Perth, walking tour: visit the new Optus Stadium and other highlights

Money is everything; money isn't everything. Take Perth, the capital of what was once ambitiously self-styled as the "State of Excitement". During the last mining boom the city, and for that matter the nation, was awash with profits from the export of iron ore to China.

Those were indeed exciting times for those reaping the untold riches, but for anyone visiting for even a few days the experience could be palpably impoverished. In the rush to bank, and spend, the windfall, Perth completely forgot about all but its boom-focused tourists.

But, here I am, years later, back in almost unrecognisable Perth, a city that is enjoying a transformative surge of new, and in many cases, bold post-boom developments that most certainly don't overlook the visitor but which, in fact, embrace them.

The world's most isolated city (if you ignore the fact that it's much closer to Singapore than the bigger cities "over-east"), Perth made it on to The New York Times' "52 places to go in 2019" list this year with the paper even highlighting cricket, that arcane concept for Americans, in a nod to the city's new state-of-the-art, 60,000-seat, multi-purpose stadium.

Today on this visit, coincidentally, I'm attending a one-day cricket match between Australia and South Africa at the new stadium. It's effectively a lavish, billion-dollar by-product of the mining boom providing Perth with an instant image-building behemoth in a similar vein to which the capital of South Australia benefited from its own enormously successful redevelopment of Adelaide Oval

But, rather than taking public transport to Burswood, a riverside suburb of sorts where the stadium is located about five kilometres from Perth's CBD, I'm opting for the long way there in the company of a guide from Two Feet & a Heartbeat Walking Tours. The objective of this leisurely two-hour or so stroll is to gain a sense of how Perth has transformed itself from a not city to a hot city.

STOP ONE: ONCE WERE WARRIORS

Our walking tour to Optus Stadium begins early on a Sunday morning at Yagan Square, named after a legendary Aboriginal warrior from the 19th century and billed as the city's new heart. The project, which cost nearly $74 million, is not quite a far-flung Federation Square but Perthites can be justifiably proud of this new public space with its orange-coloured oxidised metal facade.

It has, after all, reconnected the once dislocated central business district with Northbridge, a lively, once seedy, inner-city suburb and entertainment neighbourhood with Yagan Square itself featuring a "market hall" for foodies, an amphitheatre in a seat- and tree-lined setting and a children's playground.

Built around and under the wonderfully-named Horseshoe Bridge and adjacent to the main railway and bus stations, there's a striking nine-metre high sculpture of an Aboriginal figure of the local Noongar people and traditional owners at the entrance to Yagan Square as well as a chunky, 45-metre digital tower, the screens of which are regrettably given over to advertising much of the time. See westernaustralia.com; mra.wa.gov.au

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STOP TWO: ROO AWAKENING

From here we head across Wellington Street to another square, Forrest Place, where Perth's monumental freestone and granite GPO, opened in 1923, has been turned over to a Swedish clothing store chain.

Aside from the imposing building itself, with its interior decked out in famous Western Australian jarrah, the main point of interest in Forrest Place is an Australian coat of arms attached to the GPO. It features the kangaroo inexplicably turning its back on the emu and not facing the central shield.

There are boundless theories as to why this is the case including a suggestion that the sculptor had been concerned about not being paid for his commission in the austere years following World War I with the marsupial's head turned contemptuously in the direction of the then State Treasury building.

STOP THREE: ENTER THE GOD ZONE

Heading up Barrack Street and into the CBD proper, we pass QT Perth, one of the many new major hotels that have opened in recent years filling a void left by the mining boom when scarcely no new properties were constructed or refurbished as the city's hoteliers for a time enjoyed the world's highest occupancy rates.

We're striding towards one of Perth's most impressive pieces of restoration and redevelopment in the form of Cathedral Square, more or less the historical epicentre of the city and including a cluster of imposing government piles known as the State Buildings or Old Treasury Buildings.

For architecture and heritage lovers, an exploration of Cathedral Square, with its diverse array of architecture and public art, is akin to opening a box of fine chocolates. During their lifetime the buildings have been used variously as government offices, a police court and cell block, the treasury, general post office and the office of Premier and Cabinet.

Now, after years of being left vacant the State Buildings are one of Perth's most glamorous destinations. The buildings, with a spectacular centrepiece atrium postal hall with lathe and plaster ceilings, external balconies and a slate and copper roof, are now the home to three The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Good Food Guide hatted restaurants, Wildflower, Petition Kitchen and Long Chim. See cathedralsquare.com.au; statebuildings.com

STOP FOUR: UPPING THE VOLUMES

Although it's dominated by the hulkingly elegant State Buildings and the convict-built, late-19th century St Georges Cathedral, from which the precinct takes its name, the square is also home to some outstanding contemporary architecture.

One of Western Australia's most accomplished cultural sons, the late architect Kerry Hill, designed the seven-storey, elegantly cylindrical City of Perth Library, tucked away in a corner of Cathedral Square. The library includes a history centre, young adult and children's floors and an outdoor terrace overlooking the square. The award-winning Hill, lauded for his design of Aman resorts throughout Asia, was the architect of the adjacent five-star-plus, 48-room COMO The Treasury Hotel.

Nearby, and even more concealed than the library within Cathedral Square is the Cadogan Song School with its covered though open-sided white spiral staircase and walkway that subtly mimics the features of the cathedral itself. See perthcathedral.org

STOP FIVE: CROSS PURPOSES

After passing through the elongated extent of the CBD and a spattering of inner-city residential areas, we reach the somewhat forlorn and redundant Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) ground that Optus Stadium has superseded. Not far away, in order to get to the other side of the Swan River, where the new arena is located, it's necessary to cross a new processional pedestrian bridge.

The dramatic serpentine design of the 72-metre-high and 370-metre-long Matagarup Bridge resembles, some say, a Wagyl, which according to Noongar culture is a snake-like Dreamtime creature responsible for creating the Swan River and other waterways around present-day Perth and south-west Western Australia.

STOP SIX: GAME ON

After a few hours walking under a rapidly baking Western Australian sun, we finally reach our objective, Optus Stadium with its bronze facade fashioned from anodised aluminium and some of its five tiers seemingly submerged below ground level making it resemble a shallow designer salad bowl.

Aside from the action that occurs within its not-a-single-bad-seat arena and its light fabric-clad roof, visitors will eventually be able to ascend to the top of the stadium, as well as also clambering over the superstructure of the neighbouring Matagarup Bridge, as part of a plan to attract more visitors to the precinct outside of event times.

In the meantime, the bridge makes for a rousing, if a little footsore, means of approaching the new stadium, Australia's third largest behind the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Sydney's ANZ Stadium. This year the stadium is set to host a suite of coveted events including the Bledisloe Cup of rugby between Australia and New Zealand, rugby league's State of Origin and a football match featuring Manchester United.

As for the result of that one-day cricket game between Australia and South Africa I came to watch? Well, the home side lost, and lost badly, but after what I've seen of this revitalised city in which the match was staged you'd have to conclude, dare I say, that Perth was the real winner. See optusstadium.com.au

FIVE MORE BUILDINGS AND PRECINCTS WORTH A LOOK

ELIZABETH QUAY

A sort of Darling Harbour West, Elizabeth Quay, with Kings Park and the city skyline as its backdrop, is a flashy new waterfront precinct located on the banks of the Swan River full of restaurants, bars, cafes and, soon, a five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel. See westernaustralia.com

THE BELL TOWER

The historic bells inside this distinctive tower, which looks a little like an un-aerodynamic rocket plonked near Elizabeth Quay, were donated to the people of Western Australia as part of the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations. See thebelltower.com.au

COUNCIL HOUSE

By night this modernist high-rise building from the early 1960s on St Georges Terrace, Perth's lengthy main thoroughfare, is spectacularly illuminated by computer-controlled multi-coloured lights. See heritageperth.com

FREMANTLE PORTS ADMINISTRATION BUILDING

On display in the foyer of this mid-1960s, 11-storey building, constructed in the post-war international style, is a mural that was inspired by Portunus, the Roman god of rivers and seaports. See fremantleports.com.au

HIGH STREET, FREMANTLE

One of the most beautifully-preserved streetscapes in Australia, High Street, Fremantle, is lined with a large quantity of 19th century heritage buildings leading to the Roundhouse, a former prison dating to 1830 and Western Australia's oldest building. See westernaustralia.com

TRIP NOTES

Anthony Dennis visited as a guest of QT Perth and Tourism Western Australia

MORE

traveller.com.au/perth

westernaustralia.com

STAY

QT Perth opened in the middle of the CBD last year. Doubles start from $230 a night for a QT king room. See qthotelsandresorts.com.au

TOUR

Two Feet & a Heartbeat Walking Tours runs guided tours of Perth and Fremantle, starting from $40 a person. See twofeet.com.au

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