By Stan Denham
Sunday Mail (SA)
October 26, 2013 3:00PM
BEFORE I came to Adelaide in 2012, I'd lived in three other magic cities and one was the love of my life. Yes, Sydney was the bold, brash, mature and self-assured party girl - sparkling, good-looking in all her moods, and totally comfortable with her place in the world.
But like any relationship that burns too brightly, it fizzled out in half the time and I can pinpoint that moment. It was when I lost a second job helping pay the only kind of mortgage you can have in Sydney - a really big one.
There's no future in loving someone who doesn't love you back, so we decided to part company. My two adult kids still live there, so there's a mutual but distant fondness.
In late 2011, we sold up to move to SA. To set us up, I choofed off alone in the car with an Adelaide street directory, a lease on a house near the beach, a week's accommodation in the city and no idea of what to expect.
First impressions count. Those big road-safety signs at Tailem Bend: one had a giant picture of a rooster and read, "Don't be a (you know, that other word for rooster)". The other was a warning about anchors. It had a "w" in front of it.
I've loved the joint from the get-go - but I don't tell my mates in NSW how good it is because they'd ruin the place. A few have dropped by, and they're rapt; my teen daughter's here for the long haul and thinks the boys are cute. My visiting son's first experience of Adelaide, after the airport parking cop, was a warm-water dusk swim in his undies at Glenelg with that beaut red glow on the horizon.
So me and my new girl Adelaide are pretty happy so far. What's not to love about raw, understated beauty and sophistication, which this city has in spades? She's got her weird contradictions too but then no one's perfect and love's best not put on a pedestal.
Here's why I'm in love all over again:
SUMMER: Silly me. I used to think the surf would be cold here but the water in the Gulf over summer is like the Sunshine Coast. It had me on the first dip at Port Noarlunga, along with the blue skies and blast-furnace heat that literally takes your breath away. No drowning in hot, sticky, air. Miles of vacant sand from Outer Harbor to Victor Harbor. No lugging a ton of gear and a small child up and down the hill like we did at Bondi, having found a free parking space only 2km from the beach. The dogs love it too - they live at O'Sullivans in summer.
HOUSE PRICES: There's a certain attraction in buying a house you might get to own. Our old Sydney house and our new Adelaide house are half an hour from town. One has sunset views of the gulf, the other is on a block of land the size of a postage stamp. Less is more in SA when it comes to price and value. People here ask why I wanted to be half an hour from the city. Answer: "Because it's only half an hour from the city - and it's on the beach". Everything's relative.
FOOD & DRINK: Much of what we eat and drink in SA is sourced in SA. It's fresh. Eating out is cheaper too. I do love an upmarket restaurant but relaxed is my go: Ice-creams or coffee at Semaphore/Henley/Glenelg/Brighton; the Victory Hotel at Sellicks Beach; Chinatown; food vans; The Parade; the Flying Fish cafe at Port Elliot, brekkie at the Boatshed Cafe in Hallett Cove, Estia at Henley Beach and a million beaut little fish-and-chip joints and cafes Asian places. All that and some of the best wines in the world.
ROADS: Peak-hour lasting one hour. Hard to get lost, which is the beauty of a planned city as opposed to one built around a series of goat tracks. No rego stickers and quarterly payments. Parking - in Sydney, where life can seem like a Seinfeld episode and you're always George, finding a vacant spot is a miracle akin to the resurrection of Jesus.
MUSIC AND FESTIVALS: Jimmy Barnes and Paul Kelly are Adelaide boys. SA has produced some remarkable homegrown musos. Plenty of pubs in SA still have great live music, even on a Sunday arvo. My pick for Mad March isn't all the stuff going on in town - it's the smaller acts on the periphery. And how come kick-arse Adelaide singer Carla Lippis isn't a superstar?
COST OF LIVING: About a third less, and wages are much the same. South Australians don't know how good they've got it. Believe it or not, mortgages, rents, groceries, and all the sundry cost-of-living charges add up to a lot less here, meaning more cash for things that add joy to life.
FOODLAND: A third supermarket chain denying Woolies and Coles their monopoly. What's not to like? Products sourced in SA wherever possible, jobs for young people and not an automated check-out in sight. Drakes, take a bow. You deserve a medal for your corporate philosophy.
PEOPLE: Not that different. Perhaps the warm weather gives us a mutual love of the beach and the great outdoors. Swank suburbs like Burnside are a bit sniffy but not everyone here's a stuffed shirt. You're all pretty cool folks ... when you're not in your cars.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: I've got a rider on this one - when it's running. But for a small city, it's pretty good. In the short time I've been here, three train lines have been out of action for long periods, which isn't. My first trip was the 20-minute tram ride from town to Glenelg, where I had lunch on the beach. Magic. And a suburban rail line that gives passengers views over the Gulf as it winds around ocean cliff tops is pretty special. I reckon it's reasonably priced, too, although more services at night would be good.
There are a few things I don't like, though.
MAD MARCH: If it's Monday, this must be the Spiegeltent. It's totally manic. Why not space it out over a whole year?
LYCRA: OK, the Tour Down Under is good for SA but does every second person with a pushie have to come out of the woodwork too? If it's your thing to look like a pear, two mandarins and a doughnut stuffed into a pastel-coloured tennis sock, fair enough, but here's a tip: black's a slimming colour and looks better unless you've got white legs. I know this because I've been stuffing myself into wetsuits for years.
WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL?: What's it to you?
DRIVERS: Still Australia, still fraught. My pet Adelaide road hates: Stuck behind a Camry and a 1958 Morris both doing 40 in a 60 zone, and with no one apparently at the wheel when viewed from behind; two cars (possibly the same two) through a green arrow at snail's pace when eight could have made it; traffic at a complete halt on a device used everywhere else to speed up traffic (Britannia roundabout, everyone?); high-speed tailgating, and idiots parking smack bang in the middle of two spaces. I also struggle with the mindset of drivers who won't let you change lanes and will speed up to stop you. Is it really better to have someone crash into the back of a stationary bus?
WRONG FOOTY: AFL = Alien Football League. I might as well be on Mars. I know it's dynamic, tough and athletic, but it still looks like one giant knock-on-a-thon to me - or 40 blokes in fetching sleeveless tops booting a bag of wind up and down a big cow paddock, and dropping it all the time. Swapping Bunnies and Tahs for Swans? I'm trying - but thank God for Foxtel.