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A letter from Ms Wagner to her dear old friend Mr Hugo. Belatedly posted after her recent journey to Perth. The reason for the delay? The original letter was stolen from Miss Wagner’s van at Leighton Beach while she was taking a glorious stroll to Cottesloe. The lesson? Guard your correspondence with your life. This letter which (at the risk of offending Miss W’s feelings) is a bit rambling, explains her thoughts about the very different life her dear friend, Beatrice, leads in Perth. It also describes Miss Wagner’s reservations about her long-time former home, Perth.

Dear Mr Hugo,

I have just finished completing a worthy research project in the heartland of Western Australia, namely, Perth. I’m thinking of you fondly, remembering the gay times we’ve shared here.

I just visited our dear friends Beatrice, Edward, and Cynthia. They now live in a stately home in the reputable suburb of Bassendean. Cynthia, who was but a hypothetical during your time in Perth, has recently acquired a lethal weapon – the power of conversation. Mostly, she uses it for the power of good, although she is occasionally petulant.

Beatrice is now a doctor, working at the West Australian University where she has become famous for her pioneering studies into stem cell science. I went to watch one of her lectures, and was amused by her charming, flirtatious manner. Admittedly, I spent ten minutes plucking fluff off my jacket, but this was attributable to the too intimate time I had spent with Sir Richard Daintree, Edward’s canine, rather than the quality of the lecture.

After the lecture we dined at the Old Cafeteria. I opted for a limp looking tuna patty and a brutally engineered coffee. One could not be blamed for thinking that, apart from Beatrice’s respected presence, our formerly hallowed educational institution had gone to the dogs, or rather, had simply not progressed at all. And yet, the sun shines with a particular acuity in Perth, and as we were strolling back from our luncheon, the university’s stately, gracious grounds were awash with light – there was a certain purity to the scene.

Beatrice told me that her whole life is a constant tension between the notion of responsibility, such as looking after your family, and the idea of taking time for yourself, for example, reading a book. Whenever she’s doing one, she feels like she should be doing the other. She described it as two competing ‘discourses’, and even though I hate that word, I think it’s a pretty accurate description. It’s funny because my whole life is weighted in favour of the second alternative –everything I do is dedicated to maximizing my personal fulfillment. Beatrice lives in a very different world.

But Mr Hugo, I fear I am boring you. As you know, Perth, ostensibly all sweetness and light, has  a dark side. My good family friend Paul Dorkin to once described it to myself and my dear sister Sylvia as an ‘evil, evil town.’ Perth’s sinister underbelly (remember my unfortunate proclivity for men with sinister underbellies?) is most apparent while travelling on its ruthlessly efficient railway system.  There are a series of posters based on nursery tales – Jack and Jill, Mary had a little lamb – all aimed at targeting various forms of anti-social behavior like fare evasion, scratching glass, not standing up for seniors – but there’s something almost Stalinist in the combination of childhood whimsy and discipline. Perhaps I’m being ridiculous, and overstating it?

At the Cannington station, they have ‘Lock and Ride’ cages for bikes, which are open between 9 and 3.30. So far, so good. But there were some bikes locked up outside the cage, and when I looked at them, I noticed that they had these pieces of paper curled over their handle bars, with the following words printed on them, ‘We remind you that bikes must be locked in the bike cage. If you continue to ignore this reminder, your lock will be taken off and your bike removed.’

Yes, Perth is safe and efficient. But at what cost?

How are things in Melbourne town? I hope you are warm and healthy. I have been thinking of you fondly, and send my warmest wishes to your family, friends, and worthy yet beleaguered football team. Can I see you upon my return? Perhaps a visit to the opera?

I am ever your affectionate friend,

Dolores Wagner

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