The edge of the New World

Written by

Andrew Millar


October 15, 2007

Certain things – sounds, smells, and tastes – can transport you back in time. For example, Creaming Soda always reminds me of my Grandmother’s house. She seemed to have an endless supply in her round line, 110 volt Kelvinator. The taste, not that I drink the stuff any more, transports me back to my safe, secure childhood of Sunday afternoon teas. It’s nostalgia with a screw cap.

But I was transported back in time to another series of sounds and sights the other night. The sight of an authoritarian searchlight silently rotating, its beam, with eerie confidence cutting through trees along the side of the road. The sound of twin turboprop engines taxi-ing an aeroplane to a halt and then the engines winding down to rest. These were the sights and sounds of a real airport, an aerodrome… not the hermetically sealed artificial chambers we have today. These were the airfields where you could wave passengers farewell from behind a low cyclone wire fence. These were places where you walked across the tarmac to a waiting DC3 that sat on the apron like a big obedient pelican, it’s nose stuck in the air as though it couldn’t wait to get back up there. These sounds transported me back to visits to the old Adelaide Airport as a child. Sometimes we were flying out to Melbourne or Sydney (it was not until the age of the jet that we ventured further). Other times it was to see a relative off on an exotic adventure. These were the days of luggage labels that stuck to your suitcase. And the luggage had no wheels either. You, or a porter, had to carry it.

If you don’t believe these were romantic times, imagine the closing scenes of Casablanca with a screaming jet turbine in the background. That spluttery throaty rattle of a radial engine starting is romance personified. It promised destination. It heralded adventurous locations and spoke of the sadness of parting. And in those aircraft the journey itself was an adventure. No pressurised cabins. No effective sound proofing. In fact, I found a ticket dated 1938 amongst some of my Grandfather’s possessions. It looked more like a receipt for your life than a ticket. He was an industrialist who often flew to America between the wars, which in those days was a 5 day trip. They landed each night, no doubt to change for dinner, at one of the major islands – Hawaii, Guam, The Philippines- as they hopped their way home ,navigating by compass and stopwatch. These days the same trip is so automatic it can almost be made without pilot intervention. He travelled on Sunderland flying boats, China Clippers they called them, and airports and seaports were one and the same.

Seaports were the airports of the previous century. They were the junction between the known world and the mysteries that lay beyond. Unlike airports where people constantly complain about the noise as though the runway didn’t terminate 50 metres from their home when they bought the place, living near a port still has charm. I exclude one that services live sheep transports – they have an atmosphere all of their own.

Land developers and marketers don’t seem to have caught on to the power that lies in harnessing this romance of travel. I exclude Louis Vuitton of course, who has always evoked the romance of travel in order to sell luggage. And what a premium they command for tugging the adventurer strings of their customers. Now, most land on the edge of the new world is marketed on clichés of beach walks at sunset. Or jogging on sand at a time when most sensible people are sleeping. Where are the images of wild storms that remind you that Mother Nature can have a spectacular hissy fit every now and then? Where’s the hint that there is a tremendous tradition with beaches and ports – crafts and skills that remind us of a simpler age?

Where’s the excitement of living on the junction of the known and the unknown?

The historic nature of the area has a place and a right to shine through. I hope the current redevelopment of Port Adelaide doesn’t just pay lip service to the heritage of the area. It would lose a lot if it all simply became glass towers overlooking a unnavigable estuary.

You can’t build new, old wool stores.