HOME­TOWN BLUES

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.

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - EX­TRACT - PA U L K E L LY

ALL

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

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