I’ve been pushing my parents to spend the day in without “ducking out” to the shops for non-essential goods. So it felt like a betrayal to walk Adelaide’s streets over the weekend.
The quiet of Adelaide’s east end is oddly calming. Small eateries and coffee shops are still open and serving essential workers. Mark and Debra Robinson at Laneway Espresso on Ebenezer Place serve the police and local residents in their “little village” with coffee delivered to the door. It’s tough, but they’re looking forward to bringing back their chef with the government’s Jobkeeper payments.
To my surprise, I bump into several friends. My former gym instructor now delivers Uber Eats via motorcycle. He signed up to deliver as soon as restrictions came in forcing gym closures. “It’s not so bad,” he tells me. “I actually quite like it. Streets are empty, especially at night. I just ride around.”
At Central Market, Azou Bouilouta, co-owner of Le Souk, makes paella every morning and sells it until it’s gone. “Keep yourself safe! All the best,” he calls cheerfully. The owner of Laksa House stands guard in an otherwise deserted Chinatown food court.
Without the obstructions of chairs, tables, umbrellas, balustrades, eaves and associated advertising, buildings’ whole facades are on display. Devoid of late-night revelry, the building home to Italy Café Ristorante e Bar, Sugar and Fumo Blu is tall, white, crisp and clean. The Austral has complemented its colourful leadlight windows and table mosaics (usually hidden by jugs of cheap beer and ashtrays) with a Covid-19-themed window gallery. Almost all my favourite eateries have put up newspaper or plastic in their windows – either closed or in hibernation.
The west end is completely dead. Built on hospitality and entertainment, the whole district is a ghost town without even a whiff of shisha. Once a month I shoot a club night and I’m used to dodging strips seething with partygoers, but this Friday I walk calmly into the middle of the road with a tripod to set up a shot. Leigh and Peel streets, arguably the crux of Adelaide’s small bar scene, are dark.
The University of South Australia city west campus, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum are empty. Streets are clear, even at peak hour, and there’s only a handful of people catching what buses and trains are still operating.
While I appreciate clean streets and unobstructed building facades, venturing into public now makes me feel awkward, anxious and sad.
Yet people are still making the most of our parklands and beaches. Couples and friends walk in pairs; small families cluster, with children circling parents at a one-metre tether; and every group keeps a comfortable distance from the others. Thankfully, we’ve more sense than Bondi.
Visiting the beach on Sunday night was calming. Although it feels like normal life has ended, the waves keep rolling and the sun continues to rise and set.