12/09/2006 - 22:00

Forget a heritage lifestyle, let’s live

12/09/2006 - 22:00


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It’s easy to be relaxed about change when it doesn’t really affect you.

It’s easy to be relaxed about change when it doesn’t really affect you.

For instance, shopping hours is not something I personally lose sleep over.

Down the road I have a perfectly good independent supermarket, which is open often enough and late enough to suit my family’s needs.

As for other shopping – it’s not really my forte, so I rarely find reason to complain about shops not being open at my convenience.

In any case, I’m a local. To me, what we have is so much better than before, when shops closed more often than they were open and petrol could only be obtained from rostered stations at the weekend. Remember that?

On this and many other issues, Western Australia has meandered along without really caring what the rest of the world thought of us.

That lazy attitude is starting to hurt us, and a lot of people are starting to notice.

In our fast-growing economy we need skilled people from overseas to come – not as guest workers, but to stay. These people are really shocked by the inconvenience of our shop closures and ridiculous liquor laws, all designed to protect a select group of business people.

Many locals who have worked overseas – and there are lots of them – feel the same way. We really want these people to return and bring their enhanced skills back with them.

There are also the corporate visitors who come here on business. As we know, face-to-face relationship building is unbeatable. These people travel a long way, only to find a charming place that’s painfully hanging on the vestiges of the past.

And then there are the tourists, many of whom just want to shop during their evenings. And we won’t let them.

This is not just something that the economic rationalists at the WA Chamber of Commerce believe in; although I welcome their policy launch this week.

There is a huge groundswell in WA that believes we were duped in referendum foisted on the state and manipulated by a few faceless men (it’s a cliché, but it’s the truth) in retail and their cronies in the hospitality industry.

Last week, I attended a rather interesting discussion on the issue of heritage, put together by the City of Perth’s Heritage Appeal.

I was astounded to find that more than half the discussion revolved around issues of how to bring life back to the city.

Trading hours, liquor licensing, and tourism were all major topics. It was clear that the most outspoken people had simply had enough of the silly rules that were just senselessly impeding normal life for locals and visitors alike.

Now, that would make sense at a discussion about making the city modern, but this was a heritage discussion, about preserving the past.

In my view, the astute people in the room recognised that the best chance we had to preserve buildings and our reputation as a lifestyle capital was to inject new life into the place.

The best way to preserve something is to make it economically viable. And that means offering owners and operators the ability to make profitable business decisions beyond starting afresh.

While Fremantle could be used to contrast that point, the truth is the port town was probably within a whisker of being lost to the demolition ball before the rejuvenation of the America’s Cup turned it into a hospitality mecca.

It is now the most lively part of our metropolis and also has the most heritage.

Make our buildings pay and we’ll save them. In that case, the social environment (the sailing event over the summer of 1986-87) came to the rescue of the physical environment.

There is no reason why the same could not happen in Perth. A broader and long-term social change in the rules regulating the way we go about our lives may well inject new life into our city. Small retailers, one would expect, would be the biggest beneficiaries of this, yet they resist change.

I’d prefer to have heritage buildings not a heritage lifestyle. If some retailers and publicans want to remain in the past, so be it; but its time to jettison the baggage and breathe that life we’ve all known Perth should have.

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