ADELAIDE is a gracious city and an easy place to live, and despite its population of almost 1.3 million, it never feels crowded. It’s a pretty place, laid out on either side of the Torrens River, ringed with a green belt of parks and set against the rolling hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges. During the hot, dry summer the parklands are kept green by irrigation from the waters of the Murray River, upon which the city depends, though there’s always a sense that the rawness of the Outback is waiting to take over.
The original occupants of the Adelaide plains were the Kaurna people, whose traditional way of life was destroyed within twenty years of European settlement. After a long struggle with Governor John Hindmarsh, who wanted to build the city around a harbour, the colony’s surveyor-general, Colonel William Light, got his wish for an inland city with a strong connection to the river, formed around wide and spacious avenues and squares.
Postwar immigration provided the final element missing from Light’s plan for the city: the human one. Italians now make up the city’s biggest non-Anglo cultural group, and in summer Mediterranean-style alfresco eating and drinking lend the city a vaguely European air. Not surprisingly, one of Adelaide’s chief delights is its food and wine, with South Australian vintages in every cellar, and restaurants and cafés as varied as those in Sydney and Melbourne.
Adelaide may not be an obvious destination in itself, but its free-and-easy lifestyle and liberal traditions make it a fine place for a relaxed break on your way up to the Northern Territory or across to Western Australia.
Adelaide has a fantastic choice of accommodation, from contemporary boutique hotels to charming B&Bs, as well as loads of hostels. The only time you may have difficulty finding accommodation is during March, when the annual Womadelaide festival and the Arts Festival (even-numbered years only) attract throngs of visitors. Rooms also fill up quickly at weekends, at both hotels and the more popular hostels on Waymouth St and by the Central Bus Station on Franklin St. Local B&Bs and farmstays can be booked through bandbfsa.com.au.
Adelaide suffered numerous economic setbacks and built up its wealth slowly, and its well-preserved Victorian architecture has a reassuring permanence quite unlike the over-the-top style of 1850s Melbourne, with its grandiose municipal buildings funded by easy gold-rush money. The bourgeois solidity of Adelaide’s streets is enhanced by the fact that virtually every building, public or domestic, is made of stone, whether sandstone, bluestone, South Australian freestone or slate.
The huge Adelaide Festival of Arts (adelaidefestival.com.au), which takes over the city for three weeks from late February to mid-March in even-numbered years, attracts an extraordinary range of international and Australian theatre companies, performers, musicians, writers and artists. The festival began in 1960 and has been based at the purpose-built Festival Centre since 1973. In addition, free outdoor concerts, opera and films are held outside the Festival Centre and at various other locations during the period, while other venues around town host an Artists’ Week, Writers’ Week and a small film festival.
The edgier Fringe Festival (adelaidefringe.com.au) grew up around the main Adelaide festival to become the country’s largest arts event and, for many, the highlight of the festival calendar. Now a stand-alone annual event, it begins with a wild street parade on Rundle Street followed by over three weeks of free outdoor shows and activities, bands, cabaret and comedy at venues all over town, while full use is made of the 24-hour licensing laws.
The Womadelaide (womadelaide.com.au) world-music weekend began in 1992 as part of the Arts Festival but has now developed its own separate identity, attracting tens of thousands of people annually. Held in early March in the Botanic Park – with seven stages, workshop areas, multicultural food stalls and visual arts – it’s a great place to hear some of Australia’s local talent, as well as internationally acclaimed world-music artists from around the globe.
Eating out is a local obsession in Adelaide, and with one of the nation’s highest ratios of restaurants per capita you never have to look far for a great feed. One of the city’s most popular places for a meal is Gouger Street – many of the restaurants have outdoor tables and are at their busiest on Friday night, when the nearby Central Market stays open until 9pm. Moonta Street, right next to Central Market, is the home of Adelaide’s small Chinatown, and has several Chinese restaurants and supermarkets, as well as an excellent multi-cuisine food hall. Hutt Street, on the eastern edge of the city, has a string of fine Italian eateries and is a good place to go for breakfast. Café society is based around Rundle Street in the centre, and O’Connell Street and Melbourne Street in North Adelaide. In Adelaide, eating in pubs doesn’t just mean the usual steak and salad bar but covers the whole spectrum, from some fine contemporary Australian food in the commercial centre to bargain specials in several pubs along King William Street. Thanks to the state’s liberal licensing laws most cafés are licensed, with South Australian wine featuring heavily.
South Australia was the first state to legalize gay sex and remains one of the most tolerant of lesbian and gay lifestyles, although Adelaide’s gay scene remains more modest than Sydney’s or Melbourne’s. The beach suburb of Semaphore is also a hub of activity for the gay and lesbian community. To find out where the action is, pick up a copy of Blaze.
Apart from the city’s more mainstream annual festivals, there are a few strictly gay and lesbian fiestas.
Feast feast.org.au. The biggest and best gay and lesbian festival is Feast, which runs for two weeks in November. Events include theatre, music, visual art, literature, dance cabaret and historical walks, plus a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at the Mercury Cinema. The festival culminates in Picnic in the Park, an outdoor celebration in the parklands that surround central Adelaide that includes a very camp dog-show.
Blaze gaynewsnetwork.com.au. Fortnightly gay and lesbian newspaper with news, features and listings. Free from venues and bookshops. Blaze also publishes the handy free Lesbian & Gay Adelaide Map.
Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia galta.com.au. Provides listings for tourism operators in Australia where gay and lesbian travellers are specifically welcomed.
SameSame.com.au Australia’s leading gay and lesbian community and lifestyle website with up-to-date forums and notice boards.
Mars Bar themarsbar.com.au. This Adelaide institution has been around for years and hosts drag acts for a big, friendly mixed crowd. The musical focus is on pop and dance tunes, and the inexpensive drinks ensure a raucous atmosphere.
The Hampshire Hotel The Hampy, as the locals know it, is a laid-back gay-friendly pub with two bar areas, a beer garden and big tasty, good value meals.
At night, the two spots to head for are Rundle Street, which boasts popular pubs and bars teeming with young hipsters and arty university students, or grittier Hindley Street, where you’ll find several funky clubs and live music venues east of Morphett Street catering for the nearby university crowd. Leigh Street is also home to some trendy bars.
Adelaide is a lively little city with something going on somewhere every night of the week from live bands and dance clubs to art-house film and avant-garde theatre. To find out what’s on check out The Guide in Thursday’s Advertiser, which has film and theatre listings and reviews. There’s also a thriving free press. The Adelaide Review (adelaidereview.com.au) is top of the culture stakes. This monthly covers the visual and performing arts, dance, film, literature, history, wine and food. It’s available from bookshops, some cafés and the tourist offices. Rip It Up (ripitup.com.au) is a gig listings magazine out every Thursday, with film, theatre, club and music reviews and interviews. Look for it in record stores, cafés and bars. db Magazine (dbmagazine.com.au), in the same vein as Rip It Up, is published every two weeks on Wednesdays. You’ll generally find it in music shops, cafés or bars.