Culture

‘Fucking Adelaide’ Is A Beautiful Love Letter To Adelaide And Shit Hometowns Everywhere

It’s a shithole, but it’s our shithole.

Fucking Adelaide

I’m 35, sick and need my mum, so I’ve done what all good Adelaide kids do — I’ve come home. But I’m also a writer and have media accreditation to the Adelaide Film Festival. I have a thing I can hold up and show people to prove that I am Doing Something With My Life. It’s a signifier that others take me seriously and so should you, despite the fact I’m sleeping in my childhood single bed.

I meet one of my best mates on the street in front of the cinema. We joke about what a shithole it is. The stairway behind us is filthy, hasn’t been cleaned in decades and the bird shit, chewing gum and cigarette butts look cemented in. But friends walk past, we hug, we laugh. It’s a beautiful warm night and we’re celebrating this film that was made here. It’s called Fucking Adelaide.

When the film finishes I clap, I listen to the speeches, I hug my friend, and then I slip out before anyone can see me. I need to be alone, and it’s bloody hard to be anonymous in Adelaide. I want to sit in a bar and take a moment, but all the bars are closed or full of people I know. So I walk up and down the mall. Everything’s closed, the generic storefronts still lit. A busker plays to the Deliveroo guy riding past, the homeless and the drunks, the students and the tourists not sure what to do with themselves.

I turn down Pultney St towards North Terrace. I think I may as well get the train before I have to wait another hour for the next one. North Terrace is a construction zone, but I have no idea what the end goal is. The city has changed a lot since I left, but it’s also just as familiar as ever. I’ve been home just over 24 hours and all the shit I try to compartmentalise is being thrown in my face.

Fucking Adelaide.

Welcome Back To The Shithole

Fucking Adelaide is a six-part short film series made in Adelaide, about Adelaide. It’s the story of a family coming together, and in Adelaide that means it’s also a story about coming home. It premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival this month with all six chapters played back-to-back, but as part of the ABC’s Long Story Short series it will also screen on ABC TV and iView in the months to come.

Each chapter focuses on a different member of the family to weave the tale together and it starts with Eli (Brendan Maclean). Eli only wants to come home for “Christmases and funerals”, but is given a flight home to come help pack up the family house. When he loses his job, his boyfriend and his home in seemingly the space of an hour, he does what all good Adelaide kids do — he comes home.

Eli returns to Kitty (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), the youngest child full of naivety and sexuality; Emma (Kate Box), the eldest, home from running her not-for-profit in Thailand with her family (her partner Toby, played by Beau Travis Williams and their child Cleo, played by Audrey Mason-Hyde); their mother, Maude, (Pamela Rabe) who is the perfect loving but kick-arse matriarch; and the ghost of their abusive father, Geoff (Geoff Morrell).

With everyone thrown back together, the first few episodes focus on how beautiful yet problematic coming home can be. It’s about how we often return home a different version of the person we were, and the discombobulating feeling of knowing that more has changed since we were last home than we secretly hoped.

Fucking Adelaide is about a family reunion but it’s also a homecoming that perfectly encapsulates the South Australian sensibility of dark self-deprecation mixed with hyper-parochialism. “Stop calling Adelaide a shithole!” Kitty and Maude bark back at Eli and Kate. But when Kitty and Eli walk into a local cafe only to both run into people they slept with the night before, Kitty is the first to mumble “fucking Adelaide”.

The Importance Of Home

We leave Adelaide to become ourselves. To build a career where there are more opportunities. To come out, experiment, be sure of who we are. To live outside the bubble, to run away from our childhoods, to see what life is like away from the city with the perfect grid, where everything is 20 minutes away, where the weather is incompatible with brooding.

The kids are still lining up outside the London Tavern. Flashing signs read “no vehicle access / business as usual” without a hint of irony. The Noarlunga train is now the Seaford train but it still only runs every hour on Sundays. The familiarity is calming. The ticket system is way better than Myki and the shop across the road has my favourite juice that I can never find in Melbourne except for that one Vietnamese bakery on Smith Street.

This is always home for us. The shithhole we ridicule and denigrate, but will hear no ill word spoken of. The city with the best beaches, the wineries just a short drive away, the affordable real estate and the beautiful fresh food. The city where we ran under sprinklers in our undies, where we watched the brewery lights at Christmas, where we ate chips and gravy at a 24-hour bakery when we were young and drunk and giddy.

If life goes to shit, we can always come back.

So what happens if your mum wants to sell the family home and that place will no longer exist? What if cleaning it up releases all the bad memories that are packed in boxes and hidden under beds or in top cupboards? Fucking Adelaide is about all these things. It could be set anywhere, any small city or isolated suburb. but it’s not, and that’s important too.

Away from the suburbs, the city may look different now, with the small bars on Peel Street that are “just like Melbourne!” as Kitty says. Here we are with our east-coast jobs and haircuts, drinking wine at new bars and revelling in how relaxing it is to be home, away from the rush and the stress and the shit of the big cities we once ran to.

We are young professionals, we have our lives together and we know who we are. But when we come home we are still children, and that feeling is sometimes awful and smothering, but it’s also sometimes as familiar as being wrapped in a blanket and held as you fall asleep.

Our Messy Story

People from Adelaide don’t get to see themselves on screen very much. A lot of the stories on TV are about Sydney or Melbourne — about big bustling cities and cool neighbourhoods with bars and cafes and people with cool jobs. Or the stories are about living in the country — about red dirt or farming, rural isolation or Aussie larrikins. There aren’t a lot of stories about everyday people living in the suburbs, dealing with shitty things that everyday people have to deal with.

This isn’t just the case of Adelaide, it’s of a lot of the small cities of Australia. In many ways Adelaide is no different from Perth or Newcastle or Launceston. I was excited to see a film that told our story, that showed our sense of humour, that showed our hometowns as we see them.

Fucking Adelaideis about coming home, but it’s also about the things you can’t escape.

Sadly Fucking Adelaide ultimately bites off more than it can chew. As the series progresses the absent abusive-father, Geoff, is reintroduced and the story turns from one of coming home and humour to one of domestic violence and grief. It’s a lot to take on in any format but in six episodes of around 15 minutes each (while telling the backstories of all seven central characters), it’s too much ground to cover to give such intense and worthy subjects their due consideration.

Fucking Adelaide is about coming home, but it’s also about the things you can’t escape. I didn’t want to see a film about domestic violence and struggling with identity and grief, I just wanted to laugh at the beautiful shithole that is my hometown. But Adelaide is a real place, and even though our streets are wide and clean and run in straight lines, our lives here are messy.

This city is deeply flawed in lots of ways, but it’s also beautiful and I love it more than any other place in the world. Like our families, this city frustrates the hell out of us sometimes but despite it all we love it with our whole hearts.

It’s a shithole, but it’s our shithole.

Fucking Adelaide.

Fucking Adelaide has its last screening at Adelaide Film Festival tonight. You can catch it on ABC iview later this year.

Kylie Maslen is a writer from Adelaide. She tweets (very often about footy) at @kyliemaslen or you can see her work at kyliemaslen.com