TO A YOUNG SINGER, ADELAIDE WAS A PLACE TO FLEE AND DERIDE IN SONG. BUT IN HIS NEW MEMOIR, PAUL KELLY LOOKS BACK WITH AFFECTION.
heroes have to leave home at some stage. Odysseus did, Frodo too. I left a city that sits on a plain between round hills and flat sea. The oldest hills in the world, we were told as children. Once they had been mountains, higher than the Himalayas, but erosion wore them down over aeons, down to unprepossessing nubs topped by the gently mounded and hopefully named Mt Lofty. “You can have your Rockies, your Swiss Alps,” said our elders. “Mere babes they are compared to our venerables.”
The hills were high enough, however, to trap the smog. Smog that could get as bad as Los Angeles, though we were less than a million. On those days, from the lookout at Eagle on the Hill, the gridded city below looked to be stewing in brown soup. Not far north of those ancient hills the desert began, thousands of miles of it stretching towards the Gulf of Carpentaria. The hot breath of summer never let us forget it, drying dripping towels and trousers on clotheslines within minutes. We were the capital of the driest state in the driest continent. Our water was pumped in via pipeline from the turbid, slow-moving lower reaches of the Murray River.
“Did you know,” we heard, “that Adelaide and Aden are the only two places in the world where ships don’t take on water? They say it’s too hard, full of minerals, but it’s very good for you; prevents heart attacks.” It didn’t help Dad, though – father of nine, dead from a heart attack two days after his 52nd birthday.
Over several years huge, slow-rolling dust storms blanketed the city and darkened the sky. Oblivion stalked us. But when The Beatles came to town in 1964 and waved to nearly a third of the population from the Town Hall balcony (my two older sisters were there) it was the highest per-capita turnout for the Fab Four in any city in the world.
The big smokes to the east couldn’t give a toss about us. Melbourne stole our best young footballers, chewed them up and spat them out, arthritic in young old age. Sydney was spoilt and beautiful, too preoccupied with preening itself in its harbour mirror to lift its gaze elsewhere. But hadn’t Don Bradman, the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen, chosen to live in Adelaide at the height of his fame? And hadn’t we invented the wine cask, that ingenious plastic bladder inside a cardboard box with a tap attached to keep your value-for-money wine fresh? The wine came from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, not far from the city, much of it better than the French only the French didn’t know it yet. This was due to our climate’s similarity to that of the Mediterranean – cool but not too cold winters to nurse the grapes along, and hot dry summers to intensify the flavour – coupled, of course, with good old South Australian know-how.
Adelaide hadn’t begun in rum and riot like Sydney – a poor huddle of huts built by convicts under the lash and on the chain. Clear-eyed citizens chose to live here. Men of vision and stamina, men such as Colonel Light, surveyor-general, who laid out the town in an elegant and spacious manner – the city centre a perfect onemile square, surrounded on all sides by parkland, the “lungs of the city”, which our forefathers had the good sense to preserve against the designs of developers.
South Australia, state of enlightenment, was the first state in Australia and one of the first places in the world to give women the vote; it was also home to the country’s