King’s Park, Perth & Freemantle

An account of heading into King’s Park from Freemantle and more roaming around Perth on a trip undertaken with my father in order to eventually meet up with our relatives in Adelaide, before that however we had a week of adventures in Western Australia where we got to know places such as Freemantle, Perth and Albany.

The next morning I woke in the early hours and because I was not that sleepyso I sat in the chair in my hotel room and did some meditation. As a Buddhist there was no question I would not try to meditate each day whilst out in Australia if I got the chance. Besides the practice of sitting quietly and observing my breath, I had other commitments to keep, such as reciting various daily prayers and mantras from initiations and empowerments I had received over the years. This time I struck lucky and soon entered a blissful state which lasted for about an hour, with mind stilled and very relaxed. This was probably because I knew that since I was now on holiday for the next couple of weeks, if I wanted to meditate at 5 in the morning I could do so without too much problem. After all if I felt tired later in the day I could always rest, just lay back on my big double bed and close my eyes. There was flexibility with regard to my schedule, no worries about having to go to work or anything like that, no deadlines to keep. Thoughts passed through my mind during the meditation which were difficult to explain, but in essence they boiled down to awakening me to a new spiritual landscape now that I was in Australia. In a nutshell it felt open, spacious and sparse, far different to the psychic intensity of London, where shadows and shades from the constant hum of the big city at times crowded in on one to quite a considerable degree.

After a long shower and shave I was ready to give Dad a knock on his door at 8.30 to go down for breakfast. Once again I looked outside from the foyer of The Esplanade and saw it was another stunning day. Such a sight – blue skies and bright sun shining – immediately gave a powerful shot of energy to my system, engendering that blissful feeling of knowing it would soon be possible for me to spend some quality time of my day out there in the midst of it. Both Dad and I stuck to fruit and pastries this time for breakfast, neither of us touching the fried stuff, probably taking a nod to all we’d ate the night before at The Essex, and we once again washed everything down with plenty of cups of coffee. There was no point in hammering the cooked breakfast buffet every single day, at least not when there was so much fresh food you could eat, and besides all that, we were also a little unsure wether breakfast was included or not in the voucher for our stay there, with neither of us prepared to go up to the reception and ask. Too much pride is how might have been able to describe it!

Our plan for our second full day in Perth was pretty much more of the same as the first, well, give or take a few little tweaks and variations along the way. The main difference was that this time I would be going into Perth from Freemantle to spend most of the day on my own, as Dad told me he was now feeling the effects of all the travelling, conveniently forgetting to mention all the wine he’d necked back the night before. So whilst he was more than happy to come into Perth for the morning, he would spend the afternoon just chilling in and around the confines of the hotel. That was fair enough I guess, he was a good few years older after all, now hitting his early 70s, so it would have been a bit unreasonable to think he should have to keep up the pace all the time, especially when he was with a nutter like me! There was also the fact that the next day we would be picking up our hire car from a Hertz office in Freemantle before heading off on a long trip down to the town of Albany on the south coast of Western Australia, where we were booked in for a one night stay at a place called the Dog Rocks Motel. He told me he wanted to be in good shape for that and I completely understood where he was coming from as it could well be the case that it might turn out to be a bit of a bone cruncher of a journey. The trip to Albany was something I was also really looking forward to, having myself come up with the idea of us doing it, paying for it as well, as my way of saying thanks to Dad for the rest of the trip, but before all that there was another day in the fabulous city of Perth for me to get stuck into.

From studying the maps and talking to the helpful girl at the concierge of The Esplanade, I knew the thing to do was take a trip to King’s Park, a large green area close to the centre of Perth which overlooked the Swan River. All the reports I had either read or heard about it were very good indeed, so I packed my shoulder bag with all the stuff I would need for a long walk out in the open. We took a stroll through Freemantle after breakfast and made our way to the station where we bought tickets to Perth Central and then got on board the waiting metro for our ride into town. It is interesting how it never seems to be possible to repeat that feeling of complete and utter freshness you get when you arrive in a city for the first time, as already on what was only my second trip into Perth on the metro, there were little parts of the process which had begun to seem all too familiar, and along with that familiarity came thoughts of how they might end up bugging me after prolonged exposure to them. Certainly got the feeling that the metro ride from Freemantle into Perth was not an experience I would be able to embrace and enjoy every day for the rest of my life, that was for sure. I mean it was OK, don’t get me wrong, but it was really a little bit slow; too many stops and way too much crawling along. The tubes in London might be filthy, small and sometimes possibly dangerous, but at least when they worked they managed to take you reasonably quickly to your place of destination. The metro in Perth was different to all that and at times moved at what seemed to be little more than a snail’s pace. Guess the most exasperating thing about it was there really seemed to be no reason for it to have to be so slow, other than the fact that some of the stations we pulled up in were little more than excuses for proper stops with no either getting on or off.

If anything the weather was hotter than the day before – sky bluer, sun brighter and all the more tremendous because of it – with those opportunities for me to step off into the realms of my imagination appearing on the horizon once more. We took a walk from the station to the Apple store on Hay Street where Dad sought some assistance to see if it would be possible for him to get internet access for his ipad and whilst he got a faint signal in-store he was told that unless he was in places which offered free wi-fi he was going to have to pay for any form of connection. This in effect meant it was curtains for him as far as any free web browsing on this trip was concerned, if he wanted to go online he would have to cough up the bucks and at The Esplanade those bucks were quite a lot. Dad was even tempted to buy a new ipad there and then, before he realised it would be a whole lot simpler getting one when he got home if he still so desired. The prices were good though, quite a lot cheaper than what they were in the UK, so I can see why he was tempted, well, to a certain extent at least.

After our time spent in the Apple store we had a late morning coffee and snack in an arcade coffee house just off Hay Street before Dad said he was going to head back to Freemantle on the metro and rest up in our hotel for the afternoon. So we said our goodbyes and arranged to meet up later, then I walked through the middle of the city in order to make my way to a bus stand from where it was possible to get a free ride up to King’s Park. On my way to the stand I decided I needed to buy a cap because my head was getting hot from all the bright sun shining down upon it and squashing up my brains, or at least it felt that way. It has to be said that I am not usually a hat person but on this occasion it felt like I might get badly caught out if I didn’t take some kind of precaution, caught out by way of getting pole axed by sunstroke in other words. This was something which had nearly happened to me a few years before whilst out in India, where the memory was still fresh of staggering back down a hill I’d climbed whilst on the verge of passing out due to the heat.

Managed to pick up a Billabong cap in a trendy sports gear shop for 10 Aussie bucks which I didn’t think was too bad at all considering some of the other prices they were charging. Finally before going to catch the bus, I stopped off at a place called Trinity Church where it was possible to get very cheap cups of tea served up by old time Christians who looked like they had been there since the 1920s and I guess that was because they probably had. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all, they were nice people. The buses to King’s Park might have been free but what was not so well advertised was the fact you had to wait a hell of a long time for one of them to come along. At least twenty other buses going to different parts of the city pulled up at the stand and pulled away again before one for King’s Park finally appeared. As it happened, the park was not too far away at all, in fact if I had known how close it was I would have walked there and saved myself the aggravation of waiting around on the stand for the best part of 40 minutes, but of course I was new to Perth so didn’t know that. When the bus arrived at the park I jumped off and immediately stood in awe at the view it gave over the centre of Perth and the Swan River, it was quite simply stunning, all under a luminous blue sky where the far horizon stretched for miles into the distance, hinting at a vast emptiness which lay beyond.

Wearing my new Billabong cap, my pair of Ray Bans given to me by Dad, and drinking lots of mineral water, I set off on what turned out to be a long walk along the edge of the park which followed a cliff trail above the river. I stopped from time to time to amuse myself by way of taking shots with my digital camera, but for the most part I just enjoyed the freedom of walking on my own in such a pristine environment. It was so nice to be in the sun and to feel the fresh breeze wash over my face, with just a little hint of the ocean thrown in for good measure, to be able to walk for as long as I wanted to, Swan River below and to the left. At a certain point the cliff path turned back on itself and I was able to make a circuitous return to the point where I had started. It is a funny thing but there is a part of me which would have loved to have had a real adventure by way of going into the Outback and hiking off into the wilderness. But there is another part which is really quite content with the rather more pedestrian task I had set myself in King’s Park by way of simply completing the cliff circuit and not doing much else beyond that. Guess the fact is that I may dream of being a great adventurer but the reality is really quite different, my goals are modest ones and the horizons that I aim for decidedly limited.

Even so it was quite a tiring walk and once I had completed it I felt pretty bushed so to speak, then enjoyed a nice long rest at the park cafe where I ordered a veggie burger and a glass of fresh fruit juice. Looking at the large war memorial in the park, where there were flowers of remembrance placed in front of it, reminded me just how strong the connection was between Australia and the UK. Many men and women from both countries had lived, fought and died next to each other in the Second World War and those experiences could not so easily be washed away, not that you would ever want them to, as a great many sacrifices had been made for the likes of me to have the freedoms I now enjoyed. It was thus in a more contemplative state of mind that I made my way back down to the hustle and bustle of Central Perth. I had enjoyed my trip to King’s Park, it really was pretty big, and I hadn’t even seen half of it! But what I’d done was enough for one day and I knew it might be possible for me to give it another visit after we got back from our trip down to Albany. Since I knew the potential waiting time as far as the free bus was concerned, I did not bother hanging around for one to turn up, just walked back down the hill straight into the city again. It was virtually impossible to get lost, at least not if you were someone with a reasonable sense of direction, and besides, my veggie burger and fresh juice had given me the shot of energy needed for me to feel like I was starting all over again.

Once I was back in town it was mid-afternoon and I made my way to a barbers shop I had seen in one of the arcades close to the central railway station earlier on in the day. Time to get my locks chopped. It was a really great place, I guess there were at least eight guys in there cutting hair, with a constant stream of customers coming in and sitting down.  Everyone was enthusiastically talking with each other making it feel full of life from the buzz of conversation, and the young man who cut my hair could not have been friendlier as he proceeded to tell me what it was like to live in Perth. One of the things he mentioned was that with an ever increasing population construction companies were now building up in the form of apartment blocks and high rises because they were running out of space. This was something I found hard to believe, after all this was Australia we were talking about, where space was surely not a problem, but apparently this was not the case. He also told me that Perth could get extremely hot in the summertime, temperatures easily hitting the mid 40s, and when they did he said it was difficult to taste your food because of the sweat constantly running off your face and dripping onto your plate, an image which struck me as being quite a powerful one. Only a couple years ago Christmas Day had been slap bang in the middle of a heat wave where temperatures hit 46.5 just as everyone was tucking into their Christmas turkey, more than enough then to get Santa panting!

When I told him I was from a place called Woodford which lay on the edge of Epping Forest in north east London, he informed me that his father lived in Essex, having moved to the UK in order to be with his new wife. This came as a bit of a shock and I wondered what his Dad made of life in Colchester after leaving the sun, sea and awesome immensity of his native Western Australia. He must have been one of the few who had made such a transition, whilst many must have done it the other around, getting the hell out of dull, grey Britain and heading for a new life in the sun. The young barber was such a positive guy and so polite that I gave him a dollar tip when he was done, something for which he was genuinely grateful, making me think tip giving might not have been the order of the day in Perth for some reason. But I was happy, because it turned out that in between all the chat, he had given me a really great haircut!

By the late afternoon I was back in Freemantle where I did a bit more street walking before finally returning to my room in The Esplanade to rest up for an hour or so. Before doing that however, I called in on Dad and had a cup of tea with him in his room, where he said he’d had a good time taking his lunch in the dining room before sitting for a couple of hours in the sunny little park outside the hotel. Taking it easy in other words, and it was clear he’d been more than happy doing that whilst generally just laying low. I told him all that I’d done since we’d parted, which in the main had consisted of doing a hell of a lot of walking through Central Perth, King’s Park and Freemantle. We both enjoyed sharing our observations of how we were finding things in Australia and in that regard Dad is always far more articulate than me when it comes to relating his experiences to others. He is able to paint a far clearer picture than me and in many ways I guess it is a pity that he is not the one who is writing this! As for me it often feels like I only seem to get the message half across, trying but failing to nail what it is that I want to say, almost always feeling I haven’t done myself justice, there being some key words or phrases missing from my description, words which if I’d found would have made all the difference. Too much stumbling around trying to find the right things to say in order to hit that nail on the head has been the name of the game for me, pretty much since day one if I think about it and in that regard I have no reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

That evening we were back on the Waterfront which lay just the other side of the little park in front of The Esplanade and where we ended up dining at a place called The View. Prior to that we once again enjoyed a good hour or so drinking cold beers in the form of Carlton Draught in the bar of The Esplanade, where things were busy with a real buzz going on, to which we no doubt contributed in some small measure. We carried on drinking in The View but now switched to wine with Dad on white and me hitting the red, both of which came from Margaret River and were quite simply excellent. As for food we each went for a huge plate of fish and chips, for pretty much the third night in a row, where yet again the quality of what we ate was exceptional, and the service being not too bad either. It was all so easy when it was just me and Dad, no complications, things kept simple, in one way I guess it might have been possible for us to carry on like this forever, just so long as our money didn’t run out! A full day in the sun with plenty of walking, chilled beers in the early evening, then fish or steak and chips for dinner, all washed down with quality Australian wine. What could be better than that? And needless to say it meant that by the time we got back to The Esplanade after another late night stroll around the quiet streets of Freemantle, we were both more than satisfied, each of us ready once more for another good night’s sleep.

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