Prettiest Town the Ozzies Ever Made
Stretched along the banks of the gently-flowing River Torrens, is what many consider to be Australia’s most livable community. In fact, some experts compare Adelaide favorably with the Scottish landmark city of Edinburgh and America’s capital, Washington D.C.
Civic leaders liken the region’s mild climate with that of the Mediterranean. This pleasurable feature has attracted not only travelers from around the country and nations abroad, but countless filmmakers who relish endless sunlit days during their tight production schedules. Horticulturists and picnickers alike loll in the warm afternoon sun in the city’s countless manicured parks. And international business executives marvel at the high-tech industries that use Adelaide as their home base.
All in all, Adelaide enjoys a long list of admirers. Count among them the inveterate traveler Mark Twain. He extolled the city’s many virtues during his visit, remarking that “if the rest of Australia or any small part were half so beautiful it was a fortunate country.”
Pocket of Puritanism
Early settlers to the state of South Australia were often compared to America’s Puritans. These rugged individualists wanted to escape their previous communities which had been settled by, and therefore populated with, convicts and former convicts. These God-fearing citizens sought to build towns that were to be carved out solely by “free settlers.” Their goal was to create a sober and moral society.
They landed on the shores of what is now known as the oceanfront suburb of Glenelg on the outskirts of Adelaide. The date was July 1836, some two generations after the First Fleeters had washed ashore in Sydney Harbour. These idealistic pioneers named their new home “Adelaide” in honor of England’s King William IV’s wife.
Their devout conservatism gained them a reputation of being puritanical and prudish. Over time, these conservative people, who represented the central core of this tight community, set about creating a civil code and developing an efficiently-run, truly civilized city. Outsiders watched this city’s growth and occasionally viewed the forefathers with a critical eye, labeling them “smug.”
“City of Light”
City planners laid out what was to become one of Australia’s most livable cities. Colonel William Light, a talented engineer for the British Army, put draft pencil to graph paper in 1836 and laid out the city of Adelaide in an efficient grid pattern. The aforementioned gaggle of free settlers who accompanied him to this barren outpost pressured the colonel to complete this task in an exhausting sixty days.
The site Light chose for the town of Adelaide raised many eyebrows and created quite a stir. Many were skeptical about the location, due to the topography, yet he defended his decision, requesting only that his choice be judged by posterity. His task took a heavy toll on his health; Light died a short period after his deadline, due to a long battle with tuberculosis.
Included in his designs was a central business district, one mile square, encircling Victoria Square. It is here that the main banks and businesses are found. Forming a boundary around this area are four terraces, named for the points of the compass, and a greenbelt beyond. It is this celebrated series of parks that create a buffer from the surrounding suburbs and industrial areas, thus allowing for an urban oasis in the midst of this city of more than one million inhabitants.
Adelaide’s Art and Architecture
The city’s early architecture is evident from the Corinthian-columned Parliament House, which dates back to 1881, the 125-year old General Post Office, the Adelaide Gaol (Jail) and the many cut-stone churches and wrought-iron-balconied homes. The South Australian Museum boasts a fabulous collection of Aboriginal and Melanesian artifacts. Directly adjacent is the Art Gallery of South Australia, which houses the country’s largest collection of Australian art. The 40-room mansion known as the Henry Ayers House, dating back to 1846, is located across the road from the gallery. It was the former residence of the premier of South Australia, who held office for seven terms. Ayers Rock, the stone monolith in the Australian Outback, bears his name.
As you wander through one of the city’s many parks, take time for a picnic of fresh fish treats from the Southern Ocean and an award-winning wine from nearby Barossa Valley. And salute Adelaide’s genteel nature, born from the rough pages of Australia’s early history.
Karyn L. Planett