A Trip to Adelaide

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:

  1. Strip clubs
  2. Asian massage parlours
  3. Adult video stores
  4. Hookah cafes
  5. Dodgy bars and clubs
  6. 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.

IMG_2621IMG_2626IMG_2627IMG_2628 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.  IMG_2629A 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.

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9 Responses to A Trip to Adelaide

  1. dearieme says:

    Geeze, it must have gone downhill since we lived there – it was a gem then. But even you could presumably have stirred your stumps and gone on a camel-back tour of McLaren Vale vineyards. Or don’t they do those any more? And why didn’t you get the tram to Glenelg?

    I feel you’ve Let the School down, Master Newman.

  2. Crown Casino in Melbourne aims itself at foreign – particularly Chinese -gamblers, and therefore aims for a level of classiness that a casino in Adelaide is not going to aim for. As for the Woolshed – ah, Australia. On the other hand, wine tourism around Adelaide can be lovely, if you are into that kind of thing (as I am). There are some lovely winery restaurants, too.

    Poker machines were legalised in New South Wales in the 1950s, but were illegal in all the other states until at least the 1970s. This led to enormous clubs full of poker machines being built in border towns (Albury, Tweed Heads, Queanbeyan, even Broken Hill) to which busloads of pensioners would be brought to lose their savings. The other states and territories gradually got tired of this, and so poker machines were eventually legalised everywhere else except Western Australia, which is too far away from everywhere else for border towns in other states to be a problem. (They exist in the casino in Perth, but not in regular pubs and clubs in WA). Still, though, the prevalence of poker machines in other states is relatively modest compared to Sydney and NSW. More than half of the total number of machines in Australia are in NSW. For the full on experience, one should go to one of the enormous clubs in Western Sydney. Panthers in Penrith is a relatively classy place, associated with a working class rugby league team as it is. Rooty Hill RSL (which has a name that Australians find intrinsically hilarious, and which styles itself as “The Vegas of the West”) is where one goes for the most extreme experience.

  3. Bardon says:

    McDonalds, hot dogs and bourbon, you can take the boy out of Manchester and all that. I still think you should have eaten in Gauchos or similar but as long as you enjoyed yourself thats the main things. Good to hear that you kept your nose clean on the back end of the clubbing experience as well!

    As for Australian airports I have been quite surprised with the credit that has been given to the Brisbane international airport facilities on a number of occasions by some visiting Sheiks from the gulf zone that are major investors in our company. I have met with them on each visit and they say that it is the best airport in the world. They are members of a ruling family and travel on diplomatic passports but strangely enough they are very impressed with Brisbane.

  4. SB says:

    Adelaide has one of those small, spread out, and sparse CBD’s that with a few tips can help you miss the dead spots, or find the live ones that are aiming low and hitting the mark (like the Woolshed). You had success with both, so depending on your objectives, the complete picture is likely a little different.

    Not sure if you got any tips before you went, but the first one I would give is not to stay on Hindley St; perhaps look to go out there if you like that kind of stuff, but heading towards the east a little is advised. There are a couple of other streets (South, East, North) where you can find better food, some different nightlife (if not aming high and missing). But that is pretty much all they are – streets. You can be half a block off and have no idea. Although this is like many cities I’ve been in.

  5. Tim Newman says:

    @dearieme: I’m pretty sure they still do the winery tours but, like I said, I wasn’t much interested. I didn’t even see any tram tracks, let alone get on a tram! If it was anything like the Melbourne system – which is good – it involves buying a card first, you can’t just jump on one.

    @Michael: interesting stuff, as always. I actually find the Crown in Melbourne to be reasonably classy, but nobody can deny that it is impressive: the gaming floor is enormous, takes several minutes to walk through it at a fast pace. I did notice a lot of Chinese in there, but Australians seem keen as well. You’d not find places like this in the UK anywhere, not even London as far as I know.

    @SB: yes, I’m sure had I spent a week or so there, or been with a family, I would have seen a completely different side of the place. But that’s generally how I like to visit places, just show up and see what hits me. I’ll do obvious tourist attractions – such as Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Great Ocean Road – but I rarely go anywhere seeking out restaurants and cultural stuff. I either stumble into it or miss it entirely.

  6. The high stakes gamblers are not on the main floor of the Casino, but are in exclusive, invitation-only rooms upstairs. Most of the gamblers there are foreign rather than Australian. The grind downstairs are a bit of a mix.

    Casinos with enormous, publicly open gaming floors do not exist in London or the UK, as the law does not allow them to exist. The high stakes, invitation-only private rooms certainly do exist, though. Kerry Packer was a legendary gambler, and was apparently particularly fond of the London casino scheme. He wasn’t permitted to gamble at Crown in his later days, due to the fact that he owned it.

  7. Tim Newman says:

    Yes, I’m sure there are private gambling clubs in London with high stakes, and always have been. I know they were talking about changing the laws to allow mega-casinos in the UK, with Blackpool being touted as a possible location, but I guess the plans never materialised.

    I walked past one of the high-stakes tables in Crown a few weeks back, don’t know it if was private but it was in a separate room. Each hand on the blackjack table was something in the order of several hundred dollars, and the table was mobbed, mainly with Chinese. Money to burn, it does nothing for me.

  8. dearieme says:

    Wine tours are one thing, but wine tours on camel back quite another. And another thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenelg_Tram

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