My husband and I have begun to talk about an overseas holiday at the end of the year. I’m amazed how quickly the mention of a holiday sends us to our tablets to research new venues and the old ones we love and return to often.
‘It would be fun to act as if we were tourists in Perth for a change,’ I suggested. ‘Let’s find some places we haven’t been for a while. And some new ones. Let’s pretend we’re seeing this city for the first time.’
Before we go anywhere new, John and I make lists of the major and minor things that we’d like to do while we’re there. With a list that includes experiences that take a whole day to those that take half-an-hour or less, we never run out of ideas.
Because we are an old man and an old woman, we build in lots of rests – but that doesn’t mean we always find a park bench or have afternoon naps. Often we catch a passing bus or ferry to an out-lying suburb or village we would not otherwise see. Our spontaneous bus trips have yielded some of our most exciting travel events and richest memories, to say nothing of the best meals in local cafes where tourists rarely venture.
A few minutes research was all it took to find plenty of new things to do in Perth. With the scene so easily set for a mini-break, we invited my daughter, Anne to join us. Together, we made a list of twenty places close to Perth that could fulfil our fantasy of a short holiday.
Each morning for a few days we set off, open to the wonder we might experience if we were in some distant location. Days with temperatures in the low 30s, sandwiched between heat waves, were perfect for our too brief stay-at-home-holiday. We didn’t always stick to the list; in the end we made several spur-of-the moment decisions which were also very satisfying.
One new place we wanted to see was the Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park, opened at the end of 2011. Part of Kings Park overlooks the Swan River and the city of Perth. It is said to be one of the largest inner city parks in the world. Until a few years ago, I hated the thought of development of the Park, but having seen the changes wrought by the Kings Park Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, I now welcome the new. This innovation did not disappoint.
We knew we’d enjoy our visit better if we had a child or two with us, so we enlisted my granddaughters Amelia Nancarrow (12) and Claire Linton and her daughter (my great-granddaughter), Elizabeth, who will be three in March.
Designed and constructed with the help of a large donation from the mining company, and with the support of other benefactors, the 60 000 square metres of bush has been landscaped to provide an area where children can be free to build cubbies, climb rocks and towers of different heights, swing from ropes and trees and become immersed in free play in the bush.
The natural-looking creeks and pools took me back seventy years, to when Dog Swamp in Yokine – now the site of a large shopping centre five kilometres from the centre of Perth – was indeed a swamp. Dog Swamp was two block from where I lived with my parents in North Perth. It was where we built cubby houses in the bush, and the ‘big kids’ made canoes from old corrugated roofing iron. We little ones watched enviously as they paddled (and often sank) their craft, while we played in the murky water on the edges. I have no memory of adult supervision – in those days the big kids were expected to look after the little ones.
Two Nature Activity Officers greeted us at the entrance. They were clear that this is not a playground but a naturescape, and that there is a limited visitor capacity at all times. Bookings are essential for large groups. School classes are invited to participate in the education programs provided.
There are a few simple rules:
- Adult supervision of all children is mandatory
- Stay safe – watch out for the natural hazards one expects in the bush: prickly bushes, spiders, bees, snakes and water
- Take your rubbish home
- No picnic rugs, folding chairs or anything that detracts from the natural appearance of the area.
Other rules preclude throwing rocks; riding bikes, scooters or skateboards; pets; smoking and alcohol; balls; large shelters and birthday parties.
But the rule I like best of all says, ‘Shh…Listen and be gentle. You are entering a fragile, natural environment. Please look after each other.’
A gentle hush permeated the area for the whole time we were there. We heard birds, but no raised voices; there was laughter and obvious cooperation between children and parents. Children of all ages, including Amelia and Elizabeth, challenged themselves to climb rocks and ropes; paddle in pools with sharp, rocky bottoms; walk on logs across streams; find tadpoles and little fish; build cubby houses.
There was a level of intensity through the area that I don’t very often observe, as children learned about the environment by playing in and reacting with it, rather than on playground equipment and playing fields. Parents and grandparents sat on logs and watched the children, or involved in their youngsters’ play.
This grandmother/great-grandmother went home feeling peaceful and full of creative energy. Our tourist outing to the Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park was an eye-opener, a trip down memory lane and a joy. I can’t wait to go back.