South Australia

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South Australia is a state of Australia occupying the south central portion of the continent.

The vast area north of Port Augusta is hot, dry, remote outback with very few people; nearly all the population of 1.5 million lives in the green and fertile southeast corner, around the capital of Adelaide.

Geography and climate

South Australia has a total area of 984,377 square kilometres.[1] Most of South Australia has a temperate climate with Summer from December to February and winter from June to August. Snow is rare, with falls occurring some years in the Mount Lofty or Flinders ranges, but usually having melted by lunchtime the same day.

The northern part of the state is arid in central Australia with little rainfall, and consequently also little population. The areas that are not complete desert are used in large pastoral properties running sheep or cattle on low stocking rates, limited by availability of feed and water.

Eyre Peninsula, the mid north region and Yorke Peninsula are predominantly used for grain (especially wheat and barley) and more intensive sheep and cattle production. The southern and eastern areas receive sufficient rainfall for more intensive cropping and farming, including dairy farms and vineyards.

Insurance ad, 1878


Before white settlement, South Australia was occupied by Aborigines, whose ancestors are believed to have arrived around 40 000 years ago. The specific groups included the Kaurna on the Adelaide Plains, Peramank in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Ngarrinjeri around the Murray River and Coorong and Pitjantjantjara in the far north of the state.


Exploration began before settlement with Charles Sturt's expedition down the Murray River in 1830 and Matthew Flinders' and Nicolas Baudin's expeditions exploring the coastline, both in 1802. Flinders and Baudin met in what is now known as Encounter Bay, and many coastal features have French names given by Baudin.

South Australia paid travel for immigrants and gave out free land; 1878 announcement

19th century

South Australia was created as a planned British colony in 1836. It is the only state of Australia to never have received convicts transported from Great Britain. Settlement started in the capital city, Adelaide and gradually moved out to the rest of the state.

South Australia was a product of carefully planned colonization, promoted by energetic reformer Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862). The site and layout of its capital city, Adelaide, were selected by a competent surveyor in 1837. Not being endowed with rich mineral resources or large expanses of fertile land, the colony soon developed an industrial structure of its own. This included the establishment and growth of extensive farm machinery industry in the 1870s and 1880s, metal working industries in the subsequent decades, and since 1917 an automotive industry. The state government frequently took an interest and a hand in industrial stimulation and development. This enabled South Australia to pursue a consistent course of expansion and diversification of its secondary industry.

From the time of South Australia's settlement in late 1836 seamen started to desert in an effort to better their conditions. Despite frequent representations from masters, colonial administrators were reluctant to act, despite the fact that the colony's council had passed an act in 1838 to regulate seamen in Port Adelaide that was more stringent than 1835 imperial legislation. Instead, the colony's administrators maintained that the only way to prevent desertion was for captains to show more concern for the needs and comfort of their crews. The administration was therefore unwilling to expend police and court time in apprehending and prosecuting deserters. They were not, however, adverse to hiring their police services to private shipping interests. After 1852 policemen, paid by the captains, were sent on board to prevent desertion.[2]

20th century

The city of Monarto, proposed as a satellite for Adelaide, South Australia, was a classical case of unrealistic, visionary social planning, abandoned before construction began. However, the town of Elizabeth, was founded in 1956 as a planned outer suburb of Adelaide. It was one supposed to be one of a series of neighborhood communities, each with its own infrastructure of shops, schools, churches, and recreational facilities. Residents, however, preferred to shop in the town center, demanding local bus services and a movie theater. Moreover, the residents were not as "socially balanced" as planners envisaged - an economic and social cross section of Australians with middle-class residents providing leadership and cultural standards. Instead, Elizabeth was overwhelmingly working-class and immigrant (primarily from Britain). In a variety of ways it was women, not men, who shaped family and neighborhood life and who gave Elizabeth its distinctive qualities. Simply stated: males worked and women managed. Elizabeth worked reasonably well during the long postwar boom until hard times (beginning in the 1970s) heightened tensions and social problems.[3]

Religion and morality

Both entrepreneurs and laborers were recruited in Britain, but the respectability required of all was distinctly that of the middle class. The society that recruiters described was the one the middle class would have liked to create rather than the actual state of affairs. The record shows that church attendance in the town was fairly low and that more public houses than churches operated. Drunken and disorderly behavior persisted but never became a major problem. Colonial officials licensed both producers and purveyors of alcohol, both to prevent illegal and unregulated trade and for the tax revenue it generated.[4]

South Australia proved more attractive to Methodists than to Anglicans. It also attracted a large number of Lutherans from Prussia, Germany.

Many Irish Catholics came to South Australia and established a flourishing church. However, tThe conflict between the Dominican sisters and the bishop of Adelaide in the 1860s-70s is symptomatic of a church in entropy, and it centered on a changing concept of what it meant to be a nun. The bishop, along with his vicar-general Smyth and an associate, Reverend Woods, brought in the Sisters of St. Joseph to staff the Catholic schools. This divided decisionmaking, along with Woods's impulsive and intrusive style, proved problematic, and there were deep and frequent tensions among the diocesan leadership and between the administration and the sisters.[5]

The forces of individual privatization and the drive to increased comfort were at work in the colony of South Australia as elsewhere in the Western world. The spread in mass consumption of goods engendered major value shifts, with new and distinct differentations being made among "luxuries," "decencies," and "necessities." Luxury may have been beyond the reach of most Adelaide families, but decency - represented by such items as dining-room tables and adequate laundering equipment - was not.[6]

Adelaide was able to avoid the deterioration of the physical fabric with the spread of slums and the overstraining of the sanitary infrastructure that often characterized 19th century cities. Adelaide managed to avoid these ills because of the ability and willingness of the bulk of the population to pursue an expensive form of city-building. Moreover, high incomes, an unusual absence of urban poverty, and a functional public transportation system account for Adelaide's success.[7]

Even though church attendance remained low in post-World War II Australia, the majority of non-churchgoers nevertheless identified with a particular denomination and strongly supported Christianity as a bulwark of public morality. Adelaide—like other Australian cities in the 1950s—witnessed intensive, largely successful campaigns by the Catholic and various Protestant churches. The campaigns, culminating with that of the American evangelist Billy Graham in 1959, served to bolster religious observance and also to emphasize the role of Christianity as a moral force and the basis of a secure social order. As a result, church attendance and other indices of formal religious practice were on the increase by the later 1950s.[8] Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, is known as the City of Churches, due to the large number of churches that were built there because of the state's religious freedom.[9]


Young (1969) provides A historiographical survey of the way in which historians of South Australia have approached the ideas of Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862). From the first pamphlets for colonists in the 1830s to 1914 a tradition emerged, narrative and descriptive rather than analytical, which did not question Wakefield's role in the foundation of South Australia. In 1915 R. C. Mill's Colonization of Australia made a critical appraisal of Wakefield's thought, but was confused over whether this amounted to a "theory" or some "practical rules." In the ensuing years, some new thought filtered through by way of Tinline essays, but the big change came with the expansion of the Adelaide history department in the 1950s and D. Pike's Paradise of Dissent in 1957. Pike remained ambiguous as to whether there was a Wakefield theory or not. All writers appear to have assumed that there was a body of thought, known as the "Wakefield theory" which was open to rational analysis. The author argues that the assumption is unjustified - that Wakefield's three main ideas were bound by false analogies and contradictions. Wakefield was not a thinker but a high-pressure salesman, who believed his own patter.[10]


The population of South Australia is slightly over 1.5 million people, almost three quarters of whom live in the Adelaide area. The median age is 38.8 years, the highest of any Australian state.[11]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Adelaide typified New Urban Frontier cities of the American West and Australasia in which high average worker incomes and effective public transport enabled most of the population to live in a suburban setting. Comparison of infant mortality rates in the city of Adelaide, Unley, and Port Adelaide, however, reveals that suburban living did not guarantee healthy infants. "Black spots" with high infant mortality rates existed near similar pockets of streets with older, higher-density housing that experienced lower infant death rates. Socioeconomic status, mother's education, and family size had more impact on levels of infant mortality than did the external physical environment. Levels of crowding and cleanliness within individual homes also affected infant death rates.[12]


South Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The leader of the party with a majority in the lower house, the House of Assembly is known as the Premier. The upper house is called the Legislative Council. The monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is represented directly by the Governor of South Australia. Since 1901, South Australia has been a state of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Main Cities

Adelaide is the state capital of South Australia and the fifth largest city in the country. Named after Queen Adelaide and founded in 1836, Adelaide was the only original settlement of non-convicts in Australia.

Mount Gambier
Mount Gambier in the south-east corner of South Australia is the second most populated city in the state after the capital, Adelaide. The city is located almost exactly halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne which makes it a popular stop-off for tourists traveling around the region.

Further reading

  • Broomhill, R. Unemployed Workers: A Social History of the Great Depression in Adelaide (1978), has useful descriptions but exaggerates the impact on people and misuses statistics relating to unemployment, wages, suicide, death, evictions, and malnutrition.
  • Gibbs, Ronald Malcolm. A history of South Australia from colonial days to the present (1984) 278 pages
  • Hilliard, David. Godliness and Good Order: A History of the Anglican Church in South Australia (1986)
  • Hunt, Arnold. This Side of Heaven: A History of Methodism in South Australia (1985)
  • Mattingly, Christobel, and Ken Hampton, eds. Survival in Our Own Land: Aboriginal' Experiences in `South Australia since 1836, (1988)
  • Moon, Karen. "Perception and Appraisal of the South Australian Landscape 1836-1850." Proceedings Royal Geographic Society Of Australasia 1969 70: 41-64.
  • Moss, Jim. Sound of trumpets: history of the labour movement in South Australia‎ (1985) 454 pages excerpts and text search
  • Nettelbeck, Amanda. "South Australian Settler Memoirs." Journal of Australian Studies (2001) pp 97+ online edition
  • O'Connor, Desmond. No need to be afraid: Italian settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World War (1996) 283 pages excerpt and text search
  • Pike, Douglas. Paradise of Dissent: South Australia, 1829-1857 (1957) online edition
  • Renfrey, I. E. W. Arthur Nutter Thomas: Bishop of Adelaide 1906-1940 (1988)
  • Richards, Eric, ed.The Flinders Social and Political History of South Australia: Social History (1986)
  • Schubert, David. Kavel's People: Their Story of Migration from Prussia to South Australia (1985).
  • Schumann, Ruth. "The Catholic Priesthood of South Australia, 1844-1915." Journal of Religious History [Australia] 1990 16 (1): 51-73.


  1. South Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed 19 May 2007
  2. David Mackay, "Desertion of Merchant Seamen in South Australia, 1836-1852: A Case Study," International Journal of Maritime History [Canada] 1995 7(2): 53-73.
  3. Mark Peel, "Making a Place: Women in the 'Workers' City'." Australian Historical Studies 1994 26 (102): 19-38.
  4. Daryl Adair, "Respectable, Sober, and Industrious? Attitudes to Alcohol in Early Colonial Adelaide," Labour History [Australia] 1996 (70): 131-155.
  5. Brian Condon, "A Church in Entropy: Catholic Adelaide, 1868-1873," Historical Studies In Education [Canada] 1994 6 (3): 115-137.
  6. Linda Young, "Material Life in South Australia". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 1994 25(1): 65-84.
  7. Lionel Frost, "Nineteenth-Century Adelaide an a Global Context," Australian Economic History Review 1991 31(2): 28-44.
  8. David Hilliard, "Popular Religion in Australia in the 1950s: A Study of Adelaide and Brisbane." Journal of Religious History [Australia] 1988 15 (2): 219-235.
  10. J. D. Young, "South Australian Historians and Wakefield's 'Scheme'". Historical Studies 1969 14(53): 32-53.
  11. Population by Age and Sex, South Australia -- Electronic Delivery, Jun 2005, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed 19 May 2007
  12. Philippa Mein Smith and Lionel Frost, "Suburbia and Infant Death in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Adelaide." Urban History 1994 21(2): 251-272.