Corona Time in the World's Most Isolated Capital City
When I first arrived in Perth, Western Australia, back in 2000 – in what now feels like an eternity ago – I felt like I’d stepped back in time. Everything closed early, nothing was open on a Sunday and if you wanted to dine out mid-week, you had to spend a good hour scouring the barren “cityscape” for that ridiculously rare Open sign. And even then, while the exceptional place held the honour of merely welcoming patrons mid week, it invariably possessed as much ambience as Mars.
Twenty years ago, if you wanted a wee tipple to whet your whistle after work, your only option was to dine in before a drink passed your lips, so ancient were Perth’s Draconian laws. After living in Europe for several years, I had officially stepped out of the TARDIS and into the Twilight Zone of the Wild West. Cue tumbleweed, harmonica and howling coyote.
When I crossed the Nullabor desert- a wide yawning chasm of treeless plains and emus that separates my home town of Adelaide and Perth-after arriving back on Australian soil following an eight year sojourn, my arrival heralded a new beginning. It was all about wide, sunny skies and windsurfing, bbq’s, balmy nights and cold beer. The reliable Fremantle Doctor (an afternoon south westerly that cools its sweltering residents) blew its famous breath and triangular sails dotted the glistening Indian Ocean. WA’s fine white, squeaky sand scorched the tender feet of the uninitiated under a sun that practically blinded anyone foolish enough to step outside without sunglasses and hat.
After a three year stint in Wales where windsurfing the choppy Irish Sea required (combined with a nerve of steel,) full steamer, hoodie, boots and gloves (where fingers would turn blue regardless,) squinting, sunscreen and squeaky sand were a welcome reprieve.
But after a time, when the novelty of sun, salt and sea wore off and a holiday elsewhere beckoned, I gawked at the price of airline tickets from a destination that seemed a million miles from anywhere. I was quickly reminded of the crushingly long times sat squished in a metal fuselage when your city is famously remote. I always begrudged the distance, the remoteness of a place that is closer to East Timor than its nation’s capital city, the endless hours of long distance travel if your destination is north of the equator, the ‘tack on’ to overseas holidays of four extra days to simply allow for transit times, not to mention the inevitable, dreaded jet-lag.
And then there’s the long delivery times. Locals would joke, resigned to the fact that speedy postage was never within reach, flouting the alternative acronym of Western Australia — WA code for Wait Awhile. Yep, wait we sure did. Suitably apt when ordering anything from overseas, or even interstate. Sometimes items would arrive in the post I had totally forgotten about. And then there’s the live acts. Sometimes bands wouldn’t even visit here, with the tally of transportation, equipment, production and crew costs rendering it financially void. Heck, even our bank cards come from some place else. Yup, we were a place like no other, a backwater of isolation or a city of individual and unique divide, depending on your perspective. I live in Australia’s largest and least densely populated state with a capital city whose remoteness is unlike any other comparable city in the world.
I remember watching Blur’s Damon Albarn on stage a few years ago. He looked out at the sea of faces before him and said in his solemn, sexy voice: “It’s a long way from anywhere, (pause) here.” He was probably suffering jet-lag after travelling from the other side of the country. The tyranny of distance had worn thin and I pined for a thriving metropolis where humanity hummed and the beating pulse of culture, music, art and ideas thrived. Where everything stayed open til all hours and no waiter or barman ushered you out their doors because it was getting close to kiddy-curfew closing time. I wanted to be in a grown up city that wasn’t a million miles from anywhere else.
And then came the virus. That multiplying, pernicious plague that haunted the world and occupied our news headlines, conversations and ultimately, our own way of life. We read about its effects far, far away, from the sanitised and safe confines of our lives, until it was here, on our doorstep. It was no longer something we read about that happened to other countries or people in far flung places.
China then Italy, Spain, the UK and the US were held hostage to its diseased ravages. Borders closed along with everything else and our new reality ensued. Footage of Wuhan citizens being welded into their apartments, body-bags and makeshift hospitals being knocked up in days signalled a new era. Fear of the unknown and the ubiquitous word ‘unprecedented’ became the media and politicians’ word of choice.
In Perth, the world’s most isolated capital city, what did we do? We did what all Australians do best. We hit the beach. We surfed, we cycled beach paths, ran, swam and walked like we’ve never walked before. We did whatever we could in the only place we were allowed to venture and took our pent up frustrations to the coast. Nature was our liberator and takeaway coffee business never had it so good. The sun shone for most of March through to May and suddenly, living in an isolated remote place had its perks.
‘Working from home’ was suddenly code for ‘Early morning surf/coffee.’ Surfers dotted the shoreline like shiny black seals while land lubbers pounded the pavement and cyclists weaved around them. Handmade signs with messages of ‘Be Kind’ and ‘We’re in This Together’ were strung along coastal path fences, reminding us all that paradoxically, we are not alone in our isolation.
Suddenly, this vast place a million miles from anywhere didn’t seem so bad. With borders closed, and news of global doom and gloom flooding my news feed, I looked out across at that vast, blue Indian Ocean and realised that maybe being isolated in pariah Perth wasn’t such a bad thing. If this stretch of stunning, sunny coast was my lock-down locale, hell, this was simply paradise on Earth. Suddenly, Perth, its tyranny of distance and its relatively small population and wide open spaces didn’t seem so bad. In fact, those very traits were the opposite, they were a blessing. And then I thought of that famous quote by Wayne Dyer…
‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change’
Sometimes it takes an event, a shift in circumstances or a visit elsewhere to realise how good you have things on the home-front. For me, it took a global pandemic. While I’m looking forward to visiting foreign shores once again, for now, this place of quarantine of clean, wide open spaces, of big sky and pristine ocean isn’t the golden prison I used to think it was. Living in the world’s most isolated capital city, it seems, right now at least, is simply gold.