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The View from Oz

April 2005

March 2005

The View from Oz:

Perth, The Gold Coast, Sydney Scams

by Matt Kemp

see also the Tales of Asia guide to Sydney

May 2005

Sydney is arguably the most high profile city in Australia, with its international profile overshadowing other Australian capital cities. However popular doesn’t necessarily equate to better. With this in mind we hit the road (well as far as the airport anyway) and visited two other Aussie destinations, Perth in Western Australia, and the Gold Coast in Queensland. Also, sticking closer to home, part one of “Sydney, City of Scams”.

Perth, WA – Way Out West.

Western Australia has recently been running a “real Australia” television campaign, featuring pictures of stunning outback vistas, golden beaches, and alfresco dining by the banks of the Swan River (the large muddy river that hems the city of Perth in on two sides). Both Qantas and Virgin Blue fly between Sydney and Perth (which is approximately equivalent to flying between New York and L.A.), with the cheapest internet fares starting at about $480 for flights with Qantas. If you are really hard up (and particularly hardy) you might be able to save about $100 flying Virgin Blue (good luck with that!). Needless to say, we were a tad disappointed to arrive in Perth at 8:30 am to be greeted by monsoon style rain, which the cab driver cheerfully informed me was likely to continue all weekend as he took my 35 dollars for the fare into the city.

The centre of Perth has a pretty generic “city feel” about it, due to significant commercial development in the past twenty years, with glass and concrete towers replacing most of the original sandstone buildings. The major shopping strip is the Hay St pedestrian mall which was notable for its large collection of ‘aussie kitsch’ shops. Within a two block area we found at least 8 stores where you can get that wallaby tie, belt buckle, T-shirt, ash tray or (in true aussie fashion) stubby holder you’ve been hankering after to make you holiday down under complete.

Much of the development seen in Perth in recent years is the result of the heavy mining industries that exist out in the elegantly named GAFA (otherwise known as the Great Australian F**k All), the large desert that comprises pretty much most of Western Australia. With this in mind the Perth Mint ( 300 Hay St, East Perth,one of the few remaining original buildings not knocked down to make way for commercial development) seemed to be a good place to begin a tour of the city. Buying your own gold is expensive, so to it seems is looking at other peoples, with entry to the mint costing about $14. Your entry fee gets you into the gold vaults where you can put your hand inside an armoured Perspex case and have a crack at lifting a real gold ingot. You also get to see a fairly enthusiastic guy casting an ingot from liquid gold. The apparent lack of security is surprising until the guide volunteers that anyone who would like to try stealing a 14kg bar of gold at about 1000°C is more than welcome to have a go.

A couple of blocks back towards the city from the mint is the Old Court House (4 Barrack St, Perth). This is one of the oldest original buildings in Perth, and now home to a museum that details the business end of trying prisoners in the new colony. Of particular grim interest here is the “honour role” of people hung in Western Australia, kicking off with 15 year old John Gavin in 1844.

Crime and punishment was set to play a fairly large role in our trip. After spending a couple of years starving to death, the initial colonists of Perth requested a labour force from the British Crown. Being a sport, Queen Victoria quickly dispatched several thousand odd hardened bread thieves and sheep rustlers to the other side of the world, where their first task, ironically, was to build one of the largest prisons in Australia at Fremantle. Fremantle is a small port town at the mouth of the swan river. Much unlike Perth, Fremantle has retained most of its original buildings (basically because it was largely ignored as a scummy port town until the America’s Cup resided there briefly until being won back by the USA in 1987). You can take a ferry (about $22 return) from the terminal at the Barrack Street Jetty, go by bus or take the train ($6 return) from Perth station.

Fremantle prison was built in 1850’s and on a cold raining day, it bears a disquieting resemblance to the Shawshank Penitentiary of Tim Robbins fame. $15 gets you a 90-minute tour of the prison which was still operating as late as 1991. Fremantle prison was the site of the last hanging in Western Australia in 1968 (in fact capital punishment was only outlawed in Australia in 1984). Various persons of note have been guests of Fremantle Prison, including Bon Scott (the now deceased lead singer of AC DC) for stealing several gallons of gasoline.

In true Bon Scott style we finished our afternoon with a drinking session at a brewery. The Little Creatures Company has a brew house in Fisherman’s Harbour (40 Mews Road, Fremantle). Apart from being a good place to get acquainted with some of the best beer brewed in Australia, the food is excellent and the open plan “bar in a brewery layout” gives the place a great vibe.

So is Perth worth visiting? Perth itself is an attractive, but fairly generic city, although the Northbridge precinct did have a number of good bars and café’s and Fremantle is well worth a look. Ironically, Perth’s greatest attractions probably lie outside of the city itself. The Margaret River vineyards, outback attractions such as the Pinnacles and the rugged coastline north of Perth are, by all report, spectacular. Personally I don’t think it’s worth flying all the way out there just to see the city itself, but Perth would make an excellent base to explore the surrounding countryside.

The Gold Coast

Following quickly behind WA, Queensland has released a new campaign for the Gold coast which is apparently in now “Very Chic – Very GC”.

Surfers Paradise (or surfers as it is commonly known) is the central hub of the Gold Coast, a thin strip of beach front high rises, bars and tourist attractions about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. Surfers has been the Australian family holiday destination of choice for generations with attractions including a host of theme parks (Sea World, Dream World, Warner Brothers Movie World) and the iconic Currumbin wildlife sanctuary.

Surfer’s plays host to an Indycar race and the yearly “schoolies” party where thousands of school leavers from all over Australia come to drink as much cheap beer as possible and climb around the balconies of their 15 th floor rented apartments. Take the Latin American influence out of South Beach Florida, add a lot of XXXX (a local beer pronounced fourex) and you’ve got something pretty close to the Gold Coast.

Usually you can be forgiven for assuming anywhere that has to spell out precisely how chic it is, is going to be about as elegant as Courtney Love after a 3 day bender. To be fair, the Gold Coast is somewhere in between, not quite ass but not quite class either. There are still a large number of the ‘Gold Coast Tony’ types about the place, heavily tanned, greasy looking guys with large open necked shirts, chains and lots of gold rings. ‘Gold Coast Tony’ is usually seen propping up a bar at about 2 in the afternoon, generally accompanied by a chain smoking blonde approximately a third of his age.

The Gold Coast is the only place in the world where I have seen an ‘investment firm’ advertising their services by using a dog in a suit as their mascot. However, as the dog was pictured using a cell phone and smoking a cigarette it’s possible he was a smarter investment advisor than you would immediately assume.

Surfer’s is definitely an “eating, drinking and lazing” holiday destination. The beach itself is wide and clean. The best time to hit the beach is the morning due to the sea breeze that usually starts up in the early afternoon. Afternoons are best spent by the pool or in a bar close to the beach. Tooley’s bar on Tedder Ave makes for a good place to kick off an evening after a day’s lazing about in the sun.

Eating out is generally more expensive than in Sydney. There are hundreds of restaurants in Surfer’s from dodgy kebab shops to $150 a head joints. Vie at Palazzo Versace (another parallel between Surfer’s and South Beach) does great food at surprisingly reasonable prices and Shuck on Tedder Ave is the place to go for seafood.

If you get sick of the beach, eating good food and endless theme rides then there’s always the casino – Conrad Jupiter’s. Jupiter’s is a delightfully horrid shrine to gambling, dominating the southern Surfer’s skyline. In true Queensland fashion, the ‘dress code’ stipulates you must be wearing some form of clothing and footwear to gain entry and the alleys between the ‘pokie’ machines are wide enough to allow the easy passage of both mother and pram between the cash machines and gambling floor.

That said, if you can handle the evil technicolour carpet and pall of cigarette smoke, Jupiter’s is a great place to finish up a messy evening. The blackjack tables have some of the best odds in Australia, with the house not winning on a standoff, and paying out on soft blackjacks (a total of 21 not derived from a picture / ace two card draw).

Surfers is (some would say thankfully) a unique place. As you can now fly to Surfers for about $150 return, and accommodation is plentiful (and cheap in the off-season) it makes an excellent place to escape Sydney and hang out on the beach for a few days. If you are looking for somewhere to laze about in the sun for a few days, drink and eat just a little too much and deal to a few books then Surfers is an excellent destination.

Sydney – City of Scams #1

Although Sydney (unlike other countries discussed on this site) isn’t exactly blessed with an abundance of magic cows, dogs or other such mystically empowered domestic animals that doesn’t mean that the scam merchants have pulled up stumps and directed their energies at other, less dubious pursuits. Sydney appears to be an excellent, if not slightly misguided example of Darwinian Selection at work. The more sophisticated the city becomes, the more sophisticated the scammers get.

It seems that no area is completely exempt from the practice of the classic aussie rort, and both private enterprise and government gets in on the act in the name of making a few extra bucks. Rental accommodation is one are that has become well known for fleecing a few dollars out of residents and visitors alike.

The place I’m living in at the moment is a large secure building in the CBD which is pretty popular with backpackers as it offers 3 and 6 month leases on 2 bedroom apartments. With the building being too large for management to keep proper tabs on the comings and goings of all the residents, it’s also a pretty good place for 8 dodgy Irish backpackers to stuff themselves into a 2-bedroom apartment for a couple of months of cheap living.

We signed up for a 6 month lease and agreed to pick up our copy of the rental contract from our mailbox after we moved in. A week and several not so fun hours humping appliances in and out of goods lifts later we picked up our contract to find that the good people at the management office had inserted an entirely new page full of previously unseen clauses into our contract. Basically the new terms stated that we agreed to leave the apartment in exactly the same condition we found it in, and that we would also steam clean the carpets when we moved out.

I queried this with our apartment manager, who insisted that the new terms had been present when we signed the rest of the lease, and indicated we must have ‘forgotten’ to sign this page. She didn’t have any explanation for why the new page of clauses was dated 11 days after the rest of the signed contract. She did retort by claiming that if we didn’t sign the additional page we didn’t have a lease. So it seems that although we don’t have magic cows over here we do have magic contracts that have that ability to change date and terms at will. Under certain circumstances, some especially talented rental managers apparently have the power to make valid contracts disappear entirely, right in-front of one’s very eyes. 7 months after telling our manager to sod off of it seems that the conjuring is still in process and we still have somewhere to live.

Discussions with other people have led me to believe that this sort of behaviour is relatively common here in Sydney, especially with backpackers who are generally assumed to be ignorant of local laws and don’t have the time, resources (or interest) to fight their landlords.

These sorts of scams are aimed squarely at allowing landlords and rental managers to keep portions of the rental bond paid in advance of moving into an apartment or getting you to subsidise the upkeep of their property. Before you move into an apartment in Sydney you generally have to pay 2 weeks rent in advance, along with 4 weeks rent as bond for an unfurnished apartment, and at least 6 weeks rent as bond for a furnished apartment. Your bond must be transferred to the office of Fair Trading by your landlord. You also have to fill in a condition report that is signed by both parties detailing the condition of everything in the apartment. It is a good idea to take your time and be as pedantic as possible with this document.

The Residential Tenancies Act states that you do not have to pay for “reasonable wear and tear” when you rent an apartment. That means that while you are liable for damage if you do something like have 200 people over to watch White Snake play in your lounge on Saturday night, everyday knocks, scratches and dents have to be paid for by the landlord.

Most rental contracts in Sydney will contain some sort of clause stating that you have to steam clean the carpet after you move out. This clause is illegal and completely unenforceable, but as most people are ignorant of this fact, landlords have been quietly getting people to pay for the upkeep on their properties.

Most rental managers will acquiesce when you point this out to them. If not, the office of Fair Trading and the Tenancy Tribunal (both government organisations) offer free assistance that will help you resolve your dispute. The Redfern Legal Centre (02 96987277) provides excellent free legal assistance if you live in the CBD area. If you do have a dispute with your landlord the best thing to do is to fill in your bond claim form (available from the office of Fair Trading) and get it off to the office of Fair Trading as quickly as possible. Once this has been received, the office of Fair Trading will contact your landlord who then has two weeks to prove that you actually owe money for damages etc. If your landlord is unable to do this, you get your money back. Assuming you landlord doesn’t have the ability to turn you into a frog it’s a case of all’s well that ends well.

Specific comments regarding this column should be directed to Matt Kemp . Comments or questions regarding any other part of the talesofasia.com website (except for sections noted as such) should be directed only to Gordon Sharpless.

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