A statue of Adelaide’s founding father, Colonel William Light, stands atop Montefiore Hill and gazes proudly across the city he helped to create. Below him is an expanse of pretty green park land, resplendent with rose beds, peppered with trees and dominated by the ivy-clad Adelaide Oval. To the rear of the cricket ground lies lazy Torrens Lake, its southern foreshore replete with grand bluestone buildings that contrast starkly with the white concrete extrusions of The Festival Theatre. Further south, modest towers mark the heart of Adelaide’s central business district, while to the east a corrugated line of hills defines its inland boundary. To the west, the coastal plain slips gently away into the rich blue waters of St Vincent’s Gulf.
So it is easy to see why there should be a flicker of pride on Colonel Light’s weathered face. It is also wholly appropriate that the city of Light should become the city of churches ‘ mighty St Peter’s Cathedral lays testament to that. However, as all Adelaidians know, there is much more to their captivating city than things ecclesiastical! In modern-day Adelaide, festivals, food and fine wine are just for starters.
The city centre
Despite these enlightened days of metrication, Adelaide’s central business district still measures exactly one square mile! And it is packed with goodies, all within easy walking distance of each other. This is especially true along North Terrace, where there is ready access to the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Adelaide Casino plus the imposing granite and marble Parliament House building. Moving east, grandiose buildings queue for attention: the State Library, South Australian Museum, Art Gallery and Ayers House (the mansion of Sir Henry Ayers, an early state premier who had a very large rock named in his honour). Further along North Terrace the weary wanderer is invited to relax amidst the blooms and flowering shrubs of Adelaide Botanic Gardens. In the heart of the city is the symbolic fountain of Victoria Square. The square is a handy landmark for several hotels and is also a terminus for Adelaide’s only tram, which trundles its way to the beachfront at Glenelg.
Shoppers flock to the ever-festive Rundle Mall, historically the first traffic-free shopping mall in Australia. Many of the big retail players can be found here, as can a variety of street entertainers. The Mall leads eastwards onto Rundle Street, which throbs with a cultural mix of diners and thirsty pub-goers. It is also the primary venue of Adelaide’s Fringe Festival.
Across the eastern parklands from Rundle Street is the fashionable inner city suburb of Norwood with its ever-popular dining precinct, The Parade. Shoppers in search of bargains, or simply fresh herbs and vegetables, head for Central Market and Chinatown. Neighbouring Gouger Street is alive with yummy restaurants, Asian, naturally, plus a wealth of other cuisines besides.
Both the city and elegant North Adelaide are isolated from the surrounding suburbs by a leafy moat of parklands. This ‘figure-of-eight’ greenery is truly a jewel in Adelaide’s crown, enhancing a unique and enviable lifestyle for city-dwellers. It is small wonder, therefore, that some of the state’s grandest homes are to be found in North Adelaide. Along O’Connell Street there are also some of the city’s finest restaurants, with pavement dining under lacy iron verandahs a speciality.
Port Adelaide and District
The generously wide streets, sturdy stone buildings, and uncompromising wharf-side warehouses tell tales of a proud and historic past for Adelaide’s ocean port. The plethora of street-corner pubs also suggest that this history has been amply laced with rum and brandy! Port Adelaide lies less than half an hour’s drive north west of the city and today it remains a modest working port. Tourism through Port River cruises, Sunday markets, twee cafes and informative museums ‘ like the excellent Maritime Museum – fuel the local economy. The region as a whole is a fascinating mix of heavy industry, recreation and residential boom, exemplified by the award-winning West Lakes residential development.
The Coastal Fringe
Spanning nearly 70 kilometres north to south, the Adelaide coastal fringe runs from North Haven marina to the sumptuous white sands of Sellicks Beach. Whether it is viewing or doing, there’s beachside fun to be had by all. Not to mention sunsets to die for! Adelaide’s maritime heritage can be explored around Semaphore, there’s discerning dining at Henley Beach, and a hive of activity and history at Glenelg.
When there’s a swell in the Gulf, knowing surfers head for the mid-south coast, while sailboarders test their skills off Seacliff Beach. Even nude bathing is catered for on this eclectic coast. Just grab a towel and head for Maslin!
The Adelaide Hills
Rising around the eastern rim of the coastal plain, the Adelaide Hills offer a favourite fresh-air treat. Delightful forests of stringybark gums carpet many slopes, while in Belair National Park, and conservation parks such as Scott Creek, Cleland and Warrawong Sanctuary, native flora and fauna abound. So watch out for kangaroos, koalas and bandicoots! Farming and market gardening are important industries with vineyards blossoming on many hillsides. Tourism has also taken off, and dotted throughout the hills are enchanting villages like Stirling and the ‘little Germany’ that is Hahndorf. Of course, no visit to the hills would be complete without experiencing that breathtaking view over Adelaide ‘ night and day ‘ from the summit of Mount Lofty.
The Wine Districts
Adelaide is unquestionably the wine capital of Australia, simply because it lies within an hour’s drive of some of the finest vineyards in the southern hemisphere. To the north lies the world-renown Barossa Valley with its proud Teutonic heritage, rich soils and exquisite flavors. Equally appealing to many wine-lovers is the quality of product from the south of the city – the boutique wineries of McLaren Vale. Indeed, what better way to spend a lazy afternoon than drinking fine wine amidst gentle hills, fertile flats and tinkling creeks?
History of Adelaide
Colonel William Light, on his planning of Adelaide, faced enormous problems, not the least of which was the constant criticism of his choice of site. In the dry environment, his prime motivation was the steady water supply and fertile land provided by the River Torrens. Numerous sites had been investigated, including Kangaroo Island, where whalers had developed a settlement some time before.
There’s a sense of difference about Adelaide. She was planned – she didn’t just ‘happen’. Light started with a distinctive grid pattern, which covered one square mile exactly, then surrounded it with a belt of parkland, which, over 150 years later, lends an air of tranquillity to the now bustling city. ‘South’ Adelaide was to be the centre for business and North Adelaide the residential area. Light named the new city after Queen Adelaide, wife of the British king at the time, William IV.
Adelaide’s founding was based on an ambitious social plan, conceived in an English prison by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was serving a sentence for abducting a teenage English heiress! His theories were supported by influential and visionary businessmen, many of whom later settled in the colony.
Critical of the convict system of colonisation, he suggested that crown land in the colonies be sold and the proceeds used to set up a fund to assist free labourers and their families to emigrate. Once those labourers had worked for a few years, they would then be in a position to buy their own land. The new settlement was to be the ‘Athens of the south’ – a free settlement, offering civil and religious liberty. As a free settlement, it was unaided by convict labour or funding from Britain.
After coming ashore at Glenelg, the first settlers endured tough times, living in makeshift shelters and with few comforts, but so too did the local indigenous population. Prior to 1836, the area was populated, for many thousands of years, by the Kaurna people. It was known as Tandanya,
meaning red kangaroo. While the philosophy behind the new colony sought to protect such groups, the reality was less than the ideal. Within fifty years, the Kaurna population had fled to the nearby hills.
Religious freedom attracted free-thinking dissenters and non-conformists. Within two years, German speaking Lutherans from Silesia sought freedom from religious persecution in the new colony. They settled in Klemzig, Hahndorf, and their churches dominate the landscape of the Barossa Valley.
The young colony experienced the extremes of boom and bust. Booms came with a good harvest, resulting in a building frenzy, and the discovery of copper, which led to a mining boom. While saving the colony from ‘bust’, gold mining interstate drained Adelaide of her able-bodied workers and caused hardship until a way was devised to bring the gold and associated earnings home.
In the following years, a variety of groups settled. Irish men and women came to work and escape the potato famines of their homeland; Cornish miners arrived; and many Polish settlers went to the Clare Valley, where, today, Polish Hill is not only a respected wine label but a locale commemorating their contribution. Afghans came to work camel trains in the outback and helped on the construction of the railway line. The famous Ghan train honours their contribution.
The aftermath of the World Wars saw rapid expansion in the population of South Australia. Following World War Two, immigrants arrived from Malta, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, West Germany and Spain, bringing with them the many cultural delights South Australians now like to call their own. In recent times, it is Asia, rather than Europe that is the source of new migrants, adding to the cultural diversity of the state.
Despite the multi-cultural nature dating from early times and Adelaide being less ‘under the thumb’ of the Church of England than other British settlements, the city carried an air of puritanism and was frequently disparaged as ‘wowserish’ (an Australian term meaning the infliction of rigid or narrow morality).
How then, did it come to be a place renowned worldwide for its wine production, its significant contribution to the arts and its progressive legislation? This is the nature of Adelaide, the delightful sense of difference, still evident 150 years after foundation.
In the early days, Adelaide led the way in allowing women to stand for parliament and to vote. The city was quick to legalise trade unions and instituted the secret ballot. In more recent times, she has set the pace for Australia with legislation on a range of social issues.
The first exported wine was sent to Queen Victoria from the Adelaide Hills, made from grapes planted just a year after the first settlement. The Barossa and Clare Valleys, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Adelaide Plains were all early to establish vineyards and wineries.
Early settlers bemoaned the lack of cultural pursuits. In time though, a strong arts presence developed. The Queen’s Theatre, still standing in Adelaide, represents the only remnants of such an early theatre. Adelaide University, the Art Gallery, Institute Building and State Library on North Terrace made important contributions to the state. North Terrace is now Adelaide’s ‘cultural boulevard’, with these buildings conveniently placed within metres of each other.
The birth of the famous Adelaide Festival in 1960 and the parallel Fringe Festival left no doubt that Adelaide was indeed the ‘Athens of the south’. Held in even numbered years, the festival soon set a standard for all Australian arts festivals. The construction in the 1970s of The Festival Centre saw a permanent home for the deserving event.
It’s difficult to gauge just what it is that made Adelaide the city she is today – but the answer lies somewhere between the visions of a passionate English prisoner, a far-sighted and artistic military man and those who pursued their dream of a new life beyond familiar horizons.