My first two weeks in Perth (pronounced more like Pear-th in American) were spent acclimating to Australian culture. I was lucky to have local guides in my friend Louise and her (then boyfriend, now husband) Louis. From Louise’s house I spent each morning scouring the newspaper for both a job and a room to rent.
I became the world’s worst bartender at Steve’s Hotel (“hotels” in Australia are actually bars). At that point in my life I had only poured beer from a keg and opened twist-top wine. Even the range of beers was foreign to someone whose pallet was more into Budweiser. I learned quickly, but was also thankful that Australia doesn’t buy into the tipping culture as a primary means to earn money.
I found a room to rent in Nedlands with a lovely woman named Simone, who introduced me to her friends and was kind enough to take me on many of her fabulous adventures. I still spent most of my time in the “suburbs” of Perth, venturing only once or twice into the city proper.
Holidays Down Under
In Australia, Halloween is considered an American holiday, and trick-or-treating wasn’t widely practiced. A 2013 Washington Post article digs into why. Thankfully I didn’t have to skip a year of one of my favorite holidays. We were invited to a party in the no-longer in use Fremantle Prison, and rented costumes from a local shop that catered mostly to theatrical productions.
One of the biggest culture shocks is going from a winter holiday season that is about hot cocoa and sleigh rides to one that is more centered around mimosas on the beach and brandy-infused pudding. The Snooke family took me in on their farm for Christmas day and boxing day. We returned to Perth to celebrate the New Year, with a sunset into the Indian Ocean to cap off 2001 and the Perth Cup to celebrate the first day of 2002.
Louise and Louis made sure I saw more than just the city culture of Western Australia. I was treated to mimosas on the beach and a lovely traditional Italian-Australian dinner in the Margaret River region with the De Chiera family. Two trips to Louise’s farm gave me the opportunity to wake up to flocks of cockatoos, attend an annual soirée, ride in the back of a truck to look for kangaroos, and catch prawns (known there as yabbies).
Weekends in Perth were spent at wineries and beaches. I watched Moulin Rouge on the big screen at Kings Park and Botanic Garden. I had my first IPA with Simone at a brewery in Fremantle (that was previously a crocodile farm). I went to a Halloween party in Fremantle Prison. I rode a bike for the first time in a decade and dodged quokkas (kind of like mini-kangaroos) while on a weekend holiday on Rottnest Island. My entire experience was made possible by friends and their families, and I will be eternally grateful that they were willing to give a wide-eyed American the ultimate Aussie working holiday.