly be an interesting conversation, especially in eastern Europe who before the wall came down, craved for western jeans, western tv, a western lifestyle, and to be honest what you have described as the typical ‘western’ lifestyle, mmm!!! I wonder why some many came from those eastern European countries to Australia and made what it is. Whilst this may be the pop culture, there are always alternates that wish for something different, and that is cool. I guess Australia does offer this, but not in the big cities or the tourist spots.
Great photos Nate.
Suburbia is certainly the ‘real’ Australia for Australians although of course, tourists don’t experience that so much and probably don’t want to. Even when you live somewhere, you can go and experience the highlights as a tourist. I live in Sydney but have only been here for a couple of years. If I go to Bondi Beach or into the city, for me it’s like being a tourist. It’s not my normal experience but I enjoy it anyway
Cheers for the compliment, Angus. It’s kind of cool getting to be a tourist in your own city!
I grew up in Perth and left in my late teens. After many, many years abroad and getting married, I returned with my wife. She was excited to see Perth. I had shown her the pictures of the impressive skyline of a city of almost 2 million people. She was from a city of about half a million, so was looking forward to seeing a big city. When we arrived, I did the city tour showing off the city – Fremantle, Northbridge, Leederville, Cottesloe, Claremont, the CBD. The same question came up over and over again. Where are all the people? Where are all the 2 million people? They are in their homes and the friend’s homes, in Suburbia! Tourists coming to Perth will never experience the real Perth unless they are connected with someone local.
The first time we visited Perth, we stayed at a hotel in the “roll up the sidewalks at 6 p.m.” CBD. The second time we stayed with my husband’s colleague (another medical researcher) and his family at their–wait for it—detached home. It had suburban characteristics, but it was also close to public transportation. My favorite part of Perth is King’s Park, a great urban space. The other intetesting thing about Perth seems to be that most Australians have never been there. Folks in Sydney told us it was simply too far.