Adelaide Then & Now – August 2005

Curled up in the considerable shadows of Melbourne and Sydney, Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, has always been characterized as “a big country town”. A moniker that conjures up images of mullets and cow tipping and doesn’t tell the whole story. While it’s true that Adelaide life is firmly rooted in the rich soil that surrounds it, it’s also eclectic and hip and is quickly becoming one of the world’s great small cities.

Stroll down Rundle Street and you’ll bump shoulders with an international population, and hear jazz filter from unique second hand galleries, garage rock thunder out of indie record shops, and Electronica and hip-hop thump from high-fashion clothing boutiques. Weekend nightlife is happening. Beautiful hipsters and polished college students co-mingle at the Botanic Bar, a candle-lit Bohemian lounge with a renaissance flavor. And the dance floor is packed at the Electric Circus a basement club with white vinyl walls and leather sofas that pays homage to the 70s underground.

But the cool quotient notwithstanding, Adelaide has its share of old-world charm. This was where newly emigrated old money families congregated during the Victorian age and 19th century architectural jewels still dot the city and frame Victoria Square in the center of town. The South Australia Natural History Museum rolls back the calendar even further. Impressive multi-media displays delve into prehistoric times and aboriginal culture. It’s easy to lose hours among the countless ancient boomerangs, spears, jewelry and enthralling bark paintings.

Then there’s the food. Adelaide’s agrarian tradition is what spawned its country reputation. Italian immigrants arrived in the area around the turn of the last century, basked in the familiar Mediterranean climate and before long South Australia farms were producing an abundance of fruit, vegetables and wines that sold in Adelaide. You can practically sniff the sweetness of the nearby wine country while strolling, running or biking along the tree-lined River Torrens.

That rich European influence lives on at the Central Market. The charming antiquated warehouse is a “foodie” wonderland, home to 250 stalls selling morsels cultivated and crafted within 100 kilometers of town. The Marino Meat and Food Store sells an array of handmade sausages and world-famous proscuitto, the Smelly Cheese Shop is exactly as advertised, there are German, Polish and Baltic delis, organic produce, a place to snack on Russian proshkies and coffee, a popular breakfast shack run by a corporate refugee, and great people watching. Take a Central Market Tour with shop owner Mark Gleeson, and you’ll taste the goods and hear the stories behind them.

Adelaide is best explored on foot. That’s how Rupert Murdoch got around when he was just a local beat reporter. And if you get lost there will likely be a smiling resident at your side in seconds pointing the way. Consider it a bit of country hospitality in the middle of a thriving city.