Whether you are transiting through Perth or simply a local wanting to play tourist and only have a day in Perth then ambling around the CBD and surrounds can be an enriching experience especially with kids in tow.
I booked an overnight stay with City Waters in Perth with free parking on booking.com for a mini break with my two sons. With the accommodation being self contained we could also save money and prepare your own meals if I wanted to (I didn’t). It’s old and dated, but it’s clean and the staff are friendly. It’s also located in East Perth which is a 5 minute walk to our first stop, the The Perth Mint. We arrived at about 11am and were able to park at the hotel despite not being able to check in yet.
The Perth Mint
If you are into history, precious stones and metals or buying unique gifts then The Perth Mint is the place for you. It’s open 7 days a week and you really have to go on a guided talk to access interesting parts of the mint and for the fascinating gold pour. They are held every hour on the half hour from 9.30am to 3.30pm. The Perth Mint is Australia’s official bullion mint. Established in 1899, the Mint intended to refine gold from the gold rushes and to mint gold sovereigns for the British Empire. At the time, Western Australia’s population was growing rapidly (from 23,000 in 1869 to 180,000 in 1900) due largely to the discovery of rich gold deposits in Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie and Murchison areas of the colony.
As there was very little money available in Perth for which miners could exchange gold to pay for goods, the Diggers who flocked to the then colony of Western Australia in huge numbers from other parts of Australia and from around the world, deposited their raw gold at The Perth Mint where it was minted into gold coins.
While waiting for the tour to start we wonder around the showroom and are gob smacked at the price tag some of the jewellery has. On the tour we are greeted with a mind blowing, Guinness World Record breaking, $1 million dollar coin (face value) but fashioned from pure gold, it weighs one tonne and on the day we visited, it was worth $56 million dollars. It sure looks a million bucks as it’s showcased in all its golden glory on a revolving black reflective platform. As Australia is home to the world’s largest natural gold nuggets we are shown replicas of various gold nuggets that have been discovered. The world’s largest recorded gold nugget is the ‘Welcome Stranger’ found at Moliagul, Victoria, Australia in 1869 by John Deason and Richard Oates. It weighed 78 kg (173 lb). Unfortunately, there were no large scales available in the gold fields to weigh it to it had to be broken down into three pieces to weigh it. Eventually it was melted down into ingots so it could be sold. In more modern times, the world’s largest gold nugget found using a metal detector, is the ‘Hand of Faith’. Weighing in at 27.21kg, it was found in 1980 near Kingover in Victoria and sold, after a protracted battle to find an Australian buyer, to the infamous Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for over $1 million.
Another interesting fact which was not told to us, perhaps due to some residual embarrassment, is the story of the Perth Mint Swindle. In 1982, 49 gold bars weighing 68 kg was stolen from the Perth Mint.
Investigations soon focused on the Mickelberg brothers, who Police allege they stole cheques from a Perth building society and then fooled the mint into accepting those cheques in exchange for gold bullion which, the brothers had a courier pick up. The gold was picked up by a security company who delivered it to an office in Perth and then to Jandakot Airport, from where it disappeared.
The three brothers went to trial and were found guilty of the conspiracy and sentenced in 1983 to twenty, sixteen and twelve years in jail respectively. All three convictions were overturned in 2004. To date the case remains unsolved and the Mickelbergs continue to maintain their innocence and allege a conspiracy by the Western Australia Police to frame them. There is an interesting movie made about the story called The Great Mint Swindle.
After these golden pieces of information we are led into the old original melting house to watch a gold pouring demonstration. The same piece of gold has been melted and poured into solid gold bars continuously over the past 24 years. The nineteenth century brick walls of the melting house is literally embedded with gold dust, accumulated over many decades of continuous refining. A clean of the furnaces netted over $1 million and a recent scrub of the ceiling netted over $100,000 in evaporated gold.
Just as Western Australia’s wealth was founded in its mineral deposits, its economy still largely rides on mining. If you are interested in more gold tourism then a visit to Kalgoorlie, the home of Australia’s biggest Open Pit Gold Mine, is a must, or those with limited time, a day trip to Boddington’s Gold Mine, one of Australia’s largest producing gold mines, is a must.
Perth CBD and London Court
Our next stop was the Bell Tower, but my two teenage boys were dying of starvation so we got on the red CAT bus stop near The Perth Mint. We got off at Forrest Place on Wellington Street where little kids were playing in the great water feature there. The iCity Information Booth is here so I enquire about the free walking tours. But being a Tuesday, it is the art tour. We’re not that into art so we decline, but for those who’re interested the tours depart daily at 2pm. ‘Icons of Influence’ is on Monday, ‘Convicts and Colonials’ is on Wednesdays, ‘Town Hall’ on Thursdays and ‘Boom or Bust’ on Fridays. We walk to Raine Square food court for a cheap lunch before walking to Murray Street Mall, then to Hay Street Mall via Plaza Arcade where my favourite camera shop is, Plaza Cameras, (I can’t help but quickly pop my head in there) and then down to St George’s Terrace via historic London Court. You may be forgiven for thinking you have stepped into a worm hole straight to Stratford upon Avon as this National Trust listed property has a mock Tudor/Elizabethan façade and architectural features built in 1937 by wealthy gold financier and businessman, Claude de Bernales. Today the arcade is aimed at tourists and high end shoppers with an array of specialty shops.
Supreme Court Gardens
From London Court we head to Supreme Court Gardens, where we stumble upon the free Old Court House Law Museum. My favourite was the photo album housing historic pictures of Perth before Federation. It was far from boring, as the the kids are amused for some time and it also tells the story of the barbaric incarceration of Aborigines on Rottnest Island.
The Bell Tower
Okay we got side tracked but we eventually make it down Barrack Street toward the Bell Tower on Riverside Drive. Inside the tower, just to the left of the payment register is a pamphlet rack with little booklet called “Your Guide to Perth & Fremantle”. On page 3 is a voucher which will get you a $5 discount off each entry into The Bell Tower. The discount paid for our milkshakes which we enjoyed afterwards at the cafe just next the Aqua Bar on Barrack Street Jetty.
The Bell Tower is filled with fascinating history as well as boasts a unique and distinctive design. It houses a historic ring of bells which was given to the people of Western Australia as part of the national Bicentennial celebrations in 1988. It also includes the twelve bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which are recorded as being in existence from before the 14th century and recast in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I. The bells were again recast between 1725 and 1770 by three generations of the Rudhall family of bell founders from Gloucester in England, under the order of the Prince of Wales who was later crowned as King George II. They are one of the few sets of royal bells and are the only ones known to have left England. Unfortunately, we missed the bell ringing but we are rewarded with great views of the construction of the new Elizabeth Quay and of the city.
We are all pretty tired and bloated after the milkshakes, so we catch the red CAT bus back to City Waters where we rested for an hour before driving to my old stomping ground, the suburb of Como. The Karalee Tavern was my local when I was young and single, so I took the boys there for a meal whilst meeting up with friends.
My boys are slothy teenagers so a sleep in was in order. At about 9.30am we drove to Kings Park (green CAT bus also stops here). Kings Park is one of the world’s largest and most beautiful inner city parks. It’s rich in Aboriginal and European history and home to the spectacular Western Australian Botanic Garden, which displays over 3,000 species of the State’s unique flora. The Park is also home to the impressive and imposing State War Memorial. From here we enjoyed sweeping views of the Swan and Canning Rivers, the city skyline and the Darling Ranges to the east. Two thirds of the 400 hectare park is protected as bushland. Visitors can walk trails through immaculate gardens and parklands while taking advantage of a variety of children’s discovery play areas . There is also Visitor Information Centre, free daily guided walks, gallery and gift shop, cafes and public transport. More information about visiting the park can be found here. We enjoyed a brunch at the Botanical Cafe before heading back home again.