On one hand, they must be sick of it. South Australia is always the target of jokes. I don’t understand why. It’s always been a progressive place. It makes great wine. It has great food. It’s home to Maggie Beer.

On the other hand, my joke might get a laugh.

Let me do the set-up, drawn from my book. It’s late 1975. South Australia, under Don Dunstan – the progressive, hot-panted Premier – had just decriminalised homosexuality. No other states had followed the lead.

Late that year, a court case began in Melbourne. A spurned lover had dobbed in a couple of gay men. They were living a small life, by which I mean they loved each other, and just wanted to pay off their hire-purchase furniture and be productive citizens.

When a police officer knocked on their door, they didn’t understand they were doing anything wrong, and so admitted everything. They showed the policeman the bed in which they slept.

In 1975, the maximum penalty for homosexual acts committed in Victoria was 15 years in prison. It was much the same elsewhere.


But here’s the amusing thing, if anything amusing can be found in such a dire narrative. The judge, to the extent possible, was on the side of the two men. He found them guilty, as he had to. But then he offered a deal. They could avoid prison if they agreed to move to South Australia.

In telling the story, I imagine one of the young men standing in front of the Judge: “15 years in prison, or moving to Adelaide, your Honour, can you please give me a moment?”

OK, not brilliant, but it gets a laugh in Sydney.

I arrive at the venue. It’s a long drive from Adelaide. Maybe the audience live far enough from the town to enjoy a joke at the expense of the capital.

I decide to tell my joke.

Then I meet the audience, as we mill around on the terrace of the winery, sipping a delightful Australian bubbly. Every single person I meet is from Adelaide.

I decide not to tell my joke.

Instead, I’ll focus on the upbeat story of how South Australia led the country in gay law reform, just as it had led the world in female suffrage and parliamentary representation.

And, so I tell the story, using it as the end of my talk. But then, standing there, I can’t control myself. I find myself launching into my joke.

Maybe they will find it funny. Who knows? Australian cities, after all, are so different from each other.

I’m from Sydney. It should be the best city but probably isn’t. Sydney is the best-looking person in the room, who then prostituted themselves to the highest bidder. It’s a city in which a radio announcer could proclaim life to be easy and happy “in the best city in the world”, only to have listeners demand a correction: “oh come off it.”

So, here’s my latest finding: you can add Adelaideans to the list of self-deprecating Australians.

Brisbane? Brisbane spent so long being backward, it now feels like a perpetual party. It’s the banging-your-head-against-a-brick-wall theory: it feels so good when you stop. On each occasion in which you have a good time in Brisbane – and you always seem to – send a vote of thanks to Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Then there’s Melbourne, about to take over from Sydney as the nation’s biggest city, and perpetually delighted with its own superiority.

Here’s the thing: Sydney people agree that Melbourne is better than Sydney, whenever they think about it, which is never. And Melbourne people? They also think their city is better than Sydney, whenever they think about it, which is all the time.

Back in South Australia, the sunlight filters into the historic cask room. A convivial crowd sups on glasses of Yalumba’s high-end Signature Cabernet-Shiraz.

I deliver my joke. There’s silence. I look down and spot the woman who co-owns Yalumba. She is smiling up at me, and performing a strange mime, as if stirring a pot.

Oh, I get it. Then, phew, they all laugh. The sort of good, rippling laugh that starts slow and then takes over the room.

Sydneysiders, I’ve found, delight in jokes at their own expense. I’ve also tried it in Brisbane and Darwin and can report success.

Melbourne, Hobart and Perth? I’m less sure. Canberra, I bet, hates it.

So, here’s my latest finding: you can add Adelaideans to the list of self-deprecating Australians.

More importantly, let’s give a cheer to Don Dunstan and the South Australians he led in 1975 – and hope those two gay men, John and Lindsay, enjoyed their exile in Adelaide.

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