Here's a tip for budding photographers visiting Australia: find the
local Anzac memorial. Every city
and town will have one; just look for the highest elevation you can
find. And they'll inevitably be placed to give you the best vistas in
town. So it was with Perth, where a ride on the free
service to the logically named Mount Hospital stop and a long and
sweaty trudge up to King's Park got me some spectacular views of the
skyscrapers of the central city, the soothing green of its parklands
and the vast expanse of the Swan River.
Not that there's anything wrong with the view at street level. Some clever city planner put a grassy field between the government buildings and the riverfront, which I appreciate no end. One of the challenges of shooting pictures in cities is finding the right vantage point: far enough away to frame the shot the way I want but close enough to get the right level of detail, and without anything big and opaque in the way.
Some buildings need to be seen up close to be appreciated. Like the
white building at right. Or at least what's left of it. The story I
heard was of a grand old railway hotel whose owner wanted to demolish.
The city insisted the hotel deserved to remain. But did he listen?
I guess there was money involved. Because one night the hotel
vanished, leaving only its entrance as a sort of
Cheshire cat to
grin down at the street. The city ordered that that last bit of
hotel be preserved. And here we are, with a grand entrance and no
building for it to be the entrance to. You have to love free
I don't want to give you the wrong impression; not all of Perth's old
structures go bump in the night when they no longer serve their
original purpose. Here are two examples from 1899: at left the
Perth Mint; at right the
old firehouse. The mint building may only be a hundred years
old, but it clearly belongs to a different era than the Victorian
buildings of Melbourne (pun acknowledged but not intended). It's
still used to produce proof and precious metal coins, with gold
pouring demonstrations on the hour. The fire station kept the city
from harm for eighty years. Now it's a museum devoted to the efforts
of the city's firefighters.
Of course, not everything that looks old is old.
And anyway, there weren't a lot of Elizabethans in Western Australia.
London Court was built in 1937, the product of a local businessman's
fevered imagination. This Tudor shopping mall looks surprisingly
at home among the more contemporary shop fronts of Hay Street Mall,
where I finally found a Mambo
shirt loud enough to satisfy even me. (Okay, I admit it; I just
wanted one like Crichton and Harvey had on
a very special
episode of Farscape.) In any event,
the Hay Street and Murray Street Malls were well populated on this
particular sunny Sunday. I guess I'm not the only one to think of
shopping as both a competitive and a spectator sport.
Moving on from the old and the old-but-not-as-old-as-it-looks, we have
an example of old-made-new. At left is Perth's central railway
station, which is home to a clean and modern commuter rail system that
puts BART to
shame. The original station has been preserved, with a modern roof
keeping the passengers comfortable and dry and elevated walkways to
connect to the shopping mall across the street. (I tried to get a
picture of the front of the station, but there were way too many trees
in the way. Damn trees!) As for the bronze kangaroo at right, I
really don't have anything to say about him. I just thought he was
cool. Sometimes that's reason enough.
One of our reasons for going downtown was to experience a temporary
exhibit that had set up shop in the Supreme Court Gardens by the
river. My friend Heather had described it as a bouncy castle for
adults, which wasn't quite accurate. Then again, I've been inside and
I'm still not sure what would be more accurate. Try to
imagine a giant inflatable multichambered structure made of latex
plastic. Add bright colored walls and monochromatic lighting and you
have a surreal and entertaining setting.
Part of the fun of wandering inside all that plastic was playing around
with my new camera in such an interestingly
lit environment. If I ever find myself doing technical talks again I
think I'd like to use the shot at left for the conference brochure.
It just screams fascinating personality, doesn't it? (No? Awww, who
asked you.) As for the picture at right, I tried desperately to avoid
referring to it as a womb with a view. But sometimes you just have to
let the joke out. Even a groaner as bad as that.
Fremantle, situated where the Swan River empties into the Indian
Ocean, is a picture postcard of a place that owes much of its current
charm to the America's
Cup. Established around 1830 along with Perth, Fremantle had
become seedy and somewhat dangerous by the time Australia II
stole liberated the cup from the Americans. But with
four years before the world came calling for the rematch, the locals
put a new/old face on the city. The result is visible everywhere you
turn. And unlike Perth, Freo hasn't let a bunch of big, modern
buildings interfere with its skyline. The two cities are so
different. And yet they complement each other so well.
I'm told that Fremantle can be an unbearably hot and sticky place in
summer. Which I guess explains the verandas and balconies you see all
over town, covered in the kind of lacy ironwork I first encountered
around Melbourne. Hotels (which is
Australian for tavern, mate) like these seem the perfect place to sip
mint juleps or
Singapore Slings or whatever the local
equivalent might be while waiting for the cooling breeze they call the
Fremantle Doctor to come
Unsurprising for the state capital's port city, Freo is also home to
the Western Australian Maritime
Museum, which tells of man's heroic and often fatal relationship with
the sea. This building is the Shipwreck Museum, with exhibits on the
Dutch sailors who traveled these waters a hundred fifty years before
the Brits. The exhibit at right is a recreation of the hull of the
Batavia, carrying the stones of an archway to Indonesia when it went
aground in 1628. It's a
harrowing tale of disaster, survival,
heroism, mutiny, horror, rescue and retribution that would do
Within minutes of arriving in town I was off to explore the
first built in 1892 and now open on weekends as a combination produce,
craft and touristy junk market. As with the best such places, the
market is a riot of color, sounds and smells, nearly all of them
pleasant. I managed to do most of my holiday shopping in record time,
finding items from all over the world that will delight the
recipients. At least if they know what's good for them, they will...
If these walls could talk... My local informant tells me that
the building at left once held an establishment of the more
questionable nature, where many a drop of blood was spilled. Sounds
a bit too
for my taste. The one at right is the
Arts Centre & History Museum,
a lovely cheery place. But it wasn't always so; before these walls
held beauty and history, they held Fremantle's loony
population. Hmmmm, that's not quite right. Let me rephrase that:
Fremantle's population of loonies. No, that's no better.
How about this: the loonies who live in Fremantle. Oh, you
get the idea. The point is that it used to hold crazies and now it
holds artists. That's better, right?
I once attended a talk that
Kay gave at a MacWorld
Expo in San Francisco some years ago. During the talk, Mr. Kay
used a line I've never forgotten: "The right point of view is worth
twenty IQ points." I
mention this to illustrate these two views of the Fremantle Railway
Station, although I know this isn't remotely what he meant. From the
front we see a small but classic bit of Victorian architecture, circa
1907. (Or would that be Edwardian?) But from the rear we see how much
things have changed. The once extensive railyard is gone, replaced
with a thrice hourly commuter train service into Perth. Still, at
least something of the station's former glory has survived. Including
its public restrooms, reputed to be the most impressive in town. And
no, I'm not joking.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California