Adelaide History

Adelaide is the capital of South Australia state.  It is sandwiched between the Lofty Mountains and the  waters of the Gulf St Vincent.  The population is a little more than one million.   

The streets of Adelaide's central business district follow a grid pattern, which makes it very easy for visitors to find their way around.  Victoria Square sits in the center of the grid, and the main street, King William, runs through it.  Although not the geographical center of town, Rundle Mall is the shopping center of the city, with the big department stores - Rundle St's eastern end has some of the city center's best dining and boutique shopping.  North Terrace, running parallel to Rundle St, is the city's cultural center, a grand boulevard lined with a gallery, museum, state library and university.  The River Torrens separates the city center from North Adelaide, and a green belt of parkland surrounds both areas.

The Adelaide airport is about 6km (3.7mi) west of the city center, the interstate train terminal is just south-west of the city center in the suburb of Keswick, and interstate buses arrive at Central, almost smack in the middle of town.


At the time of European settlement, the area that is now Adelaide was occupied by the Kaurna people, a peaceful group numbering around 300.  Their territory extended south towards Cape Jervis and north towards Port Wakefield, and they had close ties with the Narungga of Yorke Peninsula.  Modern historians know little about Kaurna social life, but we do know that they were skilled at working with skins and fibers.  Even before the arrival of white settlers in South Australia, the Kaurna people had suffered epidemics of smallpox and other diseases which had swept down the Murray from NSW.

The site for Adelaide was chosen in December 1836 by the colony's far-sighted Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light, who created its remarkable design.  The site was well-drained, had fertile soil and straddled the Torrens River, which guaranteed a ready water supply.  The site was named after Queen Adelaide, wife of the British King William IV.

Adelaide was unusual in that it was settled by free people - the city has no convict history.  It was also unusual in that the British Government gave the colony no financial backing, so when things finally took off in Adelaide, most of the money stayed in the state.  The colony promised settlers civil and religious liberty and by 1839, Lutherans fleeing religious persecution were arriving from Prussia.  In 1840, 6557 Europeans lived in Adelaide; by 1851 the European population was 14,577.  By the early 1840s the town had about 30 satellite villages, including the German settlements of Hahndorf, Klemzig and Lobethal, where the state's wine industry was founded.

The capital's growth has reflected the state's cycle of boom and bust.  A wheat boom in the 1870s and 80s set off a building boom, and a lot of the beautiful buildings which still line the city's streets were built during these decades.  Rapid expansion also took place during WWI, the 1920s and the busy post-WWII years.  After WWII, new migrants arrived from Europe (especially Italy) bringing with them the caf culture which lends Adelaide its relaxed ambience.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, South Australia made several ground-breaking political reforms, prohibiting sexual discrimination, racial discrimination and capital punishment, and recognizing Aboriginal land rights (interestingly, South Australia's original settlers had been the first to recognize Aboriginal ownership of land, although it didn't stop them from stealing it). As the suburbs race towards Maslins Beach in the south and Gawler in the north, Adelaide has become a linear city squeezed between the Mt Lofty Ranges and the sea.  Nearby towns are becoming dormitories for city workers, although planning restrictions stop the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and Southern Vales from being gobbled up by houses.

With a population of little over one million people, Adelaide is Australia's fourth largest city. It is one of Australia's few planned cities and its broad streets give it a sense of openness and cleanliness which is missing from the more haphazardous developments of Sydney and Melbourne.

It is a typical Mediterranean-style city.  Not only does it enjoy a typical Mediterranean climate with an average rainfall of 560 mm and a temperature range from 15C (July) to 29C (February) - it typically experiences at least 18 days above 35C in the summer months - but it is designed for outdoor living.  Its malls, parks, and the Torrens River flowing through its centre are all conducive to leisurely walks, picnics and 'promenading'.

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