The Red Tour Bus

Ok, so I’m a tourist.  Admitting that line in a crowd of backpackers would seem like dread to most in the trekking/backpacking community but I’ll admit that even though I like to backpack, I also like to act like a tourist.  There is something special, something extraordinary about the kind of people who backpack and as most are on a limited budget, the only way to find and hang out with like minded people is to frequent and stay at backpacker hotels and hostels.  But this isn’t always the most comfortable option especially if there are a couple of unshowered tree hugging hippies or someone who has a severe snoring condition.  When you can’t sleep and relax where you’re residing, sometimes vacation seems like work.  And so, I like to – from time to time – stay in a nice hotel, take an organized tour and otherwise mix in with the families and retired people.  Sorry backpacker friends, sometimes I do.

I saw an advertisement for a tour bus company in Perth that ran busses all over town to the primary tourist destinations.  The cost for a two day “on and off” pass was only $27 AUD.  The busses made a “figure 8” path across the city and pickups at each stop were about 90 minutes to two hours from each drop-off so that you could spend an hour and a half or 3 hours (or longer) at each stop before the bus came by again to pick you up.  The tours are narrated by a guide and the top deck of the bus was open so that you could get some sun and see and hear the city as you toured.  I decided to give the bus tour a try and found a convenient pickup at the end of Barracks where it dead ended at the wharf.

As we pulled away the announcer broadcast that we would drive up to the top of the hill in King’s Park that has a commanding view of the city.  As we began driving up the hill I recognized this area because I had walked here a few days previously looking for a bank.  I looked again at my map and realized that this bus didn’t travel very far and most of the stops were in the city center where I had already visited.  I looked again and again and realized that none of the important stops on this bus circuit was outside of walking distance; I could have just taken their free map, walked to the places where they go and I could have saved twenty seven bucks!  Oh well, I was on the bus so I had might as well enjoy the drive and learn a little about the city.

As we climbed the hill to reach King’s Park we passed some of the houses of the government of the State of Western Australia.  The commentator explained that Western Australia has 3 levels of government – more than any other Australian State and more than most countries.  Hmmm… I wonder if this has to do with the high prices here?  I’m told again and again that the mining boom is inflating the prices here and while that does make some sense I wonder if a little less government would also help.  Most of what we see as Perth today has been built in the last 20 years.  Just a few decades ago Perth was a sleepy little backwater town; it gained notoriety when the team from this city bested the American’s and captured the America’s Cup yachting race – defeating the Americans for the first time ever.  The following year the race was held here and millions were poured into infrastructure and building upgrades.

As we neared the top of the hill at King’s Park we could see a view of Perth below; it was a bird’s eye view and the best view I had seen of the city yet.  Once again I’m defeated by the limitations of my SLR lens; it is a fast enough lens (f2.8 throughout its 28-75mm range) but the 28mm acts as a 35mm in the small sensor SLR digital body.  An 18mm wide angle lens would be more versatile and even better yet would have been an SLR camera upgrade as the new cameras take multiple shots and “stitch” them together to make super wide angle shots.  Now that I’ve switched from taking 3 lenses to 1 in order to save on space and weight I’m running into a lot of occasions where a 28mm lens is not wide enough.  The new camera would have fixed that problem.  Additionally, the new Sony DSLR camera has an amazing HDR feature that allows for the capture of dark and lit contrast in the photo (like when you’re shooting a person in front of a bright background – the new camera will capture the low light of their face without “whitewashing” the background).  Throughout this trip I’ll be kicking myself for not having upgraded cameras before I left.  And while I took a photo of downtown Perth from King’s Park hill, it isn’t quite as wide as I would have preferred as there were more buildings to the left and more of the Black Swan River to the right:

King’s Hill Park’s grounds are beautifully laid out with stunning views of the city.  The park’s centerpiece is the war memorial to the soldiers of Western Australia; I had an Aussie tourist capture a photo of me in front of the fountain and war memorial (below).  It was a beautifully laid out memorial and in the center of the pond is an eternally burning flame in tribute to the soldiers who fell in the line of duty (second photo below).  In the background behind the flame I see in the photo one of the past campaigns of the Australian Army and I can’t help but notice that the location on the wall (Gaza) is still a focal point of conflict to this day.  I am not sure if the marker for Gaza is the conflict with the Ottoman Turks in World War I or if it was from the British occupation of Palestine after World War II before they were driven out by Israeli terrorists.

As I walked around the monuments I came across a plaque for the fallen Australian, British and American forces in the defense of Australia from the Japanese in 1942 and later years.  I found this plaque uniquely interesting because my grandfather was on the first ship to sail from America to the defense of Australia in early 1942.  His unit was mobilized and sailed out of New York, through the Caribbean dodging hurricanes, through the Panama Canal, down the western coast of South America, west across the South Pacific above Antarctica and north along the eastern coast of Australia.  The Regiment landed in New Caledonia and fought in Papua New Guinea, Guadalcanal and eventually worked their way all the way to mainland Japan.  My grandfather was lucky in that he became sick early in the campaign and was shipped home; ultimately his Regiment was so decimated that they were absorbed by another and had over 75% casualties.

While touring some of the other memorial sites I saw a large mausoleum with the inscriptions of all of the Western Australian service men who had died and I noticed that my family surname was listed 4 times in various units and battles.  I can see that Australia was settled by some of my Scottish kin and I’ve found my family surname all over Scotland, England, Ireland, the United States and Canada and now I see that we’re all over Australia as well.

The tour atop King’s Hill wound through the Botanical gardens and we saw some lovely fountains, statues, ponds and all sorts of fauna but I really liked how the driveways were lined with beautiful Eucalyptus trees, each street with a different sub-species.  I didn’t realize how many different varieties of Eucalyptus trees there were but as we passed each variety you could see the variations in trunk, bark and leaves.  I thought that the driveways leading in and out of the Botanical Gardens looked especially beautiful when lined with these native trees and they made for a “natural” look when compared to the green lawns and lush gardens of Perth’s City Center.


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