Two weeks ago yesterday, I flew from Bangkok (point A on map below) across the equator to Perth (B) for an eight-day vacation in Australia. Perth is 3,300 miles south of Bangkok, about a six-hour flight. On the following Wednesday, I took a four-hour flight 2,000 miles across the continent to Sydney (C) where I spent the remainder of the week before returning to Bangkok last Sunday. Because of the trip, I did not write a blog for the past two weeks, but I now have lots of pictures and stories to share over the next few weeks.
Founded in 1829, Perth is a young city but one that clearly respects its relatively short history. Because of the mineral wealth in Western Australia — gold, iron ore, petroleum and natural gas — the population and economy of Perth have boomed. While cranes litter the skyline, the new towering skyscrapers are built in a way that preserves and even highlights the smaller historical structures. Often a new building is built above but slightly behind the older one so that the street-level view is essentially unchanged while needed retail and office space is provided to accommodate the growing city. There are many re-purposed older buildings throughout downtown.
With a population of nearly two million, Perth is the largest city of the state of Western Australia as well as its capital. It is reputed to be the most expensive city in Australia, which is the third priciest country in the world according to the website Numbeo, a fact that I can affirm having paid US$10 for a beer, US$3.50 for a bottle of Diet Coke, and US$2.25 for a bottle of water. While the hotel’s US$35 breakfast buffet drove me away, I was delighted to find delicious croissants, pastries, and macaroons as well as fabulous coffee at the nearby Jean-Pierre Sancho bakery. To its credit, the city does provide free bus service throughout the central business district including service to Kings Park, one of the true gems of the area.
About one mile from downtown Perth, the one thousand acre park sits on a bluff, known as Mount Eliza, above the Swan River. Established in 1872 as Perth Park, it was renamed Kings Park in 1901 in honor of England’s King Edward VII. While the park contains a large botanic garden with many walking paths through it, the majority of the park is bushland (forest) full of native plants, trees, and bird species. The views back to Perth and of the confluence of the Canning and Swan Rivers are simply spectacular.
There are several monuments to Australia’s war dead throughout the park. The State War Memorial Cenotaph was built in 1929 to honor those who gave their lives in the Great War. A 60-foot tall obelisk stands near the edge of the escarpment overlooking the Swan River and downtown Perth. Beneath the monument is a crypt in which the names of all Australians who died in World War I are listed. Subsequent plaques have been added with the names of those who perished in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Across from the Centopah is The Court of Contemplation that lists the major battlefields on which Australians fought and died. In the middle of the court is a reflecting pool with an eternal flame that burns in remembrance of the war dead.
The Botanic Garden claims to contain about 3,000 of the 12,000 species of plants that are found only in Western Australia and nowhere else on Earth. A winter visit means that few of the plants were in bloom, but the gardens were nevertheless quite impressive. The Lotterywest Federation Walkway is an elevated pathway through the treetops that provides spectacular views of the gardens and the rivers below. From the walkway, I could see the old Swan Brewery which was converted into 28 exclusive condos. A man-made water garden contains a fountain with a sculpture that honors Australia’s pioneer women, and a creek, reminiscent of what one would find in the Darling Mountains, flowing into several ponds.
The 270 foot tall Swan Bell Tower stands along the waterfront in Perth. The copper and glass tower houses eighteen bells including twelve from London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church. The bells of St. Martin’s church have rung in the New Year for nearly 300 years; for over 600 years they have marked other momentous events, such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 by Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake; Admiral Horatio Nelson’s defeat of the French and Spanish Navies in 1805 in the Battle of Trafalgar; the end of World War II; and, more recently, the Islamic terrorist attacks on September 11th and at Bali. When St. Martin-in-the-Fields replaced its bells with newly cast ones in 1988, the historic bells, cast between 1725 and 1770, were given to Australia to celebrate its bicentennial. The Swan Tower built specifically for these bells was opened in December 2000.
The Supreme Court of Western Australia and the gardens surrounding it are near the Swan Bell Tower. The gardens provide green space in the downtown area and they are the site of Opera in the Park and Carols by Candlelight during Australia’s summer months.
The Perth Mint was founded as a branch of Britain’s Royal Mint in 1899 to refine the raw gold that was discovered in Western Australia during the gold rush of the 1880s and 1890s in Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, and Murchison. Until 1931, the Mint turned the gold into sovereigns, nominally worth one pound sterling, for use throughout the British Empire. It also minted shillings, pennies, and half-pennies from base metals. During the 70 years that the Mint was under British control, it produced nearly 1.7 billion coins, 50% of which were two-cent pieces.
The Mint is now owned by the State of Western Australia and it produces gold, silver and platinum coins, all of which are Australian legal tender, for investors and collectors. The bullion value of the coins, however, is worth far more than their value as legal tender. Inside the building, where pictures are not allowed, is the world’s largest gold coin — 31 inches in diameter, 4.7 inches thick, and with a red kangaroo on the front and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the backside. Made of 2,330 pounds of 99.99% pure gold, the coin has a face value of AU$1 million but a current market value of almost US$50 million.
There is also a gold bar about the size of a house brick that visitors can try to lift through an opening in the display case; however, since it weighs 400 ounces (25 pounds), it is impossible to do so. The Normandy Nugget, a 40 million year old gold nugget found in a dry stream bed near Kalgoorlie in 1995, is also on display at the Mint. This specimen, the 26th largest nugget ever discovered, is 11 inches tall and 7 inches wide, weighs 56 pounds, and is 80 to 90 percent pure gold .
As part of the tour, the Mint provides a demonstration of pouring molten gold into a mold to make a gold bar. The gold is heated to over 1,600°C (2,900 °F), and after donning protective clothing, the metalworker uses a long metal pincer to remove the lead and clay vessel that contains the molten metal. The vessel is placed on a table so that the pincers can be repositioned around its circumference. The molten gold cools rapidly, which is why it was heated well-above its melting point of 1,064 °C (1,947 °F). The worker pours the gold into a form which is then plunged into water. The gold quickly hardens and the worker is able to hold the bar in his bare hands within a few minutes. After the demonstration, the solid bar is put back into the furnace to be melted for the next show. The Mint estimates that the same gold has been melted, poured, and hardened over 37,000 times.
Kop Khun Krab, Mate!
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.