Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Perth, Australia, February 15

We spent 10 days in the southwestern corner of the state of Western Australia (WA). Perth, the state’s capital, has been called “the most remote city in the world”. It’s four hours, by air, to any other city in Australia or Asia. Perth didn’t seem remote. The city was full of new buildings, luxury goods, expensive cars, microbreweries and supermodel wannabees.
Our friends Steve and Jillian showed us a wonderful time. Steve emigrated to Oz 20 years ago from Seattle, and Jill came from England around the same time. They took us to see an Australian Rules football game – Jill works for the league so we sat in the commissioner’s box. They introduced us to great music and the best local libations. They arranged for an afternoon of sailing out of Royal Perth Yacht Club, proud home of Australia II, winner of the 1983 America’s Cup. Took us bike riding on the glorious Rottnest Island. And we’ve gotten to know three out of four of Steve’s wonderful daughters.
Three hours south of the Perth was Margaret River - nirvana for people who love the fine things in life. Home to 140 premium wineries, the area’s Indian Ocean beaches draw an international surfer set. Talk about beautiful people. The area is quiet and bucolic. There’s no traffic. The stars at night are something to behold. One wanders around in a haze of fine wine with galleries and food to match.
Most of Australia’s mineral wealth is found in WA and this sector has been the major driver of the country’s economy in recent years. There’s gold, nickel, iron, uranium, copper, diamonds, salt, oil and gas and more. China has been the dominant buyer as well as a major investor.
We were not out of fire danger in WA. We went for a hike in a national park just minutes from our hotel in Margaret River. We smelled smoke. We drove down the road to catch a view of a huge plume of smoke rising out of the hills. At the hotel, an evacuation was in process. We packed our bags and wondered what was next. Six hours later, the fire was under control and we got back to the hotel but the firefighters spent 48 hours mopping up. The park was lit up with flames again the next night – perhaps, it was speculated, by arsonists seeking the thrill of the Victorian bushfires.


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