Three days in South Australia


After an uneventful flight from Melbourne, I found myself in Adelaide, in South Australia, in the centre of Australia on the south coast.

Checked in with Peter and Suzy George, in their modernist house just off Henley Beach, west of Adelaide proper. My accommodations were spacious, with a large bedroom, a sitting room with TV, and my own washroom. Suzy and Peter are both young and gorgeous (Peter 202cm, or 6 foot 7), a tad young, was my initial reckoning, to own such a luxurious pile. Later I found out that Peter is a professional cricketer of some note, having served a couple of terms on Australia's national team. An accomplished bowler, he's apparently "bowled" some pretty famous cricketers, according to my friend Rod in Melbourne, who was duly impressed that I'd landed in the lap of such notoriety.

It was Australia Day, and India and Australia were in the fourth day of a five-day test match, so I decided to head down to the Adelaide Oval to watch for a while, then head over to the Australia Day celebrations in Elder Park, not far away from the Oval. Pete gave me a "member's pass," a lucky break, I thought (not knowing at this point of his status), but told me I'd have to wear a shirt with a collar. I thought it lucky I wouldn't have to stand on the terraces with all the "cricket hooligans," a joke Peter and Suzy didn't seem to get, and I bet not many will.

It was 32 degrees C in Adelaide at the time, so I thought it best to wait till after the sun was a little lower in the sky before heading out. Meanwhile, India/Australia was on TV, so I watched some while catching up on correspondence.

It is, however, always difficult in a new city to figure out how the transit system works, and a web tour of the Adelaide system wasn't all that helpful. Pete and Suzy probably don't take transit very often, and their advice was sketchy at best. So I headed out, hoping for the best. I waited at a nearby bus stop that seemed to indicate that at least one of the routes that stopped there was headed downtown. (In fact, I waited for a while on the wrong side of the street, in one of those brain malfunctions that occur before you get entirely used to where things are when driving is on the left side of the road. But never mind.) Twenty minutes later, a bus stopped by, but he assured me he went nowhere near the Oval, and that no bus that stopped there would.

What the hell, I thought, and set off on foot. I was pretty sure by now that I wasn't going to make it to the Oval in time to see any cricket, so was unable to resist, about 5km into my journey, thirsty and very hungry, a sign that pointed to a "British stye pub." They seemed glad to see me—very few people in, perhaps because other regulars were doing Australia Day things—so I had a pint of West End draft (brewed in Adelaide), and squid, barramundi (a local fish), and prawns and chips, which was excellent.

Long story short, by the time I got my arse back to Grange Road, it was getting late, so I had to pick up the pace. I finally made it to Elder Park about 8:40 pm, just as one of the headline acts was getting started. "Can you feel it!" they shouted, and apparently there were quite a few in the audience that did. I suppose it was Aussie Pride they were feeling, but it wasn't entirely clear. I approached close enough to get pics enough to prove I was there, and then headed out of the park to the nearest taxi. (I've been asked since if I saw the fireworks, and I've said I left just in time to miss them—at this point of my life I find the obligatory fireworks about as ersatz as the obligatory question, "Can you feel it?!")

Suzy's jaw dropped an impressive distance when I told her I'd walked all the way to Elder Park, both because it was quite a distance, and because it was hot. But I've walked longer distances, and, though Adelaide tends to be very hot, it's not an uncomfortable hot, like we get in Toronto. When it's 34C in Toronto you can barely breathe, but at 34C in Adelaide it's a bit sweaty (unless you spend a great deal of time in the direct sun, which is different).

(The big event on Australia Day this year was Australian Prime Minister Julia Guillard's "confrontation" with Aboriginal protesters in Canberra, a bit of police theatre I found quite reprehensible, especially in the current political situation in Oz, and quite stupid on Guillard's part. See my analysis here.)

Next morning, on Suzy's recommendation, I headed down to Henley Square, about 1.5km south of her place, and sat at Stella's Cafe, looking out over a gorgeous ocean morning, drinking cappuccino, and eating a breakfast that was too big to finish, my second such in Australia so far. (They serve Big Breakfasts here; on the other hand, I haven't seen a lot of obesity, though my Aussie friends insist there's a lot.)

Post-breakfast, I walked a couple of kms along the beach, from the pier at Henley Square to the pier at the Grange Hotel, boots off, feet in the water. Sublime.

Then downtown to central Adelaide, where I met my friend Anne Burger. An Adelaide native, Anne was working for the Association of University and College Employees in British Columbia when I met her in the late '80s (and I was working for the Canadian Union of Educational Workers). We've been friends since (just friends--cut it out!), and see each other about once every 10 years. Now retired from the Health Employees Union, she's finishing her PhD at the University of Adelaide. We had lunch in the Adelaide Market (very impressive market!), and walked around downtown, Anne pointing out the sites, including the Adelaide Arcade, RM Williams (famous bootmakers—they had those terrific Australian oilskin outback coats—think Clint Eastwood!—for just over a couple hundred bucks, but I managed to keep hold of myself and walk out without one).

We failed, however, at my one priority project for the day, to find souvenir Australia t-shirts that had the Australian flag design, but did not have the word "Australia" on them. In my mind, if you're wearing the Australian flag, you ought to know it's Australia without the extra reinforcement. To those who see you in the shirt, you're saying "It's Australia, stupid!" I feel the same way about the t-shirts with Che Guevara on them that have the name "Che Guevara" underneath. Do people ever see the words "Che Guevara" on a Che-T, and think to themselves, "Oh, glad the name is there, 'cause I thought it might have been that other bearded Latino guy with a red star on his beret that's on a lot of t-shirts!" I thought not.

Next day, Saturday morning, I headed to "Zoot's," another coffee/breakfast place in Henley Square right next door to Stella's Cafe. On the way there, I couldn't help but notice another peculiar Australian phenomenon. On Saturdays, groups of men, many middle-aged, get on their bicycles and exercise their arses off. And when I say "groups," I mean up to 16 or more in the group. And they apparently can't go out on their Saturday jaunt without donning the full Lance Armstrong. Makes for a funny scene as they clop through cafes wearing those bicycle shoes that clamp directly to the cranks.

Mind you, I'm not criticizing. As I observed before, a lot of these guys seem quite fit.

I managed to finish my Zoots breakfast, and then headed on the bus downtown (my bus knowledge improving, I managed to catch one close to home that went downtown), where I met Anne, and we drove out to the Clare Valley district, south of Adelaide, where there are about 60 wineries in a fairly small area. We visited the Information Centre, the Dog Ridge winery, Hugo's winery, and the Foggo winery, where we sampled the sauvignon blancs, the pinot gris, the viogniers, etc., but not the reds, given my recent difficulties. The Dog Ridge "savvy b," as it's called here, was the best, so I bought a bottle for my hosts Peter and Suzy, and we headed back to Adelaide.

(At some point in the day, I discovered that the display on my camera was broken. This is a real setback. It's not possible, for example, to change the ISO setting without this display being active. Not possible to get it fixed in Adelaide, and I'm only two days in Sydney after. Not sure how this is going to work out—I'd really rather get it fixed before I leave Oz.)

In return for a drive all the way out to the beach, I treated Anne to dinner at Etias, a Henley Beach Greek restaurant just across the way from both Stella's and Zoot's. It was a brilliant night—the skies out over the ocean were threatening a storm. As it turned out, the threats were idle, but the skies/clouds were astonishingly beautiful while making the threats.

Just in case you're wondering, I had a local fish called a "King William" something-or-other, one of the specials that night, that was truly delicious. And there was some retsina involved, which was also truly delicious.

Then back to Suzy and Peter's, where I started to pack and get ready for the airport early the next morning.


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