Paul Rush hears a charming indigenous account of Western Australia's boomtown.
It's hard to imagine Perth, Western Australia, as a jumble of sand dunes and wide river floodplains scattered with scraggly, desiccated scrub - an untouched landscape largely devoid of life but widely traversed by hardy tribes of nomadic Aborigines in search of food.
This picture of Perth 50,000 years ago has been painted for me by Greg Nannup, a consummate storyteller and official raconteur of the Nyoongar tribe, who leads indigenous heritage tours in beautiful Kings Park.
Kings Park is Perth's pride and joy. It's a lush parkland directly above the city and the lake-like expanse of the Swan River. It breathes fresh air over the bustling city and provides a welcome haven for its citizens.
The park is a sanctuary for flora and fauna, a playground for children, a memorial to the city's pioneers. It is also a gourmet wining and dining venue with a selection of restaurants and cafes.
In spring, vivid wildflowers carpet the bushwalking tracks and the yellow banksias burst into bloom, just as they did for my guide's ancestors all those millennia ago. Today, there are more orchid species in Kings Park than in the whole of Europe.
Glen and his father, Noel, have spent a great deal of time mapping the traditional songlines in the Perth region to help young Aborigines gain a better understanding of who they are as the inheritors of the oldest living culture on Earth.
Several traditional Aboriginal songlines intersect in the park as it was an important gathering place where clans met and socialised, played games, chanted, danced and married in the shade of the tall trees just as people do today. I learn that the hilltop on which we are standing is a powerful place where a select few elders with specialised knowledge would make critical decisions for the future viability and survival of their clan.
I look out over the steel towers of Perth's skyline and realise very little has changed. In those sharp-edged skyscrapers, with their reflective curtain walls of glass, similar intense conversations are being conducted and business decisions made.
Glen has the natural gift of drawing a listener into his stories and taking them on a journey. He explains that the early dwellers along Swan River's banks regarded their ancestors as Great Spirits of the Dreaming who controlled the stars, seasons and tides.
The initiation of manhood was a pivotal life experience. Teenage boys would have a scar carved into their arms by an elder to denote their place of belonging. They would rest on the banks of the Swan River for 10 days while the wound healed.
In the same spot today there is a major boys' college and Bethesda Hospital - two modern places of education and healing that fit nicely with ancient practices, maintaining the natural order.
We walk down the paved path that runs along a terrace high above the slow-flowing Swan, which is sparkling in the bright sunlight. Flotillas of pleasure yachts are gliding gracefully over the surface with the grace of a corps de ballet.
A cool breeze is wafting up the river from the coast. It's what the locals call the Fremantle Doctor that enlivens summer afternoons and, on this stifling hot day, makes me feel a whole lot better.
My first thought on leaving the park is how remarkable it is that this gracious city is here at all.
Perth is far and away the most isolated major city on the planet, being closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney, if you could ever consider 6000km of desert and ocean close.
It's surprisingly easy to get around the city centre on foot. I visit the Perth Mint to watch gold ingots being poured, and stroll through London Court, a retail walkway that captures the essence of Tudor England with its decor.
The uber-modern shopping precincts of Hay and Murray streets are a delight.
I can't escape the conclusion that Perth is one of Australia's rising stars. It has a refreshingly positive, spirited attitude and offers all the essentials as a great holiday destination.
I also visit the Swan Bell Tower in Barrack Square, a fine city icon, which houses 12 bells from St Martin in the Fields, London, a 150th anniversary gift to Western Australia.
People once said they found it hard to get excited about Perth and the self-reliant "sandgroper" residents of the Lonesome State. It has never had the same hustle and bustle as the brazen capitals back east.
This is not the Perth I see on this visit. I'm meeting friendly, helpful people and there is an air of confidence and optimism, prosperity and progressiveness wherever I go. Perth is a boomtown with a great future.
In terms of population, cultural mores, marine environment and the easygoing, laid-back lifestyle, Perth and Fremantle remind me of Auckland. I soon learn that one in 50 Perthites are New Zealand-born and it's easy to see why with the superb subtropical climate, pure white-sand beaches and great outdoor life.
"There's something special about Perth," a local told me with obvious pride.
"There's a great sense of community here with emphasis on family activities. To some extent, all Australian cities are laid-back, but Perth is positively horizontal in the coolest possible way."
Getting there: Air New Zealand's 787-9 Dreamliner flies most days between Auckland and Perth.
The writer travelled to Perth courtesy of Air New Zealand and Tourism Western Australia.