Montefiore: What exactly is the ‘Adelaide Experience’?

What is ‘the Adelaide experience’? Sir Monty recently threw that challenge into the conversation as he shared a beaker of the ’98 against a background of clicking billiard balls in the quiet of the North Terrace club’s lower rooms.

Visitors tend to agree that the principal reason for the club’s fondness for the ‘90s is that 1998 was ‘then’. Anything but now, with fresh disruptions daily. The club’s wind-up gramophone needs new needles and they don’t make them anymore. The taxidermy costs in maintaining the African wall-mounts are crippling. The tiger skin rug is wearing thin, and they don’t allow tiger shoots anymore. The insurance on the Heysens doubles every two years. The communications pigeons in the roof loft no longer know their way around the city because of mushrooming new hotel towers, so the messages responding to ministers’ questions go missing.

According to Town Hall, making ‘the Adelaide experience’ happen is all about leverage. Sir Monty has visions of Mayor Whatshisname bending a large crowbar to break the logjams. Leveraging the state brand, the web platform, the media coverage, the UNESCO City of Music accreditation, the smart technologies, the Wi-Fi network, the clean and green. It’s like a giant Lego construction, with wires, pulleys, axles and cogs whirring and clicking, but in reality everything in Adelaide depending simply on ‘who you know’.

One Town Hall idea, to establish a ‘satellite’ visitor information service, caused club consternation because the last time the Russians sent one up, the dog in it died. “Have they no empathy?’ huffed Sir Monty’s financial advisor, Sir Hasty Put-Option. But he did support the notion of ‘advocating for an iconic development’ because that’s the only thing that gets hearts racing among radio show producers, and still sells newspapers.

Those around the table did agree, however, that the greatest potential lay with an idea to ‘facilitate cross-promotion of Adelaide experiences’, but were baffled as to how, exactly, that verb ‘facilitation’ might make it happen. Bees?

A procedural clue is the notion of an ‘Adelaide pass’, but again, it was not made clear what it might permit the visitor to do. Several more sips of the ’98 later, it was concluded that the pass might be intended to actually restrict some visitors to Adelaide, as they try to pass through the state passport customs points and x-ray booths at Gepps Cross or the Mt Osmond Toll Gate. The major market to be banned would be Victorians because they once stole a fast-car race and never gave it back, and the absence of the huge debt that accompanied it robbed SA premiers with their only real excuse as to why SA governments have never since balanced the books.

It turns out that the real ‘Adelaide experience’ is bound up with the eight key attractions in the city of Adelaide, according to the Tourism wallahs. All are within city walking distance of each other, which rather suggests that as far as Tourism SA mandarins are concerned, the remainder of South Australia might be falsely perceived as not worth visiting.

City sites include the Central Market, Adelaide’s casino, oval and zoo, the National Wine Centre, Tandanya, the ‘North Terrace cultural precinct’ and Rundle Mall. In other words – vegetables, gambling, sport, furry animals, fermented grape juice, dot paintings and busking. Sir Monty suspects that Adelaide’s Cultural Commissioners secretly know that, except for the desert art, Adelaide’s ‘offer’ is not significantly different from most other cities.

That fact might be the secret that dare not speak its name, locked in a bottom drawer of the Premier’s desk. But club members are used to keeping secrets against all odds, so much so that when they go to the grave the secrets have to be convinced to go with them to the crematorium. And even then, some escape and clamber all over the early pages of the morning newspaper, shrieking like baboons, but hiding behind a façade of gossip.

This is really ‘the Adelaide experience’, along with a number of other phenomena. They include Adelaide’s rumour mill; the lost Beaumont children; why the interstate railway station dumps interstate tourists well outside the city in a suburban wasteland; why trams are back when in the 1960s Adelaide couldn’t wait to get rid of them; the self-perpetuating generations of family lawyers and doctors who rent the top university spaces just long enough for their offspring to graduate; and the enduring mystery of the frog cake.

If there’s one thing that remains unequivocally Adelaide, however, it is the Hills Hoist, but there’s a catch. You’ll only find the genuine article in an Adelaide back garden — and only if you can afford an Adelaide back garden. It reminds the younger club visitors of a popular song more than 30 years ago that’s as fresh as the day it was recorded — an English ditty with a strong Adelaide theme — Money’s Too Tight (To Mention).

That, for tens of thousands of Adelaide folks, is the fundamental and enduring Adelaide experience.

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