Adelaide Contingent

.: Adelaide Contingent :.

Because if we lived in Sydney we might have jobs.

Embed from Getty Images

I’m challenging a couple of friends to get their act together and start producing something creative.  Like me, they’re melancholics, Arts graduates, un/under-employed, and, in the best way possible: totally useless.

They’re both capable writers, but as melancholics they struggle to find motivation until they’re 100% confident in the path ahead.  I can’t fault them for that, but if we’re ever going to build the unlikely animal of an Adelaide-based intellectual or creative movement, we’re going to have to get moving.

Adelaide is an unusual city.  While it has many positive points and features, none seems sufficient to justify the city’s existence.  At the same time there’s no single thing that explains the city’s strangeness.

As the mining boom slows down and the car industry disappears, even useful Adelaideans are expressing concern for the city’s economic future.  Accordingly, it’s surely time for us, the useless denizens of Australia’s most uncanny city to share our own take on the place we call ‘home’ in the same tone with which we explain our lack of job prospects and our dubious higher-education choices.

One of the first principles of writing is to “write what you know”, and while most would not consider Adelaide a source of creative inspiration, it is for that very reason something worth writing about.  People write about New York, or London, or any number of other famous and historically significant places. Adelaide has none of that history or fame. It is the most unlikely place about which one might write.  There is no real reason for it to exist, yet it does, and may, with this touch of ‘uselessness’ be worthy of study.

The newest theme of this blog is therefore ‘Adelaide Contingent’, as in: “if we lived anywhere else, things might have turned out differently”. For better or worse, our lives are shaped by the unspectacular mystery of Adelaide; and while others flee interstate or overseas for work, ambition, and adventure, it’s time for those of us who remain to make something of our ambivalent locale, to accept the obscure challenge implicit in this dry, comfortable, ageing city-of-limited-prospects.




7 thoughts on “Adelaide Contingent

  1. Hi Zac,

    Nice piece, such that I feel compelled to leave my response! I too, in addition to some members of my peers, have questioned my reasons for not leaving sleepy Adelaide in search of a job/career. It’s safe to say that I am probably more career minded than you and more of a chaser of money than you. Hence I have indeed given serious thought to moving to a busier city to pursue employment/career many times.

    Given the current circumstances I am in (what I refer to sarcastically and seriously as being an “unemployed bum” (UB)), I have again become engaged in a struggle with myself over this issue. I have found myself having to reconcile once again the apparent contingencies that tie me down to maintaining residence here, such as family, friends (the few that exist!), my house and lifestyle, with the status of being a UB! But I am reminded that there are also many things that detract from the potential benefits of life in the Eastern states, in particular, traffic and people. I have indeed at times wondered (as well as one or two of my peers) whether I am a misanthrope! For now, I believe that I am not, however, I do most definitely seem to loathe traffic, even in Adelaide. The thought of using public transport is probably as much of a deterrent for me as any other deterrent out there. The loss of a sense of independence in general has always been a great concern.

    For example, I have come to notice explicitly (as a UB with much time on my hands to contemplate the intricacies of how Adelaide functions socially) that I make a conscious effort not to drive during busy times. If I go out to eat dinner it is well after 8pm. If I shop for groceries it is usually at a time other than school dismissal time or “on the way home from work time”, i.e. 5:30-6;30pm”, or after 1am at Coles (the midnight shoppers flock at the doors at the stroke of midnight and clog up the one single register that is in operation at that time). If I go to the gym it is one hour before it closes when all the classes have well and truly finished and only one or two die-hards are still there expending their energy and testosterone and utilizing the last micro-moles of nutrients they absorbed from their pre-work out protein shakes.

    Up until about 3 years ago, it used to be easy to travel down Marion Road. It was a hidden secret or a “hidden gem” (to use a phrase from our former operations director). But like our previous department in which we were employed, such “hidden gems” and the way things operate amongst the shiny-shiny bling-bling, do not remain unbeknownst to others for very long!

    But as a UB, one might think that I don’t really need to get anywhere too soon given that like all UBs I have surrendered all moral responsibility and have all the time in the world to be here or there doing unscrupulously as I please. But quite the contrary, for as a UB I do believe in the (Aussie Liberal Party) adage of “learn or earn” ( and I do find that I learn a lot from my leisurely activities compared with what I learned in the previous environment that I/we were employed in!

    But of course this is not something to brag about as a UB (for which I am truly truly ashamed of and will soon rectify!) because as most people seem to already know and accept/except, such a corporate environment is no less than a bastion of unlearning, ignorance, facade, self-interest and deceit!

    So I welcome your attitude of being complimentary to Adelaide (albeit a slightly dubious one!). It is after all home of the Adelaide Football Club “The Crows” which also happens to be the team that our former Director (yes the one who sealed our fate) staunchly supports! Now that my brother and his fiance have moved back to Adelaide (for an employment opportunity, ironically), this further adds to the diminished sense of urgency for me to move East. Furthermore, and most importantly for me, Adelaide is a city whereby I can drive back and forth from the CBD to the beach several times within a day, achieving a healthy glow while I’m at it!

    I should also mention that internationally renowned indie/alternative rock band “Ben Folds Five” wrote a song called “Adelaide” about (you guessed it) Adelaide! The lead singer of that band (you guessed it again!) Ben Folds, also has a house and lives in Adelaide. Highly esteemed Australian indie/alternative rock band “Powderfinger” wrote a song called “Hindley Street” (don’t ask me what it was about!).

    So as far as indie/alternative rock is concerned, Adelaide is very much on the map. I hope this is enough to inspire a little bit more esteem for Adelaide because I don’t want to have to talk about “Australian Materialism”! I don’t want to do the undignified act of dropping a few names of famous Australian academic philosophers who come from Adelaide, world renkwoned champions of the doctrine of philosophical materialism, such as U. T. Place, J. J. C. Smart, et al.

    I definitely don’t want to remind you of what our former CEO thought of the research potential within Adelaide! Right? GOOD!

    In conclusion, these are just some of the many important contingencies that UBs like myself (and yourself, lets be honest!) have to give due consideration to. The other of course, as you have highlighted in previous blog entries, is the undesirability of being a CORPORATE WHORE!

    Apologies for my “French”, and besmirching your blog, but after all, I am an unemployed bum (did I mention that?), incapable of carrying myself with dignity, who finds your blog to be a bit too clean and classy for my liking!

    Your former highly esteemed colleague,

    • Thanks Matthew. I think what you’re describing is part of the rich psychology of being an Adelaidean, or at least some subset of Adelaidean. I don’t mean to deny Adelaide’s good qualities, but I’m sure you’ll agree that these good qualities are exceptional, not necessarily the norm. When people say “there’s nothing happening in Adelaide” they overstate their case, but not by much.

      Perhaps we could agree that many Adeliadeans struggle over these issues, and without final resolution; hence the struggle itself becomes a part of the Adelaide character. So when I say (as I will say) that Adelaide is a city built for no real reason, I cannot mean it in a simply derogatory way, but with a sense of wonder that it exists despite having no real purpose. Again this becomes a unique part of its character, and influences ours in turn.

  2. Oh! Don’t get me wrong! I see Adelaide as going through a rite of passage much like a rebellious troubled, angst ridden, teenager in a futile struggle trying to find purpose and place in this world, unaware of the futility of such a struggle. Despite their bombast, they have no real purpose and thus there is nothing more that I love than to be derogatory towards them!

    According to popular, bogan, ex-pat comedian Steve Hughes the reason for Adelaide existing was “pot” (referring to marijuana) given our liberal drug laws and apparently cheapest drug prices in Australia. He states that Adelaide “smoked itself into existence”! He illustrates his point by firstly miming a person smoking pot and then stating “fuck it, we’ll just stay here”!

    Unfortunately for many people here drugs can become the purpose for their life, when in actual fact it is the antithesis of purpose. This would be an interesting paradox if indeed drug use were the purpose for Adelaide’s existence. At least in this regard Adelaide seems to be like a teenager going through a rite of passage, trying to find its sense of place in the world and its purpose for existence. I believe that drug use becomes the escape from such an angst ridden pursuit. If it’s not drugs, then it’s some other form of escapism.

    Perhaps the best place to start this soul searching is the City of Adelaide itself which can be identified solely by a few major landmarks. There is one extended street (the name of which is also the name of the song that I referred to in my previous reply) serving the function of nightclub/pub/red-light district which continues in a straight line onto another extended strip which serves the function of shopping mall (which is the answer to a popular Adelaide joke: “what’s long and has two balls?”), which in turn extends in a straight line onto our restaurant/café district (whereby once a year during the month of February we pretend that this street is the “arts capital of Australia”). If you can walk from East to West in a straight line you can go from dinner/coffee, to shopping/retail-therapy, to alcohol/drugs/nightclubs/strip-bars/kebab-houses. The line will not appear straight if you try this going West to East.

    Just 3 blocks south of this serially connected trinity is what one might refer to as “China Town” which has finally earned its name in recent years due to the number of restaurants that cater almost solely and specifically to the overseas Chinese student demographic, the popularity and expansion of which is inversely proportional to the quality of our great tertiary education institute which goes by the motto of “lifelong learning”! Or was it “life impact”? I would need a Chinese translator to read their billboards to confirm this. In addition to not being able to make up its mind on which motto they wanted to go by, I recall they also had some trouble deciding between “The University of Adelaide” versus “Adelaide University”.

    Of course we cannot and must not forget to mention our Festival Theatre (which actually opened 3 months before the Sydney Opera House). This reminds me of a joke (yes, same bogan ex-pat comedian). “The Opera House? Boy that comes in handy dunnit? Nothin’ ‘stralians like more is there? A good fuckin’ Opera!… Yeah fuck the cricket! Get me down ta that opera!”

    Speaking of the cricket, what lies directly south of the Festival theatre, on the other side of the creek we call “The River Torrens” (they say Adelaide is a bit “backward”!) is our pride and joy! The heart of the City of Adelaide “The Adelaide Oval”! Home of the one local football team that exists here (I don’t consider the other lot a part of our state, mainly because they don’t consider themselves as part of our state hence the reason for their independent inception). The team by which the first line in their song declares them as “we’re the pride of South Australia”!

    So in many ways Adelaide reminds me of me! Still developing. A redundant city trying to find its identity and purpose, dabbling in fine arts, having one foot in the door of research and education, whilst staying loyal to its uncouth bogan roots, and of course liaising with the Chinese (perhaps just for money or just for a sense of purpose for now).

      • Yes, developmentally delayed, but also therefore in a state of what appears to be a fear of never being able to find her identity and purpose. Such internal angst can often thwart the very goals which if achieved would cure that angst once and for all. Constantly, looking at herself in the mirror and comparing herself to the big girls certainly doesn’t help.

        However, Adelaide does seem to grow or develop at least on the outside, with new roads, new buildings, housing projects, and urban sprawl in general. At the very least there is a facade of refinement and maturation in terms of naming suburbs “Davoren Park” or “Elizabeth Grove” and erecting newer/modern Housing SA houses therein. I would also argue, a facade for artistic endeavor too, particularly during the months of February and March. But I acknowledge that as an Adelaidean (an unemployed Adelaidean bum, no less) I’m not very qualified to make judgements about artistic endeavour.

        Speaking of artistic endeavour, I agree that the fact that Adelaide was built on a flat grid offers little by way of challenge or inspiration for the more artistic minded city planners, architects and builders. Hence it was inevitable that Adelaide would grow up to be the type of city whereby aesthetics would give way to functionality. For example the aesthetic allure of an undulating irregular metropolis (like Melbourne perhaps) has clearly been sacrificed for ease of traffic and transportation as well as the ease of capturing drunk/drug drivers leaving the city. One of the benefits of the feng shui faux pas that is the city grid is that it enables one to keep an eye on a burglar at every moment from their entering the house and leaving the house. So no need to run. Just call SAPOL and if they can be bothered (especially if they are short of their nightly quota) they can just wait out the back door with their batons raised.

        Apparently William Light surrounded the city with trees to ensure that the city would have fresh air and not get bogged down by air pollution, hence the surrounding park lands. I’ve also heard they were intended to serve as a protective fort? Impressively practical!

        So yes, I do think the focus on functionality gives rise to an inartistic and uncreative disposition that manifests as developmental delay with all of the angst and confusion that comes with it. Perhaps this is precisely what makes Adelaide ideal for what some might call “settling down”, “starting a family”, “growing old” or “research and innovation”. I’ve heard quite a few people say that Adelaide is the perfect place for those things. After all, too much imagination and undulation might thwart such practical goals or at least trip you over a few times before you reach them.

        But as long as Adelaide remains in such a developmental state, as a petulant, angst ridden teenager, a rebel and contrarian unto themselves, longing for stimulation, or at least employment (at worst a career), she will constantly gaze east, pondering what lies over the hills and far away.

        • Settling down, starting a family and growing old are pretty much what people do everywhere in default. It’s just that in Adelaide there’s nothing else going on to detract attention from it! Presumably people also settle down, grow old and start families in Sydney and Melbourne…but it all happens in the shadow of their career prospects, perhaps?

          • Yeah that’s true. It’s not like these things are unique to Adelaide. But I wonder whether everything else that goes on (including career prospects) itself might detract from settling down, starting a family, and growing old. Do those Melbourneans have more trouble resisting these natural instincts because there’s so much more to do? Or do they just know how to get everything done with style and flair? I wonder if they can also make research look good?! Which reminds me of a quote from famous philosopher W. Smith:

Leave a Reply to Matthew Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s