Monthly Archives: March 2013

Is Adelaide paradise on earth?

A few years ago, Nobel laureate JM Coetzee read out the following tribute to Adelaide, after receiving the keys to the city in 2004:

It was March, it was hot, but there were shaded walks to be had along the Torrens River, where black swans glided serenely.
What kind of place is this, I asked myself – is this paradise on earth?
 What does one have to do to live here?
 Does one have to die first?

Is Adelaide as Coetzee describes, “paradise on earth”? Parts of it are lovely. Today, on the last day of March, I walked along the Torrens. It was the refreshingly cool of morning and the swans were performing their ablutions rather than gliding along serenely, but it’s close enough.  This is what it looks like (yes, those are construction cranes in the background, which lend a certain edgy urban air to such a bucolic scene):

Adelaide river

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Letting the Landscape Wash Over Me

These blog entries are necessarily brief. Needing to see Australia, to eat and shower and, most of all, sleep, I battle to find the time to write. So I scrawl notes in the notebook I keep in the car and document everything obsessively with my phone – which is useless as a phone here, because it is locked, and which I use only as a camera.

We are driving from Melbourne to Adelaide, a two day trip through the Australia that most visitors don’t see. Yesterday I spent the journey along the Great Ocean Road angry about so many things, most of them to do with my ex-husband, though mainly I am angry with myself, not him, because he couldn’t help who he was, and I should have known better than to say yes.

Bridgewater

Today I am calm. I sit in the car while my friend Chris aimed it at the road ahead and let the landscape wash over me. Rain sea windfarm grass trees impossibly blue crater lake

sheep vineyards vineyards sheep sheep sheep emu sheep Angus beef cattle (South Australia’s finest). Pelicans and strange brassy water that stretches on and on and on: the Coorong, where the Murray meets the sea.

The music plays: Tears for Fears, then metal, then more metal, then The Orb. I like The Orb best; its strangeness seems eminently suited to this vast, strangely familiar place. Lulled by the rocking movement of the car, I drift off to the sleep that eludes me at night. When I wake, Chris tells me we have done over 1000 km in it.

Every now and then we stop. A giant lobster looms out of the grey in a town called Kingston where men have stickers on their boats: “Fish fear me, Women want me…”

I take one look at him and decide: I do not want him.

South Australia is almost impossibly flat. Place names make references to Mount this or that, but there is surely no spot elevated enough to merit the moniker.

I keep wanting to find references to the South African landscape, to steady myself. This looks like the Garden Route, I think, and that part near Portland like the dense bush near Port Elizabeth, and this is possibly like the West Coast, although I can’t be sure because I’ve never been to the West Coast.

Finally we reach Adelaide, where Sir Donald Bradman is buried and JM Coetzee lives. It is steep and hilly in the setting sun; as we enter the city I see signs for The Colonial, a Sikh centre, an Adult Erotica store (entrance to the front and rear), a Mongolian BBQ restaurant. The streets are long and orderly and calm. Paradise on earth, Coetzee described it. Perhaps, with a couple of days here,  I will begin understand why.

How friendly are Australians?

When I lived in Australia, I didn’t find the locals especially friendly. My theory was that it was something to do with being an immigrant in a city full of them. I found the Kiwis nicer, to be honest. The Sydneysiders, I felt, were friendly on the surface, but there was no substance to their niceness. To be fair, though, Australians in service roles are pretty friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Almost every single concierge or cashier I’ve encounteredhas been incredibly friendly. Chatty, wonderful sense of humour, interested in where I’m from – I’ve enjoyed almost every interaction.

Here’s the guy behind the desk at the motel where I’m staying in Portland:

Motel concierge

“How’re ya doin?” he said in the standard greeting. After establishing that I’m South African, he mentioned that a South African doctor, an anesthetist, had just started working at the local hospital. Was I a doctor, he asked? Yes, but only an academic one, I said. The only way I put people to sleep is with boring lectures. “Ha!” he laughed. “Good one.” He informed me that he needed to get a cold beer and told me where Chris and I could find one.

That’s all you need really: a smile, a friendly exchange, a little bit of interest.

Australia’s attachment to golliwogs

When I was growing up, I had a golliwog doll.  The golliwog was one of the characters in the Noddy books I loved. But times change, and the idea of a blackface doll in minstrel clothing appalled many, and you don’t see golliwogs anymore. Except in Australia. where they love them. In Australia, golliwogs are associated with “nana” – the local word for “granny”. They have entire websites devoted to them. This is the display in an exclusive toy shop in one of Melbourne’s chichi shopping districts:

Golliwogs closeup

This wasn’t the only one. Probably not something you’d see in Joburg or Cape Town.

Why did the echidna cross the road?

You haven’t seen Australia until you’ve seen their extraordinary, utterly strange wildlife. My Twitter handle, Anatinus, is taken from the duckbilled platypus. Next week I plan to visit my namesake at the Taronga Zoo, but in the mean time, I’ve seen its closest living relative, the world’s only other living monotreme: the echidna.

I have a soft spot for echidnas. This is one I saw at the Albert Gardens in the Dandenongs:

Echidna

One I saw crossing the Great Ocean Road earlier today:

Echidna crossing road

And this is the most iconic of Australian animals, a koala. We spotted 6 of them at in the forest near Cape Otway Lightstation, on one of the southern most points of Australia.

Koala

In case you’re wondering, the echidna apparently wanted to get to the other side.

Sand in my ears and a ukelele

St Kilda weather: take 1

St Kilda weather: take 1

I have sand everywhere. In my eyes. In my ears and my mouth. In my hair, my socks, my bag, my pants, my pockets and on my phone.

St Kilda weather: take 2

St Kilda weather: take 2

This, as it turns out, is Melbourne weather. There we were, walking back from the jetty at St Kilda when the wind turned nasty and the beach became airborn. I’m grateful for my brand new Gondwana windbreaker (see in photo above), bought from the Victoria Market for $45 – a huge extravagance for me – mainly because of the name. A sentimental attachment to this blog, you could call it. “It was a hundred dollars” the woman at the stall tells me. “This is a very good price.” She has an accent that suggests origins in Eastern Europe. Around here, almost everyone is from somewhere else.

The day dawned miserable – obviously because, having seen on the news that we were experiencing Melbourne’s hottest March in 11 years (and Sydney’s hottest on record because, you know, global warming is a conspiracy)  had sent me to buy tourist T-shirts on Swanston Street. It warms up later and we decided to head to St Kilda because there’s sea here, of a sort, and both Hugh Jackman and Nick Cave live in the area. We find free parking (truly astonishing in Melbourne) and stroll past a hippie gardening project and Luna Park to the beach. We venture onto this jetty:

St Kilda weather: take 3 (Chris on jetty)

St Kilda weather: take 3 (Chris on jetty)

I then photograph somebody photographing something else, because this is something I have a thing about (more about that later). And then, everything changes. A hurricane-force wind emerges from nowhere, lifting the beach into the air and blasting us with it. If I were into Botox and microdermabrasion (as some women suggest I should be) I’d be thrilled by this free gift from nature, but it was not fun. Even the locals are freaked out. These schoolgirls ran shrieking for shelter:

St Kilda weather: take 4

St Kilda weather: take 4

We find shelter at Donovan’s but it turns out to be an expensive restaurant for businessmen. $25 for a starter. $45 for an Alaska bombe for two.We struggle our way to the Stokehouse Café, which is more in line with our economic status.

Ukelele

In the corner, a blonde man with extravagant dreadlocks strums a ukelele (see above). His friends whoop and shriek. We wait for our drinks. Espresso machines seethe and roar. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers play in the background. My friend Chris quotes Nick Cave: “I’m forever near a stereo saying “What the fuck is this GARBAGE? And the answer is always the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.”

At the end window, the leaves of a palm tree are horizontal. In front of us, the sea writhes, all foam and jagged facets of greenish-grey. The sun ventures out, sending clouds of gulls skudding across the waves.

A skateboarder in a scarf slides up and down in front of us. Somebody who looked like a hipster took a photo, but then everyone looks like a hipster here. One of the women asks the guy with the dreadlocks and the ukelele: “When are you getting married?”

I read an article about “drunkorexia”, tweeted to me by my favourite Australian. It includes references to how alcohol brands are repositioning. This is what I do for a living: I find consumer “insights” and then match selling opportunities for brands. What I do for a living is perilously close to being, if not actually evil, then a convincing simulacrum of the same thing.

The cider I’ve been drinking – everywhere has cider on tap – hits the spot. I’ve eaten a late breakfast, so no need for lunch. (Tip: this is a great way to save money when travelling: eat two meals a day instead of three.) I’ll agonize about this later. But not right now. I have sand down my back, and there’s a woman setting next to ukelele guy who has a terrible laugh, really terrible, and right now that’s too distracting.

I am a Camry driver (almost)

Ten days ago or so I was being rude about Camry drivers on Twitter. I’d seen one on Rivonia Road and speculated that Camry drivers are all men who wear socks in bed. There can’t be a more sexless, boring car on the road except a Nissan Sentra, and those are popular with cash in transit heist robbers in Kwazulu-Natal because the boot fits four cash boxes, so they have an intriguingly dark side.

Most of the people who responded to the tweet agreed with me, but one guy pointed out that his mother drove one, so I had to back down.

When it came to select a hired car for my trip to Australia, I wanted to do the truly Australian thing. Generally speaking, screaming green V8 Utes are not available for hire from Europcar, so I went for the next best thing, a Holden Cruze.  If you don’t know, Holden is an Australian brand, though most of its vehicles are from General Motors, so we’d know them either as Opels or Chevrolets. Obviously, the universe had an opinion about this, because despite my request, the car Europcar supplied me with is… a Camry.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 2.30.33 PM

It’s not bad looking at all. And because it’s built in Australia, it’s almost as Australian as a Holden. Though I invested in an international driver’s licence, Chris is the designated driver and has judged it decent enough. It’s very bland but very comfortable and the fuel economy is good – twice as good as the old RAV4 he drove us around in Sydney. It had better be, given that on Friday we start our 12-14 hour drive along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide.

Melbourne has excellent public transport so a car is more of a hindrance than a help here, but getting around between cities means a car is essential. The Great Ocean Road is one of the great drives of the world – I’m looking forward to it.