The coast, along which the city of Perth has spread, is stunningly beautiful in spite of the massive amount of development and land reclamation. Leaving the centre of the city and heading out towards Reabold Hill lookout point from where you can see the CBD to the East and the ocean to the west you can drive along the Ocean Highway for miles. On the ocean side for most of the way you have a strip of sand dunes covered in native scrub, this includes many quite beautiful low lying bushes and low trees beyond which you can see the azure and aquamarine blue of the sea. Pale yellow sand fringed with the ever-changing blue and white of the surf. The day we were there the surf was mild, there were a few surfers and swimmers in the water, and one or two lonely sun bathers under the blazing, unforgiving sun. The temperature was around 31 degrees and it was not yet midday. On the other side of the highway development has it grip, endless modern buildings in various sizes, colours and materials are mushrooming steadily all along the coast – not every plot is taken yet…but every vacant plot is up for grabs.
Quite the largest building along the coast is the enormously ugly hotel at Scarborough Bay built by Alan Bond. A gigantic eyesore, this hotel was built in spite of local protest and stands now towering over everything else, the sole triumph of the protesters was that the beach was not made private, so that one can still walk pretty much all the way from City Bay to Hilary’s Marina. The other development the Hilary’s Marina is less obtrusive, though in many ways just as much of a blot on the coast. Some time in the 1980s, when the coast was barely altered, only a few houses and otherwise uninterrupted natural scrub, huge granite boulders were carted in to build a spit of land some 200 acres in size, against which a marina could be constructed. The reason the stone had to be transported in from elsewhere is the simple fact that Perth is a city built on sand. There is nothing natural upon which to construct a coastal outcrop, such as would be required for the jetties; there is no natural rock and no other way of creating a deep enough basin for the mooring and tying up of yaghts and motorboats.
Apart from a few places, Brighton and Scarborough for example, the development of residential or holiday property has been kept apart from the sea side itself. For the moment, snakes and sea birds still have sway between the road and the ocean but the predatory nature of development and the expanding population of the city (said to be increasing at the rate of 1000 per week – which might be an urban myth, but also might be true) might soon make it necessary to cover every square inch with concrete, the only way to widen the road now would be to lose the nature strip and as more and more people are commuting into the city centre demand may force a change of policy. The need is a way off yet, thank goodness. Out at sea there is another menace.
Western Australia is the hot spot for shark attacks, such that the state has now granted permission for some culling. This is not solely the Great White Shark but Tiger Sharks as well which also now have a ferocious record. This seems to me a great mistake, and although my heart goes out to the families and friends of the many people who have died in such a frightening and appalling way, killing the creatures whose kingdom it is seems terribly unjust and a travesty. Obviously, I am not an expert and I don’t live here but even Peter Benchley, the writer of Jaws, now does everything he can to counter the dreadful reputation his book gave to the Great White Shark. Numerous biologists and scientists are busily trying to persuade the world that the Great White is a miracle of design and function. Indeed, sharks are all a miracle of design and function, the fact that they are also a killing machine is immaterial, so is a bird of prey – but they rarely attack and kill humans and therein lies the difference in our attitude, though in many places we have done our best to eradicate them. It is not clear what provokes these attacks and they are not all fatal. No one quite understands what brings the creatures into the areas where people swim and surf, it could be something as simple as the trace of blood from a grazed knee; miles away under the water this alerts the shark and instinctively it will follow the trail to where the prey is thrashing in the water. The shark has no idea that this is not a distressed fish, but that people are playing: swimming not thrashing, surfing not wounded. Tiger sharks do not distinguish between people and seals – it is one and the same – bodies in the water equals prey. The shark is in his element – we are the trespassers. Be wary, be warned!