Sunday Mail South Australia Column: Why I’m Loving Adelaide …
Adelaide, you have put me in something of a difficult position. I’m a Brisbane girl. A Queenslander. And I’ve been engaged in a love affair with my home city for nearly 39 years. Sure we’ve had our ups and downs (like the time I turned up at a favourite café only to find it had been turned into a 7-11) but I’m not bitter. Okay, I’m a bit bitter. But real love is about the big picture. Sitting on the veranda of a Queenslander watching a thunderstorm roll in. The first bite into a Bowen mango. A cricket match at the Gabba in the squinty white heat of summer. The artistic enclave that is West End. The State Library. The bistros and bars on Little Stanley Street. Martinis at The Bowery. The feeling we shared– standing shoulder to shoulder –after the floods washed over our homes like ocean waves over sandcastles.
By rights I should be there now, scraping mud off walls, ripping sodden carpet out of bedrooms, delivering furniture and household items to those in need. But I’m not. Like a fair-weather friend, I packed up and moved to Adelaide for 12 months. A work opportunity meant I left when my city needed me most. But that’s not the worst bit. The worst bit is this: I, um, really like it here.
So there you have it. I’m cheating on my hometown. Awkward.
Of course when I announced to family and friends that I was heading south, the responses were mixed. Want to know what people from other cities really say about Adelaide behind her back? Course you do. There were the inevitable serial killer jokes (distasteful sure but don’t shoot the messenger …). Others warned the city was cliquey and that making friends would be a challenge. Then there was my brother who offered the insightful, “Adelaide – where it’s either really hot or really cold and never in between.” But then what would he know? He lives in Melbourne. And then slowly, slowly talk turned to the wineries, the food, the festivals, the markets. “Must-see” place names were being scribbled on paper and shoved into my pocket: Henley Square, the Central Market, something called Womadelaide. Writing buddies enthused about the Adelaide writing community, championed by the talented and generous Sean Williams. Others whispered about Maggie Beer. “I’ve heard you can visit her farm,” one friend enthused. “But promise you’ll wait til I visit.” Yet another made me pinky swear I’d call on a Providore in Aldgate and some organic markets in Stirling. I listened to everyone. Wrote down everything. But still I didn’t get it.
And then we arrived in Adelaide. And now I do.
There is a little bit of magic in this city. An artistic feel. A creative bent. If Adelaide were an actor, she would be Cate Blanchet. Beautiful. Elegant. Unpretentious. A chameleon.
My friends ask me, “So what’s Adelaide like?” Where do I start? Perhaps with the food. I had some of the best dishes I’d ever tasted within the first few days of stepping over Adelaide’s threshold. A simple but mouth-watering steak sandwich at G.G’s Café. A blue cheese and bacon risotto that would bring you to your knees at Roger Peters in Dulwich. And a calamari salad which nearly ended my marriage when I refused to share one bite.
What else? Less traffic. Cheaper parking. Fewer malls of chain stores. More delis. And City of Churches? Try City Of Children. I’m not sure there’s a more kid-friendly place in this country. The abundance of toy libraries and community childcare centres and parks all make Adelaide a parent’s dream. And then there’s Adelaide’s bold ban on plastic bags that admittedly took me by surprise. I stood at the counter of a corner store in Dulwich and waited for my three items to be bagged. The cashier smiled. I smiled back. The cashier smiled again but this time as though he suspected I might suffer from a mental illness. Eventually it clicked. The rest of the country could do well to follow your lead.
But make no mistake, my first fortnight here hasn’t been all ponies and rainbows. Your rental market with its 0.8% vacancy rate is enough to give a newcomer nightmares. As does that not-actually-a-roundabout thing on Fullerton Road outside the Brittania Pub. Whatever it is, I have my heart in my mouth every time I drive through it. And if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure I understand this city’s fondness for fake grass backyards. Please explain?
And while you’re trying to win me over to the benefits of a Brady Bunch plastic lawn, you can also tell me where to go. Literally. What is the quintessential Adelaide experience? What should be on my must-do, must-see, must-explore list for this year? I’m keen to hear your thoughts.
As for Brisbane, no doubt the homesickness will kick in eventually. Because I love Brisbane. Always will. It is, after all, my home. But Adelaide – you had me at “Hello”.
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.