Review: Meet the who’s who of history on an Adelaide city coach tour
The elegant South Australian capital is a history lover's delight and is dotted with statues of local luminaries. You'll get the backstory on some of them as you explore the city on this superb coach tour.
This Adelaide city Tour by coach is the perfect introduction to the South Australian capital for first time visitors. You’ll enjoy the services of a knowledgeable local guide to show you the city’s historic landmarks, and travel in air-conditioned comfort. You’ll see Victoria Square, the River Torrens and the iconic Adelaide Oval. The tour also includes a visit to a famous South Australian chocolate maker for a short factory tour and tasting. Duration: 3 hours (approx.)
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Standing atop plinths and platforms in civic parks, gardens and squares, and often coated in pigeon poop, statues are a ubiquitous part of the urban landscape in most Australian cities.
Erected in most cases to honour high achievement, they watch on with an impregnable air as the city around them goes about its business day after day, year after year, and decade after decade. Many are much-loved and admired; some are mired in colonial controversy. Either way, they are a powerful link with the past.
Adelaide is a fabulously historic city and home to more than its fair share of statues. It’s the thing that strikes me most as I circle the city in a comfortable coach on a four-hour morning city tour with Gray Line Australia. As we travel along the broad boulevards and sweeping terraces lined with fine Victorian architecture, our driver/guide Terry shares his extensive knowledge of the city’s history and introduces us to various historic figures that we pass along the way.
Established in 1836 on the land of the Kaurna First People and named after Queen Adelaide, the consort of King William IV, Adelaide was Australia’s first free settled European colony, and as such a convict-free zone. Such was the vision of the European settlers for a progressive utopia that there wasn’t a gaol to begin with (although that changed fairly quickly with the first hanging in 1838 and the construction of the Adelaide Gaol in 1841).
As we drive up bustling Gouger Street — home to cafes, restaurants and the perennial Adelaide Central Market — and turn left into Victoria Square (now also known as Tarndanyangga), we encounter the statue of the square’s European namesake. The diminutive Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. Cast in London from bronze made with Australian copper, the statue was unveiled on a Saturday in August of 1894 at precisely 4pm so as not to clash, thoughtfully, with the football or racing. Terry mentions the repositioning of the statue in 2014 and a prank pulled by local students involving the empty plinth and footprints on the pavement leading to the nearby public loos. I’m pretty sure Her Majesty would not have been amused.
We continue on through the square and past the regal Adelaide General Post Office, which opened in 1872. It played a significant role in receiving the first message along the Overland Telegraph Line that same year. That was all made possible thanks to the work of surveyor John McDouall Stuart, who stands diagonally opposite, chiselled from Italian Carrara marble. In 1862, he was the first European to cross the continent from south to north.
Adelaide’s orderly city grid and surrounding ring of parkland was devised by surveyor Colonel William Light in 1837. Light died just two years later and turning down Currie Street, we pass the monument that marks his burial site in Light Square (Wauwi). There’s also a statue of Light to look for in North Adelaide. Through the trees at Light Square, you may catch a glimpse of the statue of Catherine Helen Spence. It was erected in 1986 to commemorate the late 19thcentury social reformer and suffragist, who was Australia’s first female political candidate.
Circling around onto regal North Terrace and passing the Greek revival-style South Australian Parliament, we meet a relaxed Dame Roma Mitchell, seated and reading a book beneath the plane trees alongside the walls of Government House. Mitchell is recognised for her advocacy for women’s and human rights. She became the first female Queen’s Counsel (QC) in Australia (1962), the first female judge of a Supreme Court in Australia (1965), and the first female Governor of an Australian state (1991).
Further on, a copy of 18thcentury Florentine sculptor Canova’s Venus was Adelaide’s first public street statue. Today she marks the start of the city’s cultural precinct, which includes the South Australian Museum, the State Library of South Australia, the prestigious Art Gallery of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide complex. Keep an eye out for the near life-size statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns — notable for being the first piece of public sculpture actually sculpted in Adelaide. The statue was unveiled in 1894 to a rapturous reception from the city’s significant Scottish fraternity and marked with a bagpipe procession.
We circumnavigate the Adelaide Botanic Garden and trundle over the River Torrens (Karrawirra Parri) and on through leafy North Adelaide. The period architecture here is stunning. As the iconic Adelaide Oval comes into view, we pass statues of two Aussie legends. The first is that of cricketing superstar Sir Don Bradman, who moved from Sydney to Adelaide in 1934 and lived in the city for the rest of his life. The Don suffered one of only seven ducks throughout his entire career at the Oval in 1948. The statue is quite something. Costing $115,000, it was unveiled in 2002, just a year after Bradman’s death.
Bradman flew to England many times during his career and one of the pioneering aviators who made that possible stands atop an obelisk across the way on King William Road. Dressed in flying gear and with one foot on Europe and one on Australia, Sir Ross Smith completed the first flight from England to Australia in 1919 and was knighted as a result. Tragically he lost his life during another test flight just three years later. This commemorative statue was unveiled in 1927.
With Terry’s engaging commentary and stops at the stunning St Peters Cathedral and the Haigh’s Chocolates Visitor Centre on Greenhill Road (for a short guided tour and tasting), there’s something on this city tour for everyone. It’s a fascinating few hours, spent in the company of some highly esteemed historical figures.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.