Thursday, September 5

Today I was on my own. I headed into Adelaide on a mid-morning train. Adelaide has changed the least of all the towns I’ve been to so far—and the changes that have been made fit in pretty well. Hence, it was all comfortingly familiar, and I had no problem finding my way around town.

I headed for the Victoria Tourist Center, to get information for my drive next week, and then headed off to pick up a few more gifts for folks back home. After that, I was free to wander and see the sights.

I headed up King William Street and around Victoria Square, then I cut down a side street and window-shopped the length of bustling Rundle Mall. I crossed to North Terrace and walked down to the Henry Ayers house. Though I’d passed it often on my previous trip, I had never toured the splendid bluestone mansion, so I took this opportunity to do so. It is said to be one of the best examples of Colonial Regency architecture in Australia. Begun around 1845 on a less ambitious scale, it was later purchased by Ayers and considerably enlarged. Ayers, who came to Australia as a nineteen-year-old law clerk, had made his money in the Burra Copper Mines. Once he was well established financially, he went into politics. He ended up being elected premier of South Australia a record seven times. He is, of course, the person for whom that iconic symbol of the outback, Ayers Rock, is named (largely because, back in the mid-1800s, what is now the Northern Territory was still considered, at least legislatively, part of South Australia).

The massive chandeliers and vaulted, hand-painted ceilings were clearly meant to impress. The antique furniture, silver, paintings, and all other items of use or decoration were all astonishingly lovely. It was not hard to imagine the grand parties, luncheons, and balls for which Ayers become known.

One dear, older lady who works at Ayers House as a docent took me in hand, as I was alone, and spent about 45 minutes showing me things in obscure corners and out-of-the-way places in the house, sharing insights about who would have been there when and what it all meant. Wonderful. Aside from enjoying the information, I’m always delighted by the enthusiasm of those who get caught up in the history and details of a place or time.

I didn’t get any photos of the imposing exterior of Ayers House, and photos weren’t permitted inside. However, I did find this video of the interior of the state dining room on the occasion of a performance by British guitarist Jonathan Prag, so at least you can get a hint of the grandeur of the place.

Leaving Ayers House, I continued down North Terrace to the beautiful Botanic Gardens. I had come for the greenery, but smiled at the connection with the place I’d just left; Ayers was Governor of the Botanic Gardens Board for 35 years. I wandered for about half an hour among the old trees, flowers, and ponds. At one pond, there were a couple of swamp hens in the water, and I noticed that the color of their orange faces matched almost exactly the color of the large carp in the pond.

I then headed back through town, stopping to buy chocolates for Louanne, Rae, and Bert. I headed for the train station and traveled out to North Haven, where I joined my friends for supper and another evening of Aussie TV.

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Filed under Australia, History, Travel, Video

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