The capital of South Australia
South East corner of South Australia. Adelaide is laid out on a grid pattern around Victoria Square. Leading north from here is King William Street: at its other end in adjacent Terrace, is the main tourist information office, the South Australian Visitor Information Centre (108 North Terrace, www.southaustralia.com/en-us/places-to-go/south-australia/visitor-information-centres). Here you can pick up a free map of the city.
Right from the start, Adelaide believed in keeping out the riff-raff. Of the early Australian colonies, this was the only one which had no convicts, and from then on it maintained a rather conservative reputation: elegant, but dull. Even today, remnants of this reputation still persist – in the pleasantest possible way, of course. The city is proud of hosting the largest arts festival in Australia. But nowadays it’s equally proud of its liberal traditions. (The city had the first legal nudist beach in Australia.)
Adelaide was founded in 1836, and graciously named after the wife of Britain’s King William IV. A prime location had been chosen: inland on the flat green banks of the Torrens River, with the attractive foothills of the Mount Lofty Range rising behind. Fortunately, the new colony found a town planner worthy of this site.
Colonel William Light was the son of the founder of Penang (in what is now Malaysia), and had served as an intelligence officer under the Duke of Wellington in his lberian campaign against Napoleon. Light was appointed as surveyor-general for the new colony, and as he knew little about town planning he chose the easiest scheme of all. Adelaide was laid out on a simple grid pattern, with wide streets and a surrounding area of parkland.
At night much of central Adelaide becomes deserted, and is best avoided. Exceptions are the Rundle Street and Hindley Street areas, which are highly recommended for an evening visit. After dark, the parklands around the central area of the city are also best left to the cockatoos and other lurking exotica. You sometimes encounter similar subhuman species on the trains late at night. You’re better off travelling by bus where such types tend to become confused when confronted with comparatively sober members of the public.
The new colony also benefited from a scheme drawn up by the social idealist Edward Wakefield. Small plots were sold to free settlers, who were guaranteed civil and religious liberty. The aim was to develop a self-supporting colony which wouldn’t be dependent upon convict labour. This proved a success, and within a decade the colony was self-sufficient (helped by the discovery of copper in the hinterland). A Victorian colony had been born.
But as with many a Victorian enterprise, there were skeletons in the cupboard. Ironically, William Light was not only illegitimate, but was also of mixed blood – his mother had been a Eurasian woman. Keeping up the family tradition, Light married the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Richmond; but he preferred to leave her in England, living instead with a local lady. As a result, when he lay on his deathbed in 1839, exhausted by supervising the building of the new colony, he was forbidden the last rites because he was unrepentantly living in sin.
Even the idealistic Edward Wakefield was not all that he appeared. He had initially hatched his plan for the new colony whilst languishing in London’s notorious Newgate Prison for running off with an under-age society heiress.
Despite these social stigmas, Adelaide proceeded to become the most genteel city in the land. Amongst the early colonists were a large number of German Lutherans, who were fleeing from religious persecution. In 1856 South Australia became self-governing. The new state may have been a little staid, but it also maintained a firm belief in social justice. In 1894 it became the first place in the world where women were allowed to stand for parliament. They were also granted the vote in the same year, ahead of everywhere except New Zealand.
This liberal tradition has continued. In the early 1970s, the irrepressible Don Dunstan took over as state premier. Through the ensuing decade, this controversial character proceeded to introduce a wide range of social reforms. Racial discrimination was outlawed, capital punishment was abolished and homosexuality was declared legal.
Nowdays, Adelaide has a population of more than 1.6 million. Within easy reach is the largest wine-growing area in the country – which includes internationally famous names such as Barossa valley. All but two per cent of South Australia’s population now live in and around this pleasant, civilized city. But the unforgiving outback is never far away. During the long dry summer of 1983, bush fires raged out of control in the Adelaide hills, threatening the city. And during parched spells, flocks of exotic parrots and cockatoos from the outback sometimes take refuge amidst the greenery of the city parks.