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Adelaide - History

Adelaide History

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 fibres. 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 unusal 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 café culture which lends Adelaide its relaxed ambience.

During the late 60s and 70s, South Australia made several ground-breaking political reforms, prohibiting sexual discrimination, racial discrimination and capital punishment, and recognising Aboriginal land rights (interestingly, South Australia's original settlers had been the first to recognise Aboriginal ownership of land, although it didn't stop them from stealing it). It was during its progressive apogee, under the aegis of flampoyant Premier Don Dunstan, that Adelaide began to position itself as 'the Festival State', and the biennial Adelaide Festival - helf in February/March in even-numbered years - established itself as the best in the country and one of the best going around, full stop. Soon enough, every self-respecting city in Australia was toeing the line.

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.

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