Adelaide is Australia’s fifth largest city with 1.3 million people. (Brisbane and Perth have about two million each.) The next largest city does not even make it into the 500,000 person category. Over 60% of population of Australia lives in five cities and most of the rest in smallish towns. The population of the national capital, Canberra, is only a tad above 400,000.
Adelaide, the capital of the state of South Australia, could well be Australia’s best kept secret. While it is very different from the world class cities of Sydney and Melbourne, almost a thousand miles to the east, there is a lot going on here, and it has a quiet vibrancy that in some ways is a welcomed relief from the hectic pace of the two big cities. The 30-minute cab ride from the airport into the center of town was along wide streets with little traffic and lined with unsightly, light industrial buildings, fast food joints, car dealerships, warehouses, in-your-face billboards, and modest, ranch style homes with tile roofs, all jammed together on tiny lots. You would be hard pressed to find a building over two-stories high. If you did not know better, you would swear you were in Texas or maybe Arizona.
The center of the city is a one square mile of mainly commercial buildings, few taller than eight or nine stories and no towering giants like you see in Sydney and Melbourne. Downtown Adelaide is completely surrounded by a series of connected parks, earning its description as “the only city in the world built in a park.” Trams connect the downtown with the beaches–supposedly some of Australia’s finest– about 10 miles to the south. A few older sections of 19thCentury buildings remain, giving parts of the city the flavor or an old fashioned, Western U.S. town, or a Hollywood, cowboy movie set; and at the center of the city is a six or seven block pedestrian mall, jam packed with shoppers.
Our stay here was short and sweet since it was supposed to be the first stop on the Indian Pacific Railroad journey from coast to coast. When we learned that the first leg was cancelled we, booked a Sofitel on line, which turned out to be a five-star, yet surprisingly affordable, gem with large suites, a fabulous restaurant and great service. Since the Australian equivalent of the Tour de France was underway and centered in Adelaide, many of the hotel guests were bikers who had come to the city to watch the event. Most of our free time was spent walking the city in pretty oppressive 95-degree temperatures and visiting the city’s bustling central market.
At five we departed via cab to the train station where we were to start the 1,500 mile, abbreviated journey to Perth. The station was small and modest, resembling a typical U.S. railroad station and as far as I could tell used primarily for this one tourist excursion. The lobby was already filled up with people of varying ages, but a lot about our age, drinking champagne and chatting, waiting for the sendoff dinner prior to boarding. We spent most of the time talking with a couple about our age from Holland, who had lived for 40 years in Washington as a World Bank family, then boarded a bus which took us through wine country and orchards to a hotel about 50 miles from Adelaide, located on a hillside looking down on the ocean.
Great meal in the wine cellar with about 50 other travelers on our train, almost all Australians. The lady sitting next to me was a 91-year old widow of a postal worker, traveling with the youngest of her seven children, a guy in his late 50s. I pretty much got her life history, at least as much of it as I could make out over the deafening chatter of 50 people in a wine cellar. She was quite proud of all of her children, her 12 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren, one of whom is now a student in DC. She was quite sharp and engaged, still living independently.
The middle-aged guy across from me and his wife had recently returned from a trip to New York City, Las Vegas, and Montreal, and he was very enthusiastic about the U.S. When I apologized for our president, he politely volunteered that he and his wife were enthusiastic Trump supporters, which could and probably should have ended the conversation, which went something like this:
“You know, you are very lucky in the U.S. to have such a great president and a lot of other Australians feel like I do.”
I grimaced and held my breath, but that did not keep him from continuing in his friendly, non combative manner.
“You know,” he said, “What we really like about him most of all is that he stands up for what he believes and tells the truth as he sees it. He supports the little guy. He fights against the Deep State. He is shaking things up just like he said he would. He is politically incorrect, and he even works without pay. If only we had a great leader like him in Australia. He is changing the world. What is really terrible in the U.S. is how the Fake News keeps giving him such a hard time.”
I decided not to take him on and quickly changed the subject to ask him about Perth, his hometown.
Before talking about Perth, he added this, still talking with a friendly smile, “And you know what else he is doing? He is standing up against immigrants. Immigrants are trying to take over the world. They have to be stopped. Just look at what is happening here. Look at who walks the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. Trump is fighting the immigrants…”
So that’sit! So there is another side to the Australian experience. There is push back and unrest here, lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce when given the chance. So Australia is not that different after all from us or from Brexit-plagued Great Britain or Hungary or Poland or Germany where the Neo-Nazis are gaining strength or France where the Far Right is growing. Welcome to the Planet Earth in 2019. Globalization and the disruption it is causing are affecting every country. No exceptions. The only question is how we are going to get through this without catastrophic consequences.
We boarded the 30-car train around 10 PM and maneuvered our way into our private compartment with private bathroom and snuggled in for the beginning of our journey through the Outback to Perth.