Maralinga by Lin Onus at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. A stunning work about the atomic tests conducted in Australia during the 1950s. A young woman holds tightly to her mother, as the winds from the blast from the explosion. A shameful part of our history.

Preparing for the Sunday night Red Eye

It’s Sunday evening. It’s been a warm day in Perth. I’m sitting on the balcony of the hotel I’ve been staying in. I hope the people on the cruise boat down below don’t mind that I’m sitting here, wearing just shorts, and sipping on a glass of wine. Because frankly, the last week has been super-super-busy, and if they do mind, I don’t care.

First, there was a reasonably intense two-day work conference in Sydney (with associated socialising/working at night). Then on Tuesday night, there was an evening flight from Sydney to Perth, arriving in Perth at 9.30 local time (after midnight back in Sydney). That was followed by a two-and-a-half day work conference in Perth which involved a lot of training, a lot of talking and some after work socialising where we continued to talk about work. I figure I did my 38 “rostered hours” in record time this week.

“A week of highs and lows” is how I described the week to a colleague and friend in a text message. We were both supposed to go to another work-related social activity on Friday night, but by Friday afternoon/evening I was exhausted, and so I retired to my hotel room. Though I could have gone back on Friday, I decided to tag on a few extra days in Perth at my own expense. It’s such a long way to travel (five hours), that I figured I couldn’t miss the chance for some friendly catchups, a bit of tourist exploration, and some relaxation.

Aside from yesterday’s food tour, I also paid a visit today to the Art Gallery of Western Australia and caught up with a friend for lunch today at Little Creatures. So yeah, despite the busy times I’ve experienced over the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve had a weekend. I feel quite relaxed. I’m catching the red-eye back tonight (leaves Perth at 11.35pm, arrives Sydney at 6.55am), so I’m hoping for sound night’s sleep. Hoping…

Roasting beans from El Salvador at Ristretto, Perth

International Food Tour of Perth

You know how when you meet someone and they introduce themselves, but within five minutes you’ve completely forgotten their name? That’s how it was with one of the blokes on the International Food Tour of Perth which I undertook today. Thankfully, I knew he was the father of Justin, our tour guide. We shared a few interesting stories throughout the day, including memories of condensed milk. He also told me a little of the background to these tours which are reasonably new in Perth.

The idea came from a visit to New York last year, and a tour called “Food On Foot”. He spoke with a real passion about the tour; it must have had a real impact. He and his family have been passionate about food and wine, and his son Justin had spent about half his life working in hospitality. And so when Justin returned to Australia after living overseas for a while, it seemed like a logical connection between his working life and his interests. On top of that, Perth has probably been crying out for something like this.

It’s a decade since I lived in Perth, and to be honest, I don’t have great memories of a particularly strong food culture here. Sure, there’s Margaret River, and other places like that. But I always remembered Perth as a bit of a surf and turf kind of town. Memorably from a couple of years ago, Perth was also a town I began to associate with overpriced meals, and particularly overpriced coffee.

But Perth seems to have changed a little bit in the last couple of years. You can see it instantly as you walk through the city: the town is far less Anglo and far more culturally diverse than it was ten years ago, even two years ago. This is reflected in many more interesting places to eat, and, thanks to legislative change, a far greater small bar culture. So in some ways, it sounds like Justin and his aunt (who co-owns the business) have tapped into the wave of change.

Today’s tour covered a range of food establishments around Perth, ranging from the older established businesses (an old Greek supermarket) to more modern ones (enjoying Banh Mi and Vietnamese coffee, and a toasted sandwich at a laneway hispter bar). The tour was well paced. Justin (the guy in the cap with a beard) was a really good tour guide, displaying both knowledge and passion. Highly recommended.

Not the best BBQ Pork in Perth

The Return Of Pork Boy

I am not entirely sure why, but I’ve struggled to find BBQ Pork in Perth. I’ve been to quite a few Asian eateries and have looked through the menu without any sign of BBQ pork. Lots of seafood. But no pork. I have specifically asked at a couple of places, only to be told, “No, we don’t do BBQ Pork”. Maybe it’s a Northern vs Southern China thing?

This is in stark contrast to the year in which I lived in Perth – 2004 – when I enjoyed possibly the world’s best BBQ Pork. Every Sunday night I would go to Han Palace on Bennett Street, just around the corner from where I was living on Wellington Street. Having enjoyed the delights of their BBQ Pork, I used to go there every Sunday night, and purchase some take-away. I didn’t want rice. I didn’t want vegetables. I just wanted the pork. And from there I would head out for a drink or two at The Court (when they still had a lively Sunday night scene) and then often to Connections. It was a great routine.

After a few months, the woman at Han Palace said to me, “How come you only eat pork? You should have rice and vegetables too!”, to which I replied, “Because you have such great pork”. In honesty, she was probably correct, but I figured since I ate a reasonably well balanced diet, it was okay to have a Sunday night “pig out” (pun intended) on BBQ pork, while watching “Big Brother” was a reasonable indulgence.

When I told some people in Perth about this, they joked, “I’ll bet she calls you pork boy”. The name has stuck ever since.

So in heading back to Perth, one of the things I’ve really been anticipating has been to go to Han Palace on a Sunday night for some BBQ Pork. Imagine then, my disappointment to discover last night, it was closed for Christmas. They were planning to re-open in late January in a new venue, according to the sign on the door.

I consoled myself with some pork tonight at Old Shanghai which is nowhere near as good.

Three Hours

Public art, thoughtful words from the Pigram Brothers, and the perfect place to check your hair and make-up before heading to The Court Hotel in Perth, Western Australia.
Public art, thoughtful words from the Pigram Brothers, and the perfect place to check your hair and make-up before heading to The Court Hotel in Perth, Western Australia.
I took my first work-related phone call from the Eastern States at about seven o’clock this morning. Even though it was in my diary, and I’d planned for it, I was still fairly bleary eyed. Still, I think I managed to make sense of it all.

I think I also made sense when I took a call the other day from The East where the person on the end of the phone hadn’t quite realised there was a three-hour time-zone difference between Melbourne and Perth. “So it’s 10.30 in the morning?” the person on the other end of the phone said, to which I replied, “No, it’s 4.30 in the morning”.

Three hours time difference between Sydney and Perth shouldn’t make a difference but it does. And I was reminded tonight of why, at the end of 2004, I decided to return to Sydney, instead of staying in Perth: it’s the time-zone difference. On paper, you wouldn’t think two or three hours makes a difference, but it certainly does.

The work stuff you can live with. That’s why you get the big bucks. But a three hour time zone gap makes the biggest difference when it comes to maintaining relationships with family and friends. You arrive home from work, and you think it would be terrific to ring up your family and friends, and then suddenly you realise they’re going to bed. Even though many of my friends back home are night owls, you still don’t want to call too late. And besides, there’s a difference between calling someone at seven and calling someone at ten.

And that’s what happened after work today.

Boy and Bear

Although for a while I was thinking “Boy & Bear” would be a good name for our team for the pop trivia night at Yaya’s, in the end it was probably best to go with “Le coqs sportif”. “Boy & Bear”, of course is the name of a highly successful Australian pop group at the moment, and although it would have been highly appropriate musically, I guess it would have kind of muddied the waters if we had gone with that name. After all, I’m a 46 year old, and Mark is a 29 year old, although who was the boy and who was the bear could have been left open to much speculation.

Mark and I first met in Sydney a few years ago in blogging circles. Although he has spent most of his life in Perth, he spent a few years in Sydney studying, and that’s when we became friends. Coming back to Perth for this trip, he was one of the people I really wanted to catch up with.

And what better way to catch-up than to have a meal, and then later go to a pop trivia night run by a friend of his. We both have a strong interest in music, and we have complimentary skills. I was pretty useful on the rounds of questions on Classical Music, Eurovision and The Life and Time’s of Molly Meldrum. Yes seriously. Mark answered everything else, particularly all of those tricky 1990s music questions about bands like Ween, Nirvana and so on. Mark also secured red wine in the heads/tails round.

Although we finished in fourth place, we were tonight’s per capita winners. As Le Coqs Sportif, the two of us against much larger teams did well. While some teams struggled on the classical music round, we scored ten out of ten. We also got nine for the Eurovision round (thought actually we think we got 10 and were mis-marked) and nine for the Molly Meldrum round (missing out on the name of John Lennon’s first solo album). At one stage we were on 69 points. It was about then that I realised being “Boy and Bear on 69” was proof that we had gone with the right team name.

A good night was had by all…

All is quiet on New Year’s Day

As I caught the train to Il Lido, I couldn’t help but notice the number of men wearing ties and women wearing fascinators. “Is this Melbourne Cup Day?”, I thought to myself, wondering if, wearing a nice new shirt and a reasonably expensive pair of jeans was somewhat under-dressed for New Year’s Eve in Perth. The answer became evident as I made my way back on the train later in the night.

@Cellobella invited me to join her and a group of friends for NYE at a terrific Italian restaurant. The original plan was to start the night off drinking mojitos on the beach, until we discovered it was a) pretty windy and b) an alcohol free zone which threatened a $500 fine. So, we moved to a friend’s nearby apartment, drank our mojitos and then made our way to Il Lido.

“It’s had a number of incarnations in this spot, but this one seems to have lasted”, I was told by a bloke over dinner. “You can come here first thing in the morning for breakfast, or for dinner at night”, he went on to say.

The company was great, the food was good, the wine was good, and the service was attentive without being over-the-top. And thankfully, no one was trying to rush us out for a second pre-midnight seating that you sometimes encounter in Sydney.

Although there were some drunkish people on the way home on the train, it wasn’t too bad, especially since it was still only close to one-o’clock in the morning, and especially since I chose to sit with “the old people” in the carriage (safety in numbers, I figured).

By the time I’d arrived back in the centre of Perth, I noticed most of the guys had ditched their ties (or they were now losely tied), and the fascinators had found their rightful place in the bins (I hate fascinators). Which brings me to my biggest bug-bear of NYE – women who wear impossibly high heels. My plea to the women of Perth: “stop buying your shoes from drag queens”. At 1.30 on the morning on NYD, of course your shoes are going to hurt, and of course you’re going to find it difficult to walk. I know I sound like an old man, but sensible shoes please from now on. Oh and please stop using your mobile phone. If you are in a group please talk to each other. A bunch of people using phones in a group suggests you are bored with your friends. Maybe you are?

The other thing I noticed, as with anywhere else on NYE was the huge amount of drunkeness. Normally, I’d include myself in this category of people (though not for the last couple of years as I’ve tended to keep myself nice). My favourite manifestation of this was when I overheard a bloke head down a lane-way for a wee and yell out to his girlfriend, “Gah-piss” which is the shortened version of the well-known phrase “I’m gonna have a piss”.

Back in Sydney, I’m sure the NYE celebrations continued well into NYD. I’m sure there were some tragic sights to be seen around Oxford Street well into last night.

In contrast, people in Perth went home and obviously spent NYD either resting up or in house parties. Last night it was tumble-weed territory on James Street in Northbridge. After having a bite to eat at the James Street Kitchen (quite good Chinese), I went for a beer at The Court. The night before, I’m sure sounds from The Court would have boomed throughout the city. Last night, there were more staff than customers. The place closed at 9.15pm.

Miss Maud Swedish Hotel in Perth, Western Australia

A little bit of Sweden in Perth

It’s mid-afternoon in Perth, and I’m back in my room with the fan on maximum rotation trying to cool down after an interesting and busy day.

I started the day off with a coffee, a smoked salmon baguette, and an apple strudel at a Swedish cafe.

Even in Perth, there’s a little bit of Sweden, it seems. Well, more than a little bit; quite a lot actually, as there are fifteen locations across Perth where you’ll find a “Miss Maud” eating house. There are sandwich shops, pastry shops, coffee shops, and even a “Swedish Hotel” on the corner of Pier and Murray Streets.

According to the Miss Maud website, Miss Maud came to Australian in 1971 where she…

fell in love with the sunny disposition of the people, the long golden beaches, not to mention the wonderful weather.

But, she then goes on to say…

But how I missed the warm, inviting restaurants and quaint little sidewalk cafés of Sweden. And never more, than when my mother arrived from Stockholm for a visit.Where could I take her for a nice lunch or a splendid afternoon tea? I yearned for rich Swedish coffee and traditional open-faced Swedish sandwiches like the Shrimp Boat and Gangplank. Back then my mother and I had to settle for a counter meal at the local pub. Not quite where a couple of ladies would go to enjoy each other’s company. I decided it was time to bring a little taste of Sweden to Perth.In 1971 “Miss Maud” was born.

Forty years later and I’m not sure Miss Maud’s remains a “little bit of Sweden” in Perth. At the coffee shop this morning I noticed a Princesstorta and even a Queen Silvia Cake, and there were smoked salmon and prawn baguettes, but pretty much everything else seemed pretty “mod oz” to me.

But the business remains very successful. In fact, a colleague argued to me yesterday the case Miss Maud was the reason why there isn’t a Starbucks in Perth. He told me Starbucks did the maths and decided Miss Maud and Dome and a few others pretty much had the coffee market in Perth sewn up, and so haven’t bothered to open an outlet here. Praise The Lord!

After breakfast I wandered around for a while, and then listened to my favourite tech podcast, TWIG, before catching the ferry down to Fremantle. I had some lunch, I bought a shirt, looked in some shop windows, I looked around the Maritime Museum, a replica of The Endeavour, went to the beach, checked out a few tourist information places, and generally had a very pleasant time.

Even though this visit for Perth is for work, today felt very much like a holiday, I must admit. Happy New Year!