The Vault: Crow About It

12 March 2013 Patrick Witton

The Vault: Crow About It

Photo: Syed Abdul Khaliq

Patrick Witton, Ed#210, August 2004

Back in 2004, proud South Australian Patrick Witton leapt to the defence of his sometimes underestimated home state – reflecting on its weird delicacies, fancy festivities and mesmerising Mall’s Balls.

It was at the age of 10 – while standing in front of a dead gum tree – that I realised South Australia was a pretty uneventful place. I was with a group of shuffling classmates, wearing the half-mitre tracksuit tops and scoops shorts that were so daggy then, so retrofunk now, while our teacher told us how at this very gum tree the proclamation of SA was declared, “paving the way so that free settlers could blah blah blah dead tree”.

In a world where nations have emerged out of long-fought battles and conquest, there was something disappointing about realising that our state’s European history was marked by dead wood. SA was born of little consequence and continues to bumble along in much the same manner. It’s the strange halfcousin of the family that is Australia. The state that you wouldn’t miss if it didn’t turn up to the Christmas do, and only catches your attention for the wrong reasons. Okay, who scooped all the strawberries out of the punch? SA, was it you?

SA strives to achieve, and occasionally does so (AFL grand finals, Australian Idol, Pedigree Hamster Open), but such achievement is seen as an aberration in what is more usually a place of perplexing behaviour – and often downright strange. It is the appendage that doesn’t really fit. It is to Australia what Andorra is to Europe. And if this sounds strange, then it’s probably because it’s written by a South Aussie who grew up barracking for Sturt Footy Club, washing doublecut rolls down with Farmers Union Iced Coffee, waiting for the Circle Line Bus and eventually walking home after knocking back a lift from a man in a Mazda.

In a land where biggest is beautiful, SA doesn’t have much to draw on. I remember trying to find pride in the fact that we were the fourth-largest state/territory in the nation – yeah, bigger than NSW! – but that means we’re weren’t even on the dais. I scrounged for another achievement from which to draw identity: the only free settlement in Australia (bunch o wusses). There was a West End Beer advert that stirred my inner machismo by claiming we lived in the driest state on the driest continent in the world. The world, godammit! But then some smart arse pointed out that Antarctica, though covered in H20, was virtually devoid of running water. Beaten on a technicality.

So what are we famous for? What do we hold to the world and say: “Hey, check it out”? I refuse to talk of the negatives because I’m here to change a few perceptions. Not to moan on about strange murders nor the stagnant economy. I’m here to break the mould and tell youse east-coast critics and westcoast millionaires that SA is tops, the most superlative state in the World. And you’re damn lucky I’m telling you our best ‘secrets’, cos if I left it to SA’s Tourist Bureau you’d think pricey wine and a roaming clown making balloon sculptures is as good as it gets.

As far as SA’s history is concerned, we had the only Premier to wear pink shorts to Parliament, and (until Bracksie wears a frock, or Carr shows us his King Albert) I will stand by the fact that SA had the most fashionably fit Premier in the land. And speaking of politics, we were the first in Australia to give women the vote.

Anyway, back to pink-shorts-wearing Don Dunstan. He was the most excellent despot. He nurtured Australia’s most celebrated arts festival, which has continued to flourish every second year, bringing in the finest mime acts from as far away as Central Asia. And on the strength of such initiatives we have seen the emergence of WOMADelaide, with the highest collapsible-chair African percussionist ratio in the universe (13:1).

Then there’s our fringey art that we make ourselves. For ourselves! You don’t hang out in Rundle Mall so you don’t know. I’m talking the biggest shiny ball sculpture in the cosmos. Only a South Aussie knows the joy of pressing your ear up to the steel exterior and hearing the echoes of passing shoppers, or the deafening slap when your brother whacks the ball and leaves you reeling. And there’s our most confronting street artists like Johnny Haysman, who wears little more than white gumboots and leaves us gasping with his hula-hoop routine. He has the best white gumboot hula-hoop show in the world. Makes for great drinks-break entertainment at the Adelaide Oval, arguably the most beautiful cricket ground in the Commonwealth (No it isn’t. Yes it is. See?).

And that brings us to sport. The SANFL is the best sports code in the land. Heaps better than the AFL. It’s just they poach all our good players. I saw Kernahan play for Glenelg. He was palindromic as a full forward. Then he sang like crap when he won the fl ag for Carlton. You can have him. And the AFL doesn’t paint the Grand Final winner’s colours on a chimneystack in Thebarton. SA does. That’s what glory is all about. And, thanks to Gillespie, we now have the most mullets in sport eva (actually, throughout the 1990s we never lost them), and look who’s following the trend now!!!

So that’s sport, art and politics. What else is there? Oh yes. The outback! Of course most people fly or drive the Greatest Western Highway into SA and make fun of our nondescript landscape and most towns named after a kid in your Year 4 Class, like Keith (or up in ze Barossa Valley, kids named after salmonella smallgoods, like Fritz). But if you just detoured a bit you would see some bloody good stuff. The Flinders Ranges rock – they have the most rocky outcrops and fat marsupials this side of Mars. We even have the best Nuclear Testing Range west of Mururoa. It’s impressive stuff, let me tell you.

We’ve also got the best subterranean habitations in the galaxy. Yes, Coober Pedy and Burra where it gets so bloody hot you’d best live in a hole. Which reminds me: we have the most killer heatwaves known to humans. I remember, in 1989, I melted. No joke. It was the most melty moment. But back to rural South Australia.

There’s the coastline. Our most blustery, rock-ballad-music-video-worthy coastline, including that which surrounds the Frenchifi ed landmass of Kangaroo Island with place names like Vivonne Bay and Point Gantheaume. On Kangaroo Island, importing honey is banned. Quirky you may say, but try to smuggle some in and we’ll implement the terrorist act. Speaking of threats, don’t get me started about the most impressively shark-infested waters off our western coast. I’ll talk your arm off.

And last but not least, here are the other elements that make SA the most superlative state:


• Port Power v Crows – the closest thing Australia has to civil war

• Balfour’s Berliner Buns – the best sugar rush known to nine year olds

• Glenelg Tram – the most brown tram

• Memorial Drive – the best rock experience (you haven’t lived unless you’ve pashed to Dire Straits’ ‘Tunnel of Love’ at the Drive)

• Big Things – Kingston’s Big Lobster, Gumeracha’s Big Rocking Horse: these are the biggest strange objects in the constellation

• Magic Mountain – the scariest water slide (mainly because of the rusting bolts and strange algae in the pool below)

There. Bet you didn’t know that about SA. We have the most stuff you don’t know about.

Patrick Witton is The Big Issue's Contributing Editor.