It’s a little-known fact that Morrissey, the Mancunian master miserablist, wrote a song about Perth. It’s called “Every Day Is Like Sunday”, and the chorus goes, “Every day is like Sundayyyy…” (Admittedly, the next line is, “every day is silent and grey”, then he calls for a nuclear bomb. But he was obviously writing about somewhere else there. Probably Southport.)
I arrived in the Western Australian capital mid-Saturday morning, the time shopping madness kicks-off in most cities. But Perth isn’t most cities. In a lethargic heat, the few people about – mostly lounging outside cafés – looked so laidback they were almost horizontal and even the cars cruised lazily at around 30km. That unmistakable Sunday feeling was everywhere.
My first hour was quickly absorbed in the Art Gallery Of WA, which housed some mesmerising Aboriginal art. Then, utilising the wonderful free bus service, I nipped to the characterful Kings Park for the quintessential view of the shiny city, and the corpulent Swan River.
Then to the Perth Mint, where I watched gold being melted and, on the way out, was advised to look in the cabinet by the front door, “because you Poms won’t have seen an Olympic gold medal before.” Cheeky runt.
I headed to the Old Swan Brewery for a schooner of gorgeous pale ale, right on the waterfront. Next, I caught the train to Cottesloe Beach in time for sunset. I greedily gobbled down some scrummy fish and chips as the sun, partly obscured by clouds, threw ethereal strands of light across the skies and seagulls scraped for scraps of my dinner. I did think about getting an early night, but the rocking Cottesloe Beach Hotel changed my mind. Looking out across the infinite Indian Ocean, the pub is famed for its legendary Sunday sessions. Cold beer, loud music and the gorgeous WA girls had my head spinning like a drunk on a merry-go-round.
Rockingham Dolphins is a pleasingly ethical company. Owner Terry Howson spent a year befriending the finned ones before starting tours. And they’re still treated with the utmost respect – we’re not allowed in the water if there’s any courting going on (good job really, as it’s essentially a gang rape).
We’re reminded these are wild animals, and there’s signs to look for if a dolphin is getting aggressive – and we mustn’t touch them. The plan was to form a line by holding onto the person in front’s belt and be led by a guide who powered us along with a silent motor.
We were excitedly scanning the waters for fins, when suddenly someone calls out. And there they are, charging through the water alongside us, like some sort of emergency services, called out to entertain us. The boat stops. We slide snorkels over our heads, and make a hectic dash for the wet stuff.
In a flash, I’m in, peering into the murky water. All around me I can hear a unique kind of squeaking – angry cat meets giggling baby. My eyes are darting everywhere…
Where are they?
Our guide points to the right, and I see three dolphins bombing boisterously through the waves, criss-crossing each other, just two metres away. They eye us with a mixture of amusement – we look like a giant centipede after all – inquisitiveness and familiar tolerance. We swim along together for 10 seconds or so and then they get bored, pass underneath us and shoot off. But more are quickly sighted and everyone’s smiling and pointing. Then I have a truly magical moment.
Everyone is looking to the left. For no reason, I turn my head right, and spy a mother and calf gliding past unnoticed. I decide to keep them to myself and not tell anyone. We swim in unison for a while, before they too tire of our slow progress and move up through the gears. But I’m sure the mother winked at me, before disappearing from view. I must have seen at least 20 dolphins that memorable morning.
I spent the afternoon perusing Perth some more, visiting the Swan Bell Tower, the aquarium, the zoo and lazing around watching surfers and soaking up more of the unmistakable Sunday vibe on some of the local beaches.
Other than a sprinkling of backpackers, the wine cruise boat I boarded the next morning was choc-a-block with pensioners.
“A retirement home’s annual day-out, eh,” I thought pessimistically. Yet a few hours later we were all singing along to Max Bygraves like we went way back. Two top wineries conquered and a mighty pile of top nosh were knocked back as we cruised the Swan River (where the legendary Rolf Harris used to swim daily).
The entertaining staff got the tipsy tasters in a fully-fledged sing-a-long – though unfortunately no Smiths’ classics were on the agenda. The pensioners were soon dancing in the aisles like they were 17. I had to feign a sport-induced injury to avoid dancing to ABBA with one toothless, drunken old dear.
The cruise taught me two things. Firstly, you can’t beat getting pissed with pensioners. And secondly, maybe not every day in Perth is like an average Sunday.
The experience: Rockingham Dolphin Tours, swimming with dolphins costs $155, Ph: (08) 9591 1333; Captain Cook Cruises, full-day tours cost $109, Ph: (08) 9325 3341; Globe Backpackers, Ph: (08) 9321 4080; Governor Robinsons Backpackers, Ph: (08) 9328 3200.