The new Perth

Tourists can look forward to various new attractions next year, including a new museum, a 400m-long zipline as well as redeveloped precincts that cost millions

A 9m-tall statue, designed by artist Tjyllyungoo, also known as Lance Chadd, at Yagan Square.
A 9m-tall statue, designed by artist Tjyllyungoo, also known as Lance Chadd, at Yagan Square.PHOTO: TOURISM WESTERN AUSTRALIA
(Clockwise from left) A 9m-tall statue, designed by artist Tjyllyungoo, also known as Lance Chadd, at Yagan Square; Scarborough Beach Skate Park; a view of Elizabeth Quay; and Scarborough Beach Pool, a geothermally heated lap and leisure pool and par
Scarborough Beach Skate Park.PHOTO: TOURISM WESTERN AUSTRALIA
(Clockwise from left) A 9m-tall statue, designed by artist Tjyllyungoo, also known as Lance Chadd, at Yagan Square; Scarborough Beach Skate Park; a view of Elizabeth Quay; and Scarborough Beach Pool, a geothermally heated lap and leisure pool and par
Scarborough Beach Pool, a geothermally heated lap and leisure pool and part of the new oceanside precinct at Scarborough.PHOTO: TOURISM WESTERN AUSTRALIA
(Clockwise from left) A 9m-tall statue, designed by artist Tjyllyungoo, also known as Lance Chadd, at Yagan Square; Scarborough Beach Skate Park; a view of Elizabeth Quay; and Scarborough Beach Pool, a geothermally heated lap and leisure pool and par
A view of Elizabeth Quay.PHOTO: TOURISM WESTERN AUSTRALIA

A seagull steals food from our picnic blanket and soars away over crowds of Australian Football fans piling into Perth's Optus Stadium.

Soon, as my wife, son and I dine on the grassy banks of the Swan River, we hear roars from 33,000 spectators watching West Coast play Collingwood.

It is early October in this turbulent year of 2020, yet in Perth it still seems like the tranquil days of 2019. The coronavirus pandemic exists, just not here.

Western Australia (WA) has gone almost 200 days without a community-based Covid-19 infection, thanks largely to its long ban on international and interstate tourists, which began in late March.

Although WA has been closed to tourists for most of this year, it has not been in hibernation. For months now, Perth residents like myself have led comfortable, normal lives.

I have been playing in a cricket competition, working out at the gym, attending major sports events, eating at packed restaurants, visiting crowded tourist destinations, browsing in busy shopping centres, attending the cinema and enjoying massages.

Meanwhile, the Perth authorities have taken the opportunity to transform the city amid this global catastrophe. When WA reopens to travellers, hopefully some time in early-to-mid-next year, visitors will encounter a revitalised Perth.

They will find the new $400-million WA Museum, a $280-million overhaul of historic Fremantle, a $100-million beachfront development in Scarborough, a revitalised Perth waterfront precinct, several new public squares and tourist attractions, a cluster of fresh five-star hotels, and plenty of new bars and restaurants.

This will be a pleasant change for travellers, particularly those who have visited Perth before. Trust me, us locals appreciate the progress even more.

You see, Perth has ample wonderful attributes, many of which it shares with Singapore. Both cities are safe, clean, efficient and boast a delightful amount of green space.

Where these two metropolises diverge, quite clearly, is in the pace of development. Singapore has sprinted into the future, embellishing its cityscape with unique, cutting-edge architecture like the Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum.

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    For updates on the travel situation between the two countries, visit the website of the Australian High Commission in Singapore singapore.embassy.gov.au

Perth, by comparison, has tended to dawdle. Its gentle speed of evolution has helped maintain its reputation as a city with the pace and feel of a town. It barely seemed to change from the time I entered high school here in the mid-1990s to when I relocated overseas in the late 2000s.

Yet Perth's advancement was striking to me when I moved back home in June this year, escaping the strict pandemic lockdown I endured in Europe.

Finally, it seems like a city on the march. In the past five years, Perth has opened the appealing Elizabeth Quay riverfront precinct, the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium, the distinctive City of Perth Library, the elegant State Buildings dining and boutiques complex, and the Yagan Square development which links the Central Business District with its entertainment precinct Northbridge.

Now Perth is building on that momentum. On Nov 21, the doors will open to one of the largest museums in Australia. The 120-year-old WA Museum in Northbridge has been comprehensively renovated and extended, almost quadrupled in size, with close to 6,000 sq m of gallery space.

A hulking new metallic structure has been built over five of Perth's most attractive heritage buildings, creating a museum with a distinctive fusion of colonial and modern architectural styles.

It will explain WA's history via its cultural and scientific collections, which will be displayed in eight new galleries and a 1,000 sq m temporary exhibition space. I am especially excited to see how this facility portrays the history and culture of the state's indigenous people, who are among the oldest civilisations on the planet.

This new museum is surrounded by the State Theatre, the State Library, the Art Gallery of WA, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Blue Room Theatre.

Together they form an impressive arts precinct called the Perth Cultural Centre. While my home city has long been criticised for its lack of culture, this cluster now offers a robust retort.

Early next year, the Art Gallery of WA will be enhanced by Elevate, a new art exhibition space and rooftop venue with striking views of the Perth skyline.

Elevate will have an indoor gallery, an open-air sculpture walk, and the city's largest rooftop venue, capable of hosting 500 people and centred around a 34m-long Aboriginal artwork. This enormous mural, by Noongar indigenous artist Christopher Pease, will depict Derbarl Yerrigan, the aboriginal name for Perth's Swan River.

Tourists to the Perth Cultural Centre will also enjoy the greater range of restaurants, bars and hotels in its vicinity. At its western edge, the historic, four-storey Rechabite Hall reopened late last year as four separate venues - a bar, restaurant, nightclub, and live performance hall.

Just a few minutes' walk away, the 128-year-old Royal Hotel, which has witnessed hijinks from card-game scuffles and sheep jumping through windows, has just been stylishly renovated. Its menu includes contemporary sharing plates, which can be enjoyed on its huge balcony overlooking lively Northbridge precinct.

Meanwhile, three new hotels have recently opened in inner Perth - the Ritz-Carlton, Novotel Murray Street and Adnate Art Series Hotel - with the DoubleTree Hilton Waterfront, Vibe Subiaco Hotel and Dorsett Perth set to follow in the coming months.

The Ritz-Carlton and Hilton properties join another recently opened hotel, Quay Perth, on the city's Elizabeth Quay waterfront precinct. For a long time in Perth, we thirsted for a lively riverside area, like Sydney's Darling Harbour.

Since its first stage opened in 2016, the ever-evolving Elizabeth Quay development - with its mix of hotels, restaurants and bars around a beautifully landscaped marina - has begun to satisfy this appetite.

Following the curved Swan River east from here, tourists will soon find a reliable source of adrenaline. Opening early next year, a 400m-long zipline at Matagarup Bridge will send thrill-seekers hurtling over the river at up to 100kmh.

Visitors will also be able to scale this new, snake-shaped bridge's main arch, climbing up to its 70m-high viewing platform. This already is one of my favourite relaxation spots in Perth, thanks to the gorgeous parks which flank the bridge on both sides of the river, and will soon have even greater appeal.

Perth's progress is not just limited to its inner suburbs. Its historic satellite city of Fremantle, 15km south-west of downtown Perth, is undergoing its biggest redevelopment in decades.

Kings Square, the hub of Fremantle, has been begging to be overhauled and next April it will reopen with an inviting blend of shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries, office space, and a new public square.

Some 20km off the coast of Fremantle, Perth's beloved island getaway Rottnest is morphing, too. It has just welcomed Samphire Rottnest, a luxurious beachfront hotel with 80 rooms, which complements the Discovery eco-resort that opened on the island last year.

From the highest point on Rottnest, you can almost spot the superb new oceanside precinct at Scarborough. While this gorgeous beach has long been a favourite haunt for Perth locals, it's never had much to attract tourists, aside from its crystalline ocean waters.

Now, however, the local authorities are finishing off a $100-million redevelopment. It features an eight-lane beach pool, a cluster of new cafes and bars, the Sunset Hill scenic viewpoint, extensive landscaped parks, and a recreational area with a climbing wall, basketball court, children's playground, and skate park.

Fortunately, all these additions to Perth have no obvious drawbacks, even from the perspective of a long-term resident. Progress has not come at a cost. Perth still has all the qualities that have made it a popular destination for Singaporeans.

It still is remarkably spacious, green and peaceful for a city of 2.1 million people. It still has endless uncrowded and pristine beaches.

It still has densely forested national parks just 30 minutes from its centre. It still is blanketed by wildflowers six months a year and home to exotic native animals year-round.

It still has a huge range of cuisine thanks to its multicultural population. And still it is one of the friendliest, safest and most laidback cities on the planet.

It certainly helps that the pandemic did not have the same impact all the way down here. Once this crisis abates, Perth will warmly re-accept tourists, who will find an updated and even more alluring city.


•The writer is an Australian journalist and photographer based in Perth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2020, with the headline 'The new Perth'. Print Edition | Subscribe