Festival city's tour of shame

Pamela Zeplin

Julianne Pierce, Your City is Ugly

Julianne Pierce, Your City is Ugly

By the third week in March every second year, Adelaide is a city no longer throbbing, but in the throes of Festival detumescence. Arts exhaustion notwithstanding, tickets for a bus tour—by night, through this city’s heart, by Madame Ivana—proved scarce, stimulating a brisk black market at the Fringe bus depot. Whether this represented an opportunity to experience the romance that only a relic from Tsarist Russia can provide, or the frisson of rubbing up against Adelaide’s soiled underbelly, who can say? But whatever each passenger’s desire, all this— and more—awaited on the bus line from Hell.

Once aboard, the formidable Madame reminisced, gesticulated and cooed as the bus travelled to Colonel Light’s Vision, Adelaide’s ‘highest point.’ Resplendent in rabbit, with gold accessories offsetting her taupe toque, and just a little stoked—“Dahlinks”—it soon became obvious that Madame was less Slavic princess than sleazy pretender from Sydney’s Northern Shores. “Vulgar” was hissed by local matrons in the middle row; a word equally suited to Ivana’s young ‘consort’ Vladimir, who bullied us off the bus Soviet style, lined us up under Light’s monument, and forced Madame’s ‘food of love’ (oysters and cheap shots of vodka) down our throats.

From here it was all downhill as the tour entered its Descent into Ugliness. Forty-nine passengers, agog with apprehension and terror, passed sad, stuffed figures hanging off the Rosemont’s verandah, only to be confronted with Red Algal Bloom in Phillip Street’s nasty Saville Apartments and the Remand Centre. But alas! The Boulevard of Hope (West Terrace) provided no solace; only acres of aluminium, tacky car showrooms and the gigantism of BP’s green and gold multi-nationalism casting a ghoulish glow across the entire precinct.

Hydroponic Melancholy (the residential south) stood witness to the relentless swathe of what is euphemistically referred to as ‘development’; streets once full of heritage buildings since razed and replaced by schlock apartments and anally aligned standard white roses. Their ubiquitous matchbox balconies became bathetic under Vladimir’s torch beam. And on it went, into Vladimir’s Night—all besser and brutality—with passengers craning their necks to spot just one old building. Around the corner was Memories of Chernobyl (King William Street) and “the grand avenue of central Adelaide”, with “public art adorning the median strip”—for Ivana, “expressions of joy and freedom,” and for Vladimir “shits on sticks.”

The Bourgeois Façade (around Hutt Street) revealed further nifty ways to pave over parks and obliterate history, but it was the Prophylactic Veneers of Pirie and Waymouth Streets, which proved the tour’s undoubted highlight. Here, amongst bleak and bland 70s buildings, the entire bus spilled out into eerie dimness to experience the jewel of Adelaide City Council, the Topham Mall Car Park. Another regimented vodka break, a group photo opportunity and on into the night, celebrating more car parks and the Doors to Nowhere along Light Square. “Such a pity”, someone remarked, “that Adelaide’s Lord Mayor couldn’t be with us tonight.”

We were now on the home run and as a glorious climax, the Festival Centre loomed ahead like downtown Kabul, with its guts bombed out and barbed wire everywhere. “Oy Vey”, clucked Ivana, “A symbolic wound cutting through the heart of your cultural icon. Don Dunstan where are you now—we say shame Adelaide, shame!”

Perhaps this Festival-Deficit stood as architectural metaphor for this year’s festival. More likely, it’s typical of a new architectural aesthetic rampant in South Australia which recalls that 50s ‘heritage’ a concrete-and-brick-veneer(eal) generation was so partial to—if it’s old, bulldoze it; if it moves, shoot it.

This truly was the Imperial Tour of Shame and mercifully did not include Adelaide’s inner suburbs. Now resembling mouths full of bad teeth, countless old homes are being demolished to make way for faux heritage follies and what is affectionately known as ‘Tuscan shit.’ Indeed the Soviet mouth comes prominently to mind, as millions of citizens had their teeth routinely pulled and replaced by stainless steel dentures—an effect not unlike the stainless steel, self-cleaning dunnies smack in the middle of Victoria Square.

On this brief excursion, interstate passengers were genuinely shocked and delighted by Madame’s revelations. Like most tourists, they knew Adelaide is an economic slum, but one dignified by ‘culture’, ‘charm’, and a strong architectural heritage; that same image relentlessly promoted (along with grapes) by State tourist campaigns. We locals—dismayed about Adelaide’s cultural future, having recently lost so much cultural past—nevertheless saw a new vision of tourism emerge on this very coach. That is, a niche market exposing and celebrating the fabric of ‘Today’s Adelaide.’ Call it ugly, but hey, it works, it’s entertaining and it makes a buck. Grab a seat now though; my undercover agent Dmitri advises that tours are filling up with City Councillors and Ministers of Tourism, Heritage, Planning, and, of course, the Arts, as the city’s buildings come down.

Your City is Ugly: A Tour of Adelaide with Madame Ivana, devised by John Adley, Chris Barker, Julianne Pierce, Katrina Sedgwick & Daryl Watson; Adelaide Fringe 2002, March 12-13.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 10

© Pamela Zeplin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002
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