by Neil Douglas
I’d landed in Perth after twelve hours travelling from Wellington. You spend longer flying over the desert than you do over the Tasman. It was 9.30pm and I was tired but I was jolted back into life by a loud-mouthed miner.
“I’ll give you $50 extra, just get me to the Casino now” said the huge iron-ore miner with a German accent. A squadron of east coast planes had just landed at Perth airport. I’d come out of the airport and saw at least 150 queuing in the sheep holding pen for taxis.
To avoid the taxi queue, I’d walked across to the shuttle bus. There were only six European female back-packers and an old woman with a daisy festooned wide brimmed hat waiting. Two minutes later the bus jerked to a halt. “$15 bucks mate”. I asked him whether the taxi queue was always that long. “It’s unbelievable mate”, the carrot hair topped driver said in his sweat stained shirt. ”Just as bad last night, the airport’s bloody useless at managing anything, if you ask me”.
That’s when the big German miner stumbled onto the mini-bus. We shot off out of the airport and sped towards Perth. “How about $60 cash then – nobody minds dropping me off first, do you?” he turned his head round and looked at us. None of us said anything. “You’ll see more of Perth and I’ll get to the Casino fast – I wouldn’t be on this thing if there wasn’t a ridiculous queue for a taxi”. “I don’t know” says the bus driver, “we don’t work like that”. “$60 and its cash” retorted the miner “We don’t take anything but cash!” the driver countered. “But I suppose I could drop you on the opposite side of the road”. “Back to $50 for that” the miner quipped.
So we detoured to the Casino and I guess the driver was $50 better off when he got the miner’s bag out of the trailer. “Rich stupid miner – I was going pretty close anyway,” said the driver when he swung back into his seat. He dropped me off in the heart of the city and the cleaners were out in force. Now where was the Wentworth Plaza Hotel? After a couple of wrong turns in the Hay and Murray Street malls I found it. An economist’s dream at $A120 a night, as Perth’s hotels are not cheap. The only compromise was a shared bathroom.
Perth’s a city awash with money and people in a hurry to spend it. It looks like Adelaide or Auckland but it’s way longer at 100kms long and 20kms wide. “It is even less dense than LA” said Hugo, a wise semi-retired Swiss transport planner I met at the WA Department of Transport.
I was there to provide some advice on how many people might use the MAX – a Metro Area Express Light Rail service planned for the city and to provide some assistance on the economics of the project.
What a contrast to Wellington. In Perth the attitude was “let’s just build it,” a message that emanated right down from the top since the Transport Minister wants Light Rail and an airport rail link as well. In WA, the Transport Minister Troy Buswell has real clout because he’s the Treasurer too. How unique is that I wondered and thankfully, Troy Buswell is not spending ‘his’ money building ‘Roads of National Significance’ like Gerry Brownlee in New Zealand.
Nevertheless, some steam was fizzing out of the WA economy with a star deleted from WA’s *** credit rating during the week I was there. The mining boom had slowed, so there may be a need to be careful about spending a billion or two. Good news for economists like me, I thought.
“How will you fund the MAX?’ I asked Hugo. “Well, I helped start a car park levy in 1999,” he said. “The car parking money is dedicated to public transport and Perth has used it to fund free buses in the central area and to help fund the MAX.” What a good idea. You pay money to park your car on the edge of town and then you ‘drive’ into the city on a free bus. Compare this with Wellington and most places where you’d park your car for free at say Petone station and then pay a train fare to travel into Wellington, the same as someone who’d walked to the station. We should consider a $2 a day levy on Wellington’s car parks and spend the money on buses, trains and cycling.
On my last day, I went to an office yum cha and on the walk back the planners showed me where the rail station and the Wellington Street bus station were being put underground. It was part of a $4 billion project to link the CBD to the nearby entertainment district underground and to improve the city centre with things like a dedicated cycleway. Contrast this with the NZ Transport Agency’s plan to build an ugly $100 million flyover at the Basin Reserve. We should get some West Australian engineers to come over to Wellington and give advice on urban tunnelling.
I scanned a newspaper and amazingly the Phoenix was playing the Perth Glory that night at the NIB stadium. The game was at 6.45 so I’d have plenty of time to catch my plane home at 11.30pm. I caught a train from the CBD underground station and it took me close to the NIB stadium for a bargain $2.50. The floodlights were on, the game had just started and I could hear the crowd singing from way down the street.
The NIB is an old stadium dating back to 1904 when it was the Perth Oval used for cricket and Aussie Rules and as its name suggests, it was an oval. In 1996, when Perth Glory started in the A league, the fans were too far away from the action so temporary stands were erected close to the pitch. Then in 2004, a $200 million transformation began to convert the stadium to the ‘rectangular’ stadium it is today. The logic was clear as the Sports and recreation Minister Terry Waldron said: “There is no question that a rectangular stadium provides the best viewing experience for sports such as rugby union, rugby league and soccer”. So why did Fran Wilde opt for a soulless cake tin, I wondered.
What an atmosphere the Glory fans created on Friday night jumping up and down and singing songs in the northern stand. Most of the songs were initiated by a man with a loudhailer. They praised the Glory, denigrated Sydney and every time Phoenix goalkeeper Glen Moss ran up to take a goal kick, made a loud chant about sheep.
If you’d been there you’d understand where Wellington rugby player Victor Vito was coming from when he tweeted in May that the Wellington cake tin had no atmosphere and the players didn’t like playing there. That was just after the A-League football captains had voted Wellington’s Westpac Stadium the worst for atmosphere. Absolutely positively not a title that Wellington wants …
Transforming our stadium from a round to rectangular for soccer and rugby should be high up our project ‘wish list’. Certainly, it should be higher up the list than a runway extension or a Basin Reserve flyover. What ‘value’ do you put on your youth having a communal singsong – keep-fit session? If not, Gareth Morgan should start talking to his rich mates about funding Victor Vito’s suggestion of a new 17,000 rectangular stadium.
Spurred on by the crowd, the Glory scored and what a goal it was by Brazilian winger Sidnei whose shot screamed into the top right hand corner. Who was he? I’d never heard of him or anyone else in the Glory side. There was no Shane Smeltz nor William Gallas (their new ‘marquee’ ex Chelsea player). Perth’s regulars were injured and they were fielding seven under 22s and a 16 year old debutant.
It didn’t matter to the crowd. They were ecstatic. Then, ten minutes before half time Huysegemson had the skill to score a goal just as good as Sidnei’s. It didn’t shut up the Glory fans as they sang even harder until half time when it was monster hot dogs and beer and the Perth police bagpipe band marching up and down.
Into the second half and to the disbelief of the crowd, Paul Ifill glances in a header off his nearly shaven head. We can thank Paul’s barber for that goal! It’s 2-1 to the Phoenix. Can we hang on for 40 minutes? No, only for ten, as Glory defender Michael Thwaite scores with a diving header. 2-2, what a roller coaster!
It’s a calamity for the Phoenix with twenty minutes to go. The ref sends off Phoenix’s Albert Riera for a missed tackle and a second yellow card. “Off, off, off” bay the crowd but Albert hadn’t got a first yellow card. The ref ‘gaffed’ and was mobbed by protesting Phoenix players. The red card was rescinded and Albert got subbed instead which started a wave of substitutions and it all got rather messy but we were holding on. Oh no! Zahra scores with a low shot. It’s 3-2 to the Glory. The Phoenix attack but can’t get an equaliser. Into extra time and it’s all over when Glen Moss fumbles a shot from Sidnei and the ball squirts into the back of the net. 4-2 and another defeat for the Phoenix. But what a “ripper of a game,” declares a cheery Aussie.
I get a taxi to the airport and ask the driver how much an airport cab stand costs. “$2” he says. “It’s $7 in Wellington and Auckland” I reply. “$7 for a cab stand – that’s ridiculous” he says. He then says that there are now too many taxi drivers. It was alright during the mining boom but they licensed too many cabs so they drive around all day for not much.
I liked Perth. I went there to advise them on economics but I learnt a few things too. Perth has built roads but is now serious about improving public transport with Light Rail and an airport rail service. They are rectifying past mistakes by burying their transport to improve the amenity of the city centre, and they fund their buses through an innovative car parking levy. They have transformed their oval stadium into an atmospheric rectangular home for soccer and rugby. Wellington can certainly learn from Perth about these infrastructure ideas. And what about the Phoenix? Like the Glory, the Phoenix has young talent like Louis Fenton of Tawa. Ernie Merrick just needs to give them their wings and they’ll soar again too.