Tuesday, January 16, 2018
ON BEING IN ADELAIDE
WHEN D H Lawrence went to Florence to live in the late 1920’s, he found himself writing to friends about Florence and the Florentine people, within hours of first arriving. Rebecca West is witness to this, and I remember she was impressed that he could sum up a people and their character so quickly. Well, if he can accomplish this, then why shouldn’t I have a go? We have been in Adelaide about twelve hours.
Admittedly, I do have a past connection with Adelaide. I have been here before. Actually, I lived here once, albeit fairly briefly. Today, however, I am seeing it with fresh eyes, not having visited in quite a while.
Adelaide is filled with contradictions. My impression today is that it is getting better. People from the bigger cities, like Melbourne and Sydney, have always seen Adelaide as a sleeping cousin. Young people who grow up in Adelaide often want to leave when they are about 18 to find new, more fulfilling adventures, like Melbourne and Sydney people seeking London. It is true Adelaide is a bit country townish, but perhaps less so now than it was last time I was here.
Today I have walked around the commercial precincts. Nothing much has changed here. The shops are contemporary and sophisticated enough, but it was deathly quiet in David Jones and Myer. There were, conversely, a lot of people of both sexes walking up and down Rundle Street wearing shorts. I found a library that might be pretty new. I don’t remember seeing it before. It’s called the ‘City Library’ and it was busy and relaxing. There is lots going on roadworks-wise on North Terrace, which is where the State Library is. Could it be that it has popped up whilst the State Library is out of bounds?
Later on, we went to the other end of the city down Hindley Street (I always seem to go to the same places when I go to Adelaide). There are seemingly new lanes and little hubs of people eating and drinking quietly. We found the back entrance of the hotel where we are staying, called the ‘Ambassadors’. I was impressed by the life of the city at dinner-time on a Tuesday night. I think it’s a good sign, that a city is feeling good and prosperous, if so many people are out and about on a Tuesday night.
Tonight, I ran from here, 107 King William Street, to the Piccadilly Cinema on O’Connell Street in North Adelaide. So all along King William Street on a pleasant, warm night, over the bridge that crosses the Torrens, past the beautifully revamped Adelaide Oval, across a path that leads you directly into the mouth of St Peters Cathedral (which was chiming madly), and along O’Connell Street to the Picadilly Cinema where many years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’, via any number of busy restaurants and the iconic Oxford Hotel.
I said before that Adelaide is filled with contradictions. Today, as much as any other time I have visited, I have been aware of the genteel aspect of the city. Here it feels treacherous somehow to do something so simple as jaywalk. The people are so polite, that they always walk to the Grenfell Street corner, or the Currie Street corner, before they cross King William Street. It is the same when waiting a long time for the North Terrace lights or the Rundle Mall/ Pulteney Street corner. People also walk in a leisurely way, and chat amicably to the friend next to them. There is little sense of dog eat dog and rushing for the lights and crossing on any section of the road and frantic anxious pace. People actually queue orderly, for buses and the like, just as it would have been in the 1950’s. And yet, Adelaide is supposed to have this underbelly of danger and murder and broken glass and blood. It is true, apparently, that the murder rate per capita is quite high, or at least it used to be. And amidst all this, you do have Hindley Street, which is one of the dodgiest streets around, especially at night. Even today when we walked about it, we saw a young woman, probably a teenage girl, in fact, being searched by police, her hands up against the wall. A casual glance, and you could see she had a bag of white powder extricated from her handbag, and a few sharp knives, of all things.
The other very noticeable thing for me this time is its Anglo-Celtic whiteness. Yes, there are Aboriginals, and tourists and other visitors, yet the vast majority of people seem to be very white, not many Asian, barely any Muslim, very few African, or it seems, Lebanese, Turkish or Greek.
It really reminds me of Kent, UK, in relation to the rest of England. Over there, you have this little early twentieth century bubble of whiteness in Kent, the England of yesteryear, villages, and village greens, and English fare for food and castles and oast houses and English heritage and old-fashioned cooking, the lark ascending, the gentle Medway, nothing really that resembles the rest of England. And it is like this here in Adelaide too. People here have their little cushion of comfort, and go out with their families on hot nights to have pizza and beer, and apart from some of these new buildings and new shops and restaurants, Adelaide might be the same as it was about 50 or 60 years ago. And good luck to them if that’s how they like it. But travel to the real world one day- perhaps with the exception of Kent- and your head might go into a little spin.