I've been a bit annoyed over the past few days, reading online articles from the press back home about the pressure on my home state to change its name. Apparently "South Australia" is confusing to people, partly because it is not specific enough (it seems to suggest the entire southern half of the country), and its initials give the impression of South Africa. Both of these assumptions are fair, but come on!
This article/opinion piece even alluded to the fact that our new Premier was erroneously introduced to an international audience recently as the Premier of New South Wales. The article suggests this is South Australia's problem. Uh, no. This is a presenter problem. Clearly whoever introduced our Premier was an idiot who hadn't read his/her briefing materials properly. Naughty.
I remember telling my English teacher in my final year of high school that I wanted to be the Director of the SA Tourism Commission one day. I loved the idea of selling my State to anyone who would listen - anyone who wanted to stop by - and show them why I loved South Australia. Indeed, when I started working for the State Government's environment agency and spent a month or so zipping around South Australia's national parks, counting chainsaws and tractors and other physical assets, I saw stretches of our natural coastline that would take your breath away. In the 7 years I stayed there, I met so many amazing characters with great stories, and I ate and drank some of the best local produce I'd ever had in my life. Blissful.
Granted, I never did become the Director of the SA Tourism Commission (well, not yet anyway), but I am still a big fan of my home state.
When I meet people overseas who have visited Australia, they talk to me about the great times they've had in Sydney or Melbourne, Cairns or Perth. Friends have spoken fondly of the landscapes and scenic drives in Tasmania, or the majesty of the Outback, but by and large it's the cities - and not the states in general - that have left the most indelible impressions on them.
When I left Australia for the first time, one of my very first international friends was from Sweden. I was so happy when she told me she'd visited Adelaide. But when I asked her what she did there, she told me that she had slept. She'd been running herself ragged playing tourist in the eastern states, so she spent her time in my home town just sleeping off her jetlag. I remember being so crestfallen, just thinking of all the things she missed out on doing.
Now you may well laugh, but you're just proving my point even further. South Australia does need an image overhaul but it's not our name that's the problem.
We need to rebadge Adelaide as a place worth visiting (and I'm presuming we do want them to visit). We need to show the world what they're missing by flying over us - get them to fall in love with what we love. And I just mention Adelaide as a first step simply because it's our capital city and the Adelaide Airport is the first impression most visitors will remember when they go there. Fortunately the airport is looking pretty sparkly right now, so I think we're well on our way there.
When visitors come to Adelaide, don't we want them to love our food, wine, sports, churches, climate, beaches, national parks, and festivals?
Don't we want them to proclaim Coopers the best beer they've ever had on a hot day (or any other)?
Don't we want them to love Mr. Villi and his spectacular baked goods? And don't visitors need to know how good those baked goods taste when washed down with a Farmer's Union Iced Coffee?
Or what about how luxurious a bag of Haigh's chocolates can be, and how well they pair with any local wine you care to sip with them?
Don't they need to appreciate that you can never get truly lost in SA - not with the beaches in one direction, the wineries in the other, and the national parks in yet another?
Come on kids, it's a total no-brainer.
I don't think it matters what you call our State - it's what you offer visitors when they get there that matters. Why would tourists spend extra money (and time) to fly to South Australia from the super-accessible eastern states when they know next-to-nothing about what to expect when they get there?
I can say with confidence that our networks of Australian Consulates, Embassies, and State Government offices fly the flag for all the states back home equally, and we have a wonderful expatriate group of Australians living abroad who do the same. We support visiting politicians, artists, sports teams, philanthropists - the list goes on. We get locals involved in Australian football, BBQs, and one of the funniest things we ever did in Chicago was to teach a bunch of our American friends how to do a TimTam slammer. GOLD.
Admittedly Adelaide has its problems - moronic bikers and Hindley Street thugs being just two that spring to mind. But the eastern states have those problems too - and hell, London and New York have the same (if not worse) examples of street violence like that and yet they get fantastic visitor traffic. I don't think we should ignore these societal probems, but we can certainly overcome them.
And okay fine, I know what you're thinking. If Adelaide's so great, why aren't you living there? One day if the time is right, and the job is right, and the stars align, maybe I will. But right now, my life is in New York. But while my family is in South Australia, my heart is there. And so I will always be supportive of it and I will try and inspire as many people as I can to get out there and enjoy it.
If you go to South Australia and have a good sleep, that's great. You'll need it. Cause when you wake up, South Australia (or whatever the marketing goons decide to call it) will show you a really great time. If you let it.