SA Icon update, 2005

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Back in February I reviewed several of South Australia’s official “heritage icons”, strongly suggesting without actually coming out and admitting that I was born and raised in Adelaide. At the very least, this confession would have shed additional light on a substantial number of these icons being things I’d never heard of.
I’d almost forgotten this article until yesterday when I received an email about it from a gentleman who particularly wanted to talk about stobie poles. He’s a big fan of the pole, calling it “SA’s greatest ever invention, ever”, thus beating out stalwarts such as the rotary clothesline and the stump-jump fucking plough. In fact, he likes them perhaps a little too much, referring to them as “J.C. Poles” – after their inventor, J(ames) C(yril) Stobie, but still. It’d be a tough ask nailing anything, let alone the messiah, to one of those beasts.
If you haven’t encountered a stobie pole, they look like this:

Two fine specimens of the pole, enhancing a street in the leafy suburb of Glenunga. I got this off the web – there are other fine photos around, but this one captures the essence of the pole itself, as encountered at street level, including the mysterious, ubiquitous green triangle. Note also the idiomatic brush fence in the background. Sorry about the kids ruining the shot.
My email correspondent lists his favourite pastime as “Stobie Pole Spotting” – which, if I still lived in Adelaide, I would heartily endorse, being a hobby requiring the Absolute Zero of effort and exertion in a city where the things are as ubiquitous as bags of rubbish in the streets of London. Sadly, his return address doesn’t work, so it looks like his kind offer to “share further Stobie Stories” won’t pan out.
To be fair, I once was sufficiently nerdy to mutter darkly about stobie poles popping up in the background of location shots in Shine, a movie purportedly set in Perth. This annoyed my date, mainly because I was distracting her from proper appreciation of Noah Taylor’s bum. All in all, not a successful date movie.
There seems to be a wideheld perception that stobie poles are a particularly lethal form of roadside furniture, possibly because of their brutalist construction and aspect. The Emergency Medial Journal has published D.G.E. Caldicott and N.Edwards’ article “Traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle accident: Fact or ‘fantasy’?”, which assigns a prominent role and evocative photo to the stobie pole.
Figure 1: A stobie pole. Essentially two metal girders on either side of a concrete core, they were designed to support lines of electricity and communication to remote and rural southern Australia. Their longevity is inversely proportional to their contribution to road safety.
The authors omit two salient points from this passage: the driver in this case study was up to his eyeballs in GHB, and that ramming your car into a stobie pole surely can’t be any more dangerous than wrapping your vehicle around a tall wooden pole 8 inches in diameter and firmly set into a block of concrete. However, stobie poles do buckle in dramatic fashion after a car has smashed into them, and are often left in that state for years after as a dual testament to the pole’s durability and the driver’s fallibility.

See? Plenty of give in the buggers!
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I was reminded to check up on which of South Australia’s many heritage icons got the nod of official recognition for this year. The results are disappointing. The citation for ‘The Secret Ballot’ begins “The secret ballot as such was not invented in South Australia”, which gives you the overall flavour of barrel-scrapings for the 2005 crop (how can a ballot be an icon?) The only thing they get right is (finally!) giving it up for Menz Fruchocs, a confectionery I am now going to be craving well into new year.
Far superior to the National Trust’s heritage icons site, albeit still in its infancy, is the Encyclopaedia of South Australian Culture. I had no idea until today that “early minute” was a term peculiar to Adelaide – it’s a phrase I still use from time to time, never suspecting until now that no-one has a clue of what I’m talking about. As I’m writing this I’m saying “early minute” out loud to my companion, a native of Melbourne, across the table, and she’s staring back across the table, sadly shaking her head with utter incomprehension.