November is a busy month for building huggers. It is Architecture Month and, following the lead of other great cities like London, Paris and New York, Perth had an Open House. Old buildings, new buildings, concept spaces, even an artsy public restroom were opened wide to the general public for peeking, inspiration and guffawing. A serious drawcard for the nosey public is not only going into interesting buildings but that often, if it is a guided tour, very restricted/private areas are also opened. Oh, we feel so important.
Two weeks later, Heritage Perth takes over a weekend. More buildings are opened up to the public. These aren’t necessarily brick & mortar marvels but their ghosts are more interesting and social history is on greater display. Interesting tidbits emerge like the Queen’s requirement of an exclusive private toilet in the buildings she takes a turn through, the women’s poor house turned government print office and the diva gossip dished out during behind-the-scenes tours at performance venues.
In my previous life in North America, my employment would take me to some very interesting places the general public had no access to. It was like being let in on a secret so few knew. With no such current all-access opportunity here in Perth, I look forward to the Heritage Perth weekend every year. If your community doesn’t have such events, spearhead the drive to start one. Stop looking at buildings that are in your way and start seeing them in a fresh way. Be a tourist in your own neighborhood. Bring heritage to life.
Good things come to those who wait…and wait…and wait. The state of Western Australia was ‘founded’ by English colonists in 1829. Fast forward 183 years and it is only now legal to buy a loaf of bread, a pillow case or clock radio anywhere in the state on a Sunday. Welcome Sunday shopping, you were a long time coming.
I come from the land of 24-hour shopping. Odd work shifts or sleeping habits did not leave a person outside the world of consumer commerce. Imagine my surprise and culture shock when I moved to Perth just a few years ago to find that the sidewalks were rolled up at 5:30pm daily and buildings practically boarded up on Sundays. How did a working person shop? Two options: fight the crowds on Saturday mornings or go out on the government-approved Thursday Late Night Shopping. Stores stayed open until 9p.m. and it was actually a family event for many people. I could not hide my incredulity at what seemed a comical sight. Whole families slowly strolling down aisles ooohing and aaaahing the grocery shelves as if taking in the latest exhibition at the Art Gallery. Cracked me up.
Why was this so? The government was protecting the little guy from the Goliaths. Small business owners felt they could not compete against the big corporations and beseeched the state government to help them by limiting hours of commerce, especially for certain consumer goods. Slowly, over the last 25 years, this has been evolving to respond to nontraditional work and family models as well as joining contemporary business thinking. Sunday shopping and extended hours were allowed in the tourist inhabited downtown area of Perth. The tourist zone was widened into the suburbs. Certain consumer goods were excepted from the laws. And finally, the last weekend of August, the last veil dropped and all is fair in commerce and war. Great fanfare, sales, giveaways and entertainment sirened “come hither” to people not used to handling their wallets on the seventh day.
All this is still a far cry from round-the-clock cash register ecstasy, but it feels a whole lot less like Pluto here in Perth.
Remember babysitting? It was likely your entry into the money making world. Never mind that it paid significantly less than minimum wage, we were wage earners and that was cool. For awhile. Then we learned that minimum wage paid three times as much per hour and couldn’t wait to older and get a real job. Imagine: $2.35 to a walloping $2.65 an hour for non kidstuff kind of work! I started out at 75¢ an hour looking after the rabbi’s kids. My older sister, Anne, raked in 35¢ an hour on her first sitting jobs.
It is so not the same today. Babysitting rates have surpassed the minimum wage. Greedy teens or is the minimum wage shockingly low? Admittedly, the avenues for teens to earn money seem to dry up as traditional jobs like paper routes are done more and more by adult contractors (‘paper adult’ sounds odd) or automation. A quick poll of friends in North America through a social network site shows that rates generally well exceed the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. One friend with a single child is getting away with $6/hr but most are coughing up $10, even $12 for college kids. A much-older-than-13 former colleague wailed that some of these rates were more than he was currently getting paid.
Curiosity turned into a social study when I started asking about babysitting rates here in Perth. I expected the situation to be exactly the same but with a higher rate. The government minimum wage here is $16 an hour. And well, teenagers are teenagers the world over, so the rate must be higher, right?
Sort of. Polling people at church on Sunday came up with a big zero. None hired outside help. Junior was always watched by grandparents or the occasional switched favors with other couples. So I started asking people I did not know in church and they said pretty much the same thing. Well, all these folks are church goers and maybe that makes a difference. I accosted a few pram pushing people on the street and guess what? Pretty much the same story there also, although one suggested that I look up a particular babysitting website. Doing so came up with mature adults asking for $20-$25 /hour depending on the time of day. Not a significant jump from the $15 asked by one parishioner 20 years ago when he babysat as an older teen.
What does this mean? Do Australians have much closer knit, highly supportive families than back home or are they just too cheap to pay the neighbor kid to watch theirs? One parent posited that maybe babysitting was an American thing, but her husband was not so quick to draw such a conclusion. Western Australia is heavily populated with people from other places and not all would have moved here with extended family in tow. Those folks will have to choose between not going out or shelling out.
Whatever the situation, I’m brushing up on my diaper changing skills. Just in case…
This is a land where the public health sirens shriek “We’re one Big Mac away from looking like Americans”. I had trouble seeing this bulging trend at first because I work in the Central Business District , which is chock-a-block with tiny women in impossibly fashion forward clothing. Besides exposing a shocking hiring bias that no western country should be caught indulging in, it masked a ‘larger’ problem. Real women are being shamelessly ignored by the fashion industry.
Near my home is a new store with white dresses displayed prominently in the window facing the main street. Drool, drool, drool. It is a new wedding dress shop. Wedding dresses for women “of size”. And this specialty makes it unusual indeed. Weddings 2 Love starts where most bridal shops leave off. Yes, leave off. Most bridal shops here in Western Australia refuse to stock dresses larger than a size 12 – which in North American sizes is a 10. Even stores run by plus-sized women unapologetically refuse to carry or order larger sizes. Unbelievable. Merchants are in complete denial about their customer base. Weddings 2 Love starts at size 14 and goes to 34. I like the way many of the styles proprietor Donna picks have lots of detailing at the top part of the dress instead of the bottom. Why draw everyone’s attention to the bride’s knees when her glowing face is above her neck? And most of the dresses have a thin chiffon ethereal look without adding weight to the overall appearance. Alas, to my tastes at least, there are too many strapless gowns. Brides love them but I think too few are done real justice by them. Nevertheless, it is a treat to walk and gawk past these ever-changing windows.
This brings up the question of fashion for the Reubenesque figure. I’ve heard women comment (and sometimes noticed myself) that whatever is in style this year in Europe and the US will take about a year or so to make to Australia. Make that two decades for larger sized clothing. Just as larger women (and pregnant ones, also) used to complain that the only clothing available seemed to be shapeless polyester with entirely too much wide elastic banding, so are Australian women left wanting. Where was the sharp business wear? The hot evening wear? The I-still-have-some-self-respect wear? The US garment industry got the message and responded. Larger Australian women wear clothing made of uneven patchwork squares (supposed to fool the eye this is) and ghastly clingy thin polyester (count my rolls of flesh, please.) I believe that online shopping from foreign countries who understand and cater to this need will shorten the fashion learning curve here in OZ.
I hope so, anyway.
We recently had an old friend from Canada visiting us. His experience can be a cautionary tale for all.
Mike did the usual touristy things: visited some natural phenomena, took photos of exotic road kill, checked out what the foreign grocery stores have, bought some souvenirs and tasted the local cuisine. The stuff tourists do everywhere.
Where this became an unhappy experience, he has doubtless shared with many tourists to the state of Western Australia. It can be wickedly expensive. Mike had opted to stay at a hotel shortly after his arrival. The few rooms listed at $100 a night had booked out weeks ago. Many, MANY phone calls later, we found a hotel at the fringes of downtown that actually had openings for several days… at any price. Sunday’s bed came with a price tag of $160. O.K. but there is no such thing as a ‘weekly rate’ –each night is rated on its usual demand–and the final bill for four nights came to over $1000. And the serious skewer came when Mike needed a few pairs of socks and underwear laundered to get him through the end of the trip. We would have been happy to launder his things for free but the laundry service at the hotel was more immediate and potentially less embarrassing. And it was considerably more expensive.
To the tune of $5 PER SOCK.
Hotels always charge a premium but this boggled the mind. They insisted that they receive not a single cent from the outside service that picks up the laundry orders. Mike’s irate calls to the Tourism WA office, Better Business Bureau, Mayor’s Ombudsman and anybody else who would pick up their phone came up with the same answer. “It’s a ‘boom’ economy. It’s what the traffic will bear.” And it is complete and utter nonsense. The ‘boom’ isn’t that big and there is no fine line between ‘supply and demand’ and wanton greed.
Tourism WA is trying desperately to get Sandgropers (residents of WA) to vacation inside their own state. Who are they kidding? One can fly to Bali with five nights in a hotel for the price of two nights in a Perth hotel. It is trying with all the energy and lack of circumspection of a 13 year-old to court moneyed Chinese tourists to come here as well. The Chinese, with their fabled business acumen, won’t need too long before they figure out that making money by doing the same for less here is a better plan than endlessly dropping dollars at overpriced establishments. Once a destination gets a reputation for “shaving the heads” of its tourists ( a very popular sport in Vietnam) it can be hard to shake. Word of mouth and tour books can do damage to a place’s image for years beyond the actual fact. I firmly believe that Tourism WA needs to work more on the experience tourists will have once here. The Australian attitude of “if you don’t like it, lump it” has no place in the hospitality industry–especially in this state.
It turns out that Mike was charged $5 per pair of socks. Funny as it sounds, this is not too unreasonable for a four-star hotel in a Western country.
The moral of this story is… do come to see some of WA’s natural wonders, experience its vibrant yet relaxed lifestyle and dip your toes into the Indian Ocean. But this is an area where advance planning and budgeting can make all the difference in the quality of your experience. Guide books –and my column & blog– can lead you on to the greatest bang for your buck. And let us not forget the beauty of having friends/relatives in the locale. Avail yourself of their knowledge, assistance…and free clothes washing machine.
Funny how Time can affect our vision. We see the past through rose-colored glasses (think of the movie romanticism of that maritime disaster, the sinking of the Titanic) and our current day with horse blinders on. A recent incident confirms this.
April 14: my arrival into Australia in 2008. Has it really been four years?! Where does time go? I arrived in Perth in the middle of the night and when I woke up in the morning I dashed over to the library to get my library card. (Isn’t that what everyone does in a new town?) That day, and each day for several weeks beyond, was filled with discovery and new things for the mind to digest. But even then I feared it all becoming too commonplace. Familiarity may or may not breed contempt, but it sure does promote tunnel vision. I am all too aware that I have become as quite myopic as the locals.
A few days ago, I was returning from a quick errand on our side of downtown. It was such a nice day that I decided to walk home rather than take a bus. Taking a shortcut to the bridge would have me avoid playing chicken with cars at a major traffic circle. It would also expose a piece of the city I had never seen before. From the elevated seating of a bus, this small strip of land looks like a tree-lined bike path next to a municipal parking lot. From ground level, it is a hidden park complete with an extensive playground set, Aboriginal interpretive center and a bike & kayak rental barn.
This park is but a half mile from my home. However did I miss this? I feverishly thought of excuses: tree cover keeps this hidden from commuters, my left knee keeps me from bicycling on the bike paths, it’s the “wrong side” of the river, etc. The truth is that I have put on the same blinders that so many others wear. We each follow our same path each day without variance , without seeing what we look at. A life of routine.
Routine is a voracious eater of Time. I shouldn’t wonder that four years have elapsed without me noticing. So I vow that I will get off the same over-trodden path or vary my routine on a regular basis from here on out. I am looking forward to more discoveries.
First things first: Tasmania is NOT a foreign country floating somewhere in the Andaman Sea. It is the island state of Australia at the country’s most southern point. Actually, it’s a collection of islands much like Hawaii but that’s where the similarity ends. There is nothing tropical about the weather at this last stop before the Antarctica, rather entirely more like Wisconsin or Michigan in weather . The western 37% of Tasmania is reserve land, mountainous and snowbound in the winter.
Most of its half million people reside in the eastern and northern part of the state. An interesting bunch, this lot. Almost everyone is related to a crook. Tasmania was settled by the British as a penal colony, and where this was once a fact to be hidden, most people today embrace their … colorful… ancestry. There is a lot free spirit found here in the form of ageing hippies and their organic produce and earth friendly products. Despite the rumors you’ll hear on the mainland, no one in Tasmania has two heads (a not-so-veiled hint at small island inbreeding.) The state seems to be losing heads to the mainland anyway. Unemployment in Tassie is the highest in the country. The apple, beer (Cascade and Boag) , cheese (King Island cheese & beef is second to none!) and tourism industry cannot make this beautiful state more attractive to young workers and industries that would employ them. Retirees, however, find this a most suitable place.
Another misconception to correct is the Tasmanian Devil. Warner Brothers got the strong jaw and irritable temper correct but the rest is a bit fanciful. The Tassie devil, found in the wild only in Tassie, is small and black with a white collar. It is also suffering from a facial tumor that has been spreading like wildfire for 15 years now. Conservation and breeding programs are a high priority for the residents of the state. Unfortunately, this has also brought out bogus organizations looking to capitalize on people’s concern and generosity. Also capturing the natives’ fancy is the Tasmanian Tiger—more of a canine with stripes and huge mouth than a big cat. The last Tassie Tiger is said to have died in 1936 but tragics still hold out hope that their sightings and scat collections will resurrect the state emblem. And for all you wombat fans , wombat poop perfectly square bricks so identifying their scat is easy enough.
Some famous Tasmanians: actor Errol Flynn, actor Simon Baker (from “The Mentalist”) and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark who met her handsome prince during the Sydney Olympics.