An alternative South Australian perspective

An edited version of this article was published on Flat Whitehere.

The Flat White article, ‘A South Australian perspective’, written by Ross East-coast (or Eastgate), will win him plenty of admirers in Sydney and Melbourne. Of all of the articles written by journalists who seek popularity by slipping a boot into Adelaide or South Australia, I have never seen one that squeezes so many insults into a single two-minute read. Written in serious tones from start to finish, the article is a study in word economy in the Sydney-Melbourne practice of bagging South Australia.

It is the people of Sydney who have it in for Adelaide and South Australia the most. I have written elsewhere (see my blog) of how Sydney-based journalists and identities think nothing of making cutting remarks about South Australia whilst working on national platforms. They draw inspiration, it seems, from Dominic Perrottet. In 2018, Perrottet, a devout Catholic and man of God, was asked for his opinion on a digital driving license being developed in South Australia. ‘Pretty poor,’ he said, ‘like most things in Adelaide’. And on the subject of immigration to Australian cities, ‘nobody wants to go and live in Adelaide… that’s just the reality’. He made these comments before becoming premier but they provide proof, if any was needed, that the path to popularity in New South Wales lies in publicly disparaging the city of Adelaide and the state of South Australia (memo: Chris Minns).

From my alternative South Australian perspective, I don’t see it as an ‘entire mainland east coast’ phenomenon. I lived in Queensland for a few years and don’t recall any ‘let’s bag Adelaide’ mentality in Brisbane or anywhere else in that state. In Melbourne, though, dumping on Adelaide is certainly to be included in the list of the city’s sporting accomplishments, and as for Sydney, as noted already, a desultory attitude towards South Australia is as much a part of the city’s DNA as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Even Scott Morrison got in on the act, albeit with a slip of the tongue. In Adelaide on 13 February this year to support Steven Marshall in his re-election campaign, Morrison intended to refer to Adelaide’s north-south corridor project as ‘city shaping’, but the first word came out as ‘shitty’, which he instinctively corrected to ‘city’, so, his words were ‘this… shitty… city’.

The South Australian government, via Tourism SA, try to address their image problem with beautifully-produced advertorials that are inserted into newspapers around the country. However, if I could drop a note into the Suggestions Box at Tourism SA, I would recommend, as a cost-saving measure, that they not bother with these inserts in Sydney. Tourism SA needs to grasp the simple truth that the people of Sydney will never holiday in South Australia, not due to anything related to the state’s wineries or other attractions, but because they don’t know how to explain the decision to their friends.

Yes, as is clear: my heart bleeds for my home state of South Australia. Established by British legislation as a pre-planned province, not a plan-as-you-go colony, South Australia was indeed a conceited place throughout the nineteenth century, but how the tables have turned, with the state now subjected to a regular flow of gratuitous abuse from media and other identities who regard it as the black hole of the country and treat its people as personae non grata. Even an occasional SA ex-pat has joined the pile-on, as if an open contempt for Adelaide is the way to get ahead in Australia. Throughout the early part of his career, for instance, I was a fan of songwriter Paul Kelly, who was fortunate enough to have been educated at one of Adelaide’s best schools, but he moved to Melbourne as soon as he could and wrote a song called ‘Adelaide’ in which he disowns the place. On another occasion recently, I was pleased to hear that the actor, Anthony LaPaglia, had narrated a three-part documentary about his home town, only to find out that it was called ‘City of Evil’ and was an examination of some of Adelaide’s more unusual murder cases.

On so many issues, there is little respite for South Australians. Despite having produced some of Australia’s most brilliant jurists, the state has never had a person appointed to the High Court. Adelaide is scorned for the quality of its water but it is situated near the mouth of the Murray, with the river having already meandered downstream through New South Wales and Victoria, and until December 2021 South Australia did not have a representative on the board of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Even in military matters, South Australia has seemingly been treated as expendable. In World War 2, Australia’s military hierarchy prepared its defence of the industrial zone between Brisbane and Melbourne whilst being content to leave South Australia’s zone unprotected. A note to China for when it invades – approach from the south and seize Adelaide first in order to take advantage of the hesitation on the part of the ADF to respond.

Ross Eastgate, then, has joined the ranks of Australian journalists who dish out on Adelaide in order to band with the people of the biggest cities, doing so with a stellar entry. It is galling stuff for the people of South Australia. Their saving grace, though, is that they are largely inoculated against it all. They do not see themselves as the moral superiors of their countrymen to the east, as their nineteenth-century forebears did. All such illusions have been well and truly knocked out of them. But one quality that has survived from that earlier period is an indifference to the attitudes that emanate from Sydney and Melbourne. As Derek Whitelock wrote, South Australians long ago ‘raised a psychological drawbridge round their province’, and when they read or hear of their state being treated as the black hole of the country, they know where the black holes really lie.

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