The city of Adelaide is really simple to navigate. Its original surveyor, Colonel William Light, oriented the gridiron street-plan exactly to the compass points. The periphery of this area consists of four streets, North, East, South and West Terraces, which face the East, South and West Parklands and the Torrens River. The axial north-south street is King William Street (that is, William IV, after whose consort the city is named). In the exact centre is Victoria Square.
In fact, most of the major tourist sites sit on the river-side of North Parade, the Old Parliament House, Parliament House, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum, the Migration Museum, Ayers Historic House (home of an early prime minister of South Australia) and the Botanical Gardens. There’s enough there to occupy a visitor for a day or two.
Another attraction is to take the tram to Glenelg, Adelaide’s beach resort. This is a second-generation Light Rapid Transit which glides effortlessly through the Australian suburban dream. A day rider ticket (A$8.30 – just over £5) gives unlimited travel until midnight on all tram, bus and rail services in the city, though in fact anyone needing only to ride between South Terrace and North Terrace in central Adelaide can travel on the tram for free. Easy.
At the Glenelg end of the line a vintage first-generation tram provides free rides up and down in between the regular services. Alongside the beach, the shops and the numerous opportunities for food and drink, there is a superb museum in the Town Hall, the Bay Discovery Centre, covering the story of the establishment of the state of South Australia by the first governor, Captain John Hindmarsh, at what was then called Holdfast Bay in 1836, and the subsequent growth of Glenelg as a resort through to the present day.
I spent much of a day in Port Adelaide, where I was underwhelmed by the Maritime Museum, simply because in a small space it seemed to be trying to do too much. Jamming in the stories of the founding of the port, the shipping, the immigrants, the growth of Port Adelaide as a community, the industrial conflicts, the natural history and something for the children deserved at least as much space as, say the Maritime Museum in Liverpool’s Albert Dock.
In contrast, the South Australian National Railway Museum fills two great hangars and a lengthy goods shed with gigantic locomotives and other rolling stock, clearly explains the engineering in layman’s terms and narrates the epic sagas of building lines in a medley of gauges from South Australia across the continent and then, mostly, rebuilding them in standard gauge so that people could travel from Sydney to Perth or Adelaide to Darwin without repeatedly changing trains or climbing on board a camel train.
The locomotives are clearly from different stables: many were Australian built, and others carry builder’s plates from Beyer Peacock & Co Ltd of Gorton, Manchester, Metropolitan Vickers of Manchester and Sheffield and the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, USA. One loco is described as based on a British Great Western design, and – sure enough – it has a copper-capped chimney.
This museum encourages people to climb on some of the locomotive footplates and to step into many of the railway carriages: these range from the luxurious to the penitential, many without any kind of lavatory provision. The collection includes some of the rolling stock of the Tea & Sugar train which until 1997 supplied settlements along the Nullabor Plain, complete with a bank and a butcher’s van.
In the heat of Port Adelaide in high summer, I was particularly grateful to Eric and Joan Kirkham, friends of an old friend, for taking me to lunch at the Port Dock Brewery Hotel [www.portdockbreweryhotel.com.au], where we were given an informative tour of the brewery by the 28-year-old brewery manager, a man I admired for drinking Guinness the last thing before he left Australia, drinking Guinness again in the half-hour he spent in England before arriving in Ireland to drink Guinness again, proving to himself that it really does taste different in the three countries. We drank refreshing alcoholic ginger beer, and ate kangaroo steaks with a wild plum reduction and Asian vegetables – in effect, green leaves in runny red jam.
In the city-centre, round the corner from Victoria Square, I stumbled upon Stanley’s, billed as “the great Aussie Fish Caf [sic]”, http://stanleysfishcaf.com.au/1901.html, where I ate great Aussie fish – a platter of whiting, garfish and barramundi, running from sweet to fishy in that order. Here is all God’s plenty from the southern seas – bugs (giant prawns, served with garlic, chilli or curry sauce, or in their shells topped with garlic butter and bacon), snapper and calamari.
Another night, across the road from Stanley’s on Gouger Street, I ate at A Taste of Asia [no website, apparently, but e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org], which combines Malaysian food with New Orleans jazz discreetly played in the background. I tucked into crispy wontons and chilli roast duck, while noting an encouraging proportion of Asian customers, many of whom knew the proprietor and staff and were clearly regulars. It’s always worth eating where the regulars are of the same ethnicity as the food.