Final DaysDecember 19, 2017 in Australia
Unbelievably, we have reached the final couple of days of our second Antipodean Grape Escape and tomorrow will be the big repack before heading home via Hong Kong. As ever, it has all gone so quickly. Yesterday was something of a non day, in that the weather had taken on English mode. It blew and rained on and off all day. We had the opportunity to go to the WACA, but decided against it and had a quiet day instead - one of the few! Sadly, we had a jolly good idea of the result following the final session, which was neatly sandwiched in between squalls. Whether it should have been played at all, is of course another story. Australia were by far the better side, but clearly the gamesmanship going on both on and off the field has been vicious and I would have to question the manner of the win. However, our batters have failed to perform and I cannot see our bowlers bowling Australia out twice. We expect an Oz wash, which is not a surprise unfortunately.
Thankfully, our trip is not purely defined by cricket and we do have other strings to our bow! Today, normal service has been resumed weather wise and it's back to the shorts and tee shirts. We have taken the chance to have a final look around Perth, incorporating some of the unseen items on our list. We walked miles and by the time we arrived back at the flat knew it! Cathedral Square is at the heart of the city and a newly revitalised area that we were keen to see. Here is a classic example of gracefully mixing older style federation architecture with the modern. St George's Anglican Cathedral (1840s English gothic revival) sits in a sea of grass faced by Perth Town Hall, The Treasury building and the new Perth Library. There is modern sculpture as a feature and amidst it all a wedding party were having photographs taken. The sun shone and it did somehow represent Perth as a modern city. We moved on to look at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral on its high point in Victoria Square. It is an interesting building, being a clever mix of old and new in one building and the interior is gloriously flooded with light as a consequence.
Further down Hay Street is The Perth Mint, perhaps an unusual find in such an isolated city. There was a tour on offer, so we took it and the full story of gold in Western Australia unfolded. A gold rush had been underway elsewhere in Australia since the 1850s, but the first significant find in the West was registered by Arthur Bayley and William Ford in 1892 from the Coolgardie region to the East of Perth. Western Australia went mad as gold fever tightened its grip. Perth's population trebled in short order and fortunes were made and lost. Conditions in the goldfields around Coolgardie were appalling and many miners died in their effort to find what the Incas described as the 'tears of the sun'. The goldfields were out in the desert, where temperatures regularly soared to over 50 degrees. Huge nuggets were dug up in those early years, mostly being broken up and melted down. All the gold was then shipped back to England, until the British government was persuaded to built a mint in one of its most isolated outposts. It was built of local limestone and opened in 1899, continuing to operate in very much the original manner until 1970. Those wishing to apply to work in the mint had to take exams in English Literature, Mathematics, Latin, Greek and French; in effect a civil service examination! If you managed to pass the exams, there was then a two year apprenticeship! Commemorative coins are still produced on this site, but the major refining now takes place out of the city near the airport. It was a fascinating insight into one of the building blocks of Australia. We watched 200 Troy ounces of fine gold, 99.99% pure, melted at 1064degrees centigrade and poured into a Christmas Star ingot mould. It sets in 20 seconds and is then turned out and cooled in a tank of water. It came out a glistening brilliant gold. Quite incredible. Gold continues to be mined throughout Australia, which is the 7th highest producer in the world. Kalgoorie is the name most closely associated with gold mining today. It is very close to the first Coolgardie reef, but mining is now a high tech affair. What great oaks from little acorns grow.
And so, our journey through the south and parts of the west of Australia comes to an end. In seven weeks we have of course only touched the surface, particularly here in Western Australia. Distances are vast. I spoke to one father who had driven up to see his son, who is working at an iron ore mine up in The Pilbara. it is a 16 hour drive one way and immense freight trains of ore passed him, taking nearly 3 minutes to pass, so great is their length. South Australia we loved and could relate to, but here in the West, I think the word is awe. Almost by osmosis, one develops this feeling of a molten and scarred ancient land, that is scarcely tamed and fit for human habitation. The Australians are a tough, doughty pioneering breed that don't suffer fools gladly and nowhere is this more apparent than here in Western Australia. I suspect the further north one travels the more this is the case. The north or Top End is the one area we have not yet touched on. Who knows whether we will yet have the chance, but it is on our bucket list!
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