Exploring the City-Centre
The story of the growth and development of the city of Adelaide is very different from the other major cities of Australia. The model of convict settlements used in the late 18th century to develop Sydney and Melbourne was not used to develop the South Australian capital. Perhaps the only similarity to the birth of east coast capitals was the treatment of the indigenous inhabitants in Adelaide where the Kauma people’s culture was almost completely destroyed within a few decades of the arrival of the British settlement in 1836.
Another major difference between the development of Adelaide in the 1830s was that the site of the city was carefully surveyed and then laid out by the first surveyor-General of South Australia, Colonel William Light, before construction of the city began. His plan is described as “topography sensitive”, taking into account the river and the future approach to the development of this colony that was very different from that of Sydney and Melbourne. A statue of Colonel Light is to be found in the parklands on the north side of the Torrens River with him looking out over the city that his ideas had so much impact on.
The new city was named after Adelaide, the wife of King George IV of England (German by birth) who was crowned in 1837 as Queen of England. She went on to outlive her husband of 12 years, becoming the ‘Queen Dowager” during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
The map of Adelaide above shows how the city today has a belt of parkland surrounding the central areas of both sides of the river. There are many advantages of this layout for the citizens of Adelaide, particularly ensuring that it doesn’t suffer from many of the environmental issues of so many other world cities. Our few days in Adelaide were quite delightful, no doubt in great part to this ‘green wall’ around the city.
We were booked in for three nights at the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel in Frome Street before we caught the Indian Pacific train from Adelaide to Perth, across the Nullabor Plain. This gave us over two days to get a good look at Adelaide and its surrounds. On our first afternoon in town, we chose to go for a walk through the shopping strip that was Rundle Mall, down to North Terrace and stroll all the way down this impressive street to the Botanic Gardens.
Our hotel wasn’t far from the corner of Rundle Mall and our view across the pedestrian crossing was of a complex but interesting mural. The Mall is certainly the major shopping centre for Adelaide and is a conglomeration of shops of varying upkeep and from different eras of Adelaide’s 20th century history. There were also some very impressive, preserved heritage buildings like the Adelaide Arcade that are well worth a closer look. This arcade was built on a site where two previous buildings had been burnt down and the arcade today was started in 1885. One of my favourite sculptures from the city of Adelaide is also in Rundle Mall; I am not sure if delicate tourists from other countries would be impressed by three bronze pigs scavenging in the bins of the city mall but I thought it gave a flavour of humour as well as great art to the area.
We turned right at the end of Rundle Mall and headed down King William Street to North Terrace. I have never visited a street in my life that had more official buildings in it, government and cultural, than this Terrace. By crossing the road here at the lights and turning left, we were able to inspect the state’s Parliament House. It was built next door to the original or ‘old’ Parliament house (left, below) but it took over 65 years to build the new one due to the lack of ready finances, between 1874 and 1939. The old parliament house was built in 1857 but it didn’t take long to run out of space for the many offices of government that were required for this fast-growing state. Below right is a photo of the old parliament house in 1872.
We continued on past Old Parliament House and visited the main Adelaide railway station. We were looking for some tourist information as we were hoping to get a tour on the following day of some of the towns outside of Adelaide, particularly those down toward the Southern Ocean. There was a very helpful information booth in the station but alas it could not help us with bus tour info.
We headed back up the street, passed the Parliament Houses and crossed over King William Street again to gaze longingly through the gate of Government House, the official residence of the Governor of South Australia. The first part of the building was completed in 1840 and this section of the house is the second oldest continuously occupied house in the state.
On the corner of King William Road and North Terrace there is a very significant, eye-catching memorial to those South Australian soldiers who served in the Boer War (1899-1902). It is a very lively equestrian statue with the rider struggling to hold back the energy of his horse. It is the first of quite a number of statues that can be found along the fence-line of Government House where an area is dedicated to statues of significant figures in South Australian History, the Prince Henry Gardens. Two of these statues are found in the above images. The seated woman on the left is Dame Roma Mitchell (1913-2000) who was Governor of South Australia from 1991-96. She was an Australian of some significance given that other positions she held were the Chancellor of the University of Adelaide (1983-90) as well as Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia (1965-83). She is also recognised as a pioneer of women’s rights in Australia.
The statue on the right above from Prince Henry Gardens is that of the famous navigator Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated Australia in 1801-3 and was particularly important to South Australia as he mapped the Southern Coast as well as Kangaroo Island. He proved that ‘New Holland’ was one huge land mass and we owe our country’s name to his suggestion that this new continent be called “Australia”, (often referred to as Terra Australis, “Southern Land”.).
On the map to the left above can be seen the location of the South Australian National War memorial, situated on the corner of Kintore Ave and North terrace. From the war memorial itself, there is an Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk with a wall running beside it with images of servicemen and servicewomen as well as pavers listing the places where South Australians fought. The large memorial sculpture was opened in 1931. It is in this area that the ceremonies on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day are held each year.
As a visitor to Adelaide I have already been amazed at the number of Government, cultural and other public buildings that have found a place in this one street of the capital city of South Australia. This collection of significant buildings continues after crossing Kintore Street. On the next corner is the State Library (left below) and on the pavement in front of this building is a number of statues, one of which is a large memorial to the eldest son of Queen Victoria, Edward VII. Before his ascension to the British throne, his reputation was that of an eating, drinking, gambling, mistress-collecting hedonist whose only interest was that of his luxurious lifestyle. On becoming King in 1901, Bertie managed to transform his reputation to that of a peacemaker due to his close connections with European royalty. He died in 2010 without succeeding in preventing the Great War that broke out four years later.
Next to the State Library is the next building important to the cultural life of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum. It was founded in 1856. Like most museums, its collection is very large so to create space, a significant building is being developed down the street next to the Botanic Gardens to more appropriately display its large Australian Aboriginal Cultural Collection. For those with plenty of time and an interest in natural history, there is plenty to see in this museum on topics such Fossils, megafauna, opal fossils, whales and Dolphins etc.
If art is more your interest rather than natural history, you haven’t got far to go to discover the repository of almost 45,00 works of Art next door in the Art Gallery of South Australia. This institution was established in 1881 and today houses the second largest collection of Art in Australia; the National Gallery of Victoria is larger.
Perhaps the largest institution that is housed on North Terrace is the University of Adelaide and a campus of the University of South Australia. Buildings of the university fill the whole block that extends to Frome Street to the right and then extends north. down to the parkland adjacent to the Torrens River. Further sections of the university then also fill the block behind the State Library, the Museum and the Art Gallery. It is a huge campus. We only had time to admire the Mitchell Building at the front of the campus which was the first building of the university built in 1877.
Next door to the right of the university is a building block where the future Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre is being built. It started in December 2021 and it is hoped to be finished in early 2025. The hoardings on the front fence of the block provides some great diagrams as to what the facility will look like in 3 years time.
Our final destination for the afternoon was the Adelaide Botanic Garden. It was a beautiful place for a late afternoon stroll and the photos below give a brief summary of what we saw.
We walked back up North Terrace from the Botanic Gardens and crossed over this road, opposite the University of Adelaide. I wanted to have a look at the outside of the Scots Church that was built in 1850 on the corner of North Terrace and Puitenay Street. It was one of the first churches built after the start of the colony. It is interesting to note the mid 19th century landscape painting below right of North Terrace is showing plenty of space for future buildings in the area. It is also worth noting that the photo on the left shows how crowded the church has become today with buildings from much later eras built around it.