Iconic Adelaide

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Story by Daniel Scott

It’s always a breath of fresh air to arrive in Adelaide. With its wide tree-lined streets, gracious old stone buildings and surrounding belt of parkland that acts as the city’s lungs, it has a feel of spacious tranquility. Locals even call it a traffic jam when just a few cars line up behind each other at a set of traffic lights. But don’t be fooled. The “city of churches” might seem quiet after Sydney or Melbourne but there’s more than enough to discover there to fill your time.

My day in Adelaide began sedately enough. Staying right on the seafront in Glenelg, the city’s most Mediterranean suburb, I took an early morning stroll among chattering Italians before installing myself outside the legendary Lungomare Cafe. But I had a long day in the city centre ahead of me and so it wasn’t long before I was hopping aboard the tram for the ride into town.

My first stop was the bustling Central Market — opened in 1869 and reputedly one of the finest in the South Hemisphere. Sniffing my way to the entrance I was met by a wall of noise and aromas. No wonder it was so quiet in the city streets. Inside what seemed like half of Adelaide’s population was doing the Saturday morning shopping, rubbing shoulders with palmists, an Andean band and traders of almost every ethnic origin imaginable.

Afterwards I then ventured up Montefiore Hill to Light’s Vision, a statue honouring the founder of Adelaide, Colonel Light, who stood in this same spot envisaging this neat, open city in 1837. Then I found my way down to the Torrens River, sliding prettily through the city centre, and followed it to the Botanical Gardens. Walking along the green river banks, passed by the odd cyclist or rowing team on the water, I was amazed by the space and tranquility you could enjoy near the middle of this relatively large city. It was an impression that was confirmed as I sat and pondered awhile in the Botanic Gardens, first in the formal rose garden and then in the wilder hothouse of the remarkable Bicentennial Conservatory.

While you could happily dwell for hours in these lovely gardens, Adelaide also has many museums, galleries and historic homes in which you could easily spend a day, and I still hadn’t started on them. So I headed next to North Terrace, which is where it all happens historically in the city. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t get much further here than the wonderful Migration Museum — the only one of its kind in Australia — as I was enthralled with its many displays detailing the real experiences of the country’s many waves of immigrants. It was interesting to learn, for instance, that it was German refugees, fleeing religious oppression in the 1830s, who first established South Australia’s now-flourishing winemaking areas like the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra.

Before I knew it, it was Saturday night in Adelaide and I was sitting outside a cafe on Rundle Street in the city’s trendy East End. This was an area first developed when the Australian Grand Prix was held in the city and the race roared by the end of the street at Stag Corner. Since then it has grown to be Adelaide’s most popular Eat Street and one to rival anything similar in Sydney or Melbourne with its mix of Italian, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, Japanese and Turkish restaurants. It’s also a place that seriously tests the assertion that the “city of churches” is permanently half-asleep.

By now my day in Adelaide was regrettably drawing to a close and though I’d seen a lot, I was left feeling that the city and its environs still had plenty to offer. But what I had discovered was a deceptively quiet city, as vibrant as it is manageable and as tempting to the tastebuds as it is easy on the eye. So, as I left the capital of Festival State gearing up for its next party — the Womadelaide celebration of world music — the question was not would I come back but when?