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May 29, 2014
Commerce

District survey: Hutt Street

The Hutt Street Precinct - encompassing the corner of town south of Wakefield and east of Pulteney Streets - sits neatly between two worlds.

  • Words: Owen Lindsay
  • Images: Andrè Castellucci

It’s difficult to get a handle on the Hutt Street district – but that’s exactly the point. While other CBD precincts are easy to summarise in a couple of words (you can probably guess where someone means if they say “Chinese food”, “cafés and fashion” or “frolicking hogs”), the Hutt Street area is too disparate to so simply categorise.

Overwhelmingly, the precinct is defined by its casual mix of commercial and residential. The Hutt Street area is at once a subdued residential neighbourhood; a diverse restaurant strip; a healthcare centre; a spot for a breezy afternoon picnic; a place you can get your shoes cobbled. Parking is never an issue, and the wide streets – criss-crossed by historic lanes – probably spell out CYCLING IS GREAT HERE when viewed from space. In fact, spend enough time in the area and it feels less like you’re in a city and more like you’ve teleported into some ideal little country town.

It’s a description that those who live in the area would certainly agree with. “It reminds me a lot of a country town,” says Alyshia Mckinnon – who CityMag finds sitting on the gutter outside her house using her laptop, making good use of the City Council’s free Wi-Fi. “I come out here every day,” she laughs, explaining that the free Wi-Fi signal extends to the edge of the road – just stopping short of covering her house. Alyshia, co-founder of the excellent Salad Days Inc. on Gilbert Place, has lived in the area for about six months, and relishes the unique atmosphere of the south-east corner
of town.

“Everyone knows everyone,” she says. “You see the same people around all the time. You know the people who work in the restaurants and pubs and the library and the cafès.”

District15

The wide streetscape contributes to a country town feeling

The only disruption to the community, Alyshia says, is the yearly coming of the Clipsal 500’s supercars, which add both danger (alcohol-generated) and noise (car and Keith Urban-generated) to the area. But the inclusive community sentiment ensures that things rarely become too unsafe for residents.

“Being a young white female, I consider myself at risk – and my housemates as well – so we don’t walk home alone,” she says. “And we spend some time just checking up on the homeless people, and they check up on us as well. Just kind of like, ‘are you being heckled?’ and that kind of thing.”

It’s the type of broader community sentiment that’s familiar to city-dwellers, but would probably baffle a family from the modern ‘burbs. And although this sentiment couldn’t exist without the people of the area, it’s also a phenomenon that has been deliberately cultivated over many years.

The man behind a good chunk of this community cultivation is also the man behind the cultivation of Hutt Street’s synonymous plane trees – which run the length of the main road from Pirie Street, leading to Tuttangga and Wita Wirra in the south parklands.

“Once we put the plane trees in [in the 90s], that really changed the whole concept,” says South Ward Councillor Anthony Williamson.

The bright leafed trees that he refers to are the street’s most defining visual feature, softening the flat Adelaide skyline and complimenting the precinct’s handsome colonial-era buildings. CityMag chats with Anthony and his wife Sandra, who is chairperson of the Hutt Street Precinct Group, in a room at their physiotherapy clinic on Halifax Street. The plane trees are just one feature of the precinct brand that Anthony and Sandra have spent the
past few decades developing: a village in the city.

35-plus year precinct veterans Tony and Sandy Williamson

35-plus year precinct veterans Tony and Sandy Williamson

“Basically the village concept is to have outlets on the street that service the local residents,” explains Anthony. “The village concept we’ve tried to hold on to, both in ambience and the outlets around. We work very hard with things like the trees, the seating, and – the present stage – the 40km speed limit. […] The most important part is that by slowing the traffic down, we’re allowing pedestrian crossing to be safer. If you drive along the street, you’ll find very few people actually waiting at traffic lights. If they do, they’re new. The rest criss-cross all the way up and down.”

“As far as the precinct goes with the [Hutt Street precinct] committee,” adds Sandra, “we’re trying very hard to get some sort of grant system to try to do some street scaping and art scaping in the precinct, to make it look very folksy and homey. Just little things to try to keep the ambience going. It’s very important.”

The idea of a self-contained residential community within a larger city seems to raise the obvious question – why not just live in the suburbs? – but Anthony is quick to stress that the precinct is far from a detached island, floating in Galapagosian isolation on the fringes of the CBD. He explains: the City Connector free bus service, which began in January of this year, passes along Hutt Street in both directions every fifteen minutes, and a bike super-lane safely connects Unley to Pirie Street through the parklands. “That connectivity has opened up the south-east corner a little bit more,” says Tony. The ‘village’, after all, remains ‘in the city’.

Two residents who make good use of both the neighbourhood and the wider city are Matt Salleh and Rose Tucker. The couple have lived in the area for five years, and say that it is the combination of quiet residential living and easy access to the CBD that makes the neighbourhood a unique spot. “A lot of people get stuck between the hustle and bustle of city life or the R&R of the suburbs,” says Matt. “Here, it’s kind of like the nexus of the two. We’ve always said that Hutt Street is like our Florida retirement.”

“We’ve always said that Hutt Street is like our Florida retirement.”  – Matt Salleh
Urtext Films’ Matt Salleh and Rose Tucker

Urtext Films’ Matt Salleh and Rose Tucker

Flower arranging at local business The Flower Hutt

Flower arranging at local business The Flower Hutt

But the couple’s charming 1970s townhouse, tucked away in a quiet lane near the main road, is more than just a residence – it’s also their office. Matt and Rose are co-owners of Urtext Films, a production company that produces both commercial and documentary work, including the multi-award winning short Pablo’s Villa. After years and many dollars spent renting a cavernous ball room on Grenfell Street that served as an office, the team decided that it was time to do away with unnecessary overheads and focus on their craft.

“We stopped [renting the ball room] and moved to a small studio in Gilles Street,” says Matt. “Then we decided to do away with even that, and three years ago moved the office into our house.”

Their quiet home life – barring the occasional courtyard party with friends or clients – is complemented by the ease of access to the various ad agencies and clients’ offices around town. “Being in the city we’re still close to the people who will hire us,” says Rose. “Meetings are easy – we jump on a bike, or they jump in a cab and come here in five minutes. And I think our clients enjoy our office, too. They come into our little 70s lounge, and have a cup of tea in our front courtyard. In the end, it better represents us as a company than some glossy office”.

Matt and Rose’s film production company is not the only boutique businesses in the service industry that operates from the precinct. In fact, the neighbourhood – with its inner-city access, ample parking and smattering of coffee places – seems remarkably suited to housing what might loosely be described as ‘creative business’.

Natalia Gagliardi, senior account manager at Professional Public Relations, agrees. She moved to Hutt Street 18 months ago when the business relocated from Currie Street, and is enthusiastic about the ways in which the environment suits the agency  and better reflects its boutique identity.

“Sometimes I feel like it’s still trying to find its identity. It’s a really beautiful space… but I feel like it could do more to promote itself better.”  – Natalia Gagliardi
 

PPR’s Natalia Gagliardi

PPR’s Natalia Gagliardi

“The way we designed the office was to have that very open and inviting feel,” Natalia says. “We wanted it to blend into the area. Not being too corporate – we’re not like that. […] It’s been really really good for us in terms of the move. It’s given us our own space and personality.”

With many of the agency’s clients based outside of the CBD, the move to Hutt Street has also allowed a greater ease of access to the business. No longer do visiting clients have to worry about breaking a 20 for the privilege of stopping their motor vehicles, and a relaxed coffee at one of the area’s cafés is a definite upgrade to the drab corporate experience. “It’s a really good place to come and network with clients – as opposed to just coming and meeting in your corporate level five office. We’re really lucky and fortunate here,” Natalia says.

Nevertheless, she believes that the precinct still lacks the strong brand of areas such as Ebenezer Place and Leigh Street. “Sometimes I feel like it’s still trying to find its identity. It’s a really beautiful space […] but I feel like it could do more to promote itself better.” Besides this, she also laments the area’s lack of hip little bar spots, ala Clever Little Tailor and Udaberri. “I’m telling you, if someone opened a little bar – just a nice little wine bar – and someone opened a really nice homewares gift store, I think they would do quite well here. It’s missing that other little element [at the moment].”

Across the road and a few trees westward, Adam Steer, who’s a customer service specialist at BankSA, agrees. “That’s what’s missing most,” he says. “There’s a lot of cafes, lawyers and doctors and so on – but definitely what I think would be good would be if they had more shops – home shops, and places like that. On some days when I need to buy a present or something like that, I’ll [have to] walk down to the mall on my lunch break.”

One of Hutt Street's best known landmarks

One of Hutt Street’s best known landmarks

Besides the country town, everyone-knows-everyone sentiment and the palpable ‘village in the city’ atmosphere, it’s perhaps this sense of something missing from the area that is most commonly invoked to describe it. But precisely what the area needs to satisfy this lack – small bar, green grocer, fashion outlets, a candlestick maker – seems to vary from person to person. Unlike in the inner city, where ‘narrow bar with chilli hanging from the wooden rafters’ seems to be the go-to panacea for commercial vitalisation, the Hutt Street precinct remains somehow unsure of what it explicitly needs – like a nice painting still in need of one final brushstroke.

Not that this has stopped new businesses moving into the area, particularly over the past couple of years. Among some of Adelaide’s newest darlings are the Mac Factory, the Naughty Spot and the always excellent-smelling Flower Hutt. Recently, plans have also been floated to renovate the 19th century TPI Association building on the corner of Hutt Street and South Terrace into the lobby for a $25m, eight-storey hotel.

Joining the area this winter is The Flinders Street Project, a bread-centric lunch spot located just off Hutt Street on (luckily enough) Flinders Street. The choice to locate the business in the precinct, says co-founder and head chef Stewart Wesson, was not difficult to make. “[The Hutt St area] is the best of both worlds. We wanted it to be close enough to the city that people can come out, but we didn’t want to be right in the heart of the city that you’re in a crowded area. We wanted to catch a little bit of residential area.”

Chef Stewart Wesson

Chef Stewart Wesson

The vision behind the new eatery is simple, says Stewart. “Everything’s going to be an accompaniment to the bread. So we’re going to do terrines made out of duck or rabbit, or liver patte or roasted tomato – and we’ll serve these awesome breads and then have the accompaniment. So it’s all about the bread.” Lunches will be accompanied by a selection of South Australian natural wines, and served on communal seating outside.

Remarks

CityMag feels that residents and the picnic-ready east parklands would be well-served by a providore moving into the precinct.

In addition, Stewart says that he hopes to engage with the community through fresh bread deliveries to residents of the apartments above the restaurant’s location. In a corner of town where the commercial and residential are so deeply integrated, and the community vibe already so tangible, it seems like a natural idea. For now, the Hutt Street district may remain difficult to neatly summarise – but it’s clear that this tendency towards definition-defiance is the source of the area’s greatest strength.

On the fringes

For the past 60 years, the Hutt Street Centre has been quietly going about its work. If – like we at CityMag – you’re unaware where or what exactly it is, then chances are you’ve had a relatively lucky life.

Hutt Street Centre volunteer Dulcie Boag

Hutt Street Centre volunteer Dulcie Boag

Located towards the southern end of the district on the fringe of Hutt Street, the Centre provides a service that is indispensable for any city: assistance for homeless and disadvantaged people. For the large number of people who spend the night sleeping rough in the parklands or next to air conditioners in city alleyways, the Hutt Street Centre’s amenities are vital.

Founded in 1954 by the Daughters of Charity, a Catholic organisation, the services initially offered by the Centre were strikingly Spartan. “At that time, it was just tea and toast,” says Sarah Soteriou, the Centre’s Manager of Client Services. “There were a lot of men who had been affected by war who were coming back, and tea was served in a jam jar and toast was provided – and that was really it.”

Since that time, the work done by the Centre has expanded and deepened significantly. Now, besides the breakfasts and lunches offered daily, the focus is on holistic assistance for the disadvantaged – the idea being to eventually move people from the streets and into housing and a sustainable living situation. People can use the day centre to read newspapers, watch TV and check Facebook, and have access to visiting health specialists and social workers. Ongoing education and training sessions are offered to help people readjust to life off the streets.

For Sarah, it’s this human contact that is among the most important services offered. “[Every morning], I greet as many clients as I can. […] It’s about the social interaction. I could be the only person who speaks to them that day, and uses their name. Especially if you’re sleeping rough. You could sleep in a park, get up, wander the streets all day – and no one’s recognised you or knows your name.”

With the chilly winter months ahead in mind, CityMag asked Sarah what the Centre was lacking in donations. “Sometimes it’s the items that people don’t think of as much – for instance, beanies and gloves,” she says. “If you’re sleeping rough, that’s kind of essential. Razors for guys, and deodorants. It’s just about having that self-worth. Toothbrushes and toothpaste is another big one.”

Remarks

For information about services, donations or volunteering, visit the Centre at 258 Hutt Street, Adelaide, or go to www.huttstcentre.org.au.

Besides these things, another essential service provided by the Hutt Street Centre is its training sessions, run with the assistance of volunteer educators. The work done by these volunteers continues to be crucial, explains Sarah, because often for the vulnerable visitors to the Centre a push in the right direction is all they require. “A lot of it’s confidence building. A lot of the time they’re brilliant people who have just fallen off or gotten lost on the way. And it’s just our job to get them back, really.”

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