SWAN RIVER & KINGS PARK
Our second full day in Perth involved finding a bike hire shop, renting electric bikes and checking out the Swan River from around Heirisson Island to Kings Park. The nearest bike shop to our hotel was in the riverside park at Point Fraser where the Causeway Bridge crossed. We could have taken a bus or a taxi down to the bike shop but decided that a walk would be both good for us and would enable us to check out more of Perth city. The image below is of the lovely lakes of Ozone Reserve that we passed as we crossed over to the bike shop hidden amongst the gardens of Point Fraser. The first stage of our ride was simply to follow the bike path along beautiful Swan River to Elizabeth Quay.
We got to ride over the lovely Elizabeth Quay Pedestrian and Cyclist Bridge before continuing through parks on both sides of the river with a view of the curious floating restaurant moored not far off-shore, the ‘Raft Perth’. Our Bikeway took us under the Kwinana Freeway with the edge of the river on one side and the escarpment on the land side, giving us a distant view of our destination up the top, Kings Park.
The Swan River bikeway provided us with a lot to admire along the way. Not long after passing under the Narrows Bridge, our view was taken up with the impressive buildings of the Old Swan Brewery. This site was a significant place for the Noongar people before it was taken over by timber cutting mills for the Swan River Colony. The Brewery Buildings were built in 1877 and ceased production in 1978. The redevelopment of the site caused significant conflict between those who wanted it protected for its significant aboriginal heritage and those who were more interested in its commercial possibilities. Our ride took us around the renovated apartments of the victors in this perennial battle..
Further along the river we came across a sculpture on a plinth out in the water with depicting a woman about to dive off a wooden platform. It was a memorial to the old Crawley baths that existed here between 1914 and 2007. It has become a target for students, pranksters and protesters who dress it in various costumes. On the day we passed somebody had given it a flag to wave of a current European crisis spot. Further along we immediately dived for our camera to capture the peacefulness of the ‘Blue Boat House’, apparently a favourite photo opportunity along this section of the river.
Our destination for our ride was Kings Park, the most popular destination for visitors in Western Australia. It consists of parkland, botanical gardens and bushland on top of Mount Eliza. The size of Kings Park can be gathered from the map on the right; it is a little over 400 hectares and not much less in size than the whole of inner city Perth that it overlooks. There is no way up the escarpment for us by bike from Mounts Bay Rd so we had to ride almost to the University of Western Australia before we could finally make the right-hand turn into Winthrop Avenue and find the road entrance to the ParK.
Like so much of the area around the Swan River, prior to colonisation this area was an important ceremonial and cultural site for the Whadiuk tribe. There is a freshwater spring at the base of the southern escarpment of Mount Eliza where the ‘Kokoda Trail’ finishes today and in pre-settlement times was a year-round water supply for the locals. The first European visitors to the area, the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh and his ships, came across this spring. It was the first permanent water supply for the Swan River Colony and in 1861, a memorial fountain was built around this spring to commemorate the fifth governor of the colony, Sir Arthur Kennedy. The Kokoda Trail and the fountain can be seen marked on the right-hand side of the map of the park below next to the red Botanic Gardens indicator.
Our bike ride through Kings Park is marked by the yellow arrows above and the first major location we arrived at was the May Drive Parkland and as it had a café, we were ready to stop and take some sustenance after our long ride along the river. I have been to plenty of children’s parks over my many years of entertaining my own children but I don’t know that I have ever been to a more interesting kid’s park than this one. It not only had every conceivable climbing and challenge construction, it also had great life-size statues of Australian mega-fauna. It doesn’t get any better than that! See here for More Details of these amazing creations!
A large part of the developed attractions of Kings Park are on the escarpment side of this huge public space. Touring the park without a car or a bike would be a very demanding exercise as we realised as we pedalled towards the Botanic Gardens side of the park. It is interesting to note that the original plan for the park was a European style garden with the usual sweeping lawns and flower gardens. Like so many such plans to convert Australian landscapes to familiar European ones, it was destined to fail for many reasons; the two key ones were climate differences and soil quality. The change worked so today this Botanic Garden displays over 30000 species of Western Australian flora. It was opened in 1965 as 17 hectares of gardens for visitors to admire but also as a research centre focusing on conservation of the state’s flora.
After parking the bikes and heading out for a stroll of the Botanic Garden, we came across the Boab Tree (Gija Jumulu) that has been planted as a centre piece of the garden’s walkways. The Boab was replanted here after a 3200 km truck journey from Telegraph Creek in northern Western Australia, the largest land journey of a tree of this size in history! It is estimated that it was around 750 years old when it was moved and replanted here in 2008. I remembered the story of the tree’s long journey as it featured on the TV show, “Gardening Australia” at the time.
We struck up a conversation with a lady who was clearly involved in a conservation group linked to the Park and she expressed the view that the expense of moving the tree was probably not the best use of the Government’s money. Given that the tree had to be removed to make way for highway progress in the Kimberley, I fell on the side of the debate that argued the preservation of a unique tree that had witnessed over 500 years of life before European transformation of the Western Australian landscape was worth the expense; I think this tree might fall into the category of ‘National Treasures’!
The Botanic Gardens in Kings Park are a great place to spend quality time, but they were not conducive to a quick look over for a couple of hours. We managed to get in a walk along the beautiful ‘Lottery Federation Walkway’ that not only provided great garden views but also wonderful views out over the river. It was interesting to note that directly below this walkway was the old Swan Brewery which we had admired earlier on during our bike journey along the river. Those planning a trip to Kings Park could do worse than pre-planning their visit to this huge park by getting on the park’s website (https://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park) and selecting in advance what you would like to see in the time available to you.
From the Botanic Gardens we biked our way to the more formal area of Kings Park where the State War Memorial is positioned with glorious views out over the river and the rest of Perth. This is also an area of the park where there are restaurants and gift shops if you are looking for a memento of your day in Kings Park. It was time to head back to our hotel and rest up for the evening ahead. The map to the left shows our escape route from the most crowded area of the park as we looked for the entrance on the opposite side of Kings Park from the one we had entered by. This was when we realised the implications of getting down the side of Mount Eliza along some of the busiest and steepest streets in town. We used the river as our destination and kept heading towards Elizabeth Quay; the photo below gives some idea of our journey with the pedestrian bridge at Elizabeth Quay on the far right of the photo. We were rewarded with an adventurous ride to the river where it was a long but beautiful ride back to our Bike Hire shop.
APPENDIX 1: Memorial Statues we missed seeing in Perth.
With more time in Perth, one of the places I would have like to have visited was the Burswood Park area on the other side of the Swan River from the city. We had got close by visiting the Bike Shop in Ozone Reserve on our bike tour day but we had no time for visiting the very busy area of Burswood over the river. However I was aware of the interesting character, Yagan, in the history of the Swan River Colony but I didn’t realise that his statue was on Heirisson Island in the middle of the Swan River opposite Ozone Reserve. This island was a touch down point for the Causeway Bridge as it crossed the Swan River on the way to the many exciting places of Burswood.
The Yagan story is a fairly typical story of the conflict between the First Australians and the colonists who were keen to claim authority over the landscape of Australia in the 19th century. Yagan had been uncooperative with the takeover of his traditional land and there was a reward posted for his capture. He was shot by a shepherd and his head was cut from his body and exhibited in English Museums for the next 130 years until it was buried in the Everton cemetery. The Western Australian Nyoongah Community requested of the British Government that the head be exhumed and returned to Australia for burial. ‘Permission’ was granted and he was finally buried according to Nyoongah custom.
Over the river there are many places of entertainment to pick from including a casino, a sporting arena and any number of outdoor activities for citizens and tourist alike to have an active day out. I am not suggesting that a priority for many people would be the Heritage Sculpture Trail in Burswood Park but for me I would have loved to have had a look at the Captain Willem de Vlamingh statue avoiding the angry Swan on the bank of the river. As an eastern coastline Australian, I hadn’t heard much about the Dutch sailor Vlamingh but he was clearly quite the explorer. We had already came across his story on Rottnest Island where he had spent a week exploring the island. We had noted his trip up the Swan River looking for fresh water which he found at the foot of Mount Eliza. He mapped the coast of Western Australia in 1697 and was the first European to come ashore where the future Swan River Colony was to be built.
As a minor historical note, he was the first European to return to his home country explaining to the scientists and philosophers of Europe that the truism, “All swans are white” was not as accurate as previously assumed. He had discovered the easily annoyed black swans of Perth who then became the centre of dry conversations in ‘Philosophy of Science’ circles. A statement such as ‘All swans are white’ could be proven to be false when Vlamingh reported the discovery of black swans in the Great South Land!