Perth’s city centre is a compact mix of towering skyscrapers and elegant colonial buildings. It is bordered to the south and east by the Swan River, with stretches of grassy parkland fringing the riverbank. Perth’s central business district (CBD) harbours the city’s large pedestrian-only shopping precinct, made up of a series of malls and arcades. This is connected northwards to the Perth train station by an overhead walkway across Wellington Street. To the west, the ultra-hip King Street is renowned for its gourmet cafes, galleries and fashion houses. On the south side of the city is St Georges Terrace, the main commercial street, a strip of high-rise buildings interspersed with remnants of Perth’s early British heritage. Just beyond it is the main bus depot, the Esplanade Busport, and at the river end of Barrack Street is the city’s jetty at Barrack Square.
Malls, arcades and a touch of old England
Perth’s central shopping precinct is in the blocks bounded by St Georges Terrace and William, Wellington and Barrack streets. These three main shopping blocks encompass the vehicle-free zones of Hay Street Mall, Murray Street Mall and Forrest Place. Between them, the two malls contain a swag of brand-name fashion outlets, bookstores and homewares shops. The big department stores of Myer and David Jones both have entrances on Murray Street Mall, and the western side of Forrest Place is home to the GPO. A series of arcades and underground walkways run from Murray Street Mall through to Hay Street Mall and on to St Georges Terrace, making it possible to shop in the city without ever crossing a street. Carillon City is a modern shopping centre between the malls, while London Court, an arcade with the appearance of a quaint Elizabethan street, runs from Hay Street Mall to St Georges Terrace, and is Perth’s only open-air arcade. At the mall end, knights joust above a replica of Big Ben every 15 minutes, while St George and the Dragon do battle above the clock at the St Georges Terrace end
This historic precinct of commercial buildings between Hay and Wellington streets dates from the 1890s gold rush. While the street has been restored to its turn-of-the-century character, its commercial interests are entirely modern: designer fashion houses, specialist bookstores, art galleries and gourmet cafes, such as the ever-popular No. 44 King Street, with its homemade bread and extensive wine list.
St Georges Terrace
The city’s main commercial street is lined with modern office towers that overshadow a number of historic buildings. At the western end of the terrace is the Barracks Archway, the only remains of the Pensioners’ Barracks, a structure that originally had two wings and 120 rooms. This building housed the retired British soldiers who guarded convicts in the mid-1800s. The Central Government Building on the corner of Barrack Street marks the spot where Perth was founded with a tree-felling ceremony in 1829. Around 50 years later, convicts and hired labour commenced work on the building that stands there today. At one stage it housed the GPO, and a plaque on the building’s east corner marks the point from which all distances in the state are measured. Other historic buildings along the terrace include the Cloisters, the Old Perth Boys’ School, the Deanery, St George’s Cathedral, Government House and the Old Court House . As you’re walking along the Terrace, look out for the commemorative plaques inlaid in the footpath which celebrate the achievements of over 170 notable West Australians. This was a sesquicentennial project in 1979 celebrating 150 years since the foundation of the Swan River Colony.
Two delightful city gardens are located in the block bounded by St Georges Terrace, Riverside Drive, Barrack Street and Victoria Avenue. Stirling Gardens offer ornamental trees, well-kept lawns and plenty of shady spots. Along the footpath on the St Georges Terrace side there are large statues of kangaroos – a great photo opportunity. Just nearby within the gardens is an ore obelisk, a memorial acknowledging the state’s role as one of the world’s foremost producers of minerals. Look carefully in the garden beds from the footpath on the Barrack Street side of the gardens and you’ll find small statues of May Gibbs’ ‘Gumnut Babies’ nestled amongst the ferns. The gardens also house the oldest public building in Perth, now the Francis Burt Law Museum . The Supreme Court Gardens, further towards Riverside Drive, are a popular location for concerts on warm summer evenings, including the annual Carols by Candlelight.
Bells and a jetty
Barrack Square, at the water’s edge south of the city, is where you’ll find the Swan Bells and the ferry jetty. The Barrack Street Jetty is the departure point for ferry services to Fremantle, South Perth, Rottnest Island and Carnac Island, along with various leisure cruises on the Swan River and to the vineyards of the Swan Valley. Behind Jetty 6 is the Willem de Vlamingh Memorial, which features a sundial indicating Amsterdam time and many historical references.
The Swan Bells consist of 18 ‘change-ringing’ bells, which form the largest set in the world. Twelve of the bells, given to the state in 1988 by the British government, come from London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church. The bell tower – which cost $6 million to build amid great controversy – offers galleries from which you can view the bellringers and the bells in action. A viewing platform at the top of the bell tower provides excellent views of the river and city. Barrack Sq, cnr Barrack St and Riverside Dr; (08) 6210 0444; open from 10am daily, closing times vary seasonally (check the website, www.swanbells.com.au); full bell ringing 12–1pm Mon, Tues, Thurs and Sat–Sun.