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Dispatches from the Road: An Insider’s Guide to Doing Adelaide, Australia on the Cheap

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Guest post by Royce Kurmelovs

Rundle Street, Adelaide, Australia

The rest of Australia can’t understand Adelaide.

We’re just too weird.

We have a different history from the rest of the country and we talk a little English. We’re known for churches, pubs and serial killers and if the world ends, it’s right here in Adelaide.

Adelaide was the first Australian colony built without convict labour and we make damn sure everyone knows it. We broke Starbucks and drove them from our streets. We were the ones who unleashed Rupert Murdoch on the rest of the planet – and we will never apologise for it.

You’ve probably never heard of Adelaide, which is no surprise really. This city is still young and angst-ridden. We’re all hairspray, heavy eye liner and skinny jeans. Our playlist is pure, unadulterated emo. Nothing but My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy and a shit load of pop punk. No one else in this god forsaken country can understand us. We’re just too brooding and will catapult between self-hate and pride quicker than a trouble child on crack. It’s one of our biggest turn-ons; we’re dark and complicated.

You’ll notice it almost as soon as you get here. Walk into a pub and you will be cornered by a bright eyed, mustard-clad man who overheard your accent when you ordered a drink. You will face three questions in this exact order; Where are you from? What’s it like? And why Adelaide?

He’ll then explain in great detail why Adelaide is so terrible, but if you utter a bad word against his city, that same hipster will also be the first to Hulk-out and crack skulls, his eyes all red with rage and his shirt ripped open to expose a pale-white chest as he demolishes the entire building with his teeth.

Why Adelaide? That’s the question everyone is trying to answer, because if you live here long enough, you’ll quickly understand our reputation for churches and serial killers is almost entirely bullshit. We’ve been gradually turning our churches and other holy places into nightclubs and bars. And we’re definitely not Australia’s murder capital.

Our streets have been hunted by some of the country’s highest profile serial killers who gave us such hits as The Family Murders, The Truro Murders and Snowtown, but we don’t have much of a murder rate — we tend to overcompensate. In fact it’s probably more dangerous to eat sushi on a sunny 113 degree afternoon in early January than to walk through Light Square on a dark night.


Light Square

Mostly, we just hate ourselves. Melbourne and Sydney cast long shadows and we live in the deepest, darkest part. It doesn’t help that whenever someone writes about Adelaide, they’re usually from the East Coast. They’re more concerned with drinking merlot out in wine country.

There’s nothing in Adelaide, they say. And to an extent, they’re right. With the exception of Australia’s brutal history of colonisation, this city has never really experienced war or revolution, or even natural disaster. Those are things that happen to other people elsewhere during the 30 seconds of international headlines on the evening news. But since there is nothing, anyone who wants something has to make it themselves and this is what makes Adelaide special. This city’s heart is DIY, made of loose bits of felt and ribbon and thumb tacks and recycled wooden palettes all nailed together in a strange-looking ball of mess. We’re also less likely to be douchebags than anyone in Melbourne and probably more annoying.

Look hard and you’ll find where the fire twirlers meet once a month, under the bridge down by the river Torrens. When the sun goes down, follow the smell of kerosene on the wind and you’ll find whirling bodies spinning flame on the river-front against the backdrop of a city skyline. These are the hippie-folk and it’s a great night out if you’re penniless and need something to do on a Friday night.


If the hippies are too wholesome for your taste, on any given night of the week, the punk-kids leave their squats and sharehouses to stomp around to the discordant scream of bands with names like The Vaginors. A forest of facial piercings and weird haired monsters shake the foundations of century-old pubs.

And there are so many pubs. Good, old fashion bars with names like The WorldsendThe Exeter, The Crown and Anchor, The Metro and The Squatters Arms. It is in these sorts of places you can discover the miracle of drink specials, while drinking in company means you can spend hours sitting outside, on the pavement with a jug of beer or cider for a fraction of the cost.

A similar principle works for cafes. Buy a cup of coffee and you can sit for hours outside Brunelli on Rundle Street or somewhere on Ebenezer Place and watch the hipsters and young professionals.

At night, you’ll probably find those same hipsters at the Format Collective, the clique which runs Adelaide’s only zine shop and is utterly convinced the world outside their Peel Street basement hates them for their “finer grain” taste in art. Occasionally some of them forget this and try to leave, bleary eyed and head pounding. But once outside the sunlight hurts their eyes, so they shriek in pain and terror and throw themselves head-first back inside.


Format Collective

And that is just the scratching the surface.

Underneath are poetry readings, comedy shows at the Rhino Room, art exhibitions in small warehouse galleries with free booze and house party’s thrown by travelling street musicians. There are venues like the Reading Room or Tuxedo Cat set up in old, unused buildings.

The hard part is finding them.

Adelaide may be small, but you’re going to need to make friends in this city to really know where to look. So be nice to everyone, because Adelaide is beautiful and twisted and ours and if we like you, we’ll share it with you.

Even if we’re also dreaming of leaving.


Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance writer who loves words and untold stories and swearing. James Belushi once played him in an early-90’s biopic titled Royce. He also has a secret rap career under the alias Royce da 5’9” and rents his name to a Japanese chocolate company that makes chocolate-covered potato chips. If you want more of his writing, check out his wordpress or follow him on twitter @RoyceRk2.

Photos from Tripomatic and the Author

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Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.