Insider's guide to... Perth

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The Independent Travel

What's the weather like now?

What's the weather like now?

It's balmy and autumnal. The sun hasn't disappeared completely and some days are still quite warm, but when the Fremantle Doctor (a wind, not a medic) blows up in the afternoon there's a chill in the air. Perth's glamour set are secretly thrilled as it means that they can dust off their pashminas and don their knee-length black leather coats.

What are locals complaining about?

The dreaded GST (Goods and Services Tax), a form of VAT which is to be introduced on 1 July, and will make pashminas and black leather coats about 10 per cent more expensive. Even the government still can't get to grips with how exactly the new system is going to be implemented or how consumer prices will be affected, let alone inform shops and businesses about how to make the change. It's such a problem that accountants (as boring in Perth as anywhere else in the world) are even being invited to dinner parties to explain it.

Who's the talk of the town?

The luminous and talented actress Frances O'Connor, dubbed "the new Cate Blanchett", who trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth and is now making waves both in Australia and abroad. Mansfield Park, the screen adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, in which O'Connor stars as heroine Fanny Price, has just opened to excellent reviews here, although the lesbian undertones in the film hasn't endeared it to all Austen fans.

What's the cool drink to order?

"Darling, do have a riesling". So say ladies lunching around town. Grape varieties are as fashionable as designer shoes and handbags in some Perth quarters, and riesling is as popular as Prada right now. Of course if you're truly hip and groovy then it's water, water, water - to wash down those little pills.

What are people eating?

Things out of boxes. In a gimmicky take on the American take-away tradition, several trendy eateries are serving up Asian fusion fare in cardboard cartons, eaten with chopsticks.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?

Popstars. It's a cross between a documentary and a soap opera and charts the creation of girl band Bardot, Australia's answer to the Spice Girls. Viewers were treated to a no-holds-barred coverage of the audition process, the selection, the styling, the tantrums and finally the star-studded concert debut in front of thousands of screaming teeny-bopper fans. There was even some high drama when one of the girls (Perth-born as it happens) was thrown out of the group, allegedly for stealing from the others. It's gripping.

Where won't the locals dream of going?

To the controversial bell tower at Barrack Square. Western Australia's premier Richard Court rather fancied the idea of having the bells of St Martin's-in-the-Fields (given to WA by the British Government in 1988) ringing out over Perth, so he fast-tracked a millennium project to build a bell tower for them, using more than $6 million of taxpayers' money.

Where are locals going that tourists don't know about?

The "new" suburb of East Perth is big news. It offers the ultimate yuppified lifestyle and water views to die for. Former swamp land has been reclaimed and, thanks to Perth's buoyant economy, is now decorated by a kaleidoscope of multi-million dollar houses and apartment buildings. The central business district is minutes away by car or bike (the preferred form of transport in Perth), where there's a fabulous new restaurant, Lamonts, and Perth's secret gem, the Holmes à Court Gallery. The latter, Australia's finest private art collection, was started by millionaire industrialist Robert Holmes à Court in the 1970s and continued by his widow Janet. It includes Australia's leading contemporary artists and the best canvases and bark paintings by Aboriginal artists in private hands.

Where are the chic doing their shopping?

The nooks and crannies of suburban Perth hide delightful, European-style shopping strips. In Nedlands, the eclectic stores range from a showcase for WA's finest artisans to chic homewares and recycled designer gear. Claremont and Subiaco are also groovy places to go - for anything from a silk kimono, stunning bed linen or a great first edition book.

What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?

Margaret River, about three hours' drive south-west of Perth, is the ultimate weekend escape, which is responsible for 80 per cent of Australia's top wines, some of the finest restaurants in the state and some of the best beaches in the country. Summer or winter, it's the place to be.

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