So you thought you were living in the only "Golden West?" That's also the name that Australia bestows on its westernmost territory, and Perth is its gateway - a city of an even million inhabitants, perched at the edge of the Indian Ocean, in a concave bend of shoreline near the southwestern tip of the country.

Approaching by air, one feels a heady sense of discovery at first sight of this glistening "Emerald City", functioning with obvious elan in its isolation. Perth likes its designation as "The City of Lights," given by astronaut John Glenn when he flew over on a space mission. First impressions suggest a city that's sophisticated yet innocent, cosmopolitan yet homey, restful yet exhilarating, remote yet with every amenity.When you are driven into town from the airport, chances are your first stop will be the lookout terrace in King's Park, where you can view the peninsular parkway jutting into the Swan River, with tall skyscrapers on the left, and brilliant blue sky overhead.

There the river broadens into Perth Waters - a modern-day version of romantic Swan Lake, a delightful expanse amenable to boating, swimming, water skiing, parasailing, fishing and all water sports. However, the river is too populous to encourage serene transit of its namesake fowl. To see swans, visit other lakes dotting the area - especially Lake Monger, where many black swans abide.

Thanks to the stiff breeze that blows in daily from the ocean (natives call it the Fremantle Doctor), Perth's air has zero pollution, and its clear ozone seems charged with a sense of discovery, of adventure. There's a spacious feeling of new worlds to conquer, of unlimited openness and opportunity, with which western Americans can easily identify.

Though there are a great many tourists here, not in centuries could they make much of a dent on the buoyant surroundings of this gateway city - surroundings compounded of sun and sea, cool mountains, forests, farmlands and vineyards that yield to blazing outback, extending for a thousand kilometers in every landward direction. And along the continent's western edge stretch a thousand miles of sparkling white sand.

Perth was founded in 1829, but officially proclaimed a city in 1871; when gold was discovered in the 1880s, development began in earnest. But the gold rush soon rushed past, and the economy turned to farming as a staple industry. The mineral boom of the 1960s has brought increased population to Western Australia, the fastest-growing state in the country.

Since most of the city is relatively new, buildings are generally clean and well kept. The state is seeking to preserve many that were built in the Victorian tradition of architecture, while adding spectacular skyscrapers.

The area has a Mediterranean climate, with an average eight hours of sunshine a day. Summer highs in January and February are 85-90 degrees F., winter highs about 60 degrees, with lows slightly below freezing. Hence the accent is on outdoor living, with much picnicking, beach-going and outings up the valley and into the nearby Darling Range of mountains. On a warm summer night, you may find families trawling the river for abundant and delcious prawns or crabs.

One small trouble in Paradise - Perth is the third windiest city in the world (after Wellington, N. Z. and Chicago). This means that the coastal surf, stimulated by the Fremantle Doctor, can build up to gigantic proportions, making it suitable only for experienced surfers. Nonetheless, several protected family beaches may be found along the shores, both northward and southward. One favorite is Yanchep, just north of Perth, where dolphins perform at Atlantis Marine Park.

King's Park, behind the lookout, is a big bush preserve, with hundreds of acres, miles of hiking and biking trails, and pleasant drives. Along the park's main motorway every tree is marked with a plaque honoring an individual killed in World War II.

In this laid-back city, strolling is an inviting pastime - the more so since a compact area of downtown contains many prominent attractions. The streets are remarkably pretty and interesting, with a mix of lively shops, stately buildings and historic churches. Every block or so, one finds parks or mini-parks or intriguing urban spaces that invite dallying and contemplation.

For a walking tour of Perth, you might want to head north on Victoria Square, just in front of stately St. Mary's Catholic Church. You'll be close to the Queen's Gardens and the rail terminal, and not far from the city's art gallery. Turn left, and you come St. George's Anglican Cathedral; only a few steps away lies the Town Hall, built in the 1880s by convict labor.

Don't expect to escape untempted from the attractive Hay Street Mall's shops and restaurants. You may be further enticed to turn in at London Court, a Tudor-style arcade of novelty shops, with statues of Sir Walter Raleigh and Dick Wittington at each end. St. George and the Dragon appear every quarter hour above the clock facing St. George's Terrace.

As in all Australian cities, opals are a major attraction, and beautiful jewelryis everywhere, in venues ranging from pocket-sized boutiques to the national opal centers. But instant bargains can't be counted on; good buys in opals belong to those who have time to shop and compare, and perhaps develop some inside connections, or go out of town where there are fewer middlemen.

Wrenching free of the shopping district, one might meander down Barrack Street to the town pier, where a variety of destinations await the venturesome. One quick alternative is the short ferry ride across Perth Waters to South Perth and the Zoo, with its good collection of indigenous animals--kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas, and koalas.

Other vessels offer tours up river to the Swan Valley vineyards, internationallyrecognized for their excellent wine. Or you may boat down to Fremantle, or even out to picturesque Rottnest Island, 19 kilometers off shore.

We chose to ride by van the 19 kilometers to Fremantle, Perth's port city and site of the Americas Cup races of 1986-87. Passing prosperous waterfront homes and little coves dotted with motor launches, yachts, and sail boats, we arrived at a vantage point mound, crowned by a monument to World War I dead. Here one gains a panoramic view of Western Australia's oldest settlement, its harbor bustling with fishing, cargo and pleasure boats.

Here, as elsewhere in Australia, convicts were the first settlers. It was here in 1829 that ship's captain Charles Howe Fremantle claimed the entire west coastof "New Holland" in the name of King George IV, and discharged his cargo of convict laborers. They erected the Round House by 1831, the state's oldest surviving public building. It's open to the public, as are the Fremantle Gaol, the prison museum, the old Town Hall, and many other historic buildings.

Despite the onslaught of Americas Cup tourism, Fremantle has kept its quaint charm, manifest in mellow colonial facades, sidewalk cafes and intimate small restaurants, serving fine seafood. There are interesting tourist shops, and an active art colony supports the local Art Center and many private galleries.

Rottnest (Rat Nest) Island is named for the quokkas, cute little marsupials that abound there and nowhere else, which the earliest Dutch explorers mistook for rats. There's good swimming, hiking, boating, and every water sport on this scenic patch of green, with secluded beaches and coves for fishing, sunbathing, snorkeling and skin diving. Ferries run daily from Perth or Fremantle, or there's helicopter transport for those on a tighter schedule.

Racing fits with the breezy lifestyle of western Australia, and Perth has two main horesracing tracks, Ascot and Belmont Park, both in riverside locations. Greyhound racing also attracts large crowds.

The 1,900-seat Perth Concert Hall houses the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and numerous international visiting artists and companies. Perth's active theater scene includes live theater in the National Theater; the state-owned His Majesty's Theater is used for opera and ballet as well as drama. Among the many galleries in both Perth and Fremantle are several that display and sell Aboriginal traditional art and artifacts.

At El Caballo Blanco, a ranch-resort an hour northwest of town, one may see the Andalusian dancing stallions, or a shearing demonstration. Or try a walk through the deep in the acrylic tunnel of Underwater World, surrounded by exotic marine life.

Aborigines believed that a serpent with his head stuck in the hills became the Swan River. A ride up the valley along its beautiful banks will take you to vineyards, mountain hikes or the Western Australian Pioneer Village, showing history and artifacts of the state's colonization.

The drama of nature awaits the visitor who passes through Perth to Western Australia. Among the state's major attractions is Monkey Mia, where a family of tame dolphins comes into the shallows daily to meet visitors. You can see the state's biggest coral reef at Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth, or arrange a stay on an island sheep station. Amazing stone formations, shaped like little round Turkish ruins, are found in Bungle Bungle National Park.

A destination for many Asians, Perth actually trades and interacts as much with Indonesia and Asia as with eastern Australia, whose big cities are 2,000 to 3,000 air kilometers distant.

The city's strong Oriental connection is reflected in a host of restaurants specializing in every style of ethinc cooking. Prices are average to high in the better places, but there's plenty of resonably-priced food in many good cafes along ordinary streets. Seafoods are popular specialties, often featuring fish little known elsewhere--besides native prawns and crags, mulloway, cobbler and flathead, and native grown fresh fruits and vegetables abound.

Perth boasts 10,000 tourist rooms, ranging from five star hotels to reasonably-priced family motels. For further information, write or call the Western Australia Tourist Commission, 881 Alma Reale Drive, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, tel. (213) 557-1987.

Racing fits with the breezy lo