ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures goes up, up and away in the Avon Valley

Giant Man and Tiny Balloon

For ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures, Ro and I went somewhere we haven’t been before … beyond Perth! Up and over the escarpment and east to the Avon Valley.

There’s a reason that songs are written about being in the air. 

‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘99 Red Balloon’s, ‘Up, Up and Away’ and ‘Danger Zone’ are just a few of the classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Let’s have an adventure that is discovered in the darkness but is soon revealed by the dawn of a new day. 

Let’s go hot air ballooning!

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Arriving at the Northam Airport I’m the first to arrive and there is nobody at the airport except for the resident cat.  It’s so cold that the cat jumps into my car. 

As other people start to arrive and huddle around the coffee making facilities, I’m taken by news articles on the wall that describe the history of hot air ballooning in the world. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s true, in 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster went riding in a hot air balloon in France. 

I had thought that the airport would be our take off point but Damien, our chief pilot, has been letting go of weather balloons and squinting at the night sky like an old sea captain. For this morning’s flight with Windward Balloon Adventures we must head west of Northam.

These guys have all the permissions required from the shire and farmers to access properties, so long as we remember to close the gates.

Still in complete darkness, our pilots inflate the balloons as they lie on the ground and the roar and brightness of the gas burners is a bit like those aerobatic displays of jet planes whooshing over your head. 

After a final briefing we climb into our basket and just like that, we’re away. No seatbelts. No worries.

Dark Shadows Welcome a New Day

I’ve done some wonderful air related activities in my life from the fastest and longest zipline in the world with my daughter Matilda down the side of a mountain in South Africa, to twice jumping out of aeroplanes, flying a beautiful Tiger Moth over Perth and the seaplane to Rottnest, and even trekking up mountains and being above clouds.

When I jumped out of an aeroplane I thought about the words of John Magee, a World War II Spitfire pilot who wrote a poem called High Flight with the first line, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” and the last line, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God”.

Astronaut Michael Collins died recently, and he once remarked that he wondered what John Magee would have been inspired to write if he could have been in orbit above the Earth. 

As we ascend from the paddock that becomes a mist shrouded valley beneath, I looked to the east and had author Douglas Adams’ words in my head, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats and there is the possibility of magic.  Creation holds its breath.”

Creation Holds Its Breath

I can tell you I held my breath and it was amazing.  In so many of life’s travels and adventures it’s been the sites and sights that are the most awesome but what was so immersively different about a hot air balloon experience is that sound becomes part of the canvas before you.

It’s mostly silent apart from the whoosh of the gas burners every so often to get some altitude. Looking down and around you’re suddenly struck by the sounds of parrots having an early morning squabble in the trees over who’s sitting on the best branch, sheep all going baa as they move across a paddock far below and even a dog barking from somewhere. 

There are other balloons to help with the perspective of what we’re all a part of this morning.  They drift along as we drift along and we rise and fall and our hearts sing with the joy of witnessing to a new day in a beautiful part of the world.

A Collective Noun for Hot Air Balloons is a … Drift

As we continue to drift, we travel over bushland with granite outcrops beginning to be warmed by the early rays of the sun and kangaroos jumping through the trees and in the distance on hills to the west we can see the shadow of our balloon and directly below us the reflection of the balloon is crystal clear in the river below.

We land in a harvester scarred paddock with a gentle bump and everyone helps roll up the balloon into a bag that is much easier to manage than any sleeping bag.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia in the north to Beverley in the south, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Northam has the Avon River running through it and the champagne breakfast after the ballooning is held in a café overlooking the river, complete with white swans and suspension bridge.  During a champagne toast we are all welcomed to the club of Balloonatics.

Hot air ballooning seems to be on the bucket lists of many people but keeps getting pushed down the list not from the fear of hanging from a basket but from getting up so early.  Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

Windward Balloon Adventures in the Avon Valley

Special Tip:  The National Ballooning Championships will be held in the Avon Valley between 30 August and 4 September, with lots of opportunities to be a spectator and a participant. 

Giant Man in Tiny ABC Studio

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures discovers Bicton, a very green riverside suburb.

Bicton is south of the river and it runs right alongside it.

It’s east of Fremantle and nearly a third of the suburb is dedicated to a green belt of bushland, parkland and outdoor activities that is just as important to families today as it was to Aboriginal women and children before the Swan River Colony, when the men hunted and hung out on the Mosman Park side, while the women and kids got to hang out at Jennalup, what we now call Blackwall Reach.

The hidden treasure of Bicton is its access to the river and how it has retained its pristine riverside bushland while providing open spaces for picnics, concerts and beaches for sandcastles and swimming. And it has jetties.

It’s a tradition with Hidden Treasures that we start by meeting Ro’s requirement for “What’s there for sport?”

When we spoke about Midland a few weeks ago I encouraged people to get out there and watch baseball as something a bit different to the footy, basketball and cricket.

Bicton is home in WA to a sport that is worth watching and has tamed down a bit since the infamous 1956 Melbourne Olympics clash between Hungary and Russia.  Have you guessed it?

Water Polo!  At the Bicton Pool you can watch the home games in the Australian Water Polo League for the Fremantle Mens Mariners and the Fremantle Womens Marlins and they’re the most successful teams in the competition, kind of natural for Western Australian sport.  It’s a great spectator sport and I wish other sports could start off as exciting as the ‘swim off’ where both teams swim furiously to get the ball first. And those little caps are kind of cool as well.

Next to the Bicton Pool you’ll find Freestyle (pic above), a very popular meeting point sculpture that is part of the City of Melville We Love Art Project. 

Also next to the Bicton Pool and the Freestyle sculpture you’ll find the Bicton Baths which is almost unique in Perth now for being fully enclosed by a jetty that is perfect for jumping off or fishing for big bream and even bigger flathead.

Incredibly, this little area has more!  It’s also the location, in the adjacent Quarantine Park, for the annual Broome to Bicton Concert featuring the greatest band in the world, the Pigram Brothers. It’s a popular park all year long with families and for this reason Mr Whippy makes regular visits.

Continuing north along the river foreshore you get to the slightly controversial Blackwall Reach limestone cliffs.  Whether it’s just for the adventure, a rite of passage or reckless tomfoolery, it’s a long standing activity to jump off the 10 metre high limestone cliffs into water that can reach 25 metres deep and where scuba divers can discover an old barge at 14 metres and is the most intact wreck site in the Swan River, and populated by all sorts of fish, including sea horses. 

This area is actually an underwater tidal gorge and probably the most diverse and highly populated area of the river for underwater life which makes it popular with humans and dolphins for fishing and is one of the best spots on the Swan River to watch dolphins.

On land at Blackwall Reach is the Jenna Biddi Yorga (Womens Feet Walking) walking trail, described by Trails WA as Grade 1. It’s 2km in length and is one of the most scenic, peaceful and bird filled walks in Perth. 

Continuing our way north we find ourselves at one of Perth’s best family spots, Point Walter, with its rite of passage walk on the sandbar, great BBQ facilities, little beaches, public art, including the famous Habibi sculpture, and another jetty!

The joy of Point Walter is how perfect it is for everyone to learn their water activity.  It’s perfect for learning to swim or use a stand-up paddleboard, fish off the jetty, or do bombies onto big brown jellyfish.

Each year (though currently paused for Covid) there is one of the best outdoor family concerts held in Perth, the Point Walter Concert. It’s currently scheduled by the City of Melville for January 2022.

If you decide not to take a picnic, there is a very good café, although I much prefer to call it a kiosk! Order up some milkshakes and some hot chips and a day at Point Walter with the sun setting behind the western suburbs can’t get any better. 

If you head into the streets of Bicton check out the iconic Leopold Hotel which revels in its link to AC/DC (although these days you’re more likely to find families playing Jenga in the big sofas than screaming lead singers doing stage dives). Also seek out Little Stove, a little café that is a big meeting point for those in the community who need coffee to survive. It has local produce, including honey, giftcards and eggs from their own chickens.

Bicton is a hidden treasure next to known treasure.  Next door to Bicton are the flashy lights and attractions of the Fremantle district with its heritage and café culture to lure us in. 

If you cast your net a bit wider though you’ll find that Bicton is a treasure trove of riverside activities to explore or just relax in.  Bicton rivals Kings Park for its ability to provide bushland activities in the metropolitan area that appeal to all ages and abilities.  In some ways it’s better than Kings Park because Bicton has jetties!

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures in the streets, trails and hills of Armadale

A full studio, full of fun with Ro, Molly, Matilda and Tom all part of the action. How cool is the ABC? Participating in making great programs and having my kids watching it all come together is very special. For this edition of Hidden Treasures we recounted the recent experience of a trip to Armadale that included Tom and his mate Nick.

Armadale is tucked up against the south eastern corner of Perth.  This side of the hills but right on the edge of them.

With our Hidden Treasures we often talk about one of the characteristics of a Hidden Treasure being that they’re often bypassed or driven through at a great rate of knots.

Armadale is a great example of a suburb that gets driven through a lot that is worth slowing down for and having a look around.

It was always the first taste of the city for me when we’d make the drive up in the Toyota Crown.  You’d hit those first traffic lights and be in awe of the city traffic and annoyed that Mum hadn’t stopped at the Pioneer Village. I always wanted my picture on one of those ‘Wanted’ posters.

It’s become Perth’s version of Melbourne’s Daylesford. Lots of places with the words wellness, calming, spiritual, organic and retreat in their names.

Ro loves her sport and so let’s start at the Champion Lakes Regatta Centre.  If you’ve ever wondered when flying into Perth what that big rectangular area of water is, it’s the home of rowing and there’s even a beach and some good walking and cycling tracks around the lake.  Remember, rowers row early if you want to catch the action.

Armadale Visitor Centre – lots of information and free maps with walking trails for trekkers, families and dogs. There’s also local produce including chutneys, jams, pickles and …. lemon butter!

Bert Tyler Vintage Machinery Museum has really well restored and refurbished agricultural machinery and there’s even a Furphy water cart.

The History House Museum has some good recognition exhibits of Aboriginal history in the district and also some very cool old harpsichords, pianos and organs with musical links to many of the old churches in the area.

Urban Art Trail – big murals by local and international artists.  How cool are murals? This is a walking tour through the urban heart of Armadale that has identified tired old spaces and turned them into breathtaking, inspiring places.

Heritage Tree Trail – Lou from the Armadale Visitor Centre has written the Heritage Tree Trail Guide that takes you on an urban walk to 13 of the best-looking senior flora citizens in Armadale.  There’s a Sugar Gum planted in 1910, Moreton Bay Figs planted in 1890, a Jarrah tree more than 500 years old, a carob tree which is the sole survivor of an orchard back in 1900 and lots of others all waiting for you to give them a big hug.

30km’s of Bridal Trails in Darling Downs, which isn’t an old 1950’s radio serial, it’s a horse inspired residential area in the southern Armadale area. (properties connected by the bridal trails.

Brackenridge Village and Retro Rescue Antiques and Collectibles is one of those shops where you keep saying, “I used to have this!”  I looked at the Skippy melamine cup and plate and was thrown back to my childhood having a vegemite sandwich and apple juice.  From daleks to car badges, glow mesh purses to optic fibre lamps, this store has more than enough for anyone who loves the stuff we used to have.

Locke View Poultry Zoo requires a call before you visit.  Astrid was kind enough to allow myself, Tom and his mate Nick to visit unannounced … but only after I made Tom and Nick clean out the cages and move a load of firewood. 

Astrid showed the boys some quails as they were hatching and how she helps the little chickens who are born unable to walk.  She makes little braces with bandaids and is a lot easier than making little crutches out of toothpicks.  She had such an impact on Tom that he is no longer saving his allowance for Nintendo games, he wants chickens.

Canns Road and Soldiers Road are part of the Armadale Hills Scenic Drive.  On the map you think you’ll take about half an hour to get from one end to the other but you end up taking three hours as, along the roadside, are signs that say, ‘Honey Here’, ‘Fresh Persimmons’ and other local produce as well as kangaroos that are paid by the Armadale Visitor Centre to sit in the bushland of Wungong Regional Park and wait for you to stop and get out of your car for a photo before skipping away.

Armadale is a hidden treasure within a hidden treasure.  There’s a lot that’s easy to discover in the heart of Armadale but if you take the time to get up to the hills and onto some winding backroads you’ll find even more treasure.

Have A Go News Newspaper: Turn to page 28 to see how to ride a bike on water in the middle of Perth …

Click on the link above, or download if you prefer, the full edition of Have A Go News (hint: my story is on page 28).

You’ll find the Perth Waterbike Company on the shores of the Swan River just on the southern side of the Narrows Bridge. They’re also over at Rottnest and Penny and Nev are happy for you to suggest sites and sights you want to see, or you can tag along on one of their organised tours.

Read all about the experience that Tom and I had riding under the Narrows Bridge and how it easy it is to have an adventure on the water, in the middle of our city.

Riding a waterbike doesn’t just have to be seen as a summer activity. Over the cooler months it’s still enjoyable on the water and even with grey clouds instead of Perth’s trademark blue skies it’s still great to get outside and try something new.

Just another link above, this time to a pdf of page 28. Have a Go News is published every month with a circulation of more than 80,000 copies. Have A Go News is also available online at http://www.haveagonews.com.au

Perth Waterbike Company can be contacted on http://www.perthwaterbikeco.com.au and @perthwaterbikeco

Tell them Chris sent you. It’s not worth a discount but tell them anyway!

Come And Find A Stunning Display In Your Backyard, as published in the West Australian

As published in the West Australian Saturday edition travel supplement, West Travel:

The Lesmurdie Falls, on the edge of the Darling Escarpment, is one of the best and most easily accessible natural features surrounding Perth.

Remarkably, from entering the Northbridge Tunnel to arriving at Lesmurdie Falls National Park was little more than 30 minutes for my two-car convoy.

The park is small, covering only 56ha, with steep granite terrain that is densely vegetated.

The picnic facilities provide good shade and plenty of room to spread out. Within minutes of settling down, the scurry of movement in the bushes causes great excitement for the kids as moments later two quendas emerge to make enquiries as to our catering. While our group of seven had packed an ample supply of chicken, bread rolls, sausage rolls and salads, we had neglected to bring our friendly arthropods the earthworms and fungi which are the preferred diet of the quenda.

They’re an inquisitive little mammal, quokka-like in their lack of fear in securing the various ‘accidentally’ dropped pieces of food that kept landing between the feet of the kids. Under threat from habitat loss and introduced predators, these quendas are finding ways to survive the best way they can. My species is responsible for introducing the quenda to cats and foxes, so I don’t feel too bad about slipping them a few bits of bread.

The options for bushwalking are extensive throughout the park. During our picnic, there is a constant stream of hikers with tubes in their mouths from their back mounted water bladders, accompanied by the scrape of barely lifted trekking poles as they reach their rest point.

Talking to a few people – after they get their breath back – it’s apparent that many are in training for various legs of the Bibbulmun Track. As a trekker of self-proclaimed renown, I offer my sage advice; “Keep your nose over your toes and with your new boots, wear them in , don’t wear them out.”

From the carpark and adjacent picnic facilities, the Lesmurdie Falls are an easy 10-minute walk away. The path is excellent and capable of accommodating fast kids and slow adults in both directions.

As you approach the Lesmurdie Falls from the carpark and picnic area, you hear the waterfall before you see it. The cascade is a stunning display. It’s white and foamy, splashing and falling over 50m to the bottom of the chasm, flanked by granite cliffs. In the distance and on the flat ground out to the west lies Perth.

If you continue past the viewing platforms you can keep walking down the path to the bottom of the falls or off into the bush for further destinations. The paths continue to be broad, free from trip hazards and have well spaced intervals on the steps. Even carrying tired or just lazy kids is relatively easy. Relatively.

While the park surrounding the falls is the responsibility of the government parks authority, the Lesmurdie community is closely involved in its management. A small group of locals, Friends of Upper Lesmurdie Falls, have set themselves the task of removing weeds growing in the eastern end of the park and are planting native flora sourced from local seed stock.

There’s good shade, public toilets, picnic areas, large viewing platforms, information boards and well-signed and maintained trails with the opportunity to walk for minutes, hours or days.

Lesmurdie National Park is on the edge of the city, but on the other side of the hill is the rest of Australia.

ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures: Midland … the end of line and loving it.

The Amazing Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast, getting Perth up and about every weekend

Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast is getting Perth up and about every weekend and being a part of her show is exciting and a lot of fun. Our program Hidden Treasures is making a habit of discovering places that have always been there but maybe you just haven’t stopped there before.

Midland was originally proclaimed and named as Midland Junction in 1891 because it is the junction of major roads leading to Perth from the north and east.

Midland is the suburb where many adventures begin as travellers head east on Great Eastern Highway, or north on the Great Northern Highway, and it’s where travellers to Perth give a big sigh and say, “We’ve made it.”

Midland is the end of the line.  Literally.  The eastern metropolitan train line starts from Perth and finishes in Midland. Although I reckon that most Midland locals are adamant that the train line actually starts in Midland and finishes in Perth, making Perth the end of the line.

It’s the railway that is as connected to the community and history of Midland as a carriage on the tracks. 

I once had a conversation with the Sultan of Johor about his favourite town in Johor, called Muar.  He wanted Muar to be like Melacca, just up the road to the north.

I said ‘I’ve been to Melacca. I’ve been to Muar. They are both great.  Why do you want Muar to be like another town just up the road?  Why would you go to the trouble of becoming like something else that you then have to compete with anyway? Be yourself.  Be known for your history and build on that.’

I thought it was pretty good advice and so did he.

Midland is a bit like Muar. It’s not the best house in the street but it’s got really good residents who are really proud of showing off what they’ve got. Up the road there’s the historical glitz and glamour of Guildford, off to the north there’s the Swan Valley vineyards to sozzle your senses and over the back fence to the east are the hills of the escarpment, overlooking Midland.

Like so many of our Hidden Treasures, it’s not that you have to dig deep to find the treasure, you just have to know where to look.

Let’s stick with the history bit first, move through what you can do now, eat out of an old lunchbox and finish with a sport that’s huge in Midland and America.

For history, anyone who has driven out that way would know about the Midland Town Hall. 

Midland Town Hall

It’s impressive and always feels like you’re going to drive into it as you head along Great Eastern Highway which takes a gentle curve to the right as you drive past this great building is Midlands most recognisable building. Just like the road in front of it, it’s got a gorgeous curve to it that makes it not just impressive as Federation architecture but it’s charming and elegant.  With the addition of the clock atop its dome serving as a memorial to local men who lost their lives in war, it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice made by those men and their loss to the community.

After a Mayoral Ball to mark completion of renovations, it’s now a popular cabaret venue and hall for hire (which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds).

The Midland Railway Workshops were the burning, molten metal heart of Midland.  You could hear the work being done for nearly a hundred years by a workforce that came from all over Perth but mostly came from the surrounding streets of Midland.  These days, a walk through and around the sheds is remarkable. 

Midland Railway Sheds

They are towering buildings with big industrial doors and windows and while they’re industrial buildings they are beautiful, magnificent and inspiring.  In the years ahead they may become spaces for sport, for the arts, for movie studios, for many things but for now just get out there and enjoy exploring these big buildings that built trains and rolling stock are also a photographers dream in any light.

Midland Railway Sheds

Trillion Trees partners with the ABC tv series Fight for Planet A and the nursery grows more than 200,000 seedlings each year and is a great oasis to wander around and purchase some native plants from volunteers from a range of diverse backgrounds and employment training programs. They’re also working with local schools, including Woodbridge Primary School and Moorditj Noongar College, teaching the kids about cultural ecology.

The Midland Junction Arts Centre is the cultural heart of Midland provides workshops for all ages, has three galleries, workspaces for artists and want-to-be artists and works really hard to engage the community in creative ways.  A huge range of workshops are available including after school ceramics for the kids, life drawing for the adults and tactile tours for participants with disability to experience the arts through discussion and touch.

Blue Beautiful Exhibition at the Midland Junction Arts Centre (Yes you can have a slushy! Beat that Banksy!)

The Robot Bun Factory is an example of the quirky cafes springing up all over Midland, some selling records and bric-a-brac, others selling local art but when a café gets you coming back you know it’s not just about the robots and free board games, it’s about bao buns served in 1950’s style tin lunch boxes and a local crew doing their best to put a funky pin in the map of Midland.

There’s always action at the Robot Bun Factory Cafe

The Midland Farmers Markets are one of the oldest markets with the freshest fruit and vege produce alongside live music and pickles, cakes and jams. The next one is tomorrow and its out the front of the City of Swan offices on Market Square.

While Guildford has the antique shops, Midland has second hand shops and charity shops that are a rummagers delight and my teenage daughter Matilda’s obsession as she searches high and low for clothes or diligently and silently flicks her way through boxes of old records.

Watch some baseball or teeball at Charlie Hodder Baseball Field.  Baseball has a rich history going back to the 1940s and a rich competition that is great fun to watch in the stands with a hot dog.

Photo courtesy of the Swan District Baseball Club

Midland is a hidden treasure because it’s not trying to be like something else.  Surrounded by glamourous neighbours, it has dug its heels in and supported by a rich rail history, they are building a community and attracting visitors for the art and culture, fresh produce, funky cafes, collections of charity shops and sport you might have only seen before in the movies and on tv.

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures Visits Coogee

The Coogee Hotel … now the Coogee Common

Coogee was a great suburb to explore and discuss on Hidden Treasures for ABC Saturday Breakfast. Ro and I flicked back and forth between the then and the now and it’s what I love most about Coogee because what was once horrible is now wonderful.

ABC Saturday Breakfast with Roanna Edwards

Coogee is a coastal suburb just to south of Fremantle and north of Kwinana and is very small for suburban Perth, just over 3sqm which makes it smaller than its northern coastal strip suburban cousin, Cottesloe.

If you’d been driving through Coogee on Cockburn Road in the 1970’s and even the 1980’s and someone in the car had said, “You know, all this will be a hidden treasure one day”, you most likely would have laughed and said they were crazy. 

Driving along Cockburn Road in 2021 and it’s a very different story.  From shipwrecks to colonial remnants this is a suburb that has gone from the need to quickly wind up your car window (remember those?!) to block the smell of Robbs Jetty and the skin drying sheds, to walking through fragrant vegetable gardens and olive trees and being welcomed by bees more interested in pollinating carrot and caper bush flowers than angrily protecting their domain.

Let’s start with the best shed in Perth. Technically it’s in neighbouring Munster but its such a great place to start and is just off Stock Road.  It’s called Barn Finds and is a big rusty shed full of everything old you ever imagined could ever have been made.  From a huge World War Two floating mine, to kids tricycles, cool drink signs, tools and toys it is packed and time here to explore and rummage is recommended along with the consideration of a tetanus booster but we’re all used to a jab to protect us these days!

Barn Finds in Munster, just off Stock Road

Lake Coogee between Stock Road and Cockburn Road has good walking tracks around the lake and there are also some interesting remnants of two Pensioner Guards cottages and a well, from where many of the Pensioner Guards settled around 1876 after their service to their colony.

Sticking with the remnant part historic Coogee are the limestone kilns on Cockburn Road that were built around 1900 when the thriving industry of extracting lime for building and agriculture purposes was good work for most men in the district.

Lake Coogee
Historic Lime Kilns

The Coogee coast has always been pristine and from Woodman Point right up to the border with South Fremantle where the old power station is, you’ll find great beach fishing, great picnic facilities and tuck shops, jetty’s for jumping off, a shipwreck called the Omeo and the adjacent snorkelling trail that is just a twenty meters off shore and Perth’s best and most accessible snorkelling attraction, and a stretch of brilliant white beach and calm water that is perfect for a day of sunbathing or swimming until the sun goes down behind Garden Island on the horizon.

Steps to the Omeo, just 20 metres offshore

Just a couple of minutes walk from the Omeo is the marina with a series of boardwalk style cafes where you can sit and play, “I’d have that one” as you point at a boat you like the most.

The Coogee lookout has one of the best vantage points in Perth and on the clear day that I was there recently I could see Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Island, down to Rockingham, across to the hills of the escarpment, up to the Perth CBD and across to the harbour cranes of Fremantle.

Finally, I want to take you to the Coogee Hotel, built and completed in the early 1900’s and from being a local watering hole it later became a orphanage before lying derelict for the second half of the 20th Century.

It’s now heritage listed and been renovated and operates as the proud, beating heart of Coogee, the Coogee Common.

There’s a restaurant and lounge bar and private dining rooms that are decorated in the style of days gone by but it’s the gardens that are the star of Coogee Common.  Not only will you see the staff wandering around the garden snipping and picking bits and pieces for your brunch or lunch but you can wander the gardens or if you’re lucky, get a tour with Scott the owner. 

He showed me rows of veges and creeping caper bushes, he helped Tom overcome his fear of bees by showing him their hives, nestled in amongst a row of olive trees and rosemary bushes.  He showed me barrels of olives, stalks of kale, the fruit of the prickly pear which I remember fondly from trips to Puglia in Italy and he showed me a loofah which I just thought was a bath sponge but is a species of cucumber.  He gave Tom some seeds so as well as Toms passion for companion planting he can now grow his own bath sponges which I’m hoping may encourage him to bathe more often.

Coogee Common garden
The garden is full of hard workers
Wherever you look there is produce ready for your plate

Coogee Common is one of those places that during it, you’re already planning your next visit.

Vegetarian options are the standout meals because of the fresh produce from the garden but being presented with Fremantle sardines and the option of fish of the day caught off Rottnest earlier in the morning just puts a smile on your face.

So there you have it.  What was once a horror drive through smells and sights that aren’t easily forgotten have been beaten into submission by the new smells and sights of Coogee. 

I also learnt from Tom, who must have learnt it from Scott at Coogee Common about companion planting.  Evidently there are good planting companions like apples and chives or sunflowers and cucumbers but there are also bad companions like wormwood which doesn’t like all other plants.

So Coogee makes it as one of my favourite hidden treasures because it has transformed itself and I want to go back with family and friends and do it all again.

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures in Mirrabooka

The Shaping Futures Mural

For Hidden Treasures on ABC Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I discussed Mirrabooka. While it was sad to have to phone in for the show, rather than the scheduled Outside Broadcast at Mirrabooka Square, it was a good opportunity to share with listeners just what a great community and range of activities, and food, can be found in Mirrabooka.

Mirrabooka is only around 12 kilometres north of the Perth CBD.  At its core is a population that makes it one of Australia’s most culturally diverse areas with more than 50 nationalities calling Mirrabooka home.

Mirrabooka doesn’t have an iconic pub or historical landmark and there isn’t a drawcard that is likely to feature on a postcard but that’s not what a hidden treasure is.  A hidden treasure is something you need to discover that you value and want others to value.

I haven’t spent enough time in Mirrabooka to know if cultural diversity is what best defines the community but I know from growing up in a small regional community and working in regional communities across Western Australia what to look for when I’m trying to find a heartbeat, searching for a soul and finding stuff to do.

Let me tell you a little story of a recent Mirrabooka experience.  My son Tom and I visited a local treasure last weekend, the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant.  It’s run by a family and we met the father who greeted us and the daughter who served us and here’s the point;  when we left an hour later we knew all about the family who worked in the restaurant, we knew that the restaurant is named after a town in Ethiopia that is renowned for its churches that are cut into the rocky ground and often joined by tunnels and trenches.  We learnt about Ethiopia’s great coffee, the amazing national dish which is a bread called injera and filled with the health benefits Teff flour and we even had a discussion about Ethiopia’s former Emperor, Haile Selassie.  Here was a family filled with passion for their homeland and their new land.  That’s a hidden treasure.

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant

Mirrabooka is part of the Bush Forever Project, that seeks to protect significant plant and animal populations in the Swan Coastal Plain.  The Bush Forever Conservation Area in Mirrabooka is a beautiful 130 hectares of banksia and wallaby filled wilderness that you can walk through and feel connected to, even though it’s bordered by major roads, including Reid Highway.  Like its famous cousin Kings Park though, it’s big enough to not hear the traffic and small enough that you won’t get lost.

Beautiful Banksia’s in the Bush Forever Project

Mirrabooka has a Harmony Art Trail that celebrates and is inspired by the different cultures that live in Mirrabooka. 

Murals abound throughout the area including the Harmony Mural on the walls of this shopping centre, featuring Indian style Mandalas which traditionally signify unity and across the road from the shopping centre is the famous Shaping The Future mural, first painted by artist Steve Cross nearly 30 years ago and given a facelift just a few years ago.  Shaping The Future features faces from many backgrounds, including Syrian, Filipino, Greek, Vietnamese and Aboriginal.  The central character is the laughing face of local legend and Noongar Ballardong Elder Doolan-Leisha Eatts.

The Shaping Futures Mural

Mirrabooka is held together by a community that comes together and does stuff well.  There are regular community markets but it’s more than a place to find some cheap toys for the kids or some plants for the garden.  The stallholders are encouraged to participate in a program run by Mercycare and the City of Stirling to learn how to run a stall like a business; including customer service skills, hygiene when preparing and serving food and marketing what is being sold.

Finally, Mirrabooka has an ongoing program that has flourished since it was launched by the City of Stirling and the State Government.  The Mirrabooka Library resources and the people who work there are treasured by the community. In 2017 the Mirrabooka Community Hub was launched with a range of services that focus on youth development, multicultural women’s health, craft clubs and newcomer tours but it’s the Innovations Lab I want to tell you about this morning.

The Innovations Lab is a space that provides resources for community members to explore new technologies, invent new technologies and make community connections through the exploration of ideas in the world of 3d printing, laser cutting, computer coding, making robots and opportunities through the use of Virtual Reality and using bananas to make keyboards and play tunes on it using an electronics kit called Makey Makey.

Visit Mirrabooka and enjoy a bushwalk, a cultural art trail walk, great local markets with lots of craft and food, great food from a range of very authentic and passionate cafes and restaurants and try out your skills in the Innovations Lab and keep an eye out with what’s always happening in the Mirrabooka Regional Open Space which has regular events that include lots of family activities including animal farms and you wouldn’t believe it … even more local food.

If Mirrabooka had one of those number plate slogans that regional communities love to have it would have to be, “A community thrives here” or maybe “We have lots of food”.

Exotic, authentic and exciting food at the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and many other culturally diverse restaurants throughout Mirrabooka

Just Urbane: An Indian Magazine for the World.

Is there anything better than meeting people?  Even better than a sunset, even better than climbing a mountain.  Meeting people fuels the soul and sparks the life in us.

On a media trip to Malaysia last year I met one of India’s rising stars of journalism, Yvonne Jacob.  Yvonne is the Features Editor for Just Urbane, a fantastic magazine aimed at the market of Indian men but with something for all of us, anywhere in the world.

If you can’t get to your favourite newsagency in India, you’ll find the online version of Just Urbane on Magzter and subscriptions are as cheap as chips. If you look hard enough you might even find something in it that’s written by me.

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Just Urbane.  Every month for everyone.

 

Wadjemup Rites of Passage and New Opportunities for Adventure

There’s a little island off the coast that for quite some time now has attracted Western Australians, other Australians and increasingly the international traveller seeking a genuine sand-in-your-toes destination or maybe just an insta-worthy-pic with the worlds cutest animal.

Wadjemup (Rottnest) has just taken a couple of Red Bulls and is revved up for a summer that can still remain laid back or it can put you on your back with exhaustion.

Skydiving, fishing tours for kids, water parks, walking tours and new facilities like refreshment vans on the west end of the island now mean you don’t need to carry litres of water on your bike (plus, always remember that the various tour sites with volunteer guides carry lots of water that you can use to top up your water bottle ….. for free).

Tom and I began our day a bit differently for a trip to Wadjemup.  Rather than Barrack Street, Freo or Hillarys, we head to the South Perth foreshore. Within minutes of our arrival, the Cessna Caravan from Swan River Seaplanes comes diving out of the morning sun and lands smoothly on the water in front of us.

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Above: From South Perth to Wadjemup

The take off was more graceful than my graceless body surfing at City Beach.  The aircrafts pontoons lift off the water in the direction of Crown Casino and the Optus Stadium before banking to the west.

There was time to take in the view of the city, the coast, the ocean and then Wajemup came in sight.

I was scheduled to go live on air, in the air, with 6PR radio to describe the experience but the flight was so fast we’d landed at Wadjemup before they could cross to me.  Even with two laps of the island to take in the view the flight was only 20 minutes.

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Above: Wadjemup from the air with Swan River Seaplanes

Meeting us on the island is the Rottnest Island Authority Executive Director, Michelle Reynolds, who has very generously accepted the challenge of showing us around the island.  For the next few hours we are regaled with historical stories, modern day plans and have the opportunity to learn and experience the island like I have never done before.

A climb of the Wadjemup Lighthouse is 155 steps and because I’m a father I’m allowed to generate the odd dad joke or two so I asked Tom how many steps it was coming down.  Easy. Remember he’s only ten.

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Above: Wadjemup Lighthouse and one of the new refreshment vans

We visit the bays, inspect the beaches, salt lakes and tuart groves and watch as ospreys nest and seals bask and loll.  We buy refreshments from the new vans and felt a bit guilty, as we entered Michelle’s airconditioned car, that we were possibly depriving a thirsty cyclist of a much needed peach iced tea.

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Above: Refreshments from the van at Fish Hook Bay

When we parted ways with Michelle it was with a new appreciation for the work that is going into making Wadjemup better but also for acknowledging what people love most about the island experience, a laid back lifestyle where even sunburn and grazed knees just don’t seem to hurt as much as they do on the mainland.

Tom and I headed to the bakery to get a well deserved cream bun and a choc milk before making the ten minute walk to The Basin for a well anticipated swim.  Along the way Tom met his spirit quokka.  We didn’t attempt a selfie but first contact was made as Tom got down to eyelevel with a quokka and his outstretched finger was sniffed and touched by this amazing little animals nose.

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First contact.  Meeting your spirit quokka.

At The Basin, a Christmas choir was singing from the waters edge and even the fish were joining in.  As carols reverberated off the limestone cliffs Tom and I swam along the reef edge and spotted all sorts of fish that were bigger than my foot, in fact both feet put together!  Bream, Trevally, Snapper and even a couple of retired old cods, just hanging out by a weed bank discussing the latest flotsam, jetsam and tidal trends.

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The Basin

The fast and comfortable journey back to Perth by SeaLink ferry was made even better by the opportunity for Tom to take the captains chair on the bridge and monitor the compass as we made our way into Fremantle Harbour.  He was in his element, scanning from river bank to river bank and warning pelicans to get out of the way.

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Above: Tom gets instructions from the SeaLink Skipper

What a way to spend a day in WA!

Need to know more?

http://www.swanriverseaplanes.com.au

http://www.rottnestisland.com

http://www.westernaustralia.com

http://www.sealinkrottnest.com.au

For information on my day with Tom on Rottnest have a look at my Instagram account @chrisparrywritesforus