South Australian Icons: A Rich, Noble Heritage

Wednesday 16 February 2005

Many weeks ago when I was a pretentious young nerdboy I went around telling people I was a writer. Invariably they would ask if I was working on the Great Australian Novel, and with equal predictability I would answer that I was writing the Great Adelaide Novel. Drunken ranting ensued.
For a while I kept a collection of the incidences when some person, thing or abstract concept with vaguely Australian connection was publicly referred to as an ‘ICON’. This task took up far too much time and effort, so I tried restricting it to South Australian icons. This, however, also felt like too much work, so I just googled for the phrase and found that National Trust has been awarding lucky South Australian doodads officially-recognised iconicity annually since 2001. Prepare to be enlightened as you meet some of the South Australian Heritage Icons of 2002.

Police Greys. Did you know that the South Australian police force have recruited aliens to do their dirty work? Neither did I, but it would explain a lot about Adelaide: kids mysteriously disappearing en masse, mutilated bodies popping up in the darndest places, law lecturers floating face-down in the Torrens. Then I read a bit further and found that by ‘police greys’ they mean horses. Apparently all police horses in SA are grey. I never noticed this, but then I’m not a thirteen year-old girl and so don’t notice horses much.
SA police like grey horses “for night visibility”, which is unique somehow. They don’t say if the unique part is that all the horses are grey, or that Adelaide has yet to discover the secret of artificial light.
The horses are used for “crowd control, patrols, searches & ceremonial events” (my emphasis). So if you read a news report about some kids from Adelaide getting busted outside the Big Day Out with sugarcubes in their pockets, you know that Sgt. Dobbin was on their case.

The Stump-Jump Fucking Plough. Along with the Hills Fucking Hoist and the Victa Fucking Mower, the stump-jump fucking plough is one of the only three things ever invented by Australians. Every year thousands of school children are taught about Australian ingenuity, and every time these are the only three fucking things the teacher can think of, because they are the only three fucking things he/she was taught.
Every year dozens of politicians waste precious oxygen about Australia forging ahead into the 20th (sic) century with a strong manufacturing sector and, when casting around for examples of Australian technical innovation since The War, will quickly give up and just mention the stump-jump fucking plough again.
In ever case the result is the same. Everybody walks away thinking (a) “I hate the stump-jump fucking plough” and (b) “Christ this country is doomed.”
Why is there such gratuitous hostility toward the stump-jump fucking plough? Unlike the Hills Fucking Hoist and the Victa Fucking Mower, no-one can explain what the stump-jump fucking plough does or how it works. It seems to have something to do with the plough going over the stump, somehow, instead of you having to go around it. Thus the need for steering was obviated, influencing the design and technical specifications of Holden motorcars until the mid 1980s.
The last remaining stump in pastoral Australia was dynamited in 1847.

The Ligurian Bee. I remember when I was a kid watching that episode of Batman when The Penguin unleashed a swarm of Ligurian Bees on Gotham City. Wait a second. On second thought, they were actually Lysergic Fruitflies. In which case, I have never heard of Ligurian Bees until today.
Apparently Kangaroo Island has been a Ligurian Bee Sanctuary since 1885, and remains home to “the purest strain of bee in the world” Which is nice for them, but it’s a pity they couldn’t find an indigenous species to be an icon. Of course, we could have named the short-legged emus, which were unique to Kangaroo Island, but we killed them all.
According to the website, “Ligurian bees supply a very high quality honey” which is exported all over the world, but then they would say that. I can’t imagine the local chamber of commerce would put out press releases saying “COME TO KANGAROO ISLAND, QUARANTINE FOR THE WORLD’S SHITTIEST ARYAN HONEYBEES! EMU-FREE SINCE 1897!” I can imagine, however, Batman episode where the caped crusader investigates sinister goings-on at the P.N. Guinn Honey Factory Inc. Come to think of it, I am not convinced that Kangaroo Island exists. I’ve never seen it, and it sounds like the sort of Australian place name Americans would make up for a TV show.

The Green and Gold Cookbook. The above photograph is a lie. You do not need eggs when making recipes from the Green and Gold. Or real milk. It was “conceived” (eww!) in 1923 and “although revised, it is little changed from its original edition”. This is easy to believe, and what revisions were made must have been during World War II, unless chickens and cows had yet to be domesticated eighty years ago.
If your mum has one of these she’s never cooked from it, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive to read this. Every dish begins with a hefty dollop of lard, dripping or suet. Milk is powdered; eggs are something you can only dream of owning one day when you win X-Lotto, each time you’re instructed to dissolve a dessertspoon of bicarbonated soda in water. It’s amazing these books weren’t thrown ecstatically en masse onto bonfires on V-J Day.
If you do get your hands on a copy, try to follow their recipes for cooking vegetables. Every one is identical: boil for 40 minutes, toss in hot lard. Invite your friends for tea. Make sure your larder is stocked up on copha, Cream of Tartar, junket, waterglass, borax and alum before you start, or you won’t get very far.
On the plus side, the back of the book contains useful information on how to remove bloodstains from carpets and soft furnishings, in response to housewives from Rose Park needing to know what to do in case they bayonet a Hun in their drawing room.

Stobie Poles. It’s good to see they’ve picked one heritage icon everyone can agree on: both the “Convict-free universal-suffrage Humphrey-B-Bear” camp of SA lovers and the “Child-raping bodies-in-barrels Fat-Cat” camp of SA lovers. You can’t help but notice they have photographed said poles from a long way away, so you can’t get a good look to see how ugly they are. I tried Googling for images of stobie poles but couldn’t find one that does justice to their uglitudiness. However, I do remember a newspaper years ago running a contest to find the biggest eyesore in Adelaide. The winning entry was a photo of a stobie pole which had recently had a station wagon ram into it.
It says ‘ere these engineering marvels of rusted steel and reinforced concrete were invented in 1924 “due to SA’s lack of suitable timber”. This always sounded like an urban legend to me. They can get wooden poles from Sydney to Broken Hill, but it’s only after the border that timber gets scarce?
The website tries to talk them up by pointing out ‘advantages’, such as “they’re termite proof and have a life span of around 50 years”, as if no-one’s going to remember this was the sales pitch for vinyl furniture. Or you can go them one better by arguing that in future the poles should be made from plutonium.
I actually know where this photo was taken; it’s the top end of Goodwood Road in Panorama, where it turns into Fiveash Drive. Sad.

The Checkside Punt. It’s a banana kick. I’ve never heard it called a checkside punt, and I suspect I never will.