Our fortnight is Australia is almost over. I know we haven't blogged much, but that’s mostly because the internet service in every one of the five places we’ve stayed has been lousy. I don’t know if that is symptomatic, or simply bad luck. Whenever we did have a decent connection, we focussed mostly on posting a few photos.
Having said all that, I’m still formulating my overall impression of this place. Western Australia is a naturally beautiful corner of the world. The countryside reminds me a bit of California, a bit of Italy, a bit of Florida, and a lot of South Africa. The beaches go on forever, and never seem to be busy (even though we were here during summer vacation). The density of people per unit of natural beauty is very low - maybe this is what California was like in the 1950’s.
We’ve seen town after town of lovely, well-kept homes. Even in the less affluent rural areas, things were almost always neat and tidy (although Southern Cross had a certain “Crocodile Dundee” feel to it). Along the coast, it seems like every house and neighbourhood is being prepped for Better Homes and Gardens. I also like the fact they aren’t faux versions of historic architecture. There’s a clean, modern look to most places, but they still have interesting details and character.
More than once I’ve asked Ursula “where are the poor people?” We haven’t seen anything that looks like public housing or decrepit older homes. This is in sharp contrast with almost every other country we’ve visited, but especially South Africa, where serious poverty was evident on the edge of every community.
Granted, we’ve only seen a small corner of the state with the highest average income. Australia is a similar size to Canada, so I assume there are significant differences between regions. But still, we have driven more than 2000 km in two weeks. No slums. No junkyards. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen a single homeless person. It almost feels sanitized.
In terms of people, Australians remind me of Canadians - for better and for worse. I’ve heard Aussies described as outgoing and gregarious, but that hasn’t been our experience. They are polite, but cool and aloof. When we’re out walking on the beach or street, people rarely acknowledge us or say hello. When we’re in a store and speak with an obvious accent, nobody ever asks us a question, and they don’t offer much information either. We had more (and more meaningful) conversations in Israel and Turkey and South Africa, even Vietnam. Maybe we aren’t a novelty to Aussies the way we were in those places. Maybe they don’t get many foreign tourists. Maybe they don’t give a shit. I don’t know.
When we were considering adding Australia to our trip about a month ago, we knew our regular $300 a day budget would not suffice. After looking at expected costs, I calculated that two weeks in Australia would cost about $3000 more than staying in southeast Asia ($1500 for airfares and another $100 a day for regular expenses). We knew that prices for accommodation, as well as food and drink, threatened to be real budget busters if we weren’t careful.
Turns out, we were right. Other than in Perth, we paid $150-200 for cabins in campgrounds. Coffee is never less than $4.50. Today we paid $4.80 for small ice creams. Yesterday, I paid almost $30 for a six pack of Heineken and two bags of chips. We’ve only eaten two meals in real restaurants: Ursula and I went out in Perth ($56 for 2 burgers and 2 beers); and last night we went for fish and chips ($18 for a single serving in a basic, cafeteria style place). Fortunately, groceries and the rental car were reasonable and many of the tourist activities were free or inexpensive. (Note: we did manage to stay on our budget by being very careful.)
Looking back, I’m really glad we decided to come here. We’ve all enjoyed our stay. This is a beautiful and unspoiled part of the world. I can easily understand why people who live here like it a lot, even if it is very isolated. If somebody offered me an interesting job in Perth for a year or two, I think I’d take it if the salary was sufficient to cover the high cost of living - and I wouldn’t say that about everywhere we’ve been over the past 5 months!