Monday, June 28, 2010

A little city, a bigger city and a train in between

Do you love being right?  Oh, is that just me.  Well I'd always suspected that living in a little wee city that has a much bigger city right on the doorstep was going to be a winning formula. It seems I was right. 

Both days last weekend we made the trip up to Perth. Day one we went to the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (more soon but it was good!) and day two we went to Perth Upmarket (more soon but it was good!).  I am quite greedy and these small tastes of Perth have not left me satiated; they have left me wanting more!

This has put a spanner-in-the-works re my plan for my-new-life-in-Mandurah.  The plan was that once I have our new home sorted and children enrolled in schools and all the deadlydull stuff that four people require in the modern world sorted (insurances, medicare, doctors, swimming lessons, clubs, electricity, telephone, internet access, gas, tax numbers, new passports, new drivers licences, GST done, yawn, yawn, yawn) then I would hunt myself a nice little O-Job.  (In case you are not familiar with the concept of an O-Job then let me explain:  An O-Job is a paid job that the Little Kahuna has because it is fun and fulfilling, hopefully leads to some friends and pays for all those expensive little extras that always seems to start with O - like Orthodontics and Orthotics and Opticians and Overseas travel and Orla Kiely...) 

Nice plan but the spanner in the works is that from what I've seen so far, Perth is, well, good.  Plus it is undiscovered by me and tantalisingly close.   It is only a 45 minute train ride away and that train goes from Mandurah to Perth and back unbelievably regularly and apparently doesn't cost the earth.  Clearly more investigation is required, but so far, so good and so so happy to be right.  So if one day I'm a tad late collecting the children from school, possibly the best place to look will be the dishy place pictured above:  Mandurah Station.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A heartbreaking place of staggering beauty

I should really backtrack a bit. I should have started this blog at the beginning.  Before I bore you with my house-hunt woes and tell you about my quest to find interesting and amusing things here, I should really tell you about the most obvious thing about Mandurah.

This wee beauty queen of a city is set in a staggeringly gorgeous natural setting.  It is not just "Could win Miss Mt Maunganui after a few days at the beauty clinic" kind of beautiful.  It is "Could win Miss World with wet hair and borrowed togs after a hard night on the turps" kind of beautiful. Unnaturally naturally gifted you could say.

The everyday views here are amazing and I doubt I'll ever tire of them. Mandurah is nestled between the Indian Ocean and two linked bodies of water; the Peel Inlet and the Harvey Estuary.  Three rivers - the Murray, the Serpentine and the Harvey (yes, yes, I know) - flow into them and together their waters are two and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour.

While the rich and fortunate of Mandurah get to look at stunning beach or estuary views from their patios, the rest of us everyday folk can also enjoy them from many accessible vantage points. The inner city shopping, business and cultural precinct is on Mandurah Estuary which is where the Peel Inlet joins the sea.  Wide strips of land along both sides of this area have been reserved as public space with walking and cycling tracks, playgrounds, a skate park, spaces for picnics, kayak hire, a fun park, safe swimming areas, barbecues and spaces for just hanging out. There are also numerous reserves and conservation parks dotted along other parts of the estuary and the beaches. Merely driving my partner to work on a cold, rainy morning is an "Eyes on the road!" occasion as the view from the bridge is so jaw-droppingly, gob-smackingly and potentially car-crashingly, lovely.

So why "a heartbreaking place"?  Well is it just me who has noticed that when places of immense natural beauty that also have amazing climates get discovered and "developed" by humans, they very often become, well, stuffed?  Numerous places I've visited around the world were probably stunning once but their natural charms are either destroyed by over-population and environmental degradation, or obscured by crass developments.  All too often they become Grimsvilles full of ill-placed high-rise towers, tacky souvenir shops, tragic gambling pits and unappealing restaurants.

I'm not saying that Mandurah is like that but I can already see that it is at a turning point.  This wee city has grown enormously in the past two decades and is predicted to continue down that path - obviously my family and I are contributing to that.  Many long-time locals I've spoken to here think the "developments" have gone too far.  Other people have far greater, grander plans for the place.  Last night I read of the fierce battles that were fought - and sometimes won and sometimes lost - to preserve the many nature reserves I love here.

I hope that whatever path developments in Mandurah take that they are done sensitively, with style and with consideration to the natural environment.  I hope it ages gracefully. I would hate to return here in a few decades and find this once-lovely place like a heartbreakingly tragic old former beauty queen: over-tanned, draped in tacky gold jewellery, the victim of numerous plastic surgeries and jet-skiing her way from her crumbling pink mansion to the casino for the pensioners all-you-can-eat lunch special.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mandurah Performing Arts Centre

Smack at the head of beautiful Mandjar Bay in the centre of Mandurah is a stunning building: The Mandurah Performing Arts Centre.  This lovely, elegant building was designed by architects Hames Sharley and opened in 1997.  It houses an 800 seat theatre, a 144 seat theatre, an art gallery, a dance studio, various meeting rooms and foyer spaces so expansive and lovely that I just can't help planning events for them every time I walk through them. 

I love this building not just for its great design; I love this building because it gives me hope.  Yes, hope of seeing exciting and interesting shows, attending stimulating exhibitions and fun events there. 

But today as I walked through those light-filled, wood-panelled, expansive foyer spaces, I was filled with another sort of hope.  See today I spent yet another looking at rental houses so ghastly I'd have to be permanently tanked-up on Margaret River wine to live in them.  So the MANPAC building gives me hope that somewhere in the city capable of building that beauty there must be rental accommodation I could live in (sober). 

I've long given up hope of of finding rental accommodation that:
a)  isn't filled with the design crimes known as vertical blinds,
b)  doesn't have at least six archways,
c)  doesn't have wall-to-wall dark brown clinker brick in at least half the rooms,
d)  has eaves (you know, those useful things that shade a house when it is scorching hot outside and shelter it when it is pouring with rain...),
but I draw the line at paying money to live with pink decor.  Given that 90% of the rental accommodation on offer here seems to be pink (or salmon, or dark apricot, or rose...), I'm not doing very well.

So I live in hope, and if I'm wrong, I'll pitch it to the centre's General Manager that my family could move into that beautiful foyer and call ourselves an installation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Celebrating the holiday houses of Mandurah

First thing on Monday morning my partner went off to his new job.  Meanwhile the children and I have been working to collect and piece together all the various nuts and bolts that a family of four require in the modern world.  So we have been locating shops and food, visiting schools, opening a bank account, investigating GPs and exploring various suburbs.

Top of the list though is finding our longer term accommodation. Between us we have quite an extensive wishlist.  The children want a home a) near the beach or estuary, b) that will allow them to get a tiny dog and c) with their own living room for their private Legoland. I want a house with a sewing/making room as going cold-turkey on making things is doing my head in.  My partner and I both want a house that is a) big enough to host the hoards of house-guests we hope to have trailing through soon, b)  is close enough to schools, shops, work and facilities so that at least one of us can walk or bike there and c) feels like "us".

This last point is proving to be the sticking point.  When my partner and I viewed the various housing options online we both screamed so loudly in horror that the children came running from the other room to see what terrible thing had happened.  It would be fair to say that we have not yet tuned-in to the predominant style of modern housing on offer in Mandurah.  It would also be fair to say that no architects have been harmed - or even consulted - in the creation of Mandurah's modern housing stocks.  My PollyAnna pledge prevents me from saying much more...

However there is one style of housing here that I love.  As I cruise the various older areas of Mandurah the children have to cry "Eyes on the road!" as I find these houses so attractive and distracting.  The houses I love are known as the "holiday houses" of Mandurah and are what NZers would call baches or cribs.  Sadly they are an endangered species as every one that comes on the market is described as a "development opportunity".  Many have already been bowled and unfortunately many more are bound to follow.  If I ever turn into an eccentric old billionairess, I'll buy a huge block of land, set it up as a heritage park and rescue and rehome as many of these gorgeous homes as I can get my hands on.

I'm not the only person in town who appreciates these gems.  A few years ago the Friends of the Mandurah Community Museum photographed many examples of these homes, held an exhibition of the images and have reproduced some them on a lovely set of postcards.  The postcards are available from the Mandurah Visitor Centre, and at 50c each are a jolly bargain.  I have the whole set but I love them too much to post to anyone. The images below are some of their excellent work.

So how is our accommodation quest going?  Well yesterday the children and I viewed this home. 

It is fabulously mental, would suit our retro furniture collection perfectly and the view from the front lawn is of this.

Yes it is directly on the estuary.  My partner could kayak to work in about five minutes or hop there in ten.  The real estate agent gleefully told us that it is on death row.  When I said I'd love to get my hands on it - meaning I'd quickly restore and revive it it be the coolest house in Mandurah - she said "me too" meaning with a wrecking ball.  Hmmm.

Sadly that house isn't going to be the one for us so the quest continues....

So if you do come to stay with us and are shocked to find us living in this

please believe me when I say I tried, I really tried!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It will all be OK

Four days ago I moved from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Mandurah, Western Australia with my partner and two children.

Since then life has had rather too much puke (caused by naughty trolleydollies dishing out too much lemonade to tired children), tired children, being frightened by hearing my new home-town described as a "culture-free zone" (nooooo!), temporary accommodation with electricity that kept cutting out and a bung hot water system, feeling like I have my arms in a straightjacket with no phone or internet access, hungry children, a supermarket where most products are cheese, doublecheese or triplecheese flavoured and where when I asked where I might find ready-made felafel was asked "What's felafel darl?", exhausted children and "very, very exhausted" children.  BadSigh.

But enough of all that.  I'm sure you can get that sort of nonsense at home.  So like an enormous PollyAnna I'm not going tell you any more about the pants stuff.  Instead I'm only going to tell you about the great and the good of life in Mandurah because there is nothing so tiresome as a moaninggroaning immigrant. 

So let me assure you that life over the last four days has also consisted of being treated like kings and queens by superb hosts, of viewing the stunning natural beauty of Mandurah, of interesting discussions on the performing and visual arts, of marvelling at the fascinating local flora and fauna, of getting more and more excited about the places nearby to explore, of great service by a property manager working to fix the problems with our temporary accommodation, of some stunning weather, of being in the possession of a flash new car and of finding this.

That gorgeous place is Falcon Library and it is mere hopping distance from our temporary home.  High on the wall is the Groucho Marx quote "outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend, inside a dog it's too dark to read".  The library's design is super-dishy, but more to the point, the service is superb.  Within minutes of entering the building M, H and I were joined up, had used the telephone to sort out our house problems, had reserved books and were happily muckingaround in Interwebland.   GoodSigh.  Is it sad to have a girlcrush on a library?  (The correct answer is no.)

So yes, I am sure it will all be OK.  The point of this blog is to describe the best bits of life in Mandurah in the hope of luring friends and family to visit us here. I dream of finding and telling you about things I love as much as the image at the top of this post: "It will all be OK" was an inspired yarn-bombing installation which I saw some time ago on a fence in Wellington NZ then read about on the OutsideKnit blog here.  VeryVeryGoodSigh.