Family Walkabout in Perth, WA

After “sivun” weeks in New Zealand, we’ve landed in Western Australia for the next leg of our family gap-year.

We are technically heading towards winter, but it doesn’t feel that way. The trees are green, rather than the reds and oranges that had started to appear in New Zealand. We’ve also gone up a few notches on the temperature gauge compared to our last few weeks in a campervan, and it’s a pleasant warming sun rather than scorching hot.

Sprinklers on suburban lawns came as something of a surprise to the kids. They couldn’t work out why the grass was wet if it hadn’t been raining. Parrots were a pleasing sight too, congregating on tin roofs in our suburban road, before screeching off in a blur of colours.

The only hint that winter may be around the corner is the presence of people wearing a lot more clothes than us, plus a few slightly odd looks in our direction while sun bathing. It is slightly disconcerting to see people walking past in puffer jackets and bobble hats, while we’re applying sun screen.

Apart from the unsurprisingly nice weather, my initial impression of Perth was that it seems huge. We haven’t seen so many people in one place since we left London. Most of New Zealand could move in and you’d hardly notice.

The central business district looks sleek and shiny, with money from vast mining operations helping to pay for towering offices of glass and steel. Daily commuters are transported from the sprawling Perth suburbs by a spiral of rail tracks emerging from Perth Central, and they’re wearing sunglasses rather than carrying umbrellas.

Round the world with my family in Perth, WA

A sprinkling of red brick Victorian buildings look a little lost in the centre of town, but it’s nice to see that some heritage has been preserved amidst the rush to build skyward. The redevelopment of Elizabeth Quay is also providing a better link from downtown to the Swan River, and the kids were more than happy to explore the new playground at Elizabeth Quay Island.

Kangaroo Hunting

Fresh off the plane, we drove to Yanchep National Park to spot some kangaroos, as if to prove to ourselves that we really were in Australia.

Round the world with my family

The kangaroos were happily grazing in an open patch of grass, visible before we’d even managed to get out of our car. They appeared entirely oblivious to our presence, at least up until the point when Lexi started doing her kangaroo impersonation.

We were pleased to see some genuine Aussie wildlife and I was pleased that my research had paid off. For a $12 entry fee and a one-hour drive to Yanchep we felt like true bushmen.

After a few days in Perth, it soon became apparent that kangaroos were around every corner. By early evening, hordes of bouncy marsupials would emerge on practically every available patch of grass. We’ve sadly got to the stage where we’re not even looking for them anymore, they’re just there, where we’d usually expect to see some cows or sheep.

That first sighting at Yanchep was still special though, even if we didn’t really need to make a special visit to see them. The best thing for me was simply the look on the kids’ faces as the kangaroos started hopping towards them.

Kings Park

We were staying in an Airbnb apartment this week, in Subiaco, within easy walking distance of Kings Park. In case you’re wondering, I think it’s pronounced “sue-be-ako”, but it took me nearly all week to work this out.

Kings Park is one-thousand acres of greenery, bang in the middle of Perth. The largest inner city park in the World. Three kids’ play areas. A café. Parrots flying around where there ought to have been pigeons. Probably some snakes in the undergrowth too, but we didn’t see any despite walking around all walk with a big stick.

Kiera has watched too many episodes of Bear Grylls, including 3 new episodes on the plane over. So our approach to all potentially hazardous situations is guided by what Bear would do. In the case of potential snakes, therefore, we go armed with a stick and a couple of small rocks. This is to allow us to stun the animal, before chopping of its head and grilling it for dinner. Thinking it through, we don’t normally carry a machete around with us, so we’d have to remove the head with a sharpened rock. We never got close to seeing any snakes, but better to be safe than sorry.

Kings Park was too large to explore in one day, or even one week, but our daily visits inevitably centered around one or other of the playgrounds. These have been thoughtfully crafted from natural materials found within the park, which I’m sure the kids appreciated.

Hillarys Harbour

Perth is blessed with miles of stunning coastline and even the winter weather was proving nice enough for us to warrant some beach time.

We were guided towards Hillarys Harbour as a safe place for the kids to go swimming. The harbour was indeed perfect for a family day out. There was a playground on the beach, the water was shallow and sheltered, and there was a generally pleasing buzz of seaside activities.

The water looked lovely and we splashed around in the shallows on quite a few occasions. We would have gone further except I kept seeing jellyfish. They were absolutely tiny and nearly entirely see through. They looked very harmless, but my knowledge of jellyfish varieties is non-existent, so I had visions of ruining our trip with a deadly sting.

We’re still taking baby steps getting to grips with being in a country where there are animals that are trying to hurt you.

Keating Family Tour of Freemantle Prison

Round the world with my family

The last hanging took place in 1964, but the doors only closed on Freemantle Prison in 1991, after 136 years of housing criminals. (Took me a little while to work that out on my fingers, after a few months away from my day job, so hope you found it useful).

John Keating arrived in Freemantle on 20th August 1853. Sentenced in Limerick to 15 years for stealing a cow. In 1853 there was no prison yet in Freemantle. The convicts first job was to build their new home, on a hill overlooking the harbour.

The first section of cell block was opened in 1855, allowing prisoners to be transferred from their temporary warehouse accommodation, and then fully opened in 1859.

Convict transportation from the UK continued until 1868, with around 9,500 men deported in total, which happened to include five members of the Keating family according to Freemantle prison records, mostly from Ireland.

We arrived in Freemantle under slightly more favourable conditions. The Qantas flight from Christchurch was very civilised and we were not sleeping in a warehouse. We chose to visit the prison to get a sense of what life would have been like for some of the earliest travelers to this shore.

As you’d probably have guessed, it wasn’t pretty. The original cells were barely big enough to swing a hammock, measuring just 7 feet by 4 feet. The men were effectively stacked in concrete cages, four stories high.

Round the world with my family in WA

Inmates were let out, but only so that their labour could be used to help with public infrastructure works. This practice continued until 1911, and was the reason that the original settlers in Western Australia had lobbied the UK Government to send convicts.

The regime was harsh and discipline was brutal. Solitary confinement was used for periods of up to 90 days, with inmates locked in cells with no light and walls thick enough to stop sound.

Freemantle Prison is now a world heritage site and a potential wedding venue, should you be so inclined to tie the know in the prison chapel. I was glad to escape after an hour. The kids were keen to embark on another tour, recounting escape stories, but we promised to come back another day.

Round the world with my family in Freemantle

Next Time

After a week of city life, it’s time to get back to the country. We’re planning a mini road trip to the bottom edge of Western Australia, starting with a few days in Albany. This is “mini” by Australian road trip standards because Albany is only 280 miles from Perth, so it’s practically the next town over.

Habla Espanol?

Serious travel planning for our round the world family trip is currently on hold, while we finalise the sale of our house.

Therefore, in a minor attempt to plug some of the gaping holes in my global adventurer toolkit, I am instead trying to learn a little Spanish. I opted for Spanish on the basis that I believe it to be one of the most widely spoken languages outside of English. Also, I like Spain, so perhaps a few words will come in handy on future summer holidays when I’d really like to know what I’m ordering for dinner.

Thankfully, as for nearly everything else, there are now plentiful free apps that promise the road to fluency in practically any language you fancy. After several concentrated seconds of research, I opted for an app called “Duolingo”, which I would definitely recommend for beginners.

After around ten hours of lessons, which are helpfully broken up into easily manageable 5-10 minute stages, I am now apparently 10% fluent! I find this hard to believe, but I suspect the next 90% gets harder. At least I may now be able order some drinks at a bar without having to rely purely on pointing, providing the kids are happy with either milk (leche) or orange juice (hugo de naranja) and nobody starts asking me any awkward questions.

Buenos noches.



Homes Under The Hammer

Selling Our House To Fund Family Gap Year

Firstly, I must say that I am disappointed in myself for having not written here for quite a long time.

Largely this is because I haven’t made any tangible progress on our travel plans, because for most of the last couple of months I have instead been absorbed in painting several rooms of our house in various shades of beige so that we can get it ready for sale.

Getting a house ready for sale may make for addictive daytime television, but I figured that you probably didn’t need a full account of colour choices and sand papering techniques within this forum.

Fortunately the decorating is over for now and our house is officially up for sale, which certainly feels like one of the first major steps towards realising our plan of taking a round the world family trip.

“Trip” doesn’t quite feel like the right word to describe a journey that will last a whole year, as I think it conjures up images of popping to the shops to buy some milk. However, I don’t really like using grandiose language (see what I did there) to describe our ‘trip’ before it has even started. Once we are back from our year away then maybe I will feel entitled to re-label this ‘trip’ as a round the world family adventure / extravaganza / odyssey, but only once we can justify such hyperbole.

Anyway, getting vaguely back to the point, I was also reminded today that this time next year we will potentially be preparing for quite a different Christmas than we are used to. Our rough travel itinerary would, at the very least, suggest that we will be spending next Christmas somewhere rather warmer than England…even though we are currently basking in almost summer-like temperatures of 15c.

While we plan for better weather next year, we will miss being able to share this time of year with the rest of our family and with our friends. We spent a lovely afternoon at the park with my sister’s family today, taking the kids for a play  / dogs for a walk. We really don’t do this often enough, partly due to the practicalities of everybody being busy, sprinkled with some laziness on my part, and then probably quite a large dose of complacency on my part that family will always be there…so why rush.

The idea of taking a year away is largely designed so that we can spend more time together as a family of four, but there is obviously a trade-off here in that we will see much less of everybody else. Maybe our next trip needs to be a whole Keating / O’Connell family road trip, but I’m not sure anybody is ready for that just yet!

Useful Skills For A Round The World Trip

It has occurred to me that, while I may be well enough equipped with professional qualifications for a life in the UK, I am woefully prepared in terms of any real practical skills that might come in useful for a life on the road.

Just to be clear how poorly equipped I am for real travelling, here are a few examples:

  • I am entirely unable to fix anything mechanical – not a huge problem in Bristol, as I can simply take my car to the garage at the end of our road if anything stops working. But what do I do if we breakdown in the Canadian Rockies with only grizzly bears for company (added exaggeration for effect)?
  • My foreign language skills extend about as far as ordering croissants in French and a few beers in Spanish – we are planning to spend a lot of time in English-speaking countries, but even so it would be nice to have some competence with another language.
  • My response to any medical incidents is simple, which is to call Anja if it looks serious and then rely on her nursing skills to absolve me of all responsibility. This works fine at home with the support of our fine national health service, but it might be helpful to learn some basic first aid before we go.
  • It would be great to return from our trip with some amazing photos, whereas my enthusiastic amateur status is more likely to lead to lots of “family holiday” snaps
  • Not so essential, but I am also hoping to develop this blog while we travel, armed with all the technical skills of your average 6-year old.
  • Finally, to top it all off, my eldest daughter is quickly over taking me in terms of swimming ability. I don’t really like getting my face wet while swimming, which I understand limits my potential, but isn’t really a problem at home because the sea is normally too cold to go beyond knee depth. But I do wonder if I should improve my ability before we reach some warmer waters that deserve exploring.

I could go on, but let’s stop here for now.

You might say that I should focus on my strengths, but I’m not sure there is going to be much demand for Excel modelling while we’re away (anybody?).

So, one of my many aims before we leave next year is to work on improving some of these skills that might be useful on our trip.

Do you have any advice about skills you have found particularly useful while travelling?

Realities Of Planning A Family Year Away

After the initial euphoria of starting to plan a year away with my family, some realities are now becoming evident:

  • There is a lot of preparation ahead of us and some days it feels like we’ll never get everything done
  • The world is a big place and we won’t be able to see everything in one year
  • We might not always agree on travel priorities
  • Planning a year away is nothing like planning a regular family holiday, as there is simply too much to contemplate organising in advance
  • The kids can get bored on a two-hour car journey, and sometimes on much much shorter journeys, so we’re going to have to be realistic about how much ground we can cover in any given day
  • We live a very comfortable daily existence, so the thought of leaving this behind is sometimes uncomfortable
  • The kids enjoy going to school and they will be nervous about leaving for a year, especially knowing that I will be their new maths teacher
  • We need to start saving / stop spending money in the same way that we have done previously, otherwise we will run out of funds before completing our trip
  • We have accumulated a lot of stuff, most of which we’ll need to sell to avoid requiring an excessive storage unit when we leave and to raise some funds

After initially focussing on the exciting parts of this adventure, such as planning our route, I am now realising that we need to deal with some practicalities so that we are ready to go.

Over the last few weeks we have begun to sort through our cupboards, looking for things that we can sell, both to save storage space and to raise some funds. Two car boot sales later and we have made a good start. It is surprisingly satisfying to start lightening our load.

We are also making some savings in our living expenses before we go, cutting out luxuries such as my Sky Sports TV package. A big sacrifice personally, although one that the kids have welcomed as it means I can’t bore them with any more cricket.

One of our next steps is selling our house, which we plan to get on the market before Christmas, after completing some essential decorating.

Although our trip is still ten months away, it is already starting to feel more real now that we are starting to make concrete changes.

What is your experience of getting ready for a long-term trip and leaving your normal routines behind?

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