The Adelaide I Knew


Before I came to Tasmania I lived in South Australia. My family arrived there in 1966 and I grew up living in the suburbs of Adelaide. I had come there from England and even at the age of eight I had a strong sense of place. I much preferred my new home in Elizabeth, north of Adelaide, to the grey, ugly place I had come from. I liked the feeling of open space, the wide streets and the flowering trees. When I was taken to visit Adelaide for the first time I liked the parks and gardens and the dignified old buildings I saw around the city.

As I grew up I loved the city even more and spent a lot of time in the city parks and on North Terrace, home to the museum, art gallery and the State Library. In the seventies the Festival Theatre was built and although I thought it was a little odd-looking and had weird art pieces dotted around it I was proud of it. It was finished three months before the Sydney Opera House. Over the years I lived there I attended many concerts and plays at the Festival Theatre both indoors and out.

The Festival Theatre complex is three theatres, Concert Hall, The Playhouse and The Space. .

The Festival Theatre complex is three theatres, Concert Hall, The Playhouse and The Space. .

I enjoyed browsing through the many department stores in Rundle Street, Harris Scarfe, Myers with its bargain basement, David Jones the posh store with marble tiles where a man played a grand piano near the entrance and the basement food hall smelled of baking, Cox Foys had its roof top fun fair and views of the city and suburbs and of course John Martins, the Pageant Store, which had the best toy department.  As a teenager I was introduced to the eastern end of Rundle Street by my stepfather. There were European style cafes and interesting little shops selling imported goods. Central Market at the other end of King William Street was another fascinating place. Later when Rundle Street became a pedestrian mall it was fun to ride the glass elevator up to the top floor of Cox Foys and stroll in the mall enjoying the buskers performing there although you did have to dodge Hare Krishna disciples selling their books as well. At least they were easy to spot.

This fountain has been moved a couple of times.

This fountain has been moved a couple of times.

Exterior of the Regent Arcade off Rundle Mall

Exterior of the Regent Arcade off Rundle Mall  in 2011

In 1985 Adelaide hosted its first Formula 1 Grand Prix. It was held in the parklands at the eastern end of the city and for the next twelve years we were regular attendees enjoying not only the racing but the associated events and the carnival atmosphere that the event brought to our city. I was working for the government operated transport system by then so I was in the city every day, sometimes working at the Adelaide Railway station. It was handy as I could spend an hour or so browsing in the stores after work or run up to Central Market for fresh fruit and veg before going home. On late shifts I’d only have to pop outside on to North Terrace to buy a coffee at the Pie Cart.

Pit Straight Adelaide c1989. The Start / Finish line was about where the building on the left is.

Pit Straight Adelaide c1989. The Start / Finish line was about where the building on the left is.

I can’t recall exactly when things started to change. I think it was when a lot of older buildings started to be demolished or to accidentally burn down while their future use was being disputed. I know I felt it was the beginning of the end of Adelaide and me when we lost the Grand Prix to Melbourne and when I heard that John Martins department store was to be closed.

Since then I have seen a lot more unwelcome changes to the city that I once loved. The beachfront suburbs are almost unrecognisable to me now as the old houses are replaced by large, square townhouses with tinted windows and no gardens.  “Johnnies” is gone, Cox Foys is long gone, Harris Scarfe survives but their old building has been demolished and the new stores are tiny and seem to have little in them.

The Festival Theatre complex is getting a revamp which it probably needs but I feel a little sad that the weird sculptures will be gone and the amphitheatre where we sat on the hot pebbles and watched local bands play seems to have disappeared underneath the new walkway that goes over the river. I do quite like that though. I watched cricket at Adelaide Oval on television recently and it does look good. I think I’d enjoy seeing a match there but I liked the old grandstand with its red roof and the old gates at the front entrance as well. Luckily the old scoreboard is heritage listed so that can’t be touched nor the big old Moreton Bay Fig trees nearby.

Adelaide Oval

The new entrance to Adelaide Oval

Another thing that I do like is that the tram line which used to go to the seaside suburb of Glenelg has now been extended through the city and down to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Not only that but you can ride from there to the city for free.

The old Glenelg tram line has been extended.

The old Glenelg tram line has been extended.

The biggest shock I had on my recent visit to Adelaide was at the railway station. That has changed so much over the past fifty years and even the past twenty since I worked there. The Pie Cart is gone, not considered good enough for the patrons of the Casino or nearby hotels. The Casino has been inside the upper floors of the station for many years but since I was there last it has expanded into the foyer, Marble Hall, we called it where the ballroom scene from Gallipoli was filmed and where, some years before that David and I had our wedding photos taken. It was weird to sit at the bar with my sister-in-law Louise and remember that and to look around to the stairs that used to lead to the offices where David worked.

Down at Port Adelaide things have changed too, most of the industry has gone and so have most of the ships. Port Adelaide has become home to several excellent museums which is great but I was angry the other day to hear that the big shed where the market has been for so many years will be demolished. No doubt something ugly and expensive will be built to replace it.

converted wharf shed Port Adelaide

A converted wharf shed now houses a weekend market.

I’ll never forget the happy times I had in Adelaide and I’ll always visit there, at least in the cooler months, because I have family and friends that I want to see but I don’t feel that it is the same place that it used to be.  I suppose I have changed too but even if I had stayed there I know I would not like the changes that have happened so I’m glad I left.

I started to write this post intending it to be a rant. I had just heard about the demolition of the wharf shed and although I was half expecting it I was still very angry about it. As  I wrote more I became more nostalgic for the city I knew. My last trip back reminded me of the things that I liked about Adelaide which is alway at its nicest in spring but I don’t feel the same way as I used to. I have never been divorced but perhaps this is what it feels like?

I believe that smaller cities like Adelaide and Hobart would do better to preserve the character they have rather than trying to become miniature versions of large cities like Sydney and Melbourne. I see scary signs of it happening in Hobart as well. Many people who read this may not agree with me, it’s progress, I know it is. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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