Well Pat, a twinge of guilt still burns my vertebrae as I remember my own desperation to escape the death-throe scene of that struggling town, or so I, too, then saw it. But, perhaps aided by a spoonful of nostalgia and a lot of top scribbles from in and around this here website, I fervently wish I didn't have to wait so long to come back. Perth is, yes, in the grip of a vastly proportioned and quite possibly unstoppable machine controlled by who knows how many (themselves fast-expanding) cardboard cutouts, basking in the bleaching glow of suburbia. BUT if, as you and Jane claim, a city is its people, then surely the likes of yourself and your fellow (only slightly) crusty denizens of Perth's nucleus are just as much a part of creating its character as its statistics. Having walked far enough away to be able to look back at Perth and see it in its entirety, I'm not struck so much by the beaming red and green banality of Woolworths' omnipresence as by the colour and joy and sponaneity of what I read and hear and listen to as it emanates from the heads and mouths and doorways and streets of those of the city's extremities throbbing with the urge to see materialised everything its inhabitants feel within themselves and see in others.
When asked from where in Australia I originate, I usually nominate Melbourne, as although the majority of my favourite people are Perthites, I did spend a goodly proportion of my life - certainly those all-important formative years - trawling through the streets and colleges and back alleys of that grid long considered to be nothing but Sydney's poor cousin. And yet, in contrast to even a few years ago, the response I'm now most often met with is not "Oh, right. What's Sydney like?", but a gushing inventory of all the marvellous reports the interlocutor in question has been fed by various nomadic acquaintances. Sydney might still be flash for your cash, but its high gloss veneer is beginning to chip and crack and expose all that which a stay more extended than two weeks would make obvious to anyone not high on the high-rise dream: Sydney is dirty. It is expensive, its inner-city citizens are there for the very reason they can afford to call themselves so. It is the vapid beauty queen, screaming all the way to the dais, while Melbourne has long sat back quietly in the bar waiting, doodling & reading & gradually seducing the interest of its northerly sister's more discerning groupies.
It would seem now that, to an extent, Melbourne is Perth's Sydney, if you will and I may dare. Certainly Melbourne seems to hold far more allure for most of the Perth that I know than Sydney ever has, but then perhaps I sought out those with whom I would feel some civic affinity. Certainly I can imagine a good number of Perth's 'outlying residents', shall we say, unquestioningly inhaling Sydney's smoke (and mirrors - let's not dwell on the practicalities). But then, the same is very much true of Melbourne. I grew up in an area famed for being the wealthiest in the state, though it was hardly evident; unlike in South Yarra or Prahran, these were not beams of affluence concentrated on a single singleton or happily childless couple, but on families of up to five sprogs apiece, and very content in their semi-detached tan-brick haven, thank you very much. If it was good enough for the twin-set besetted blonde in the demo-home brochure, it's good enough for us. And it was, but it's hardly the humming creative mass which, wonderfully, seems to spring to the wider public's mind when the M-word is uttered. Melbourne is not free of the suburban dream; I didn't spend 'the awkward years' zipped into my uniform of Ramones-esque Levis and faded red windcheater just to have that knowledge escape my attention, but those die-hard Melbournites who shunned Sydney's empty kiss-blowing in favour of spinning quietly away at what they loved in the town they wanted to love it in wove it slowly, but excitedly into the - yes, she's going to say it - TAPESTRY of amazing creative efforts that so many buzzing Perthians seem now to aspire to. We don't have to crush the occupation, just try not to be crushed by it. Sit on its head & eat the parasites out of its hair, if it helps to take you forward, but don't imagine that the only way to inhabit a Melbourne or a Montreal is to inhabit Melbourne or Montreal.
I'm as guilty as many others of giving up on the charms of the city that gets lost behind large trees - it took leaving to realise, as is so often repeated. After taking a spidery trail off the beaten Concrete path recently, I saw on a great blog (graffitiperth.blogspot.com) the above piece of graffiti, presumably photographed somewhere around Perth's central metropolitan nether regions, staking its claim within stencilled skyline. I still haven't decided if its tone is facetious or optimistic, but either way, when I came back to reading all the good works strung gleefully between these pages and the offices and homes and cafes of their conception, I couldn't help feeling that in an embryonic fashion, it's the tentative truth. This is not to say, either, that Perth should somehow be holding Melbourne up as its model, or that no result other than a mini-me Melbs replica will suffice, but rather that the slow-release creative energy that has gradually accumulated to fill out the very tempting contours of Melbourne's image is probably the most viable path for Perth's creative community. It seems that in fits of impatience, many former Perth devotees have strode (stridden, strided? Curse you, strong verbs!) across the plains without a backward glance in favour of the here's-one-we-prepared-earlier scene they'd been so fervently trying to bring to fruition in their home town. When I arrived in Perth & revealed my metro-mater, I was consistenly greeted with consternation and barely-ejected questions as to the reason for having taken what apparently seemed, to most people, a cultural step backwards. To me, (though I did have other, far more irrational reasons for having flung myself across the desert), Perth had always been this kind of fragrant and lush flower of a creative outpost with vague hippy overtones. All those I'd ever met of western extraction had seemed tantalisingly interested & interesting, and although I too eventually became jaded by my 3-year stint gazing out at Murray St Mall's human (...) traffic, the energy of the people who continue to sustain Perth's individuality under several buzzing hot lamps still makes me jump a bit in the abdominals.
Perth isn't the new Melbourne, it's Perth and it's got its own brilliance to throw about, though it may still be limbering up. But then it hasn't been that long since Melbourne's unofficial tourism brief began to change from "dagsville" to "you sort of.... have to get to know it" to various superlatives drawled through wisps of the finest tobacco smoke. Melbourne's charms have always been well-dressed, revealing only so much as to tempt the onlooker capable of seeing beyond this reserve to ask it out for a few tasteful drinks (no pokie shacks please). When advising potential visitors I'd always try to convince them to stay a week, longer, or to have a local on hand in case of the briefest toe-dips. I'd like to think that with enough perseverance and a refusal to be asphyxiated, or, at the least, to think of it as asphyxiation, Perth's creativity can puddle along, thriving in its own small way, enjoying where it's at at any given time, until the cumulative effect of so much done for the love of doing it will produce its own effects. To leave before it becomes the Melbourne some want it to be will abort not only the possibility of any creative reciprocation from the wider community, but the eventual emergence of something that is not Melbourne, or New York, but Perth, in all its creative regalia, feeling finally, honestly worthy of the kudos it already attracts, however modest the output.
The efforts of those who provide this forum and others, along with their friends and their friends, and the bands they go & see and the pubs they drink in afterwards, are what will, if they don't let the mall gall make it all seem too futile, eventually get in the way of all the parking meters and the conglomerate behemoths, and what will begin to materialise is that which already hangs in the air just above, waiting to descend & take shape.
I'm coming back, and I'm ripe for delivery. I know I will leave again, because it's what I seem to do, but while I'm there it feels like there's so much to do and take and give back and make and show and screw up & throw about, and I can't wait. I'm coming back, and I can't wait.