The land surrounding Adelaide’s central grid has traditionally been public space. Wide green parklands surround most of the CBD, while along the northern edge are various public buildings: the hospital, parliament, library, art gallery, museum and two public universities.

Over the last decades, the public nature of this space has been eroded. Skycity Casino now operates in the heritage-listed railway building and an InterContinental Hotel dominates the skyline. And the University of Adelaide is planning to give several of its lawns and buildings to a commercial venue from 15 February to 18 March next year. 

The deal between the university and the RCC Fringe (formerly the Royal Croquet Club), announced on 28 August, will provide commercial access to crucial spaces during orientation week and the first two weeks of classes. 

In the announcement, Jason Di Iulio, chair of Momentarily (the firm currently managing RCC Fringe), claimed the company’s control of university space will be extensive: “We’ll be activating many spaces throughout Adelaide University, from North Terrace and Bonython Hall, through to the Maths Lawns and Barr Smith Lawns, as well as Union House and the Cloisters”. 

The Adelaide University Union (AUU) and affiliated clubs and societies use these spaces for orientation week activities. The AUU was given no notice of the deal with RCC Fringe, and the future of the student-run orientation week activities is unclear.

University administration has tried to sideline the student union for years. It has successfully shifted the heart of campus life from the student-run Union House to the soulless Hub Central, which lacks even a pinboard for students to use. The replacement of the traditional orientation week with a corporate festival would remove one of the last vestiges of student control. 

The RCC Fringe business model depends on exclusive access to public space. The venue’s first location, from 2014 to 2016, was Victoria Square in the centre of Adelaide. As soon as the City Council completed a $28 million redevelopment of the public square, was fenced off again for the month-long event, accessible only to paying customers. 

Since then, RCC Fringe has run commercial operations at Birrarung Marr in Melbourne and this year signed a five-year lease for the use of Pinky Flats in the Adelaide parklands. 

The latter deal came after the RCC went into voluntary administration following a $1.1 million loss on its pop-up venue at the 2016 Qingdao International Beer Festival in China. This failed attempt at international expansion had received $600,000 in public money from the South Australian government. 

Unfortunately, the RCC Fringe is not the only business to profit from the privatisation of public space. Apple is launching a “Global Flagship Store” in Melbourne’s Federation Square in 2020, and James Packer’s “VIP only” Crown Casino is currently under construction on formerly public land in Barangaroo, Sydney.