Perth. Australians may argue over football and politics, but you'll never hear an untoward word about this modern seaside city
IN 1893 the cry of ``Gold!'' rang from this remote area. Worldwide, thousands grabbed pick and shovel to follow their rainbow here. Ghost towns tell a silent tale of those who failed. Perth, however -- capital of Western Australia -- blossomed and grew like a desert rose.Skip to next paragraph
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This vast state, occupying about one-third of the Australian continent, has a population of only 1.3 million. One million live in and around Perth.
Now, nearly 100 years after the gold rush, it's a mere 134 ounces of silver that brings international attention to this city. It is, of course, the most coveted yachting prize: the America's Cup.
The tall, bulbous Victorian ewer now resides comfortably, if not permanently, in red-upholstered splendor on the third floor of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, guarded by a polite elderly gentleman who is happy to sell you a sweater, necktie, or tote bag emblazoned with the celebrated sterling trophy.
Perth is bracing for a tidal wave of tourists -- up to a million are hoped for -- between now and next February for the trials and conclusion of the cup races.
Australians may argue over Aussie rules on football and politics, or over whether or not ``Waltzing Matilda'' should become their national anthem, but you'll never hear an untoward word about Perth.
``Such a clean city,'' they chorus. ``So neat, tidy, and well designed -- and modern, very modern.''
No guidebook will dispute it. Perth is clean and modern, almost to the point of being downright antiseptic. From a distance, it looks like a city put together overnight with a giant set of Lego blocks -- sort of a slice of Los Angeles without smog, Kansas City with kangaroos, or a seaside Dallas.
Perth's carefully laid-out streets cut perfect checkerboard patterns between look-alike modern glass, steel, and concrete monoliths.
New hotels are fast filling any remaining gaps in the skyline. Six international hotels have sprung up in the past two years, adding more than 1,000 rooms for the cup comers. Older hotels are getting face lifts and a coat of paint, whether they need it or not.
There's money here, as is opulently evident on ``Millionaires' Row,'' Perth's tony residential area, where this city's most famous citizen has his home. Alan Bond, a self-made millionaire, put up the money for Australia II, winner of the 1983 America's Cup. But Mr. Bond doesn't put all his money on the water. ``Bond owns so much of Perth, I wouldn't be surprised if he changed the name of the city to Bondage,'' someone on the bus commented.
For all the newness and sparkle here, there is something missing: those endlessly fascinating little bits, those delightful, odd touches of something called ``Australiana.'' The things that infatuated Mark Twain, who wrote of Australia as ``full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities.''
A few remnants remain of what must have been a city of utter charm not too many years ago. But you have to hunt for them.
There's Government House, mostly hidden from the street, with its Gothic arches and turrets; and Perth's lovely Town Hall, built with Jacobean grace; plus a few charming red brick churches built during the last century.
Then there's what remains of the Barracks -- once the sprawling headquarters of soldier settlers -- built of handsome, warm brown-and-yellow bricks. An archway is all that's left, after some concerned citizens yelled, ``Stop! That's enough!'' as a wrecker's ball went through this city like a 13th-century mace.
Fortunately, several parks bring swaths of quiet green relief to this glass-and-steel forest. Queens Park is a delight. What was once a quarry on the site is now filled with water and pink-and-white waterlilies, much to the enjoyment of visitors.
Brides flock to have their picture taken there on the sprawling lawn among the trees or in front of Peter Pan, a copy of the whimsical statue in London's Kensington Gardens.