Western Australia

A big state with small dreams

March 5, 2019 — November 11, 2023


Content warning:

Emigré whining about his home town. Attempting to account for taste.

1 Amazing local produce

Figure 1

2 The nature is incredible you guys

I’m a forests guy, so I recommend the Karri forests in the south west.

3 Emigré whining about Perth

tl;dr Perth is fine for introverts and jet ski buffs, but it is not for me.

I come from Perth, so I’m allowed not to love it. Indeed, I do not. Perth is not my home, merely where I grew up.

It is not that anything is definitively wrong with Perth. I freely confess that there are wonderful things about this town. The sun shine, the ocean waves. Several people I love are here. Oh, and it’s so damn rich. The roads are wide, the infrastructure is freshly rebored and shiny new. All that. Perfectly nice.

My dissatisfaction is more statistical. In a world that grows harsher, where dwindling supplies of kindness and openness are precious, it feels that Perth is the cruel end of the wedge. People are, on average, a little meaner, a jot more resentful, a dash surlier, a modicum more suspicious. The complaints that arise over the clink of cutlery at the artisanal, locavore, seafront, fine dining joint are about how hard-done-by the locals are. People here seem to incline a little further into parochialism than I am used to, in our admittedly parochial species: my neighbours over here are OK, but those bastards over there are having a lend. In a town where the neighbours are 2000km away, over there is the whole fucking planet.

Figure 2: Early European settlement of Western Australia, 1629

Living in Perth, we are a little less likely to cross the sun-bleached gulf in between the front doors of our suburban mansions to do things in the world. Wealthy beyond measure, in a rich city in a rich state in a rich nation, here we spend more time complaining about what a hard deal we have gotten from the imperious easterners, or the foreigners, or some locals that have not been here as long as us, or longer than us.

Fashion here is uniform, expensive but bland. Country Road or Ralph Lauren, income-bracket-depending. I haven’t been keeping track of this, but I am pretty sure the populations of punks and ravers and goths and hippies and metalheads have shrunk to endangered levels since my youth. All the colours of life have been sun-bleached to rusty beige.

Perth culture is not exactly subculturally homogenous, but it samples from a pretty limited region of the configuration space of all possible wonderful, weird human potential, especially the space of really excellent fashions. The human zoo I want to live is full of peacocks and flamingos and show ponies.

These are shallow complaints. Fancy trousers do not a great global city make. I mention them because they are suggestive of all the other types of creativity that are not happening here. Perth is less a zoo than than a cat kennel, at least in the vibe, man. The prickly feline Perthites seem to basically do not like being around each other, and might scratch if they are let into too much proximity.

I want to live somewhere that sparks and fizzes, where ideas might take flight. How many art movements will take root in Perth? How many scientific revolutions? How many technological revolutions?1

When I complain about Sydney becoming boring I am sad that we are choking the gorgeous, fabulous, weird life out of that magnificent city. I do not mourn Perth, as this place has never decided to be fabulous.

You should bear in mind that I am an extrovert. Vibrancy for me is crowded hell for others. Maybe I do not love Perth because Perth is not for me; that does not mean it is not for anyone.

Is it so wrong to have a city where the introverts too can live in their hermitages and be left in glorious solitude for most of their working days? Why can I not just leave everyone to their air conditioned living rooms in their suburban estates, to drink their expensive wines while texting each other about their suspect neighbours? Is that so damnable, Dan?

It is not, in fact, damnable. It is fine. It is perfectly OK. This kind of tolerable unremarkableness is probably an attracting state in the trajectory of the global, urban, middle classes, and so in a certain sense is what the people want. It marks some kind of local optimum in the fitness landscape of, well, actual landscapes. Perhaps all forests become paddocks, all swamps become suburbs, all cities become Perth. If that is so, I blame Perth not for being singular, but rather the opposite; I blame Perth for expressing with excessive clarity the tendency for people to slump into lazy insularity, for being a harbinger of the oncoming meh.

I think I find the blandness confronting because this town is SO BLOODY RICH. Every now and again, when I am nervous about geopolitical tensions, or societal divisions, I think that at least, if the needs of the poorest were addressed, if prosperity lifted up the downtrodden, then we would all get along. If we solve material progress, humanity would do so much! Then, I see Perth, where the streets are paved in gold2 and I see them manning their barricades against the world and begrudging it every dream. They let outsiders in to tour a show during a festival, because not very much in the way of arts spectaculars takes root in the local scene. The rest of the time, Perth would rather not, thanks all the same.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a grazing platter being fed into a human face, forever.


  1. The answer is not necessarily none; mining-related technology is huge here. It’s just anaemic, and obvious, and underachieving, given how much potential there is in the vast landscape, with their massive energy resources and their eye-watering supplies of cash.↩︎

  2. OK, aluminium and gas are a higher proportion of the modern overall commodities income↩︎