We lived in Adelaide for nearly a year, back in 1998 / 1999. It was a lovely town, full of parks and museums and beaches and galleries and good food and good wine. The pace of life seemed slow, pleasantly so.
We moved back at the start of 2008, nearly 10 years later. In the decade of our absence, it seemed that nothing had changed. At all. The only developments that I noticed was the extension of the tram line from its former terminus in Victoria Square, to West Terrace, and the building of the freeway from the south eastern corner of Adelaide, up to the hills. Nothing else. And during the three years we have been here, the only development has been a further extension of the tram line.
The pace of life is not just slow in Adelaide. As friends of ours described it, living in Adelaide is like swimming in treacle. The sun is shining, the food and wine are good, life is easy, and if there is a problem to be solved, well, it can wait, can’t it?
I have met some dynamic individuals during my time here, impressive people who are working hard, with vision, and making a large contribution to Adelaide and South Australia and its institutions. A tax partner in one of the large accounting firms, a senior manager in the public service, the principal of my children’s school, some academics doing world class work. But there are plenty of people who are just pottering along, looking for someone else to solve their problems, saying it’s not my fault, not my problem, who can I divert you to so that I don’t have to do anything.
I’m not sure that this is such a bad thing. A relaxed and easy life sounds pretty good to me, and perhaps we shouldn’t be so concerned about getting ahead and getting things done. On the other hand, I have heard that federal politicians complain that whenever they meet with a state pollie from South Australia, the state pollie has her or his hand out, asking for something. They never fly to Canberra with a great idea, a plan for something that would benefit the whole country, a vision to be shared. Perhaps relaxed-and-easy slips over into lassitude. Yet South Australia has a tremendous reputation as a reforming state: first in Australia to give women the vote, and the state that coped and found a whole lot of tolerance and even celebration of Don Dunstan and his pink shorts. But then there’s the whole private school scene, which seems to be about buying privilege rather than trying to get a good education for your children. All the more so when the top state schools are level pegging with the top private schools when it comes to educational achievement. For example, until very recently the upper echelons of the legal establishment in South Australia was reserved for boys from St Peter’s, or perhaps St Ignatius. Where you went to school, where you send your children to school, matters in South Australia. One of the things I found disturbing was some academic colleagues who were determined to send their children to private schools, even though they could read the statistics perfectly well for themselves. The contortions they went into about character and extra-curricular activities, and the type of children they wanted their children to associate with, astonished me. Anything to justify the purchasing of privilege. I’m fine with people sending their children to a church school because they are church people, or with sending a child to a particular school because of a particular programme that is available there that suits that particular child, but worrying about a child’s associates, as though the kids in your local neighbourhood aren’t quite good enough for you, makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. And it seems to me to be a manifestation of the treacle: this is the way things are done around here and really it’s too difficult to change and let’s have another glass of wine and chat about the weather.
I’m curious to know what other Adelaide people think about the treacle.
And for all that, let me stress how much I liked Adelaide. It really is a very pleasant place to live, and I will miss many, many aspects of it very much. It could well be that what I am perceiving as treacle had more to do with the institutions where I was working, and the area in which I was living, instead of a being a particular thing about Adelaide. The naming of “the treacle” made sense to me: it aptly described parts of my experience in Adelaide. But I’m well aware that it could be just my experience. Thoughts?