In The (Classic) Car With Adelaide’s Lord Mayor Martin Haese

Care is required when entering Lord Mayor Martin Haese’s car. The 1967 Jaguar 420G is a grand old beast. “The British typically didn’t make big cars but they made this one,” he says. “I’ve had this a little while and it’s surprisingly original. It has only done 42,000 original miles since 1967. The only thing really that had been done [to it] is the interior had been re-leathered. That’s it.”

Martin’s first car was a Morris Minor. He got it when he was 18 and had it for years. “I loved it. Then I had an enormous old Humber – a really quirky car. Since then I’ve always owned 1960s British cars. I’m really kind of fascinated about them. I’m really into automotive design so I think of them almost as a rolling sculpture. I like the whole era: the music, the fashion, the culture, the design.”

In the car with Martin Haese

Martin was the Bay To Birdwood chairman for four years. “I really enjoyed doing that but just didn’t have time when I was elected in November 2014. I must say, [the Jag] rarely sees the light of day. I walk to work. This lives in a garage and rarely comes out so it’s good to have a run today.”

He eases the old girl on to King William Road, entering CBD traffic out front of his office: Adelaide Town Hall.

Adelaide Town Hall is a great building. There’s a jail cell that sits in the basement. They used to run a market here and used to conduct auctions in the Queen Adelaide room. They were selling cattle and land and they’d literally have auctioneers and people bidding. It used to get pretty unruly, so they built a holding pen downstairs so they could drag someone out, tell them to cool down and lock them away for a few hours.”

The building also attracted 300,000 rowdy onlookers when The Beatles took to the balcony to greet fans in June 1964.

“It was the biggest crowd in the history of The Beatles. Bigger than New York, bigger than London, bigger than their big shows.”

Fifty-three years later rock star and former Beatles member Sir Paul McCartney has an Australian tour on the horizon. When he announced it, Adelaide was not part of the national schedule.

“I’ve written to Michael Gudinski [the promoter of Paul McCartney’s concerts] and said we will turn on a civic reception, so if Paul McCartney would stand on the balcony of Town Hall and play a couple of tunes I reckon I could rustle up a crowd of many, many thousands of people. Let’s hope history repeats itself and at least one of The Beatles comes back. We’ll see.” Adelaide is a UNESCO City of Music. “There’s only a handful of those around the world.”
Martin wasn’t around when the screaming fans swamped the city (he was born in 1965) but was “seriously into” The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Yardbirds during the late seventies. “That partially explains the classic car obsession.” He has two classic cars. “I’ve bought, sold and restored many things over the years. I’ve got this one and a 1969 Jensen Interceptor which is a bit of a 1960s muscle car I guess. It’s an English car and is at the garage being fixed.”

“Coffee keeps the wheels churning and turning. I cannot function without coffee. Adelaide has the best in Australia.”

The Jag doesn’t have seatbelts. “It never has. I’m a very safe driver, I promise you that. This is pre-1967. If they didn’t have seat belts they don’t need them by law in South Australia.”

The Lord Mayor grew up in Toorak Gardens and lived in Norwood, and Crafers before moving to the city. His most precious childhood memories involve his godmother Dame Roma Mitchell. “She was a formidable lady I must say.” He smiles. “Quite influential on my upbringing in many ways. My godmother was a real trailblazer. She had an incredibly strong social conscience. I think that had a bit of a lasting impact on me.”

Martin’s grandfather was a publican in a tiny town in the mid-north of South Australia, near Peterborough. “I’ve got an affinity for the mid-north of South Australia.”

He points the wheels toward South Terrace. “Just in front of us is the Himeji Gardens. These gardens were built in about 1982. It was a bit of collaboration between the city of Adelaide and the city of Himeji in Japan. This is to celebrate that and to educate people about Japanese culture. It’s a beautiful garden – like a bit of a hidden oasis.”

Himeji is one of Adelaide’s sister cities. We currently have five. New Zealand’s Christchuch, Malaysia’s George Town, Austin Texas, and Qingdao in China. “They’ve all happened differently over the years. Sometimes it can just be a contact the Lord Mayor of the time has got with someone in that city. Sometimes there is a really obvious cultural connection. It’s great – there’s a lot of correspondence, meetings and delegations that probably the general public don’t see.”

In the car with Martin Haese

The Himeji Garden is a bit like a natural library. People walk quietly through the manicured greenery, past a lovely little lake.

“Peaceful moments are sometimes few and far between in my lord mayors’ role but it is incredibly peaceful here. You’re just in a world of your own. It’s a very neat, ordered, serene place. It’s beautifully maintained by the team at the City of Adelaide. Our horticulture staff take great pride in this.”

Next stop, coffee. “Coffee keeps the wheels churning and turning. I cannot function without coffee. Adelaide has the best in Australia.”

We head to E For Ethel on Melbourne Street, North Adelaide. The drive takes us through the parklands and North Adelaide’s O’Connell Street.

“See that mound there? It’s amazing what is underneath that. It was built in the 1800s and is a series of red brick arches. It is this giant reservoir which looks like the catacomb underneath Rome.” What is effectively a water tank (but looks like an aqueduct) is being heritage listed. “It’s full of water – it’s enormous, you’d never know it was there. I have photographs of it at Town Hall from when it was drained and emptied at one point.”

E For Ethel is full of people getting an afternoon caffeine hit. “I must say the guys who opened this business a few years ago have done it on a really sound foundation. They’re very community focused, they’re very eco-friendly in terms of their whole philosophy and supply chain. They support local artists and local makers. I think they have a great formula and a great name. It’s been pretty busy here today and that’s because of good product, good service, good value, good people.”

“You have to have a lot of energy. It’s total commitment. Two feet in.”

Martin knows a thing or two about running a successful business. He forged a career on it. “I started my first job in retail in the city of Adelaide in the old David Jones. Some years later, in 1993, I opened my first retail store.” Youthworks was a little urban fashion shop in Regent Arcade. “It was a real breath of fresh air at that time. After fumbling around to get the formula right, it really took off.”

The business grew to 17 stores around Adelaide and Melbourne. “We were employing about 220 people. It was a bit of an industry leader. Lots of mouths to feed. It was a real pleasure. Everybody worked really hard and it had a very good culture. We adopted a lot of emerging technologies before many other retailers did. I think we started e-commerce in 2001. We were still early by many standards.”

Technology is important to Martin. As the coffee machine kicks into gear, he ponders how to attract entrepreneurs to Adelaide. “My answer is one word: data. City Council is working on a high-speed data network for the CBD which we think will completely redefine Adelaide locally, nationally and internationally. It will retain youth, attract business, attract investment and bring people from all over the place to Adelaide because we’ve got this incredible data network and they can use and benefit from it.”

In the car with Martin Haese

They’re calling it Ten Gigabit City. The ‘interconnect hub’ (a new global fibre network and cloud-based data centre) will deliver lighting fast 10Gb/s internet speeds. “It would position Adelaide’s CBD as having the fastest data network in Australia by a factor of about 100 times. It’s complementary to the NBN but a lot faster. NBN is a great residential product but this is a commercial product for high volume users who need super-dooper data security, lots of bandwidth and lots of speed. It’s quite innovative. It’s been done before but never in Australia.”

They took it to the top. “The premier and prime minister know all about it. This is the vision and this is the technology which we know we can deliver. This is the really interesting thing about Adelaide: we’re now in this sweet spot. We’re a medium city. We’re not small, we’re not big. It means we can do things faster and clearly at less cost than a much larger city can.” He smiles. “I think we’re also a pretty collaborative place. That means we can work with other parties to do something this ambitious. I have every confidence we will do this and I think we’ll roll it out quickly. It’s going to turn Adelaide on its head for all the right reasons. It’s pretty exciting.”

“I’m a very safe driver, I promise you that. This is pre-1967. If they didn’t have seatbelts they don’t need them by law in South Australia.”

The realistic timeline for implementation is two years. Martin refers to the concept as 21st century infrastructure. “In past years we’ve built roads and bridges to make cities more competitive, now we’re putting data networks in. That is truly transformational for a city. It changes everything.”

It’s approaching beer-o-clock (for us, anyway – Martin’s working day stared at 7.30am and won’t finish until 10pm. He has civic receptions to attend).

We head for Currie Street’s The Edinburgh Castle Hotel. “I haven’t been to many gigs in the last two or three years. I drop in to say g’day, though. This is the first licensed premises in South Australia. It’s a pretty significant pub and I think it has operated continuously as a hotel since May 1837. It’s a great live music joint.” Publican Tony Bond approaches. “She’s an old girl this one,” Tony says. “I’ve been here four years. You can see the SAHMRI building through our window and just how close it is.” The pub hosts live music three nights a week and doesn’t offer gaming. “We basically rely on live music, food and beverages to pay our rent.” He smiles. “The West End is starting to look up. It’ll be really interesting to see what it’s like around here in the next 10 or 15 years. If you go down Hindley Street now they’re pretty much all small, owner-operated businesses. It’s nice to watch the vibe changing.”

In the car with Martin Haese

It’d be easy to sit around soaking up the vibe all afternoon but Martin has mayoral duties to fulfil. It is a seven-day-a-week job.

“You have to have a lot of energy. It’s total commitment. Two feet in. I sometimes call it a job but I’m not sure if job is the right word. It’s like total immersion. It’s a life.”

Each lord mayor term lasts four years and a mayor can’t do more than two terms. “If I’m re-elected in November 2018 I will get a second term and that will be it. That’s unique to the city of Adelaide. It’s s a self-imposed rule. I think it’s quite a good one. You’d collapse after eight years.”

An understanding partner and family are essential. “It would be a very difficult role otherwise. That’s sage advice for future lord mayors. It’s an enormous time commitment.”

Martin’s Singaporean-born wife Genevieve is passionate about her role as sidekick and is working on a book about the history of the role that mayoresses played in Adelaide since 1840. “She’s an absolute powerhouse.”

The Town Hall bell tolls. It’s time to get back to work. The days are long but Martin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“First and foremost the role is about people,” he says. “That’s what it started as and that’s what it always should be.

Photos: Daniel Purvis
Video: Aaron Nassau

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