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Beyond Location: Perth

Elisha Buttler introduces us to the agitators energising the city of Perth with more for the Design Hunter™.

In Habitus issue 07, I took readers On Location with WA-based designer maker Jon Goulder, who was at the time finalising his first solo exhibition for FORM.

Something I found fascinating about Goulder’s picks was their zigzagging between the natural and the urban (from popular natural wonder Leighton beach to creative heartland Midland Atelier).

In Western Australia, a state hosted by 1/3 of Australia’s landmass and separated from the east coast population by that cosmic expanse of desert – the Nullarbor – there is a push-pull occurring between the desire to cosmopolitanise Perth, and the desire to live and let live amid grand beaches and fine weather.

While sipping a Margaret River Riesling on a sailboat offshore from Rottnest Island may sound absurdly enjoyable, there is a growing desire to inject Perth’s city centre itself with a little je ne sais quois.

Some would say this has been an uphill battle. Others would say it doesn’t even matter – why energise the CBD when those who want it happily alight to the fringe suburbs of Mount Lawley, Leederville, Highgate and Mount Hawthorn? And yet. There is something about a CBD – traditionally the geographic heart of a city – which draws people to it.

When arriving in a new city one tends to gravitate towards the city centre and inner suburbs; often this is where the city literally began its life. Thus a city centre is expected to espouse a sense of history, of identity. It is envisioned as the living, breathing heart.

While Perth indeed has a humming inner city fringe, its city centre is also beginning to hum. The Tiger, Tiger Jon Goulder loves is one of many niche enterprises now inhabiting the CBD. There is Perth’s adaptation of Greenhouse, the well-heeled 1907 in Queen Street, Helvetica in Howard Lane, corporate go-to The George, and Alda’s and Wolf Lane: two chic bars hiding in the latter’s namesake street.

Above: Tiger, Tiger

On the fashion front, clothes/cuisine cooperative ZEKKA dresses and caffeinates the city’s stylish, while around the corner on Wellington Street Dilettante offers an artful fashion Wonderland.

Then there is the old(er) guard: Wasteland, Subway DC and Periscope (all on King Street) have long been purveyors of West Australian and national design, while on Barrack Street Jetty, French-Australian restaurant Halo entertains with fastidious taste atop the swells of the Swan River.

Likeminded initiatives such as Places for Me and 15 Blocks are designed to connect these places with the people of Perth and beyond, while spurring new ideas.
The point of listing these enterprises (and there are many more) is not to say that drinking and spending are the secrets of a city’s je ne sais quois. Rather is it is the very existence of these enterprises which layer the city with composites of character and identity.
It is the ingenuity, creativity and business nous of Western Australian locals – and a smattering of east coast expats – that has given birth to these ventures and the support material around them (websites, branding, architecture and design, local produce).

They are showrooms for their city’s collective talent, they are welcoming incoming talent, and they are refusing to let the CBD live and let live.

Elisha Buttler


Part of the Design Hunter™ network…

Curator and writer Elisha Buttler has been at Perth-based non-profit
organisation FORM since 2006, “managing the content and creative direction of exhibitions, creative programs and publications, working with artists, writing a lot every day and generally arguing for the sake of creativity.”

She lives in a rooftop apartment in Northbridge, Perth, with “a geologist and a cacophony of books, artworks and random objects collected over many years, from many places. But most of all, she says she loves “The light. I suspect I am solar-powered.”