Given I shall soon be leaving Australia and unlikely to return for some time, I decided to do a bit of local tourism, with my first destination being Adelaide. Other than it being the scene of an unimaginable slaughter a few weeks back, I didn’t know much about it and half the people I spoke to said it was lovely and the other half said it was full of inbreds.
I flew down on Virgin Australia, a flight of an hour or so, and as I found when I went to Sydney the domestic airports at each end were models of efficiency and organisation. I have to hand it to the Australians, when it comes to making domestic air travel as painless as possible they have it nailed down, at least insofar as the airports are concerned. With an absolute minimum of fuss I was checked in and at the departure gate within minutes.
I caught a taxi to my hotel which was situated bang in the middle of town on Hindley Street. For the price it wasn’t bad (a fraction of the cost in Melbourne), but it was a bit dated and I didn’t bother eating there: hotel breakfasts in Australia, like everywhere, are a bit of a fleecing and so I made use of the McDonald’s over the road more times than was probably good for me. I had arrived on the last Friday before Christmas Day, and there was much revelry in the air of the office Christmas party kind. The bars in Leigh Street near my hotel were mobbed, music was pumping out of one of them, and so after a quick kip I went out to join the fun. But first I needed some food, and I went up and down Hindley Street at least twice looking for somewhere to eat. In doing so, I discovered that Adelaide’s busiest street (aside from Rundle Mall) consists almost entirely of:
- Strip clubs
- Asian massage parlours
- Adult video stores
- Hookah cafes
- Dodgy bars and clubs
- Dodgy takeaways
I couldn’t find anywhere that looked suitable to eat, so I went into one of the bars and ate a hotdog. Coming out, I wandered about some more. The streets were beginning to fill up with Adelaide’s youngsters, the girls of which were often slim and pretty (they wouldn’t stay that way long) and wearing next to nothing (like they do in Liverpool) and speaking in godawful accents (like they do in Liverpool). At least half of them had tattoos.
The main attraction in several of the bars, according to the signage, seemed to be 24-hour poker machines (or pokies, as they are called in the excruciating local vernacular). Clearly the gambling addiction in Australia isn’t confined to Melbourne. For sure, you’ll find fruit machines in most English pubs, but they’re not advertised on enormous banners outside to the exclusion of anything else. Half of these places were less bars than gambling dens which served alcohol. I also saw Aborigines for the first time in Australia, and they didn’t appear to be doing too well. They were a couple of old men and an old woman, all barefoot, and seemingly drunk in the middle of the street (more so than the rest of the locals). One of the men had a bandage on his bleeding head. The woman was dancing drunkenly in front of an elderly busker who was playing an electric guitar which had been smashed up. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
I went into a packed bar on Leigh Street where I sat at the counter drinking something or other, before going to the next street where there was a Russian-themed bar. I walked in and discovered the barman was from Nigeria, Port Harcourt to be precise. The Russian theme didn’t amount to much, and so I talked to the barman about Lagos instead. Shortly afterwards two young fellows came in and sat nearby and we got talking. Turned out they were natives of Adelaide and once the inevitable ribbing about the cricket had finished, we got stuck into a fair bit of alcohol. At some point some Nigerian mates of the barman came in and we had a jolly good laugh about Lagos (I forget what they were doing in Adelaide, but I think one of them might have been running a backpacker hostel, or something). As the night moved on, an Australian girl joined the two lads and in with the general festivities. After an hour or so, one of the lads and the girl went home and the other lad, Adam, and I went a-bar hunting. We wandered into three or four packed bars, drinking and bullshitting in each one, and then at some point after midnight went into the Adelaide casino to prop up the bars there. Whereas the Crown casino in Melbourne is impressive in size and probably style also, the same can’t be said for Adelaide’s. It looked like a pretty seedy joint, half full of middle aged married or divorced men coming from the office parties and drunkenly trying it on with their middle aged married female colleagues. It was painful to watch, but by this time I was getting pretty drunk and really wasn’t so bothered by my surroundings.
It got to a point, sometime around 2 or 3am, and the streets were an utter carnage of drunken revellers, when we decided to go to a bar I’d passed several times on Hinkley Street called the Woolshed. We went in and I found myself in the biggest shithole since my days of drinking in Manchester. The first thing that hit me was the smell. Since the smoking ban, bars have gone from smelling of smoke to smelling of BO, stale beer, farts, and backed-up toilets. It was honking. The carpet was sticky, which is a sure sign of a certain type of establishment, and the music absolutely bloody awful. There was a mechanical rodeo bull set up in one corner with drunk girls dressed in tiny dresses trying to ride it without any success, but attracting a sizeable audience nonetheless. I poked my head in the toilet and found a proper, British club style arrangement: cubicle doors hanging off, graffiti everywhere, the seat ripped off, the porcelain cracked, both toilets blocked with bog roll, a pint glass in the urinal, and the whole floor covered in piss. The whole place sent a wave of nostalgia over me for the many dives I have patronised, and I loved it! I felt right at home.
And so Adam and I were off, drinking ourselves into oblivion, watching plastered, sweating halfwits trying it on with anything vaguely female, and who they outnumbered by eight to one. Somehow I got talking briefly with some girl who looked about 20 who had two strange words tattooed on her inner wrists, which turned out to be the names of her daughters. The music got worse, but the dancing – if you could possibly call it that – had no greater depths to which it could sink. I stayed on the edges, guzzling bourbon by the tumbler, watching Adam try his luck with anything which passed his threshold of interest. He was one hell of a drinking buddy, and I was mighty grateful for his company. We went to the first floor level, up a ludicrously steep flight of stairs given the state of the customers at that point, which was packed full of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. One thing I like about these shithole clubs is they are egalitarian places with no pretentiousness. I detest pretentious bars and clubs – Melbourne has them by the dozen – pretending to be as hip and trendy as Manhattan’s newest gay bar, when in fact they’re just your standard, boring dump with a lick of paint applied. The Woolshed by contrast didn’t pretend to be anything other than an absolute, end-of-the-night dive and as a result everyone was there only to get hammered and, for a lot of them, to pick something up. Everyone was clearly enjoying themselves at any rate, and I didn’t see a sniff of trouble.
I saw lots of things which I really wanted to remember so I could blog about them, but alas my memory failed me in most instances. I blundered into one group who had a teenage French girl with them, who had been sent from Paris to stay with her cousin and learn English. Quite what sort of English her parents thought she’d learn in Adelaide, and quite what words and phrases she’d learn in the Woolshed at 4am is anyone’s guess, but I was able to speak French with her for a while. My French language abilities are rudimentary in the extreme, but compared to everyone else in the joint I might easily have passed for Gerard Depardieu. Eventually she cleared off to smoke outside with her friends, and it was pushing towards about 5am when I realised that the place was now half empty and I’d lost Adam. At this point, or somewhere around it, I stumbled the short distance back to my hotel and went to bed.
The next day I thought I’d better do something productive to justify my coming to Adelaide, but unfortunately I looked around and realised it was already mid-afternoon. That’s the problem with going out until dawn and getting up after lunch. So I took a stroll up to Rundle Mall, the main shopping precinct, in spitting rain which was not what I’d expected: Adelaide had experienced one of its hottest days on record two days previously. There wasn’t much to see, although I did stop to watch this guy play his guitar in the street, which was very impressive and his method was something I’d never seen before. Australian shopping areas aren’t much to visit, and I was feeling pretty rough, so I decided to spend what was left of the afternoon in the cinema, watching American Hustle which, after a slow start, I quite enjoyed. I went out that evening to get something to eat, again struggling to find a proper restaurant just by wandering about and looking, settling for a burrito at a Mexican-themed takeaway joint. I tried to go back to the Russian-themed bar for a quick drink but found it closed for the staff Christmas party, and I really couldn’t be bothered to look anywhere else and so went back to the hotel and watched test match cricket between South Africa and India.
I got up a lot earlier the next day and looked at the range of brochures on display in the hotel advertising things to do in Adelaide. The problem was, none of them advertised things to do in Adelaide: everything involved travelling outside for anywhere between 20 and 100km. The things people recommended I do – mainly winery tours – were outside the city, and when I looked at the things for which you can book a day trip I wasn’t overly excited. Most of them seemed to involve travelling an hour or so to a place where there really wasn’t very much, and none of them interested me. Even the winery tours didn’t appeal for two reasons. Firstly, wine in wineries is no cheaper in Australia than it is in a supermarket, which defeats the primary purpose of going on a winery tour: to get pissed cheaply on good wine. And secondly, I’m moving to Paris in a few weeks where I will be drinking good wine until it comes out of my ears at a fraction of Australian prices, and likely doing plenty of winery tours over the course of the next couple of years where the wine is practically free. So it wasn’t something I felt a real urge to undertake when in Adelaide.
Just to ensure that my trip didn’t just consist of me getting totally pissed and going to the cinema, I took a stroll down to the river, opposite the Adelaide oval which is undergoing renovations. I was tempted to hire a pedal boat in the absence of anything else to do, but they were sorry looking things and customers were not allowed to take them out of sight of the hire point. Then I looked at doing what was advertised as a river cruise, but when I enquired what there was to look at the best I could hope for was “grassy banks”. Not even a kangaroo or a bunch of convicts. The park area along the river was quite nice though, and I took a few photos mainly to justify having lugged the camera with me from Melbourne.
I suppose it was a Sunday afternoon, but there really didn’t seem to be much going on. My walk back to the city centre took me through the university campus where there were flyers advertising some Marxist snoozefest of the type which has been a stock feature of university campuses across the western world for about 5 generations now. A Marxism conference promising “ideas to challenge the system”. Really? New ideas these, are they? You’ve got to hand it to these lefties, they don’t give up. A resilient bunch, and each generation seems to put forward enough numbers to pick up where the last lot left off.
I briefly went into the Museum of South Australia which, from what I could tell, was a museum of whale bones and Pacific Island cultures, before giving up on finding anything else of interest and going home. Aside from a passable Indian curry that evening and the flight back to Melbourne, that was pretty much Adelaide for me. Not really worth the trip on the face of it, but I did need to get out of Melbourne and get my mind off some serious work issues, and the night on the piss with my new friend in the Woolshed adequately served that purpose. So I’m glad I went.