Welcome to a city, state and economy in flux, where the mining-led growth of the last decade has been replaced with the need for a more diversified economy. After the boom came a (partial) bust: when China stopped buying so much WA iron ore after 2014, unemployment rose, housing prices fell and hotel beds in Perth became affordable again. Perth's infrastructural boost has been spectacular, but challenges lie ahead as Western Australia rebuilds an economy less dependent on digging stuff out of the ground.
Perth's Extreme Makeover
The resources boom may have cooled, but in the Western Australian state capital, major construction and infrastructure projects continue apace. Reconnecting the central business district with the Swan River, the Elizabeth Quay redevelopment is nearing completion, enlivening the area with new restaurants, hotels and a transport hub.
On the other side of the CBD, the City Link project uniting central Perth with Northbridge is also nearing completion, incorporating an underground bus station and the pedestrian Yagan Sq. The gentrification of Northbridge itself also continues, with new hotels joining cool laneway bars and a more diverse dining scene.
Along the Swan River, the fabulous new Perth Stadium has finally opened its gates, with room for 60,000 rabid football/cricket/music fans. The historic Subiaco Oval, now sadly redundant, is slated for redevelopment: watch this space.
Perhaps most critically, in terms of the state's identity and its cultural bedrock, the New Museum for Western Australia is slated to open in 2020 after a four-year, $400-million makeover. Dazzling in architectural cope and curatorial remit, the New Museum will illuminate Western Australian culture, art and history in ways the old Western Australian Museum simply couldn't manage (...and yes, the rare Megamouth Shark specimen will make a glorious, preservative-soaked return).
Beyond These Shores
The mining industry is still hugely important in WA: on some nights the busy docks at Port Hedland still export over 1.5 million tonnes of iron ore to China, making it the busiest bulk export port on the planet. But the mega-economies of Asia – including China, India, Indonesia and Japan – can also provide alternative sources of income for the state.
Perth's proximity to Asia means it is seen as a safe and affordable haven for many migrants – providing a potential boost to the city's flagging apartment market – and low-cost airlines linking WA to Singapore, Bali and Kuala Lumpur mean the artisan food producers and vineyards of Margaret River are as popular with visitors from Mumbai and Malaysia as they are with travellers from Adelaide or Auckland.
Flights from Singapore to Perth take around five hours, and a weekend visit taking in the Swan Valley, Fremantle and Rottnest Island is a popular option around Chinese New Year and other Asian holidays. The launch of the Qantas 'Dreamliner' direct flight between Perth and London in 2018 – a backside-numbing long haul of 17 hours – has also increased visitor numbers from the UK and Europe.
The economies of Asia are also vital to Western Australian agribusiness, and there is potential for the state to become a high-margin gourmet food basket for China or Japan. Margaret River wines, Cervantes lobsters and Manjimup truffles are lining up to be the export stars of the next decade. With savvy marketing, Perth's edge-of-Asia location can become a key selling point for WA exporters.
In Football as in Life
The fortunes of Western Australia's two national Australian Football League teams – the West Coast Eagles (Perth) and the Fremantle Dockers – continue to ebb and flow, offering hope, joy, frustration and distraction for the locals, plus a kind of parallel commentary to the state's recent economic rollercoaster ride.
Rising like an iron-ore magnate's bank balance in the years leading up to 2013, the Fremantle Dockers dominated the league, playing a brand of football that was fast-paced, high-risk and, as some commentators suggested, never-before-seen. But like the mining sector, the Dockers boom went bust: the team lost narrowly to Hawthorn (from Melbourne) in the 2013 Grand Final and have failed to rise again.
Taking a steadier, less flashy approach, the West Coast Eagles made the Grand Final in 2015, elevating the entire state's flagging mood. It proved a false dawn: the 'Weagles' were thrashed in the big game, Hawthorn again raining on the WA parade. However, in 2018 the Eagles surged once more, this time toppling Collingwood (also from Melbourne) in the Grand Final to claim the premiership. A harbinger for Western Australia's fortunes? It just might be that in WA, in football as in life, things are looking up.