The self flagellating media of Perth often tag our City as “Dullsville”, and lament the conservative culture that is so resistant to change. They also note that the rapid increase in population, coupled with infrastructure development, a resources boom, and newfound confidence, that Perth is waking itself from its sleepy and slow ways.
This may be so, but the important point here is that it is not the city that has the personality. It is the people within it.
The population of metropolitan Perth is slated to double to 3.5 million people within the next 40 years. Almost a third of the existing population were born outside of Australia, and many more have migrated from the east. The culture of Perth is changing because the diverse make up of Perth’s population is changing. The migrant population is importing much of the impetus for change.
When I migrated to Perth it was a lifestyle decision. It occurred to me that this City was perhaps the worst place in the world to be young and single, but that it is the one of the best locations imaginable to bring up a young family. Perth is equipped with endless suburbia, pristine coastline, lots of public open space, and good civic amenities. The pace of life is slow enough to provide for quality family life, and opportunity still exists for those people who bring a good work ethic to the business community.
What I discovered lay behind the tag of “Dullsville” was in fact linked to community, and is not all that it appears to be. Whereas in the eastern States of Australia the culture is more cosmopolitan, the corresponding culture of Perth can deliver the misleading impression that we live in a laidback and lifeless City. It can indeed be that way for those people who are not communally active, but this constitutes a minority of Perth residents. Most Perth residents are very involved or engaged in community based activity of some sort.
In Sydney or Melbourne people tend to socialise by going out, spending money, and allowing other people to provide their entertainment for them. In Perth, there is more of a focus on creating entertainment yourself. Social networks develop, and with them they develop their own social capital. This can be found in the park, in the backyard, any setting you can find with a people-centric focus.
The Jewish community of Perth is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Over the past 48 hours, I have seen an incredible amount of communal activity that demonstrates how people are pulling together to create their own community activities, share celebrations, and collectively keep themselves involved and contributing.
I have attended a small and informal music concert of Chaim Dovid, an Israeli singer who was as spectacular a talent as you could ever wish to see. I’ve seen youth group leaders go and donate blood, returning to plan and run activities for younger students. I’ve participated in family Bat Mitzvah celebrations that bring family and friends together to celebrate a coming of age. I’ve watched Maccabi soccer players competing well, and at the sideline observed as more young people are developing community enterprise through a cafe and food stall. Nearby there are older people playing bridge, a group of genealogists meeting to compare research, and there are casual players on the tennis courts. The Jewish centre is full of noise with kids at Habonim, and across the road there are more kids sitting in a cheder (Hebrew School) class. There is no end of activity in and around the Jewish community, both public and private, which keeps the Jewish community an engaging place to be.
As Perth grows, the evolvement of community institutions are going to become more critical to the social capital of Western Australia. Be they ethnic, sporting, cultural, academic, workplace, or other special interest clusters of people who are creating activity to support themselves and others, it is this community life that is the fabric of Perth.
You don’t see much of this activity profiled, as it is not newsworthy or interesting to those who are not involved. However, when you turn on the TV news and see an endless 30 minute stream of crime and misery, you could be forgiven for thinking that Perth is full of socially destitute criminals. The truth is, I feel very lucky to have a wonderful community to be part of. Many of my non-Jewish friends who are also active in community groups such as churches, Scouts, Rotary, and various sports clubs are much the same. Their children don’t go off the rails due to boredom or lack of social engagement with others. The police too have long since recognised that providing self esteem, meaning, opportunity, and purpose to young law breakers can be rehabilitating and the best form of crime prevention.
The amazing thing about living in Perth is that community life is still alive. Despite the pressures of the workplace and the exorbitant cost of living (sometimes even because of it), people in Perth still make the time and find the value in contributing to the third sector of not for profit organisations. In doing so they build community, create goodwill, and transform Perth into a vibrant place to live.
Those people who remain at the sideline, who display an attitude towards community that is “all take and no give” and who remain apathetic towards participating in community activities, are the epitome of Dullsville. But at the heart of this unflattering brand or tag, needs to be a recognition that the Perth is not about bricks and mortar, architecture, and infrastructure, all of which are means to an end. It is about the people who occupy the buildings, what they stand for, and the social capital that they create for themselves and those around them.