We somehow accidentally timed our arrival in Perth perfectly, and were in town for the start of Fringe World (the third largest Fringe festival in the world), Australia Day (Perth puts on the country’s biggest laser and firework show), and the grand opening of Elizabeth Quay (a $400M development that was apparently 30 years in the making). We had also lucked out a bit and managed to find a cheap apartment on AirBnB that was a short walk to the CBD and had a sweet view of the Swan River. So, after a bit of housekeeping, i.e. washing the car, buying an amazing new pop-up tent (pretty much the best purchase we have made so far – packing up our camp in 10 minutes), and seeing Ip Man 3 (Donnie Yen fights Mike Tyson, so according to Chris that was a must do item) we set out to enjoy the sights.
Our first day in Perth was a Saturday, so we decided to check out the famed Fremantle Markets. Fremantle is technically its own city I think, but it really seems like a coastal suburb of Perth.
It’s a bit of a trendy, hipster-y area with lots of cute shops and cafes. The markets had some pretty cool food offerings, our favourites being the muffle stand, where we learned that muffles are muffins crossed with waffles filled with ice cream (AMAZINGGG) and What The Bao?, which sold deconstructed bao (very fancy and SO DELICIOUS).
After stuffing our faces, we took a stroll along the waterfront and checked out the Shipwreck Galleries, (after discovering that they are free). The big draw at the gallery is the Batavia Wreck exhibit, which includes a big piece of the hull. The Batavia Wreck is a big deal because it is a very dramatic story. Basically it shipwrecked on the Abrolhos Islands, then when the captain left to get help there was a mutiny. The mutineers took all the soldiers to another island under the pretence of looking for food and water, then abandoned them there. They then took over the original island, killing anyone who tried to oppose them which ended up being over 100 people. Then the captain returned and was like WTF happened, but fortunately the soldiers trapped on the other island had put together some makeshift weapons and boats and managed to get back just in time to warn the captain, so together they defeated the mutineers. Chris got super into watching an extremely long video all about the restoration of the shipwreck so we ended up in the museum for quite a while. We also learned that back in the day if you went somewhere and didn’t have the right currency, you just melted down your gold and silver and then made coins in the local currency. Times were simpler before exchange rates.
Since our apartment was very conveniently a short walk to the CBD, we spent quite a bit of time exploring the area. Unlike our downtown at home, Perth’s is a pretty bustling area, with some exciting street art and the quintessential hippy busker playing the didgeridoo that I think every city has here. Since we hadn’t really been to a big city since Sydney, we also went for dim sum a few times as Chris had been craving a bao and some chicken feet for like the last month and a half.
One of the first things we did upon arriving in Perth was get a Fringe program (which as a happy surprise, was free), so we could plan our week and do a little compare and contrast with our beloved Edmonton Fringe back home. As I had missed our Fringe for the first time in 11 years because we were on this trip, we decided it was imperative to see some shows and make up for it.
The Perth Fringe, a.k.a. Fringe World, claims to be the 3rd largest Fringe in the world, although I’m not entirely sure how that is measured. Compared to our Fringe (which is the largest in North America, thankyouverymuch) this one has more shows and at a whopping 30 days is four times as long. However in terms of number of performances, they are actually pretty similar. This is because Fringe World is less “intense”, in that the grounds and shows run all day on weekends but only in the evening on weekdays, whereas our Fringe is ALL DAY EVERY DAY during its 11 day stint. I think the long duration is also why the Perth Fringe has more shows, as many only run for one or two of the four weeks the Fringe is on.
In terms of the shows themselves, Fringe World is pretty high calibre compared to other Fringes I’ve been to. By that I mean, while it still has its fair share of local troupes and one-man plays, it also has a lot of huge Cirque de Soleil-type productions and semi-famous (i.e. I’ve seen them on Netflix) stand-up comedians. This is of course reflected in the ticket prices, which seem to hover closer to the $25-$30 mark for most shows, with some of the bigger shows being up in the $80-$100 range.
In addition, performances at Fringe World are not limited to theatre and there were a number of visual art, film, dance, and musical acts as well. Interestingly, in terms of genre, the shows fell overwhelmingly into the cabaret, circus, and stand-up comedy categories, which was weird for us because our Fringe is generally entirely plays, in some form or another. The program has a handy-dandy “Fringe UV Rating” system which ranks the shows from mild (something you could take a Fringe newbie to) to super hot (something that is really weird or risque), which is pretty much the most useful thing ever.
Venue-wise, Fringe World is pretty sweet. In keeping with the carnival-type feeling, many of the venues are big outdoor tents erected specially for the festival. Some are circus-style and some are spiegeltents, a thing I didn’t know existed until now. Spiegeltents are big wooden transportable venues built by the Dutch for travelling acts in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Some of the spiegeltents at Fringe World are actually original 100-year-old tents bought and shipped over from Europe for the festival, which is pretty cool.
Because Perth is so large their Fringe has many “hubs”, three downtown and several scattered throughout the surrounding neighbourhoods. The hubs have box offices (which are built into shipping containers, an ingenious idea – so easy to close up for the night!), food stalls, carnival rides, and of course beer gardens. They are quite cute and fancy. The liquor regulations seem to be different than in Canada, as the method here seems to be to license the entire grounds, and then people can drink at all the venues and while wandering the eating areas and watching the street performers. It doesn’t seem to matter that there are also kids running around everywhere (but they need wristbands after dark). It’s interesting.
Some of the hubs also had additional features and special acts, including an outdoor free library (for relaxing between shows), a silent disco (everyone in light-up wireless headphones, for partying without disturbing the neighbours), an interactive hedge maze, and the famous Fringe Mermaids. There was also an DIY zone where I made a sweet umbrella.
Over the week we were there we saw a bunch of good shows, including some fun improv and a couple of circus acts. My personal favourite was La Soirée, which is basically an R-rated circus in which the strongmen strip down while doing their act and IT IS AMAZING. You know who looks good without their shirt on? Guys who can hold their bodies up horizontally with one arm. One of them also does this pretty sweet bubble act, which is hard to explain but involves making magical bubble art. Chris liked Limbo, which was a different circus in which a sexy girl swallows a lightsaber (you can see it glowing in her throat) and makes every man’s head explode.
The Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia
We visited these mainly because they were on the Fringe grounds, air-conditioned, and free. Nothing too exciting to report…The Art Gallery of Western Australia had some modern art that dumbfounded Chris as usual, and the Western Australian Museum was only half open as they were preparing to close down for massive renovations.
I was PRETTY EXCITED for our first ever Australia Day. Though it’s kind of a controversial subject on account of it not being such a great day for the Aboriginals (they call it Invasion Day), there are massive celebrations everywhere.
Langley Park was full of family stuff, including carnival rides, a waterpark, a petting zoo, tons of food, and BMX and watersport demonstrations. Chris is not so much a fan of crowds and hyperactive children so we took a stroll through Kings Park instead, where people were mostly hanging out and waiting for the Perth Skyworks (i.e. fireworks) to start.
The fireworks are preceded by an airshow that lasts all afternoon and contains some pretty impressive stunts. Chris became alarmingly excited like a small child when the RAF fighter jets started doing loop-de-loops and such [Chris’s Note: THEY ARE SO FAST].
We eventually decided to ditch the crowds and watch the fireworks from our apartment. It was a massive show, 30 minutes long and timed to music on the radio. The fireworks go off from a circle of barges in the middle of the Swan River, so it looks good from 360 degrees. It was pretty nice to fulfill our dream of watching fireworks from the comfort of our own balcony instead of fighting the crowds, something we’ve never been able to do on Canada Day.
One of our final nights in Perth happened to be the opening of Elizabeth Quay. It was a pretty big deal as the new quay is basically going to be the face of Perth and the core of the city centre. Apparently its been under development for 30 years at the cost of $400M. Anyhoo, it’s pretty nice, with a huge fancy bridge at the end of the harbour and some eye-catching visual art.
There were tons of festivities there in conjunction with the Fringe, including a big fairground, roller rink, waterpark, roving street performers, and a laser light show every hour.
We watched the opening ceremony, got a free balloon, and were wandering around when a promotional girl gave us a free pass to the Urban Roller Club‘s roller rink. So of course we went. I got roller skates because I wanted to be old school and cool, while Chris got roller blades because he wanted to not kill himself. We skated around listening to sweet 90’s tunes until we got too tired, then called it a night.
There was still lots we had left to do in the city, so we decided to take a short road trip to the surrounding area and then come back again for another stint.