Des­ti­na­tion

Pe h re­ally isn’t what folks here re­mem­ber it to be, as our writer dis­cov­ers

AugustMan (Malaysia) - - Upkeep - WORDS BY SAMUEL CALEB WEE PHO­TOS BY GETTY IM­AGES & IN­TER­CON­TI­NEN­TAL PERTH

Ex­plore the trea­sure down un­der in Perth from the city life, to small bars in the ur­ban vil­lages to the his­toric port town of Fre­man­tle

YOU ARE WALK­ING alone on the fine white sand, look­ing out at the vast In­dian

Ocean from the western Aus­tralian coast. Some­where at the back of your throat is a trace of jospered tiger prawns and the stronger taste of a dry Mar­garet River chardon­nay. As the ocean breaks softly against your an­kles, you be­come aware of a speck ap­proach­ing from the east. You watch him from the cor­ner of your eye. He is naked, sandy blonde fur on his arms and chest, and all naked and blonde south­wards, com­fort­ably browned by the sun.

Hello, you say, not want­ing to be rude. It tran­spires that you have stum­bled on Swan­bourne, one of the cloth­ing op­tional beaches in Perth. It is a week­day, so the scores of bod­ies are ab­sent to­day, ex­cept for your new friend.

You won­der if he will say you have to be naked to fit in, but the only item of cloth­ing he points at are your shoes. Take them off, he says. Go­ing on the sand in sneak­ers? Don’t be a tourist.

Iso­la­tion is a defin­ing trait of Western Aus­tralians. From the Perth coast, the In­dian Ocean stretches all the way to Mada­gas­car, and South Africa be­yond.

Even in its own coun­try, Perth sits nearly 4,000 kilo­me­tres away from the cap­i­tal, Can­berra ‒ prac­ti­cally the same dis­tance as it is from Sin­ga­pore.

The day you ar­rive, the concierge at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel greets you by name and takes you up to your room at the top of the build­ing, where a stun­ning view of Perth greets you at your win­dow. Aus­tralia’s con­stant ex­plo­ration of its own essence is a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney to ex­pe­ri­ence, nowhere more so than in Perth.

Though ge­o­graph­i­cally closer to Asia, Aus­tralia’s An­glo­phone so­ci­ety sets it apart from the rest of its neigh­bours. Speak with a British ac­cent Down Unda, how­ever, and you’ll find your­self af­fec­tion­ately la­belled a pommy ‒ a Pris­oner-of-Mother-Eng­land.

This quest to forge a unique iden­tity has man­i­fested it­self as a world-class gas­tron­omy scene, from ex­cep­tional cui­sine, to wines, to ar­ti­sanal cof­fees. In Western Aus­tralia, how­ever, gin has emerged as an un­ex­pected area of cre­ative ex­pres­sion.

As part of its ef­fort to cu­rate be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ences, the ho­tel has learnt your favourite al­co­hol and ar­ranged a cus­tom itin­er­ary for you. You make your way along Queen Street in the city and en­ter a gin bar called the Flour Fac­tory. There, the bar man­ager, Jack, ex­plains to you that gin is one of the broad­est cat­e­gories of spir­its. Since it is de­fined only by the in­clu­sion of the ju­niper berry, gin al­lows for a range of flavour pro­files and dis­til­la­tion meth­ods, al­low­ing gin dis­tillers to es­sen­tially treat the spirit as an ex­pres­sive art form.

In keep­ing with the breezy, laid­back cul­ture of the coun­try, most Aus­tralian gins tend to be fruit-based, with lemons be­ing a pop­u­lar choice for their cit­rus flavours.

“Try this one neat,” Jack says, pour­ing you a chilled shot. It tastes heady and spiced, and some­how re­minds you of the desert.

More imag­i­na­tive dis­tillers, Jack ex­plains, have taken ad­van­tage of gin’s flex­i­bil­ity to con­vey a sense of place through flavour ‒ such as this gin, the West Winds Cut­lass, which uses el­e­ments such as Aus­tralian bush toma­toes and cin­na­mon myr­tle to give you a pic­ture of the desert through your palate.

That’s the na­ture of Perth. Even in the busy city down­town, the hardy na­ture of the bush still lurks un­der­neath the con­crete.

Af­ter din­ner that evening, you re­tire to the bar of the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, where a bal­cony looks out over the city sky­line. You or­der a gin and tonic when a voice tells you that you are seated the wrong way; the city is more beau­ti­ful from her per­spec­tive. You turn and surely enough it is, for you find some friendly faces at the next ta­ble. Join us, they say. You pull up a chair.

Ear­lier that day, as you ex­plored the shop­ping district with the ho­tel concierge Brad, you learnt how Perth ex­ploded dur­ing the Gold Boom, when droves of dream­ers came see­ing for­tune as a mi­rage in the desert. Perth be­came the base from which th­ese gold-eyed dream­ers would stock up be­fore set­ting out to seek new iden­ti­ties as wealthy men. The grit and the gold are the forces that have shaped this city.

The af­ter­noon is warm as you pass a line of lux­ury brands. The posh names soon give way to hip home­grown ones that com­bine street ap­peal with as­pi­ra­tional glam­our.

Brad guides you into a menswear bou­tique decked out in deca­dent neo­clas­si­cal fab­rics and colours. In­side, a woman in a blazer dress in­tro­duces her­self as Nilo­far, and of­fers to pour you and Brad a whisky, but you ask for a cof­fee in­stead.

With a royal air and hair as black as a crow’s wing, cut to frame a bronzed face and bold eye­brows, Nilo­far is a strik­ing woman. She has made it her mis­sion to dress the men of Perth bet­ter. The sole founder of Khirzad, the store bears Nilo­far’s last name in a nod to her Afghan her­itage.

Twice a year, she heads to Florence in Italy, where she brings home brands like Taglia­tore, Gabriele Pasini, Tom­bolini; the names roll off her tongue as she saun­ters around her do­main.

Aussie men cite the heat when dress­ing down but that’s no ex­cuse: even in the

Ital­ian sum­mer, when tem­per­a­tures reg­u­larly ex­ceed 30°C, the dandies in Florence deck them­selves in three-piece suits and stand out on the paved stones in the warm noon light.

Af­ter hours, Nilo­far is re­laxed but still re­gal, laugh­ing of­ten, run­ning her fin­gers through her hair as she speaks. Nilo­far starts a story, ges­tur­ing the­atri­cally, about get­ting kicked out of an Arab club in North­bridge with her friend AK, so named be­cause he has tat­toos all over his body and looks just as threat­en­ing as his eponym. On hind­sight, this par­tic­u­lar club must have thought they were deal­ers be­cause in that neigh­bour­hood you’d get your fix off men in hood­ies with bum bags ‒ Aussie for fanny packs, and it just so hap­pened that on that par­tic­u­lar night she had one on, the fact that it was a Gucci not­with­stand­ing.

When you find your­self drift­ing north later in the night, you no­tice the build­ings change: from Ed­war­dian pe­riod build­ings to

an eclec­tic mix of modernist apart­ments and Gold Boom era ho­tels. The bars and cafes around you pulse with a elec­tronic throb. You en­ter one called the Brass Mon­key.

In­side, you sit with a lo­cal beer to watch the young folk danc­ing and kiss­ing to the sub­ter­ranean hip-hop bleed­ing through the brick walls. Some­one ap­proaches you. He has dark hair and a rak­ish olive face. He of­fers you a fist bump and his name, Marco, and sits at your ta­ble with­out your ask­ing.

Quite abruptly, with­out warn­ing, he launches into a trea­tise on race re­la­tions. Marco is mixed, he tells you, mixed to the point where he is con­fused some days him­self: at last count, he has a lit­tle bit of Ir­ish, Por­tuguese, Columbian, Sri Lankan,

“PERTH EX­PLODED DUR­ING THE GOLD BOOM WHEN DROVES OF DREAM­ERS CAME SEE­ING FOR­TUNES AS A MI­RAGE ON THE DESERT, US­ING THE CITY AS A BASE”

Ger­man and Greek her­itage in him.

Marco says, “Mixed peo­ple. We don’t fit any­where.” Marco’s home is a vil­lage up in the moun­tains of Western Aus­tralia, but when he speaks of his home­town around th­ese parts, peo­ple still ask him which part of the Mid­dle East he is from.

You tell him your the­ory: that even­tu­ally, glob­al­i­sa­tion will ren­der na­tions and cul­tures ir­rel­e­vant, and the whole world will fall into bed to­gether as the same shade of brown. Marco frowns at this. That’s hor­rid, he says. Cul­ture is beau­ti­ful. He likes hav­ing mul­ti­ple strands of his­tory to tug upon and feel at home with. Marco thinks that di­ver­sity and va­ri­ety de­pend on pre­serv­ing cul­tures, and that the world is too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect th­ese days.

A break in the con­ver­sa­tion. You pause to drain your beer.You no­tice two Chi­nese girls talk­ing to a brunette man. The stac­cato mu­sic of their ac­cent is fa­mil­iar, and you lean in. Across the room Marco spots two Ja­pa­nese girls. He smiles and claps you on the shoul­der be­fore leav­ing.

The brunette man and one of the Chi­nese girls have left for the loo to­gether, leav­ing just the one be­hind. You ask her name, tell her you no­ticed her ac­cent. “Sin­ga­porean?”

“No, East Malaysian. From the city of Kuch­ing, Sarawak.”

And how long has she been in Perth? Just a few weeks, she gig­gles. She’ll be here for years yet, but she’s only been a while.

And how does she like it? How does Perth make her feel? Pulling your arm in to­wards her body, she presses her flank into it so her cheek rests on your shoul­der.

“Free,” she breathes, “I feel free.” AM

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