I am writing this waiting for a train to take me back to Perth from an afternoon wine tasting in Swan Valley. I've been in the capital of Western Australia for three days and it's made a big impression on me.
To start with the geography of the place is fascinating. Perth is the most remote capital city in the world (albeit it is a state not a national capital), yet it is also a major global cross road and shares its time zone with 60% of the world's population. One of the friendly group of RSA Fellows who I lunched with on Friday has been involved in an initiative called 'In the zone' exploring the scope for greater understanding and collaboration across the time zone.
In this part of the world the affluence and quality of life (although this doesn't extend to the indigenous peoples) is striking and made even more so right now when the world feels so full of strife, anxiety and need. On the back of a boom in minerals, Western Australia is the richest region of a country which is moving into its third decade of unbroken economic growth. I was invited here to speak at a local government conference which was grander than anything I have been to in Britain even in the good times (it was enough to make Eric Pickles spontaneously combust). People are well off, the climate is great, there seems to be green space, open water and the beauties of nature all around (not to mention great vineyards within twenty minutes drive!).
The locals are aware of their good fortune and proud of their city and region. But with this there seems to come a certain unease which has two dimensions. On the one hand, there is awareness that the windfall of mineral wealth won't last for ever. As someone said to me, 'it took two million years to build up our mineral reserves and we will have dug them all up in a century; what happens after that?'.
On the other hand, there is a sense that given its privileges Perth ought to have the responsibility and the confidence to take on a greater international leadership role. At the moment there isn't much sign of internationalist sentiment. Despite their wealth and their very direct experience of the extremes of weather, Australians are reacting badly to the carbon tax proposed by the Labour Government. There is also a worrying political consensus behind a clamp down on immigration even though any intelligent analysis of Australia's future would surely conclude that prosperity and dynamism are enhanced by steady population growth.
These were among the topics we discussed at the RSA lunch. The Fellows were an impressive and thoughtful group and really excited by the idea that the RSA could provide some benign grit in the oyster of Perth's civic culture. I also managed to recruit a couple of new Fellows from the kind few who took time to talk to me after my speech at the conference. So I have offered to be an honorary Fellow of the Perth branch as it identifies a shortlist of projects. One interesting idea is to create a network of school-based innovators to help address a perceived lack of creativity in the state's education system.
So I leave this intriguing city more than a little envious of its creature comforts. But I am also keen that the RSA could be part of a conversation about how Perth makes some of its strengths the foundation for providing generous leadership in an imperilled world.