Perth, Western Australia: Kindergarten on Steroids

Since I left Perth, I’ve struggled to articulate what it is about that place. It was my first time leaving home, my first adventure, but that doesn’t do it justice. The coastline, the beaches, the clear water – that feels awfully cliché. The kangaroos, the blondes, the accents – too stereotypical. I had planned to go for two months but I stayed for six. I pushed my flight back three times. I told my parents I didn’t think I was coming home, but I couldn’t tell them exactly why. I didn’t know. I just knew I was really happy.

Charlie Hoehn, author of “Play It Away”, tells his story of drug abuse and anxiety, stemming from overwork and sleep deprivation. His lowest point was taking drugs designed to help fighter pilots stay awake during weeklong missions. He quit his job and sought help. He tried everything: therapy, meditation, yoga, praying, journaling, volunteering, flotation tanks. His doctor prescribed him medication, but the side affects scared him off. He would discover the book “Play” by Stuart Brown, and Charlie’s cure become clear, “It was so obvious…Play is an essential ingredient in life…Human beings are designed to play…They’ve done tests on animals, with primates and lab rats, where they stop them from playing, giving them everything else the want, everything else they need – food, water, love, nurture, shelter. When they stop them from playing, they develop emotional and social handicaps. They lash out at their environment.” So, Hoehn reintroduced play into his life. He started doing the things he did as a kid, the things he was drawn to naturally, when adults weren’t forcing him, when he wasn’t graded or judged. His anxiety symptoms were gone within a few weeks.

Charlie’s book promoting play as an essential ingredient in life would finally help me articulate – Australians live like kids! Perth was like my kindergarten experience on steroids. A place where no one is a stranger, everyone’s a mate. A place free of judgment, just do the things you’re drawn to, the things that make you happy. A place of full transparency because you don’t know anything but being honest and they don’t know what taking offense is. A place where money is just a currency, not a bragging point. A place where school is learning and growing, not career mandating. A place where you work hard, but recess even harder. That was my kindergarten. That was Perth. And that’s what it is about that place.

My group of friends spanned in ages from early twenties to late thirties. Age didn’t matter. We could all drink a beer, play video games, or explore the wildlife as any good friends do. We’d make fun of each other and the more honest the jab, the more people laughed, the better friends we were. Few go to college, it’s an apprentice country. Most of my friends were painters, carpenters, construction workers, electricians, mechanics, and plumbers. I didn’t ask where they worked because when I did, they’d say things like “you must be American.” Questions like ‘where do you work’ don’t exist, not because they’re not interested in you as a person, but because there is more to you as a person than what you do and how much money you make. And on weekdays and weekends alike, we’d play. We’d play sports, we’d go camping, or simply sit around a table for some good, clean “banter”.

Perth is a small, isolated city in Western Australia. I met only a few foreigners during my six months there. I’ve met tons of foreign travelers since who have “done Australia” and only a handful made it over to Perth. I always urge those to go back and “do Perth.” It was a true, Australian culture immersion.

On the night before I left for Australia, my friend, Grace, asked me, “Aren’t you nervous? It’s going to be such a culture shock!” My brother quipped with something to the effect of: ‘nah, he’s oblivious, he adapts wherever he goes.’ The conversation carried on. I didn’t give his comment much thought other than that it sounded insulting.

His words stuck with me though. It’s one of those that linger, popping in and out of your mind. It’s memorable, but you’re not sure why. I’ve made the decision that he was complimenting me. Compliment or not, Perth would not be a good test of my brother’s statement because I didn’t have to adapt. It was like being the new kid in first grade – they welcomed me right into their home and let me play with them.