Australia: Word is, Adelaide's place to be

By Jon Bridges

Australia's festival state throws a giant bash in praise of verbal variety, as Jon Bridges discovers.

I'm star struck. Just 3m from me in this Adelaide pub is Little Britain star Matt Lucas. It's the second time I've been star struck in this city.

The other was when I took a selfie as I stood next to Andy Schleck of Tour de France fame, both of us in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.

South Australia is called the "festival state" and it doesn't earn that title without regularly giving birth to new festivals. I've come to witness the birth of the latest joyful bundle - Word Adelaide.

Matt, looking appropriately like a giant baby, has flown here to help this venture celebrate words in all their forms. At the first event he has the audience in stitches, asking the question on everyone's lips.

"What is this festival all about, anyway?" At any other festival questioning its very definition might be a problem, but for a festival about words it seems just right - especially at this first outing.

The other big question is how South Australia manages to cram in another great festival. Comedian, national treasure and host of the first event, Kitty Flanagan, congratulates the city on answering that question by holding it in winter instead of summer.

"You also need to move some of the other events," she advises helpfully. "Move the Fringe to April, move the Comedy Festival to May and move the Clipsal 500 [V8 Supercars] to Darwin."

The arty crowd goes wild.

This first event is "Yarn Spinning" and, as well as Matt and Kitty, it also features Guy Pratt (from Icehouse now turned raconteur - or "rockenteur") and a selection of stars, bards and bush poets.

Over the evening they weave a tapestry of stories that tells me more about what it is to be Australian than all the episodes of Home and Away I've never watched.

Best yarn goes to lanky, 75-year-old bush poet John who punctuates his tale about a dog with three legs by periodically whipping off his bushman's hat to reveal his shock of white hair. His yarn, more than all the rest, showed not only that Australians still react viscerally to stories of the Outback, but also that oral storytelling is a craft worth saving.

The gaps between the Word Adelaide events let me rest my ears and work my legs and eyes.

The SALA Festival is on, too, and art exhibitions are all around. I walk down North Terrace, past the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum, through the botanical gardens to the National Wine Centre, where I find an exhibition of art celebrating a cheeky sort of goanna.

Then I discover a beer-and-art walking tour linking four pubs - each home to an art exhibition and four types of beer.

The following night, we line up outside 1920s Deco venue Thebarton Theatre for the next Word Adelaide event: the largest rap battle in the Southern Hemisphere.

It's a freestyle competition in which hip-hop MCs duel with rhymes made up on the spot and, like the movie 8 Mile, which celebrated freestyle rap battling, the event is extremely entertaining.

An incongruous part of the festival, it challenges all its patrons - arts aficionados who've never been to a rap battle, and the hoodie-wearing hip-hop crowd who've never been to an arts festival. Seems to me that sort of challenge is just what a festival event should do.

And no event could be a greater celebration of the spoken word.

Incredibly, halfway through, there's John, the bush poet from the night before, climbing into the boxing ring that is the rap battle arena.

The crowd love him and the rappers he battles pay tribute to him: "This old guy don't have to take your crap, no one here was born when he spat his first rap!" John makes it to the semifinals of the newbie division with his slow, clever rhymes.

On the way home I torture the photographer with my attempts to freestyle. Unfortunately, I end my first line with "Adelaide" then discover that nothing rhymes.

With all the art swirling around us, I take the opportunity to learn something about Aboriginal art. At the first Aboriginal art centre in Australia - Tandanya - we meet local artist Paul Herzich of the Kaurna (pronounced Garna) people who explains how his amazing designs, laser-cut into large sheets of steel, tell the dreaming stories in a new medium.

That night, the climax of Word Adelaide is an entertaining discussion and dissection of comedy in front of a sold-out audience at Her Majesty's Theatre.

Our trip is over too soon.

I haven't seen all the Word Adelaide events. Among others, I want to take in the bus tour of the city to learn how the Aborigines used words to name and remember.

I'm keen to return and learn what the definition of Word Adelaide becomes.

Plenty to laugh at in Adelaide clubs

Laugh a little ...

Whether you laugh a little or a lot, Adelaide has some
of the best comedy clubs in the country with local,
national and international comedians performing most
nights of the week.

Rhino Room: On Frome St, in the heart of Adelaide, Rhino Room is recognised Australia-wide for its commitment to emerging comedians. Regular gigs are
held every Monday, Thursday and Friday, so find a spot at the funky bar and laugh the night away.

The Cellar: Want to know where the locals go on Friday and Saturday nights? The Adelaide Comedy Cellar on Grenfell St. A$34.50 ($39.90) gets you two-and-a-half hours of nonstop comedy and includes delicious platters to enjoy while you watch.

South Australia - the festival state

All year round you'll find fantastic events to enjoy, from sports, to food and wine, arts and culture and everything in between. Here are some of our favourites.

Tour Down Under, South Australia.
Tour Down Under, South Australia.

Summer

• Santos Tour Down Under (January 19-26, 2014)
• Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars (February 27-March 2)
• Adelaide Fringe Festival (February 14-March 16)

Autumn

• Adelaide Festival (February 28-March 16)
• WOMADelaide (March 7-10)
• Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend (May 17-18)

Winter

• Adelaide Cabaret Festival (June 2014)
• Barossa Gourmet Weekend (August 2014)
• South Australian Living Artists Festival (August 2014)

Spring

• Royal Adelaide Show (September 2014)
• Bay to Birdwood Classic Car Rally (September 2014)
• Riverland Wine & Food Festival (October 2014)

View the South Australia Events Calendar here.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Fly there with Air New Zealand.

Find out more at: Australia.com.

Jon Bridges travelled to Adelaide with the assistance of Tourism Australia, South Australian Tourism Organisation and Air New Zealand. For more information see Explore - Culture.

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