SOUTH AUSTRALIANS HAVE a reputation for being a little bit up themselves. They speak with soft-toned vowels. They boast of their free-settler status, pride themselves as being the progressive heart of the nation and proclaim dominance in the arts, viticulture and cuisine. In Queensland, which is Australia’s yin to the yang of South Australia, they say there’s no snob like a South Australian snob. Through this mix of pride and suffering, the peers down long noses, South Australians don’t worry too much, unless you talk to them about their economy. That’s when they bristle, because it’s always been a fragile entity – always looking for the next big project, the next big thing to carry their social and artistic ambitions into the future.
Many east-coast commentators have scorned South Australia for having a cargo-cult mentality, whether it was the defence industries of Woomera more than a century ago, the now almost defunct auto and white goods industries of more recent decades, the Roxby Downs mega mine or, in its latest iteration, the multi-billion dollar submarine contract. It’s no surprise that, as the auto industry was slowly being shut down, state Labor governments had a decade-long ‘Thinker in Residence’ program – there were twenty-five of them – who did all manner of things from expanding the tram system to promoting a better and more cohesive design culture.
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