Tag Archives: Swan River

A Point about the Mill

Don’t laugh. I visited the Old Mill along the Swan River. It’s one of the oldest structures in Perth, which makes it a point of interest. However, the Plan to Visit the Mill usually has the effect of making my Aussie friends laugh. This is usually followed by the “Oh no, she’s serious” Look. Actually, I think I put this mildly.

No, it's not a giant beehive

The one person who didn’t laugh at my suggestion was my Aussie friend Robyn, who is also my Local Culture Guru. So, we set off one Saturday morning to visit the Old Mill. This would have been a brilliant plan, except that the Mill opens late on Saturdays. So we decided to kill time at the Atomic Café on Mends Street. We order tea and I make a wonderful discovery – Russian Caravan. I could get used to more of this.

Refuelled and ready to tackle windmills, we make a quick detour to pick up Robyn’s friend. It’s now three against the windmill. It’s still not open. This time we decide to sit on the river embankment and dangle our feet over the side. There’s a boy scouts meeting nearby. The BBQ smells good. Finally, we head back to the mill.

Third time’s a charm. An elderly couple who look as old as the Mill itself amble over to open the gate. The only windmills I’ve seen before this are the Suzlon turbines in south India. Perth’s windmill reminds me of postcards of Holland. The Old Mill should never have been at that spot though. The original builder, William Shenton, wanted his mill at Guildford. The town planners advised him to build it halfway between Guildford and Fremantle, on the south shore of the Swan River. Shenton’s mill opened in 1837 and lasted about twenty years. Since then, it has served as police quarters, a chicken run, and a failed resort. For some reason, this last makes me think of Moulin Rouge.

The old millstone with its worn out grooves is still there. So is the miller’s cottage and some very old furniture. Robyn thinks the beds are small. I’m not sure what to think. Meanwhile, Robyn’s friend has been doing a lot of thinking about how the millstone works. How does the grain get ground, anyway? We ponder over this point for a few minutes. Then, properly stymied, we decide to find lunch at Fremantle – this is, after all, where we really should be on a Saturday afternoon. So, I put a little mental tick on my to-do list and follow my friends out the little gate. That’s one windmill off my mind.

Blue Moons and Black Swans

You have to admit it’s a catchy title, but the full moon in January is really a wolf moon – there will be one on the thirtieth. We did begin the year with a blue moon though. It’s amazing, the amount of useless trivia I store in my head. As for that other rarity, the black swan…well, therein lies the tale.

The black swan is the state bird of Western Australia. It figures on their flag, it appears on the Coat of Arms of the City of Perth, and there are even black swan mosaics on the pavements in Perth city. Even the eggs I buy come stamped with swans.

Of course, it’s only fitting that the city lies on the banks of the Swan River, so named by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh. The Aborigines have a different story to tell about the river though – it was created when a giant serpent called the Waugyl wound its way to the sea, leaving a deep track that filled up with rainwater. I wonder whether the weekend sailing enthusiasts ever think about this when they cruise through what is essentially a snake track.

The other ‘black swan’ I encountered this year was Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on unpredictable phenomena – like the world wars, Harry Potter, computers, Google, and neckties. Although why he should think ties are a black swan, is a mystery to me. It’s a pretty sure bet that people will always do unpredictable and ridiculous things in the name of fashion – which, of course, seem like good ideas at the time. Still, the book was interesting enough to hold my attention for a few chapters.

What really intrigues me is that in spite of all this talk of black swans, I still haven’t seen the real deal. My Aussie friend offered to take me “to see the swans” when she was showing me around. What, see a bird I’ve already seen stuffed in the museum and swimming in the zoo? I asked her to take me to the beach instead, showing (I thought) some true Australian spirit. Surely black swans were to Perth what pigeons are to Mumbai?

Apparently not. I’ve spent nearly a year in Perth now and have learnt to spot willy wagtails, spotted doves, kookaburras and galahs. No black swans yet. So that’s next on my cultural to-do list. Spot the black swan in the wild. That would be a feather in my cap indeed. Until then, the black swan will remain a blue moon for me.

Swanning Around a River

I saw a cattle cruiser – sounds catchy, doesn’t it. Actually, what I saw was a cattle ship in Fremantle harbour. I was on a night cruise down the Swan river, and a cattle ship by night looks very impressive – sort of like looking at Mumbai’s 5-star Hotel Trident with all the lights turned on. I’m not trying to insult the hotel here, just trying to compliment the cattle cruiser (my name sounds much better, although I expect some sailor is cringing at the description).

One of my Aussie lecturers winced visibly when I waxed enthusiastic about this highlight of my cruise. She probably thinks I’m mad, but for a person who’s seen Mumbai’s metro, the cattle cruiser looks like a luxury liner. I don’t know if the cattle are headed for death row, but it sure looks like a comfortable ride.

What I really should be thrilled about is the Captain Cook cruise down the Swan River. We ‘set sail’ from the Barrack Street jetty at around 8pm. Perth by night is not as lighted as Mumbai, probably because no one works in the CBD on a weekend when the footy final is on – or any other weekend, for that matter. Still, the floodlit ferris wheel, the blue-glowing Swan Bells and sundry other tall buildings looked pretty impressive. I even discovered an Indian restaurant by the jetty – Annalakshmi – something to check out later.

The Swan River is probably best seen by day, but there’s a certain charm to puttering down the river at night with loud music blaring on the dance floor. It’s kind of paradoxical that while I was trying my best to do graceful gyrations like my African friend – she of the lip balm fame – other people were sitting down to a quiet dinner with a river view.
After one glass of wine, and a lot of shifting from my left foot to my right, I decided the whole dance thing was over-rated.

“You need to loosen up,” advised my friend. “Swing your hair,” she said, suiting the action to the words.

“I can’t,” said I in some desperation. “I need to cook.”

“What! Why?”

“The only time I dance is when I’m in the kitchen, with sixties music in my ears and a knife in my hand.”

Which probably begs a tale about my cooking…but that’s another entry.