Enjoy the story above, published in the summer edition of Have A Go News Newspaper. Have A Go News has a circulation of more than 80,000 copies around Western Australia and is also available online and on your favourite social media platforms.
This story features a weekend adventure with my son Tom to do the stuff you might not know about. Some of it has always been there and some of it is new.
Next time you’re on this amazing island, do what you always like to do and do something new as well.
Whether it’s to try out a new Christmas present, a family day out, being a tourist for the day or showing off our city to a visiting friend, there is one place that is guaranteed to make it special, one place that is our most treasured place. It’s not hidden, but there are hidden treasures to be found on it. Where are we going? The Derbarl Yerrigan. The Swan River. Our river.
Some of our Hidden Treasure stories have included elements of the Swan River. It was when I looked around Bassendean that I first thought about a river story.
We talked about the confluence of the Helena River and Swan River and the thrill of watching people fall off stand-up paddleboards and I watched kids swinging on a rope and tyre tied to a gnarly old tree sticking out of the bank on the Guildford side.
Our Hidden Treasure this morning is for all of us who love the river, love getting on it, but don’t have a boat. Here’s a few things you can do to get you on the water on one of the world’s great city waterways.
We’ve already mentioned stand up paddleboards as a spectator sport and tyres on a rope as an age-old pastime on the river but let’s get to my list of ten things for riding on the river if you haven’t got your own boat.
Surfcats: I can remember as a kid watching cricket on tv and the camera would pan across to people on the river in surfcats and they would sometimes blow over when the Freo Doctor was in and then you’d see people stand up. I also remember Tony Greig baiting Bill Lawry about going out on a surfcat, knowing Bill couldn’t swim. These days the surfcats are stronger and a family of four can enjoy sailing and imagining they’re winning the America’s Cup.
Transperth Ferries: This is probably the best way to see the city, the river and all of the activity on it. For just a couple of dollars you can hop on at the Mends Street Jetty in South Perth or ferry terminal at Elizabeth Quay. At both ends of a ten-minute journey you’ll find ice cream shops and cafes, or something finer if you like. You can open the windows and have your head out in the breeze, watch cormorants on the navigation markers with their wings spread wide, drying them in the sun.
Electric Ferry: For a different type of ferry, a tesla on water, try the Little Electric Ferry Company which also operates from Elizabeth Quay. This little fleet is fully electric and looks like something Gatsby would go boating in. They travel up to Claisebrook and tie up in the inlet and give you enough time to duck into the pub for a beer before heading back down the river and sometimes they stop off at the pontoon wharf outside Perth Stadium, just up from Matagarup Bridge.
Zipline: Also up from Matagarup Bridge, literally, is the recently opened zipline which launches you from the bridge and across to the east bank. It’s a great way to fly like a bird, scream like a banshee and land like James Bond.
Nautipicnics: Staying with the electric theme on water, if you want to get your dog on the water and have a go at being a skipper for a day, even without your Skippers Ticket, you can take out the groovy little Nautipicnics boats.
Perfect for exploring the banks around Maylands and Bayswater, chugging alongside a pelican as it’s taking off like some 1930’s flying boat. They’re set up with a central table and a shady bimini so you can glide around the river and graze your way through a cheese platter with cheese of a better quality than my days working for Boat Torque.
Water Wanderers: These guys do sunset tours, wetlands tours and Leonie will find little spots to pull into and give you amazing desserts served in Mason Jars, designed to top up your energy levels for your adventure. I did a tour with Leonie as a Father’s Day adventure with my kids and my brother Jamie. Matilda and I would line up Jamie and Tom and yell ‘Ramming Speed’ and then bump against Tom who would get cross with his Uncle Jamie for not avoiding us while Leonie would just laugh, mostly.
Water Bikes: For a completely different way of being on the water, how about riding a bike on the water. These are the only bikes you don’t need to wear a helmet for. Tom and I recently headed down to the little beach near the Narrows Bridge on the South Perth side and took a couple of these out with Penny and Nev and while they know their history and can answer lots of your questions we were happy just to watch Tom look up as we pedalled under the Narrows Bridge, hearing from underneath all that frantic and rumbling activity of north and south bound traffic and trains. The bikes have two pontoons and are lightweight and easy to move through the water although my little legged companion started to get a bit weary as we turned for home so Nev tucked his pontoons under Toms bike and did the pedalling for both of them. These guys can do the taste test style experience or longer up the river and sunset tours.
Swan River Seaplanes: Just around the corner on the South Perth side you’ll find the opportunity to take off from the river in a real seaplane. Taxiing across the water, picking up speed and bouncing into the air is exciting and not something you can do every day. Their destinations range from up and down the coast, across to Rottnest or back on the river for a picnic. Check out their website, http://www.swanriverseaplanes.com.au, for more information on taking to the skies above Perth and along our amazing coastline.
Pedal Boards: Jeff operates from near the jetty at Point Walter and let’s firstly take a look at his pedal boards. These are a cross between a stand-up paddle board and a penguin. While you stand on a board with handlebars, there’s two little flippers under the board that do their best impression of Happy Feet and send you along in whatever direction you steer.
Swans: Swans on the Swan. How can life get can any better than pedalling a swan on the Swan this summer? Forget the tube of sunscreen, you’re going to need a big tube of Voltaren the following day but honestly, it’s not because they’re hard to pedal, it’s just that those muscles aren’t working out enough each day. Jeff is busy launching and retrieving his swan pedal boats and pedal boards but still has time to show me his pride and joy, a recently painted black swan that is ready to be launched this summer. I think he needs a red swan because as we all know, red means it goes faster.
The Swan River is a hidden treasure because of these activities. I bet there are things on this list you’ve never heard of and I bet there are some on the list you’ve heard of and never done. The Swan River is more than a glorious view to drive past or walk along.
Scarborough? Why is Scarborough a Hidden Treasure? It’s got one of the most famous beaches in WA and Australia stretching along our coastline. For locals and tourists alike, Scarborough provides relief from the summer heat and for generations has been the place to go.
Whether you’re a widgie or a bodgie, a skater or a surfer, a bruncher or a luncher, Scarborough is the beach precinct we pack out every summer. So, I was set the challenge of finding Hidden Treasure in a known treasure and this is what he found. Enjoy the audio link below and enjoy a bit of reading as well:
Scarborough. What I found was that you can enjoy Scarborough without getting the sand between your toes or anywhere else, or that pesky saltwater stinging your eyes.
There are buses, there is Aboriginal urban art, there are walking tours to clear the mind, lookouts to blow your mind and snake pits and whale skeletons to explore.
There’s even a hill just for watching the dying of the days light. And there’s enough burgers or fish and chips or ice cream for before or after all that activity.
Let’s start with Saturday Morning on the foreshore promenade where you’ll find Perth’s newest market.
You might be familiar with the iconic Sunset Markets but if you’re up and about early you can try the Scarborough Beach Farmers Markets full of healthy local fresh fruit and veges and breads and brightly coloured vans and stalls selling cookies and crème brulees and deep fried cheesecake!
Before we come back to the foreshore, let’s walk off some of the mornings treats with Bush, Beach and Bubbles!
Fun Fact! The sand dunes in the Trigg area (we’re calling it Scarborough today) are parabolic. Try a walking tour with the Hike Collective which is as much about mental health as it is about just a little bit of physical exercise.
So, back to the foreshore and still keeping our toes away from the sand and water and not giving the lifeguards anything to do, let’s have a walk through the giant Whale Playground which is great reminder of just how big whales are and just how much fun we can all have in a playground.
The playground flows into the grassy Sunset Hill and some really cool Climbing Walls and of course the iconic, notorious and infamous Snake Pit where my mum use to trek to Scarborough from Midland to dance as a widgie and then cool off with a swim and a malt milkshake that hopefully some boy would buy her.
These days the Snake Pit is for skaters, scooters and even little bikes if it’s not too busy. Tip that beanie back on your head, put a scowl on your face and if I’ve got my skater lingo right, “fill your dives to 3.5 metres and hit the ramps, rails and banks.”
Around the foreshore, take some time to follow the Tjunta Trail, an urban art trail that tells the story about how a spirit woman finds a group of children who go missing. There are five locations around the foreshore that tell the story although when the markets are on you might find them hard to see.
Is that enough walking about for a while? Let’s hop on the newest tourist experience in Perth that ….. drumroll please …. is free! It’s free!
It’s so free that queues are starting to form as word gets around of the double decker bus, the Sunset Coast Explorer, that makes its way from the Scarborough Pool and winds its away along the sunset coast.
The bus has a crew of conductors to answer questions and tell you to sit down if you’re clowning around up the top in the fresh air. It’s a hop on hop off service and is running all summer every Saturday and Sunday. Be a tourist, have some fun and wave at the locals at the all the cafes.
One of Perth’s best hidden treasure museums has to be the Mount Flora Museum. We’ve spoken previously about museums that only survive because of volunteers and Local Government support. This is one of the best if you’re interested in the social history of the area. Exhibitions feature ‘windows into the past’. Check online for when they’re open or call the City of Stirling.
On top of the museum is one of Perth’s best lookouts and we really are going to have to do a Hidden Treasure on views of Perth because it’s little wonder this lookout on top of the museum used to be an observation post during World War II. The lookout also has a really vivid mural that encircles you in a complete 360 degree burst of colour and representation of Australian wildlife.
Scarborough is a hidden treasure because there’s a lot to do and see before you get to the sea. Places to walk, places to sit, markets to explore, bus rides to whoop for joy and wave at the locals, local and ancient history, lookouts with views to forever all make Scarborough a staycation destination that I’ll tell you a more about next week. But that’s a story for another day.
Chris Parry and family enjoy a wander along the river on a kayaking tour.
Have you noticed the blue sky that is finally above us?
As I paddled my way up the Swan River in a Water Wanderers kayak, I was reminded of a career a long time ago, singing and serving on the wine cruise boats that made their way up to Mulberry Farm and other Swan Valley destinations.
Leonie Cockman from the Water Wanderers has an easier job than I did when I worked on the river. She doesn’t have to put on a cabaret act while making sure sozzled people don’t jump overboard. She also provides a better lunch than the cheese cubes sweating on yellow serviettes in cane baskets that I used to serve.
My Water Wanderers tour of Ascot Waters started out as a Fathers’ Day prize and Leonie offered to take the whole family on the water. A late change in the line-up saw my brother Jamie step in and he was partnered with Tom, while my kayak partner was Matilda.
After a briefing on the correct paddling technique, we forgot everything Leonie taught us and launched the kayaks at Adachi Park in Maylands, setting off up river. Both kayaks were sea-going and equipped with rudders controlled by the paddler at the back. I quickly got the hang of lining up Jamie and Tom amidships and calling out to Matilda, “Ramming speed!” Tom would holler in horror and then berate his Uncle Jamie for not avoiding the collision. I was happy to then withdraw our bow, paddle away and leave my brother to deal with my son’s protestations.
While not strictly encouraging this behaviour, Leonie was laughing, which is all the encouragement I need. She was in her own kayak and would skim around us, pointing out the features of the riverbank and cautioning us when craft bigger than ours — and they were all bigger — came cruising past.
We threaded our way through the moored array of boats at the Maylands Amateur Boatbuilding Yard, which is just 4km from the centre of Perth and provides a place for boat builders to plane and hammer their days away, dreaming of tight hulls and firm decks.
WA has a great history of boatbuilding and it was an important indicator of the early success of our colony that boatbuilding was been established on the Swan River, utilising local timbers.
Just a little way up the river is Tranby House, one of the colony’s oldest surviving buildings and the site of one its first farms. Built in 1839, it was the third house to be built on what was known as Peninsula Farm.
These days, Tranby House and Peninsula Tea Gardens cater to weddings and events, and are open for high tea every day of the week, serving tea in Royal Albert china.
As we continued upriver, we stayed close to the banks to make sure we got a good look at the birdlife along the way, including eastern great egrets, white-faced heron, pelicans and black swans.
Being in a kayak provided a real sense of being part of the environment around us. I felt I was more observant and was hearing more than I ever had on any of the motorised adventures I’ve had on the river.
As we paddled into Bayswater waters, Leonie pointed out the bat boxes attached to the shoreline trees in the Baigup Wetland.
Designed to attract bats looking for a home, this project aims to reduce mosquito populations. One bat may consume over 1000 mosquitoes in an evening and they are considered an effective and ecological alternative to chemical spraying to reduce mosquito numbers on the river.
Just before the Garratt Road Bridge, we crossed to the other side of the river and made our way through the wetlands to find a suitable landing for our sturdy craft. Leonie pulled out chairs and baskets from the kayaks’ storage holes and very quickly we’d set up a picnic camp.
From one basket, Leonie produced bottles filled with homemade lemonade. The sprig of mint within each bottle was a touch of genius, although as it was treated with great suspicion by my six year old lad. “A stick with leaves is in my drink!”
Leonie had made an absolute feast for our group and we each had a favourite. For Jamie, it was the vegetable quiche. For Matilda, it was the banana jam with coconut sprinkled on top, and for me, it was the homemade bread. Tom devoured a glass jar with peanut, caramel and pretzel chocolate cheesecake in hypnotic silence, save for the sound of the little metal spoon scraping the inside of the jar.
After lunch, we returned our craft to the water and made our way through the wetlands before emerging back into the river proper, where we hit the sort of wind I can imagine drove the early Dutch sailors crashing into our shores. Paddles dug deep and fortitude dug deeper. I realised that as I dug my paddle into the water I was pushing my feet forward on the rudder pedals, causing the rudder to shift to the left and then to the right with each desperate paddle thrust. This caused us to lurch to port then lurch to starboard, unsettling Matilda, who was convinced we were about to be introduced to Davy Jones somewhere deep below — or, at the very least, fall among the big, brown jellyfish that surrounded our pitching vessel.
It was a short trial by wind — perhaps 500m, maybe a bit less. As our kayaks ground on the shore we’d departed from just hours earlier, we unzipped our life jackets and dropped our paddles with relief and regret. Relief to be off the water, away from the wind, and regret to be off the water, away from our adventure.
The Water Wanderers operate throughout the year and have a range of different river tours available, including a spectacular sunset tour. The Ascot Waters tour is available Wednesdays and Saturdays. No experience is necessary and, as Tom and Jamie proved, age is no barrier. Now how’s that for getting in a dig at an older brother?
On ABC Hidden Treasures we’ve recently been doing some special issues, like WAFL footy and Aboriginal Tourism. It’s time to get back to the idea of hidden treasures in our suburbs.
Some adventures require a lot of planning, other adventures are looked forward to with anticipation and excitement.
Other adventures are opportunistic moments to explore new ground and dare I say it, as just a reason to spend some time with the kids and get out of the house.
Not quite a road trip but more than a trip to your local café around the corner.
Welcome to Bull Creek.
Let’s start with a coffee and something to eat at the Little Parry Café.
When little Tom stands in front of a café that is named for his stature and his surname it is a remarkable photo opportunity to have him stand in front of it and an even better opportunity to try and work out why a dish simply called Waffle could appeal to an eleven year old boy.
No wordy review needed from Tom, just a thumbs up as the other hand wipes maple syrup from his chin.
This a little café that also doubles as a little art gallery and there some great local paintings and drawings in this little space.
You won’t wear off the waffles in the short walk from the café to one of Bull Creek’s most treasured shops, Bull Creek Oriental Supplies. This is a store that has been run by the gorgeously cheeky Li Ling for more than 20 years and as well as all those spices and flavours of Asia that you can stock up on you can also fossick for utensils and bits and pieces you won’t find anywhere else plus all the chips and chocolates you might be used to buying when you’re in Bali and other parts of Asia. Plus, I can assure you that their curry puffs are the best in Perth. Light and fluffy with a generous vegetable filling and my only regret was not buying the lot. Great to eat as you leave the shop and you do these quick exhales of breath because they’re nice and hot.
A few years ago I wrote about the Aviation Heritage Museum in a story about all of the things alongside the freeway that you should have a look at. I rate this museum, firmly and proudly in Bull Creek and run by volunteers as an absolute treasure in this state and you don’t need to be an aviation buff to get a buzz from hearing a very real and very loud Rolls Royce Merlin engine from a Spitfire being started or crouch your way through the fuselage of an Avro Lancaster bomber or look at Catalina Flying Boat and imagine what it was like seeing these take off and land on the Swan River during their famous double sunrise flights during World War II.
What I love most about this museum is that you’re not guided in a particular direction. My kids ran one way and I ran the other. We’d call out, “You’ve got to see this!” Admittedly there can also be a bit of “Where are you?” and “Tom, get off that aeroplane wing!” but the staff, who are volunteers and filled with stories to compliment the more than 30 aircraft on display, mostly just smile so long as you’re not trying to spin the propellors or sitting in cockpits pretending you’re Biggles.
There’s a dam down south and a few wheat silos with murals but the Stockland Shopping Centre in Bull Creek mural has to be one of the biggest in Perth and displays the Noongar seasons and local birds. It’s on the south side of the shopping centre.
An absolute highlight of Bull Creek is a sculpture in Centennial Park called the Pilgrim, by Western Australian artist Russell Sheridan and was part of Sculptures By The Sea about four or five years ago.
I spoke to the artist about this piece and it’s inspired by his love of Michael Leunig cartoons and the resemblance of the man featured in the sculpture to the main character in Leunig cartoons is very evident. Russell Sheridan explained to me that the dog is the passive observer to the burdens of life that we all carry, whether it be regret or being bullied or being discriminated against. It sounds a bit grim and heavy but just like a Leunig cartoon there is that element of inspirational whimsy that will lift you up and keep you in the fight!
While not the Nile, I was inspired by the Pilgrim to find the source of Bull Creek. In a glorious remnant piece of Bull Creek Park, next to Brockman Park and the playground, is the source of Bull Creek. There’s a small and steady flow of water that meanders through some of the most extraordinary bushland you’ll find on Perth.
In Mid-Summer Nights Dream, Shakespeare describes a character as “though she be but small she is fierce”. This is like Bull Creek Park. As Bull Creek flows towards the Canning River, it is surrounded by a small piece of bushland. There’s a log over the creek to walk across and a great path that requires you to push ferns out of the way and there’s bird life and enough green canopy to block out the noise of the busy city roads nearby. Interestingly, it’s very well protected by the City of Melville and you’re required to scrub and wash your boots before you enter to prevent dieback entering this small but fierce bit of bush.
Bull Creek flows into the Bull Creek Inlet which Noongar people called Gabbilju. The inlet has some good interpretive signage about the creek catchment area and an excellent walking trail that will take you from Gabbilju right around the river to the Riverton Bridge. But that’s a suburb and a story for another day.
Bull Creek is a Hidden Treasure because it will surprise you. A little walk on the wild side by a little creek, Spitfires, curry puffs, local art and inspirational sculptures make this your afternoon out when you’re too tired for a road trip but never too tired to have some fun with your kids.
For the June/July issue of Just Urbane I contributed a story about one of Western Australia’s best and most loved resorts, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort. Below is a pdf of the story published in Just Urbane:
Writing about resorts is always interesting. I’ve just realised how much has changed for me in recent years when I’m looking for a resort. Firstly, they’re usually overseas.
In the Age of Coronavirus I’ve had to look closer to home for the resort experience and I found one that is not only in my backyard but has developed a reputation for more than luxury, it is being acknowledged for including the history of Indigenous people in their story in an environment that feels like the resort is part of the local bushland. It’s not about keeping the bush out; it’s about fitting in with the land how it’s always been.
Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is just over three hours drive from Perth and sits at the top of one of the greatest wine growing areas anywhere on Earth; the Margaret River Region. These days it’s also world renowned for it’s other produce, including everything from cheese to truffles and steaks to ice-cream. There’s also world class surfing and fishing that can be experienced on a coastline that is both rugged and beautiful and if getting wet isn’t your thing, you can trek the coastline along the Cape to Cape Walk, an unforgettable journey through national parks alongside coves and cliffs for a distance of around 120 kilometres.
Hang on. This is meant to be a story about a resort. Well I promise you it is but it’s nice to know that you’ll be staying in a region that should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves good wine, great food, amazing adventures and awesome scenery.
But let’s get back to the resort and just relax, maybe planning a few short trips around the region but also taking the time to adjust to the time you’re in, resort time.
It’s almost underwhelming when you arrive. It’s not that it’s not sophisticated. It’s just not grand. You know when you arrive at the big resorts and there are long, wide steps leading up to the huge atrium style space for the reception and the concierge area and there’s also a community of staff to open doors, take your bags, offer you a refreshing drink and maybe there’s even a local cultural performance going on, or local musicians? That’s not the Pullman Bunker Bay way. There’s lots of natural stone, a water feature, a simple driveway and an entrance that leads to a small reception counter.
But as I smile at the receptionist, I get distracted. Peripherally my vision is being pulled to the left and my mind is telling me to forget about checking in and to check out the view.
This is why Pullman Bunker Bay Resort exists. Bunker Bay.
Nestled just to the east of Cape Naturaliste, this small bay is extraordinary for being a sanctuary of shelter from the wild winds that batter nearby Cape Naturaliste to such an extent that a limestone lighthouse has been there for over a hundred years, warning ships from its rocky shores.
Bunker Bay is an aquatic paradise but probably not for those who seek the thrill of surfing. There’s a lot of surf to be found in the region but this little bay is for those who want to dip a toe in the water, maybe do some paddling or snorkelling but whatever it is you choose to do your heart rate won’t take much of a jolt as this peaceful stretch of perfect sand and water immerse and calm you.
The resort is slightly elevated above the beach and the restaurant and pool have a view of Bunker Bay that is probably the only frustrating aspect of the resort. I don’t know which way to look.
This is a resort that provides meals that source produce locally and present it in a style that will make you regret leaving your phone in your room. The view needs photos. The food needs photos. I need to lie down.
The resort has a community feel about it as you walk around. There are no hallways or corridors, just open paths and vegetation between small blocks of earthy toned rooms that feature massive floor to high ceiling windows that allow the light and colours of blue sky and green trees to pour in throughout the day before being replaced by the brilliant starlight of a night sky that you only see when you’re away from the city.
So what has really changed for me in what I look for in a resort has probably been connected to the growing age and expectations of my children but it’s also linked to what we all have to learn when we start travelling widely again; thinking about out footprints and the footprints of the airlines, accommodation and travel services and experiences we all use.
Beyond good sustainability and waste management, I’m looking for opportunities to engage with local culture as part of my luxury experience. I want local art in the rooms that are available to purchase to support local communities, I want to contribute in a way that’s more than just coming to the area and staying, eating and drinking for a few days. I want to meet local people and learn why their world is even more amazing than the most instagramable drone photo of yet another beach.
Pullman Bunker Bay does this. I came home with local art, I came home having met local Indigenous Elders and having participated in a tour of the resort that opened my eyes not just to the worlds longest surviving culture but to what the plants outside my room could do for my health, why the coastal plants down by the beach were so delicious, how to find frogs on trees and lizards in rocks, how to speak local language and why the six seasons of the Wadandi people make so much more sense than our western understanding of the weather in Australia.
This is a resort that is more than a base while you tour the Margaret River Region. It’s more than a family vacation or honeymoon destination. This is a resort that is like the best teacher you ever had. Remember those teachers who inspired you and made you forget to look at the classroom clock and as you made your way home at the end of the day you were thinking about what you had learned in that lesson? That’s what Pullman Bunker Bay Resort does for you. Sure, you’ll swim in the pool, play at the beach, and groan with delight at the end of every meal but somewhere along the way you will also learn something about a beautiful culture and a remarkable landscape. Best lesson I’ve had in a long time.
Covid-19: While vaccination programs continue to roll out across the world and Australia has a program in place to vaccinate its population by the end of 2021 international travel is still not likely to resume until 2022. Check regularly with police, health and customs authorities before travelling.
Getting There: From Perth, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is an easy drive of just over three hours, all of it on good highway roads with regular service stations and the regional cities of Bunbury and Busselton along the way.
Visit the following websites for more information: