By Steven Harris
Steven Harris and his family moved to Perth from the UK in 2011 after his employer, DXC Technology, gained new business in Western Australia. He works as a programme manager in IT systems integration and consultancy.
Perth is very family-friendly and one of the most “spread-out” cities in the world, with a low population density. Wide boulevards, tree-lined avenues and dual carriageways are the norm. Traditionally, Australians aspired to a housing lot of a quarter acre (about 1,000 sq m), with front and back gardens. Recently, developers have concentrated on putting larger homes on to smaller lots with less garden space, although their laid-back character remains.
There are parks, playgrounds and sporting fields on every street corner. It seems on the weekend that all of Perth is out doing sport. That can be football (soccer), rugby, Australian rules football, hockey, athletics, sailing, basketball, canoeing or kayaking. Wind surfing, kite surfing and conventional board surfing take place in the Indian Ocean.
The internationally famous Margaret River Surfers Point is only a three-hour drive south, while Cottesloe beach on the city coast is popular with surfers throughout the year and hosts the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition every March.
For a cheap day out, we like to take the kids to the riverside promenade, Elizabeth Quay, in the central business district (CBD) on the north shore of the Swan river, where there is a playground. A ferry ride for A$2 ($1.40) gets you to Mends Street Jetty on the opposite shore, and the nearby Sir James Mitchell Park, which also has a children’s playground and a scented garden. The children can play and explore, and we can watch the water-skiers or sail boats pass by, all in front of the magnificent Perth skyline.
Coffee is an important aspect of city life. Business is done in coffee shops, not in boardrooms. Along St Georges Terrace, a half-mile stretch of banks and mining companies in the CBD, there are dozens of coffee shops and they are always full.
Coffee can cost A$4, rising to A$5 in some of the more exclusive suburbs such as Claremont or Mosman Park. St Georges Terrace has many stand-up, hole-in-the-wall coffee outlets. However, if you take the time to walk down the side streets you will find hidden gems.
My favourite coffee shops are Reveleys Cafe, where the owners remember your name and ask about your day, and Café 225, just off St Georges Terrace, where you can buy an English breakfast tea in a teapot and relax in the manicured English box garden.
Most large companies operate on Eastern Australian state time — three hours ahead of Perth in the summer and two in the winter. I start work at 5am but can finish at 2pm. I can fetch the kids from school and still have time to relax in the sea or go cycling.
We live in Joondalup, a small city about 25km north of Perth city centre. We chose Joondalup because of the good transport links with the rest of the state: the train line has been built in the middle of the freeway. The civic amenities were the best we had seen — the library is the busiest in Western Australia and is housed in a magnificent stone-clad building.
We rented for the first four years, then as soon as we became permanent residents, we bought a house. Unless you have a very large deposit, mortgages are only available to those with permanent residency.
Commuting is easy. There is traffic, but the freeways were planned with additional space for extra lanes and the state government recently took delivery of an additional four trains to ease capacity on the railway.
Australia has a large private-school sector — not really equivalent to English private schools because many are Christian church schools. They receive some government funding, but fees are high — for example, A$3,000-A$10,000 for Year 7, the first year of high school. While this is cheaper than many private schools in the UK, it might still be a shock for those used to good state schools.
There are some good state schools in Perth, but new immigrants find it hard to move into their catchment areas because of high house prices.
Our third child was born here and all the nurses were from places such as Lancashire and Bognor Regis in the UK. Healthcare is a private/public partnership and insurance is mandatory for new arrivals. The system works well — everyone can get treatment, but that treatment is targeted carefully and not as wasteful as some state-provided systems.
Perth has an outdoor lifestyle, so don’t worry about making friends or meeting people as you will do that every day. We made friends through our local church, writers’ groups such as the Peter Cowan Writers Centre, and the local gym.
The class envy and stereotypes so typical of the UK are not present in Australia. There are rich and there are poor, but it is more a question of how you choose to live your life. People are not judged for their wealth, or lack of it.
What do you wish you’d known before you moved?
It is possible to get permanent residency before moving, certainly for people aged 45 or under. I would recommend this, although rules change constantly as Australia tries to balance immigration with its skills and jobs requirements.
Picking a suburb is very important. Prices are always higher nearer the coast — although the wind shear off the ocean soon loses its appeal. Nearer the freeway, house prices become more reasonable and travel times shorter.
When we arrived in 2011, it was the peak of the mining boom. We would view two-bedroom rented houses in suburbs such as Gwelup, Karrinyup, Doubleview and Innaloo with 30 other families hoping to put down a deposit.
With the advent of the National Broadband Network, internet access has become faster and more stable, making remote working more feasible.
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Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Alamy; Dreamstime