Left to my own devices for the day I headed into Perth to sample some of its culture and history. Western Australia was established as a British Colony in 1829. Perth was founded on the capital on the Swan and Canning rivers, Fremantle to the South was the port and Guildford to the east was the gateway to the agricultural heartland. This means WA as a westernised society is less than 200 years old and it has had little time to find its own identity distinct from its British heritage. English place names, English people are still disconcertingly prominent (they race at Ascot here too!). Additionally WA must also negotiate the politics of reconciliation with indigenous populations that modern Australia faces now that it acknowledges that before the white settlers came Australia was not in fact uncharted.
WA has, therefore, a culture that is suspended between ancient aboriginal traditions and relatively youthful British colonial heritage in a future cultural politics that must transcend and combine both into a new sense of modern Australia. It's not easy and the Museum of Western Australia handles it well with reflective exhibits.
They question colonialism and the claiming of this land whilst still respecting the hopes, dreams and deprivation of the individuals and families who travelled many miles and worked hard to seek a better life and create their vision of a pastoral idyll based on their memories of home in this harsh unforgiving land.
Even now the horrific smashing of a boat carrying asylum seekers on the rocks at Christmas Island reminds Australians, whose ancestors all were once immigrants, just how torturous the politics of immigration, identity and belonging continues to be.
Perth is home to 2 million people in an area measuring 90km x 40km (by contrast metropolitan London houses 8 million in 38km x 38km). Mostly suburban, its inhabitants have embraced the garden city vision and cloned it many times in suburbs and new developments.
You feel in its rush to modernity Perth may have bee careless not only with indigenous landscapes but also its own short history and is only now rescuing its remaining heritage buildings from all this new building, mixing them with the gleaming glass and steel that house the riches of banks and mining companies, and the suburbs that roll back the bush.
WA is indeed rich in minerals, the source of its wealth and the mining industry is currently enjoying a boom period. The museum’s galleries also celebrate this rich geological legacy and the local biodiversity that grew upon it. This story of how this planet and this land came to be and how life came to being is much older than human stories. The first human occupants of WA are estimated to have arrived 50-60,000 years ago but the history of the earth stretches back many millions of years earlier. Whatever our tribulations and stories the time of humans in this place is but a speck of history compared to the worlds and stories latent in our rocks and skies told from the first nuclear reaction to the tread of the first hominids.
We are taken from the dawn of time to unknown futures and it is a magical and mystical journey. There is a quote at the gallery entrance from greek philosopher Demetrius:
“Apparently there is colour, apparently sweetness, apparently bitterness, actually there are only atoms and the void”.
It makes you feel very small!