Adelaide. 7th February 2016.
Adelaide is an impressive city. The streets were deliberately laid out on a grid system, as were most Aussie towns and cities, and is bordered on every side by parkland. It occurred to me to wonder whether those 18th and 19th century Aussie town planners had remembered the lessons of the great fire of London. Then, the city fathers wanted to redesign the road layout to avoid the narrow and fire friendly streets of the medieval city. But the need to replace damaged buildings was too urgent and their plans came to nothing. Either way, common sense prevailed in Adelaide and finding one’s way around the CBD is straightforward.
Gilda’s new house is further out, in the suburb of Kensington. Fortunately somewhat less expensive than its London namesake, but still very nice. A big and modern house, with a large garage and not too much garden. Perfect for the busy professional. Perfect for stray travellers too, especially one with need of garage space and time for repairs. But I had a deadline as Gilda’s sister was coming to visit a week later and would need the room I was in. So the loose plan was to concentrate on bike repairs, possibly mixed in with a bit of sightseeing if time allowed. Then I would move to a city centre hostel and be a proper tourist. Gilda had only just moved in and, with boyfriend Ajay’s help, had been busy assembling flat-pack furniture. She was less than happy with some of the suppliers though. One item arrived damaged and another had parts missing. Some things do seem to be truly universal. But at least there was a plentiful supply of cardboard to keep the garage floor clean while I worked.
I had already contacted an Adelaide business, called Your Suspension Shop, who could rebuild the shock absorber. So the first job on Monday was to remove the old one and get it there. Easy to get it off, far harder to get it to YSS, who were 20kms out of town at Angle Vale. I set off at lunchtime. The bus to the CBD stops at the end of Gilda’s road. I asked the driver to put me off at the central station, he forgot. Eventually I got there, obtained some transport maps and route instructions from the enquiry office and got the train. After the train I needed a bus but the once an hour service to Angle Vale was timed so that the bus left five minutes before the train arrived. No comment! Eventually I got there, fifteen minutes before closing time.
It is a one man business, run by Walter, a Swiss emigrée from thirty years ago. He set the business up in the days when the road from Angle Vale to Adelaide was still a dirt track. His thinking was that the city would keep expanding until his cheap land became a valuable asset. He was right except that it took about fifteen years longer than he expected. Meanwhile, after examining my shock absorber he said he’d never seen one that had suffered from a broken yoke before. But he said the spring was OK and he’d be able to renew all the parts. It would be ready by the end of the week. Good enough for me, although the anticipated $800 cost caused me to swallow hard. No choice though.
During the morning I’d rung up Kessener, a local Suzuki dealer, and they had a new chain and sprockets in stock, at reasonable cost. I’d wanted the standard forty three tooth rear sprocket but they only had forty two. I was likely to be going off road a lot less now so it seemed like a good opportunity to raise the gearing a little. I hope to see an improvement in fuel consumption. I also needed some cleaning materials as the bike was filthy and a bit oily too.
Next morning Gilda had some errands to run so she was able to get me to the places I needed to go as well. While at Kessner’s I talked to them about some assistance with the service that was now due and they were happy to help me.
Back at Gilda’s I got on with cleaning up all the other suspension components, ready for replacement of the shock absorber, and then replaced the clutch plates and their springs. Base camp had sent out the new set I’d left at home, ready for when they were needed. I’d collected them from Esperance and was pleasantly surprised that I’d made it across the Nullarbor on the old ones. I believe I could have left replacement for a bit longer but I’d have been a fool to pass up the opportunity to do the job where I had space and time.
After two very productive days, Wednesday was going to be a third, with chain and sprockets to be fitted. I was just about to start when Walter rang up to say my shock absorber was ready. I was surprised and impressed. All done in a day and a half. I had a quick debate with myself as to whether I should go to get it next morning or go straight away. Eagerness won out and I set off. This time I knew the transport tricks and got an earlier train, so reached YSS in plenty of time. Walter had done a great job. He’d used a larger diameter central rod and had also fitted rebound damping, something I hadn’t had before but which he said was more important than compression damping. So it seems my money had given me a better unit than the broken one had ever been. I felt a bit better about the cost.
Next day I fitted the shock absorber and then the chain and sprockets. Various other jobs flowed out of that, just small things that were more annoying than serious. Scratching some itches, so to speak. Friday now, and it was off to Kessner Suzuki to take advantage of their hospitality. They can’t allow me into their workshop but I found a quiet, shaded corner in their car park and got the service done. I was amazed at how muddy the air filter was, pretty much caked up in fact. One of the mechanics took care of that for me and we chatted about the bike. I told him that it was getting rather rattly and the top end was knocking a bit. When I told him it had covered over 90,000kms without any kind of work being done, he was stunned. He said these small engines usually need a top end rebuild by about 50,000kms. Well that cheered me up. Firstly because it became clear it was ‘OK to rattle’, so to speak. Secondly because Doris had outlasted what he would have expected from her, and was still getting on with the job – albeit noisily. Finding a place to do some work of a more in depth nature was becoming a priority. She is also beginning to use oil. Another sign that a rebuild is imminent. She’s had a hard life up to now and is starting to show it.
While I was working, Aaron, the service manager, sat down and worked out a quote for all the parts I might need for a top end overhaul. That was very kind of him and, as is usual when I visit these dealers, didn’t charge me anything for the help his workshop gave me although I did buy the oil off them. Brilliant!
On the more social side of life, Gilda and Ajay had been away for a couple of days. Gilda went out one evening and Ajay and I had a nice chat. He’s originally from The Punjab so we talked about India and some of her history, a topic that interests us both. I enjoyed getting to know him better as he’s a naturally shy person and I think he didn’t know quite what to make of me.
Ajay left on Saturday, to visit his parents and then to return to Tom Price, where he works at the hospital. I cleaned the bike up and then joined Gilda, her friend Chris and his family for a nice burger. Gilda arranged to take one of Chris’ kids to see Star Wars on Sunday and, of course, I was happy to be included in that. I really enjoyed the film and it was good to see some strong new characters appearing. We went out later to take all the cardboard packaging down to a recycling centre and almost didn’t make it there. A woman decided to turn right across the front of Gilda’s car and it was only her fast reactions, heavy braking and timely swerve that avoided disaster. And she was driving her friends car too! Gilda was fuming and feeling quite shaky too.
Once we’d dumped the cardboard we went in search of something that Australia is very good at, a wood fired pizza. I don’t know whether they’re available elsewhere but they really are delicious. And we had plenty of time for chatting too. A great way to round of a productive and enjoyable week.
On Monday I had to move out and move in. Out of Gilda’s and into a city centre hostel. Within easy walking distance of the places I wanted to visit but in a quiet street. But before going there I headed back out of town to Angle Vale once more. Walter had said to call up and see him, with the bike fully loaded, so he could check all was well with the suspension. On the way there I saw a sign for a museum, specifically for military jet aircraft. Far too much temptation to be able to pass by such a place, so I happily diverted for a look-see. The Classic Jets Fighter Museum concentrates on rebuilding planes that have been recovered after crashes or rescued from the scrap heap at the end of their service life. The volunteers, all skilled craftsmen, rebuild or replace, as necessary. Their biggest and most challenging project is to reconstruct a F4U-1 Corsair, the remains of which were semi-submerged in a lake. Other crash sites supplied some of the parts and airframe components from other Corsairs were used to construct jigs from which missing parts could be made. A very difficult task, but now at the point where assembly is about to take place. One of the volunteers was happy to show me round the reconstruction hangar. They’re clearly very proud of what they’ve achieved. Visit their website to see what other jets they’ve restored. www.classicjets.com.
Walter said the pre-load on my suspension needed adjusting up a bit but otherwise all was fine. I happily rode back into the city centre but by the time I got to the hostel I was not very happy at all. As I came through the city the back brake went soft, then failed altogether, with no resistance on the pedal. At the hostel I had a look and found the pipe between the master cylinder and the calliper was leaking. How the hell did that happen? A bit of thought made me realise that while the suspension unit was off the bike the swinging arm had been in its lowest possible position and had therefore been pulling on the hose. There was a bit of weakness there anyway, just from wear and tear really, and that extra stretching was enough for it to fail. Damn! I thought I was finished with spannering for a while. I rang up Kessner and they impressed me by saying they could get a standard Suzuki rubber hose within a day or so. But the guy I was talking to suggested I contact a local supplier who made brake hoses to order, and gave me their number. He was right. I rang them and they would make me a hose at a cheaper price and it would be steel braided too, much stronger than just rubber. OK, a job for another day, but at least the solution was at hand.
So here I was, settled into the city. But what of Adelaide itself? Founded in 1836, as capital of a freely settled, non-convict state of British immigrants, it was named after Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, queen consort to King William IV. It practised religious freedom and became known as ‘the city of churches’ because of it. How many of its 1.3 million inhabitants still visit them is unknown, but I did spot some nice examples while I was walking around. It sits on the River Torrens and is surrounded by hills. It has suitably old and grand buildings, which reflect its commercial beginnings. Likewise, there are grand buildings of a cultural nature too, such as the museum and university. The metropolitan area sprawls out along the river and into the hills, a necessity given that it accommodates three quarters of South Australia’s inhabitants of 1.7 million.
I enjoy visiting museums, art galleries and similar places but my visit there coincided with the Adelaide Fringe Festival. It’s a month long frolic of fun and comedy, similar to Edinburgh’s, so I used the free festival guides to pick out three shows to visit during the next week. Rundle Mall is the city’s main shopping street and is pedestrianised. It has several large shopping centres as well as smaller, arcade style buildings. Many of the shops in these are small independents and there are many more such shops around the streets. I’m always impressed by Australia’s willingness to support such businesses, long gone in most UK towns under the baleful influence of supermarkets and chain stores. Long may it continue. While I was in Rundle Mall I called in at the pop-up festival ticket office and committed my money to the cause.
On the northern side of the CBD lies the Art Gallery of SA and the SA Museum. During several visits over the course of the week I enjoyed a healthy injection of culture. The museum has many exhibits that are common to most museums – animals, minerals etc. But this one includes some excellent displays on Aboriginal culture and a gallery dedicated to Pacific cultures. That was a first for me. This museum has been open for over 100 years and Australian anthropologists have been visiting the Pacific islands for much of that time. So they have put together a fascinating collection of cannibalistic exhibits which reflected the lifestyles (death styles?) of the inhabitants. Shrunken heads of family and enemies, that kind of thing. Most of these practices were spiritual and were designed to help the dead in the after life. Plenty of displays of weapons, canoes etc. It was the first time I’d seen artifacts from this area of the world although I’d heard the gory stories before. Perhaps the most significant part of the display is the gallery itself. It was first established in 1895 and the gallery was restored to its original appearance in 2006, both the room and the display cases. The rest of the museum is modern so the gallery is a fine example of how museums used to be.
I called into the Immigration Museum, just next door. Although it describes how SA became settled, the story isn’t all wine and roses. Almost from the time of federation, the government introduced a ‘white Australia’ policy. As well as leading to the apartheid style treatment of indigenous people, it also encouraged immigration officials to deny entry to anyone that didn’t fit their ideal. Certain individuals would be subjected to tests, deliberately designed to make them fail, and therefore be rejected. The picture above is one such example. Although it’s a shameful part of Australia’s story, I was impressed by the honesty of the displays that tell the story.
The art gallery is equally impressive and has also been established since the 19th C. There’s plenty of Australian, as well as international art, traditional as well as modern. I particularly enjoyed the Asian gallery. Firstly for some beautiful Japanese ceramics and textiles, but mostly for the Gond art. These are paintings and sculpture which originated from the tribes of Central India. They are nicely weird and are based on myths and stories from ancient times. They are reminiscent of Aboriginal art too but are far more complex and varied. Yes, they’re modern works but take advantage of modern materials too.
Another display contains amazingly expressive photos, produced in large sizes. They cleverly combine interior and exterior scenes into the same print with incredible effect. Half a day very well spent.
Nearby is part of the University of SA and while walking past I was tempted to take a peek inside the large, classical building. It was an exam venue but they were between sessions. I was completely taken by the design of the roof and gallery just below it. One of the staff broke off from putting exam papers out on the desks and came to enquire what I wanted. I said I was passing by, that I was fascinated by the roof and did he mind if I had a look. He asked me where I was from and allowed me to go up to the gallery to take photos, against all the rules, because ‘I was from London’. Why it worked that way I’ve no idea. Puzzled but grateful.
Penny Arcade. Another cultural Building? Well no, not really. A sixty six year old woman, although she doesn’t look it, who started out as a very young member of the Andy Warhol Factory. She’s spent her career as a performer and has written an interesting performance monologue about how cities lose their soul and get gentrified. She focussed on New York of course, but everything she said applies to London or any other big city. Poorer people driven out; huge increases in property prices and rents; all those small and interesting shops, bars and venues taken over by corporates. Her measurement of any particular area’s level of submission to this trend was to count the cupcake shops. She complains a lot about modern life, something most of the audience could sympathise with. Interesting, sometimes amusing but, sadly true. The show has had mixed reviews from critics and I think I could understand why as she was a bit illogical at times. She was rather scathing of today’s youngsters, something this father of three could not agree with.
Back in the world of museums though. I took a ride out to Power Brakes, where the brake line could be made. They said they couldn’t do it while I waited. I asked how long and they said about half an hour. That sounded to me like a ‘while you wait’ service. The people there were extremely helpful and I got chatting to a guy who was getting the brake discs replaced on his car. He told me he used to be the general manager but, in fact, he used to be one of the owners and had recently sold up and retired. We had a nice discussion about how if a business treats its staff well then it will be a success because customers will reap the benefit. None of the people there had fewer than seventeen years service, so the philosophy clearly works. I’d already spoken to Kessners and with my new brake pipe already fitted on I went there to get the brakes bled out. They did it straight away, charged me half an hour labour, and off I went.
So the museum I mentioned just now?
Port Adelaide is home to the SA Maritime Museum. It details the maritime activities of the city, the lives of workers in the port and some of the vessels that worked from it. Chief among these was the two masted, shallow draught ketch, which used to work the coast and the coastal rivers. Eventually steam engines reduced their numbers and rail and roads removed their need. Another section had displays which modelled the accommodation immigrants ‘enjoyed’ on the ships bringing them across. Extremely basic during the early years but vastly improved and quite comfortable looking by the time of the ‘ten pound Pom’ in the fifties and sixties. An excellent display about Dolphins too. The port area itself was something of an outdoors museum as many of the old buildings were still around and had been well looked after.
The Royal Croquet Club is one of the two main venues for the fringe festival. It is set up in the city’s Victoria Square and provides several stages, of different sizes, for performers. Most are inside temporary buildings or marquees, a few are outside. There are food stalls, bars and funky looking relaxation areas. The weather was quite chilly when I went to see Penny Arcade but it was a much warmer evening when I enjoyed the amazing spectacle that is Barbu. This Montreal based acrobatic ensemble consists of two women and six men, backed by electro-funk music. This is what their website says:
(http://www.cirquealfonse.com/en/shows/barbu/) BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret delves into the origins of the circus in Montreal at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Imagine a fairground, where spectators are left spellbound by remarkable performances and outrageous feats, simple curiosities and unexpected eccentricities. Political correctness has no place in the mayhem of this show. In scene after scene where music, video, circus and general craziness collide, each performer wows the audience with a showcase of spectacular skills. May the best beard win! Backed by a frenetic electro-trad band, the Cirque Alfonse clan strays dangerously close to the edge in this exuberant circus rave. It was an amazing show. Superb acrobatics, plenty of humour, a few magic tricks, a bit of glamour and some magnificent beards. If they ever appear near you, do go to see them.
The final museum visit helped me on my mission to learn about Australia’s motor industry. I have to admit that I neither knew they had one nor that I was on a mission to learn about it. But sometimes these things creep up on you. The National Motor Museum had initially been set up by some enthusiasts in a disused flour mill but was eventually taken over by the SA government and new premises were built. The ride out there was a terrific run over the hills north of the city. It was a chilly and damp day, and I was quite glad to arrive and get a warming cup of coffee. It was worth the ride though as the museum does tell the fascinating story of how the growing usage of cars helped to open up the last areas of unpopulated Australia.
American cars were far more popular than those from Britain in the early years, despite the cultural links. The reason was simply the similarity in the terrain of the two countries. Roads in Britain were mostly sealed by the 1920s and distances were relatively short. It was the complete opposite in America and Australia, both countries enjoying wide open spaces and suffering very poor quality road surfaces. The large size and tough construction of American cars and trucks suited Australia perfectly and it wasn’t long before small, then medium, then larger factories were importing chassis and running gear and building their own bodies onto them.
This approach worked for several decades. Holden Motors started out building car bodies and became the biggest in the country. By 1923 they were producing over 50% of car bodies and in 1929, having secured an exclusive deal with General Motors, were making over 40,000 per annum. The Great Depression ended all this and Holden was forced to diversify, making other steel products such as filing cabinets. Eventually General Motors bought the company. Post war, the Australian government wanted to improve employment prospects and Holden, with American factory help, designed and built Australia’s first home grown car. Ford, and others, opened factories in Australia as time went by, although it’s sad to report that no cars are made in Australia any more. British cars became popular with city based customers and many models familiar to me were represented in the museum, although usually with the largest available engine.
There was an interesting display of small commercial vehicles and buses, often with interesting stories attached. A selection of motorbikes completed the display and the whole museum managed to tell the story of Australian motoring very successfully.
My last evening in Adelaide was spent with Gilda, and in the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Before you start getting too excited, there is no connection whatever between the two.
Gilda met me at the Elephant British Pub. They had a huge range of beers but the only English one was Speckled Hen. The general style of it definitely reminded me of an old style British boozer. I enjoyed a couple of local brews, along with a rather delicious meal of Bangers and Mash, Aussie style. That meant it being served with bits of bacon and cheese on top of the mash. Absolutely delicious. Gilda and I chatted away, as we always do, and hoped we’d be bale to meet again somewhere, before I leave Aus. Although she’s bought a house in Adelaide she’ll still be flying around the country on assignments so we’re confident our paths will cross somewhere. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t.
The Garden of Unearthly Delights was the second, and biggest, of the two festival venues. It had been set up in Rundle Park, conveniently close to where I’d just eaten. It looked great, with coloured lights strung across the trees and all sorts of brightly lit stalls and fun-fair rides. I found my way to the venue and while waiting to go in I examined some nicely off=the-wall artwork. Copies of a whole range of classic paintings had been printed, but with pithy, quirky and topical comments printed under them. Nicely amusing.
Pulp Show was also quirky and a definitely weird. The artist was essentially a dancer who mimed and danced to a series of soundtracks containing music and speech. She spent the hour taking the Micky out of various Aussie tropes, styles and events. These included Hanging Rock, Crocodile Dundee, murdering hitch hikers and Aussie drinking culture. There was some audience participation too. It all worked very well and I enjoyed it very much.
Adelaide had been a very enjoyable place to visit, on many levels. Lots of essential maintenance successfully completed. Old and new friends met, culture enjoyed, both old style and new. It was the first Australian ‘old colonial’ city I’d visited properly and I found the space and scale very easy on the senses. The mix of traditional and modern works well and nothing is too overpowering. Even the suburbs seem gentle and well ordered. I’d enjoyed it very much.