Rekindling a love affair with Adelaide
ADELAIDE … it has been so long. It will be good to see you again, see how you’ve changed.
After all, it’s been almost 40 years. A lot can happen in that time.
Thoughts of the gracious city play with me as the plane starts its descent.
While I have been to the City of Light three or four times before this is the first by air. Direct from Brisbane.
I recall the ageing grandeur of the Grand Hotel at Glenelg Pier, the Torrens River and the sedate Adelaide Oval with the Victor Richardson Gates.
And of course there was the wine-growing areas of the Barossa and the Clare Valley.
Indelible memories of a well laid-out city nestled between a long, low mountain range and the gentle waters of St Vincent’s Gulf. A place of churches and wide open spaces, of bluestone cottages and gracious mansions, of beer glasses they called butchers and pie-floaters served from a caravan at night in the city square.
The trip along Sir Donald Bradman Drive from the airport into the city is now a beautiful tree-lined roadway whereas my recollections of it is so different.
Just like a baby girl, Adelaide has matured in those intervening years.
She’s more attractive, interesting, displays many facets and is worldly.
An eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary life, the conservative and the quirky.
The housing looks similar to then, although when you peek past the old facades many surprises await.
Adelaide treasures its heritage buildings, which provides for a streetscape reflective of the late 1800s.
You notice and appreciate the wide streets, laid out by the surveyor Colonel Light long before land was valued by the square metre.
However, it was Don Dunstan’s reign as premier during the 1970s that Adelaide found itself.
Festivals of art and culture, support of personal freedoms and the youthful yet booming food and wine industry all combined to attract more residents as well as visitors.
Adelaide seemed to be in the forefront.
The thing about Adelaide today is it is such an easy place to get around. Driving, cycling, buses, trams, trains … and walking.
There are dedicated trails that separate cyclists, pedestrians and cars. The transport system includes free buses and trams on the city loop that extends across the River Torrens to take in Adelaide Zoo, Melbourne St, O’Connell and Jeffcott St as well as the Adelaide Oval and that other famous landmark, St Peter’s Cathedral.
Yet there is nothing quite like an early morning walk around the streets to discover what a place is really like.
The houses of bluestone and brick, one-way streets that reverse in the morning and evening to deal with the traffic.
Faded signs painted on building walls advertising everything and anything from shoe polish to brewer’s yeast. Around the corner is a pop art mural of a futuristic look.
You meet people out walking their dogs, see delivery vans squeezing along alleyways. Then you stumble across the Adelaide Central Markets, opening for the day’s trading.
The markets have a real mix of cultures and are open every day except Sunday and Monday. It’s arguably the best in Australia for not just fruit and veg but bread and pastries, cakes and cheeses, fish, meat and poultry, smallgoods, nuts and chocolate.
There are cafes and stalls for breakfast, brunch or lunch, cooking demonstrations and live music events. Even in-depth educational foodie tours so you can enjoy a real taste of all the goodies on offer.
Enjoy a slow wander taking in the sights and sounds as you watch the market come to life.
The key to Adelaide being such a walkable city is that the central block is set out on a grid system that is one mile (1.6km) square with parklands all around it.
Victoria Square is at its heart and there are four quadrant squares. The lay-out is fed by four principal roads that are two-chain wide – that’s equivalent to two cricket pitches or wide enough to turn a bullock team.
Col Light was a military surveyor and his mother passionate about art, so we have a discipline of survey and an appreciation of art.
Adelaide is where you have everything from evening wine tastings and tapas at bars and cafes off malls and places to fine restaurants, pizza parlours, pubs and nightclubs.
There is a taste of Europe yet they love the British background and not having been founded as a penal colony.
It’s where you have beach volleyball courts a block from the city square. Sadly the pie cart has gone but there are coffee carts and pop-up pastry stalls everywhere.
The trams still run to Glenelg for a day at the beach and the Grand Hotel’s elaborate verandas still look over the pier but it is only a facade for the Stamford Grand Resort, one of many that line the foreshore or front the marina.
That’s part of the charm I guess, Adelaide is a place where you can taste the famous Penfold’s Grange Hermitage at a private room in the Magill Winery now surrounded by housing subdivisions at the foot of the Mount Lofty Ranges.
The cellar door at Penfold’s Magill Winery in Adelaide’s eastern foothills.
A place where you can have a bite and a pint at pubs such as The Old Lion or The British in North Adelaide, favoured by the university crowd.
Then there is The Kentish on Stanley St or the Daniel O’Connell on Tynte St – it’s on top of the hill overlooking the city with a 200-year-old peppercorn tree in the beer garden.
But I have seen nothing quite like The Colonist Tavern on The Parade in Norwood that has been going strong since 1851.
The building has been stripped back to its raw beauty with high ceilings, ornate copper roofing and original wallpaper.
There is a front bar and saloon but what sets it apart is the dining room at the back. A full-room mural surrounds diners, a tribute to Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt installed by a local artist.
Adelaide’s cultural, education and hospitality mix is quite heady.
It comes on the back of the Don Dunstan years – the catalyst for much of the music in town, from folk and pop to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
I find myself standing outside Adelaide Oval, peering in from virtually under the giant statue of favourite football son Barrie Robran, among others.
The glass doors are open so I push inside. It’s a football ground as well a cricket oval now. New grandstands, giant lighting towers stretching skywards.
On the night, about 50,000 Australian rules football fans will be cheering on the Sydney Swans or the Adelaide Crows as they battle it out but for me it is a chance to look around the ground again. So peaceful at this time of day with the sunrise starting to colour the spires of St Peter’s Cathedral across the park.
This visit brings so many memories flooding back. It reminds you that travelling to places of the past are worthwhile … almost like all that’s old is new again.
Ahh, Adelaide. How much you’ve grown.