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Adelaide History, Australia

Before the European settlers arrived, the Adelaide area was earlier inhabited by the native Kaurna Aboriginal tribe. Their territory ranged from Cape Jervis to Port Wakefield. The Kaurna had a nomadic life and lived in large family groups.  


Adelaide was established as a new British province on December, 1836 by Colonel William Light, South Australia’s first Surveyor-General. It was named in honor of Queen Adelaide, a consort of King William IV.


Colonel Light chose the city’s location near the River Torrens and made its detailed plan and design. He surveyed and laid out the capital’s framework, wide boulevards, huge public squares and surrounding parklands, all fitted to accommodate the future growth of the city. They called his ingenuity, ‘Light’s Vision’. What also made Adelaide different from other British colonies is its status as a planned colony for freely-settled migrants, with a promise of civil and religious freedom. It neither shares in the history of convict settlements in Australia.


Challenges of Leadership and Economy


Adelaide’s stability, however, was challenged by economic uncertainties and ineffectual leadership.

 South Australia’s first governor, Hindmarsh had frequent clashes with Col. Light as the colonel surveyed and prepared to sell a rural section of Adelaide to colonists.

In the year 1838, the city’s economy started to flourish with the arrival of livestock from the New South Wales and Tasmanian area. The wool industry served to support the early city’s economy. At the same period, Col. Light’s survey was completed and land was then sold to colonists. Wheat farms also thrived in the surrounding areas.


Governor Gawler took over the governorship in 1838 and made contributions by constructing important government and public structures and housing for public officials. Though Adelaide was economically stable at this period, the building of these government structures came with a heavy cost. The colony became greatly in debt and relied heavily on assistance from London.


Governor Grey replaced the former governor and started to slash on public expenditures, hoping for a recovery. But the impact at that time was already great and ways to salvage the city’s economy remained insignificant.


The mining and agriculture industry and the discovery of silver in Glen Osmond somehow aided Adelaide’s commercial development. The city exported produce like meat, wool, wine, fruits and wheat products at the end of Grey’s term in 1845.


In the year 1853, trade links between Australian states were set up and Francis Cadell successfully navigated the Murray River with an iron steamboat. Three years later, South Australia became a self-governing colony as a new constitution was ratified by the British parliament. A bicameral parliament was elected on March 9th the following year.


While all seemed to go well, Australia was hit by a severe economic depression in 1890. Demographically and financially, the states were in a downward spiral. Drought and poor harvest of the previous years added to the difficulty. Adelaide at this point was not as severely hit as discoveries of silver and lead backed up some relief. The wine and copper industry also aided support.


Adelaide continued to enjoy a booming economy after World War I. But the return of droughts continued to be a challenge. The city entered into the 1930’s depression and again recovered through the efforts of a strong base of government leadership.


The World War II brought about new areas of business for industrialization under Playford. They promoted the city as a secure location for manufacturing businesses. Manufacturing magnates like General Motors Holden and Chrysler made use of wartime munitions factories to manufacture electrical goods.


The 1970’s era was a time of ‘cultural revival’ in Adelaide as the Dunstan Government established several social reforms. The city also became a center of the arts.

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