Mandurah is trying to find itself. It’s having a bit of trouble deciding exactly what it wants to be.

Mandurah, an hour south of Perth, has always been a sleepy little backwater but a very attractive backwater all the same. It holds precious memories for my family. It’s the place we always used to come as a family to picnic on the estuary foreshore, fish from the jetty or the local beaches and eat fish and chips wrapped in paper while struggling to keep the seagulls from our dinner. We would go prawning and crabbing and return to mum and dad’s place when they lived down here, to cook them up and have a beer and a crab supper. In the heat of summer we would walk to the grassy banks of the foreshore and eat ice creams in the shade of the ancient trees. At dusk on a summer’s evening with ice cream in hand we would relax there and listen to the band playing over the water at the Peninsular Hotel.

That’s the way it was, there was one road in and one road out and we loved it.

Fishing from the jetty with Nanna & Grandad was always a favourite with my daughters

I’ve just spent four days in Mandurah in an attempt to just have a break. I got what I came for, a break, but it was interesting to view the place from a visitor’s perspective after all this time. While I was there I came across an advert in the newspaper, yes, I had time to read a newspaper, asking for input into the debate on whether Mandurah should become ‘a bustling metropolis or keep the feel of a fishing village.’

Personally, I think it’s a bit late to ask the question. Mandurah has changed, there’s no denying that, it’s no longer the sleepy place it was 20 or 30 years ago. But what has it changed into? It’s almost as though it’s tried to change but hasn’t quite got there. It’s in no man’s land, neither here nor there.

Shiny new high rises

The old Peninsular hotel has gone, replaced with a multi storey hotel and an apartment block. The creation of a canal development and Ocean Marina, both lined with apartment buildings has produced an abundance of accommodation and there’s the Performing Arts Centre, the Boardwalk and Cultural Precinct and a new shopping precinct at Dolphin Quay. There are several coffee shops and restaurants offering everything from Thai and Indian food to the ubiquitous fish n chips. BUT …..  there is no vibe. Actually there’s nothing happening here.

The new Dolphin Quay Marina

When I arrived on Sunday afternoon it was a busy place, it was a hot afternoon, families were out and there was fun being had but I’ve just spent two hours walking around the place and stopping for coffee and I’ve seen a handful of people. The shops, the boardwalk, the beaches – deserted. Now I know it’s the middle of the week but I also know that Hillary’s Boat Harbour in the northern suburbs of Perth, a similar venue, is packed with tourists and locals on any weekday morning. A holiday destination can’t survive on weekend trade alone.

Hmmm … wonder how I can get one of those?

Perth itself struggles with the concept of change and I think Mandurah’s outlook is even worse. You get the impression that it sort of feels that it should try and keep up with the rest of the world but it’s not quite sure. It’s made a lame attempt to provide something in the way of world class attractions but it’s not really prepared to stand up and say ‘yep – here we are world.’ It’s more a case of ‘yeh – here we are if you want to come find us, not really sure if we want you to though.’

Deserted!

Mandurah has such potential, what they have done in the way of the Marina is an excellent start but, if they want to compete in a highly competitive travel market, they need to build on that and grow.

The fact is that family holiday’s are changing. Rightly or wrongly, children and teenagers in general no longer want local holidays, they want to fly off to Bali or somewhere more distant and it’s cheaper too. Places like Mandurah now need to attract the interstate and overseas market.

Apart from eating and drinking, the only thing on offer for the holiday maker here is a river cruise. It’s very telling that in all of the advertising paraphernalia that I’ve been able to find, Mandurah is advertised along with the rest of the Peel region. Which is fine if you’re touring by car, a visit to Mandurah for a day and then onwards to see the rest of the area, but what does that do for Mandurah businesses? Not a lot I’m told. As the owner of one clothing shop told me, ‘ there is such potential here but they have to bring the place in line with the rest of the world,’ she went on to say that, although there was a really well situated hotel on the sea front, it had no restaurant. Can you imagine a hotel in Bali or Singapore or even Sydney, not having a restaurant.

As I see it, Mandurah needs to make up its mind what it wants to be and where it’s going. If it wants to promote itself as a world class holiday destination it needs some serious consideration giving to what’s missing, it needs to put in place an infrastructure that will allow development along the lines of other world renowned destinations. If not, it needs to stop right now, stop spending money on restaurants that remain empty, boardwalks that no one walks on and beaches that no one lazes away the afternoon on.

No half measures. You either join the rest of the world or you opt out.

Personally, I like the Mandurah that the rest of the world doesn’t know about, but then, I don’t own a business there.

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