Adelaide and South Australia (Part 2)

October 20, 2019
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AFTER I’d settled down in Adelaide, I decided to go on a walking tour of the central city; which you could probably spend about a week walking around, to judge from the map leaflet I had.

The city prides itself on its old 1830s plan, still faithfully followed after all these years, and has come up with a new marketing slogan based on it: ‘Designed for Life’.

Facsimile of the original plan for Adelaide, which I saw hanging in a museum
Front and back of a brochure you can have delivered, or download online

Here are some pictures I took while wandering around.

The River Torrens or Karrawirra Parri, looking toward the Montefiore Road bridge from the west, with the Adelaide Oval at left and the Adelaide Railway Station and casino at the right.
The Weir
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
Historic photograph of an important early business, with amusing perspective!
Sandstone structures are really common
The State Parliament

The layout of downtown Adelaide is legendary. The idea of isolated blocks of development, set in a great parkland, inspired Ebenezer Howard’s town-planning classic Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902).

Howard proposed that future suburbs should be developed as compact, villagey townships linked to each other and to the central city, by fast railway lines running through green spaces in between.

Though inspired by the example of Adelaide, Howard’s philosophy is followed much more in countries such as Denmark than in modern Australia. In modern Australian cities, including the outer part of Adelaide, most suburbs are sprawling and based on the car, and not ‘villagey’ at all.

All the same, I could easily get into the city centre by bus or train from where I was. I could catch either on the same ticketing system; I just had to load up money in the card.

There was a railway called the Gawler line near my Airbnb. So I caught the train. My journey took only two stops before I was at the main station in the middle of Adelaide.

I enjoyed riding the rails into town. Still, I only had to go a short distance.

The Gawler line’s the busiest rail line in Adelaide. Yet it still wasn’t electrified. Outer-suburban commuters would find the service pretty slow.

South Australia’s Liberal Party state government is planning to privatise the operation of Adelaide’s trains and trams, to see if that will speed things up.

The drivers will have to re-apply for their jobs with new labour hire companies and some are probably going to get made redundant. Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.

You have to ask whether speeding up the electrification of lines like Gawler might not make more of a difference to commuter satisfaction than reshuffling the management and the work force on the existing system.

The Grisly Gaol

In one day, I visited the old jail (spelt ‘gaol’ on signs), the weir on the river, the city’s stadium, the cathedral of St Peters, Her Majesty’s Theatre (which is being renovated) and the Thebarton Theatre , threatened by road construction . The Central Market had to wait for the next day!

I’d never been to a jail set up as a tourist site; which is a bit surprising considering that Australia has lots of ‘black museums’ dedicated to the life and death of people transported out from Britain and Ireland to serve penal sentences there.

Places like Port Arthur in Tasmania, for example.

All the same, no convicts were ever shipped to South Australia. Alone among the major colonies of nineteenth-century Australia, South Australia was ‘free’, settled only by people who actually wanted to go there. So, Adelaide’s gaol was just an ordinary ex-jail and not a transportation museum.

Most of the exhibits were from late Victorian times and the early 20th century.

They showed people who had been on death row and the graves of the prisoners who were executed and buried in the jail.

Graves of the executed. Number 3 may have been innocent.

Displays showed the history of the jail and identified a gothic-looking tower where people were hanged. I noticed that one of the condemned had been a New Zealander.

Here’s an actor pretending to be a prisoner in the gaol:

A City at Risk

The next day I went into Coles in the city, the Central Market, and Rundle Mall, Adelaide’s outdoor pedestrian mall.

Adelaide really is a walkable city. From, you can download masses of walking maps and apps for the whole of South Australia, and cycling maps too.

All Adelaide needs to be the perfect city is a couple of things. First, better public transport, operated as a public service with proper levels of investment, as in those European countries where they put the garden city philosophy into effect.

Secondly, Adelaide needs to do is to do more to save its old buildings.

For instance, the former Newmarket Tavern, established in 1847 on the edge of the parklands, is threatened with demolition in order to fit in an extension to a nearby hospital.

They say that it was in this pub that a measure of beer known in South Australia as a ‘butcher’, six or seven ounces, was coined, because workers from the nearby cattle yards on what are now the parklands used to drink there. That’s about as Australian as it gets.

The former Newmarket Tavern

A number of other classic buildings west of the city centre, such as the Thebarton Theatre, are also at risk from a massive upgrade of the South Road, which runs north-south a couple of blocks west of the Parklands. The enlargement of the South Road is part of a multi-billion-dollar scheme to construct a non-stop ‘North-South Corridor’, effectively a motorway, through the Adelaide metropolitan area; which up to now hasn’t had any motorways anywhere near the middle of town. Perhaps that’s why Adelaide is such a walkable city, come to think of it!

South Australia Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure Video, on Youtube

I wonder what the city would be like if so much was going to be spent on doing up as-yet-unelectrified commuter trains, and that sort of thing, instead. Although Adelaide is good for walking around in (at least for now), I wanted to see more of the region. So, any spare money I had would be spent on hiring a car.

Indigenous Affairs

I particularly wanted to go to an aboriginal reservation at a place called Raukkan.

I’d noticed the image of an aboriginal man named David Unaipon on a A$50 bill as I was having coffee in Coles, and asked who he was.

Australian 50 dollar banknote in current circulation (1995–2018 design, slightly alterred from 2018). Source: Reserve Bank of Austraia via Wikimedia Commons.

It turned out that he had lived at Raukkan, not far from Adelaide, so I resolved to go there and visit his grave.

I’m going to talk about my pilgrimage to Raukkan, and Unaipon’s grave, in a later blog.

But speaking of aboriginal matters, I mentioned that the Adelaide city centre was founded on a sort of oasis, kept permanently watered by the Karrawarra Parri. It was known as the Red Kangaroo Place to the aborigines of the Adelaide region, who are called the Kaurna.

The Red Kangaroo Place was of great importance to the Kaurna, who often gathered there in hundreds. All the same, it was only seasonally occupied. The Kaurna used to migrate into the nearby hills and live there during the summer.

Ironically, this meant that when Adelaide was founded on the 28th of December 1836 (that is, at the height of summer), the oasis-like Red Kangaroo Place — to which the British naturally gravitated — appeared to be uninhabited and claimed by no previous owners.

After the Kaurna came back from the hills to discover the Red Kangaroo Place had been taken over by the British, attempts were made to ensure that some lands in and around the new township were reserved for the aborigines. But these initiatives all succumbed to pressure from ever-increasing numbers of colonists.


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