AustCham Corner December 2022


By Sir Billy Chan

Last week, I was listening to Aussie country music of Tommy Emmanuel with my daughter in my rented car whilst we drove up to gorgeous Kings Park.

It was indeed long overdue bonding time as my last visit to Australia was way back in 2019. I used to come back to Perth every year to visit friends and families and of course up until Covid. Like everyone, I felt disenchanted with the idea that we have to going through 21 days quarantine and all sorts of special permit as a rite of passage.

For that reason, my daughter and I have not seen each other since she came to Macau in early 2019. Meeting my daughter at the Perth International Airport was an extremely sweet moment. We both ended up laughing and crying at the same time. This visit evoked a combination excitement and a strong sense of nostalgia for us.

The beautiful Kings Park is a place where we used to do our morning walk and watch open air concerts in the summer, and have our picnics on weekends. It is still a lovely natural wonderland which has the most spectacular view of the Swan River and the CBD.

The park is full of walking trails surrounded by native wildflowers with a rich early history of indigenous peoples and later settlers. Along the Honour Avenue, we stopped at each big gum tree which has a plaque engraved with names of our soldiers who dedicated their lives during the both World Wars. Some of them have names of fathers and sons engraved on the same plaque. We were walking amongst the gum trees enjoying the city skyline and the old Swan Brewery building on the suspended arched-bridge gave us a close comfort that we are finally home.

After venturing in Kings Park, we walked around the Matilda Bay area near the University of Western Australia where I used to work. It was like time standing still. I remember having my breakfast there every morning and overlooking the city skyline, admiring old trees and the tearoom, the lovely river and early risers starting their days joggling with lovely aquatic vistas by the Swan River. What a great way to start the day. What has changed?

Well, after nearly three years into the dreadful pandemic, the Western Australia businesses and office space that make up the St George’s Terrace, and the main street are struggling to stay open and bring back the office staff necessary for a lively CBD and economic recovery. Most office workers are still working from home. I am sure the other major cities around Australia are facing similar situations.

Perhaps we have to somehow reimagine what our future Perth City should look like. I can also see many new residential high-rises by the river. City councilors are putting in plans towards mixed utilisations of the city to combine retail shops and high-end apartments instead of strictly office space usage.

What was striking for me, is that most live entertainments joints are coming back with a vengeance. From small theatres to big indoor arenas to outdoor concert venues, there is a wonderful re-emergence of big international acts, pop, country, jazz, rock and classical genres. Suzi Quatro, Baby Animals, King of Leons, Guns n Roses, Justin Bieber and Andrea Bocelli and the likes are filling the seats where venues are able to offer. I can now see the roaring excitement of moving back to normal. So, what about Covid face-masks? Yes, what masks? I saw people hugging everyone hello and goodbye without wearing any masks.

The pandemic has affected all of us. As for me with this visit, I was so excited to see things are back to normal again in my beloved Perth. In fact, I attended a rock concert as an old rocker, I jokingly told my daughter. The last time I went to see my favourite band, the audiences were a bit younger. The audience sat laughing away as the theatre dimmed the lights for the band to come up to strike the first note.

I also slipped into a bit of work during this trip whereby I paid visits to some of my good old colleagues at the universities of Edith Cowan, Notre Dame and Curtin. I was particularly interested in some of the new Aussie technologies when I went through the campus of ECU. For example, a group of professors and students were very proud of their custom-built race car to show on the world stage; they came back with flying colours from Silverstone after their car amazingly placed 10th in a field of 135 at the Formula Student in the UK.

We were planning on how to collaborate in the near future to address the present and future needs of training and to work together to develop programs of the high quality and to stimulate new formats, technologies and curriculum at some point between Macao and Australia.

As we sang our unofficial Aussie Anthem, “I have been to cities that never close down from New York to Rio and Old Londontown. No matter how far or how wide I roam..” I felt a deep resonation between continents— as I have worked and lived in Macau for 11 years.

Like many Australians doing global affairs and business, we have opportunities to travel from China to the US and Europe. We learn amazing things from around the world outside right down to the cul-de-sacs of my small suburb on the Indian Ocean. We have established business relationships and made new friends over the years. We have created a home away from home. But when it is time to come home, the deep meaning of this word remains unchanged – we still call Australia home and have light at the end of the tunnel in Macau to get there more frequently.