South Australia was declared a province on 28 December 1836, the day the first British ‘settlers’ landed at Holdfast Bay. The first governor, Captain John Hindmarsh, named the state capital Adelaide, after the wife of the then British monarch, William IV.
While the eastern states struggled with the problems of a convict society, SA’s settlers were free citizens – a fact modern South Aussies take delight in reminding visitors.
The founders based the colony on an idealistic 19th-century system of colonisation and social engineering; land was sold at set prices by the British government to help establish mainly young, skilled married couples. The ideal was that equal numbers of these men and women would be free from religious and political persecution to create a truly egalitarian new world.
Between 1838 and 1841, 800 German farmers and artisans (many persecuted Lutherans) arrived and settled Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills – still the best preserved German village in the state. Many more followed over the next decade and thus the vineyards of SA’s wine industry began to take root.
At first, the young colony’s progress was slow and only British government funds saved it from bankruptcy, yet it became self-supporting by the mid-1840s and self-governing by 1856.
Following the successful crossing of the continent by local explorers, SA won the contract to lay the Overland Telegraph from Port Augusta to Darwin, connecting Australia to the world by telegram (1872), and later, telephone.
Following a long recession in the late 19th century, the government became the first to introduce income tax – a fact modern South Aussies don’t like to remind visitors about.
South Australia’s socially progressive history is long, including: pioneering the legalisation of trade unions (1876) and opening the first community-run hotel in the British Empire; allowing women to stand for parliament (1894); being one of the first places in the world to give women the vote; and being the first state in Australia to outlaw racial and gender discrimination, legalise abortion and decriminalise gay sex.
South Australia has some great opportunities to learn about Aboriginal culture and beliefs including the Ngarrindjeri-run Camp Coorong in the southeast; the Adnyamathanha-run Iga Warta in the northern Flinders Ranges; and the highly commended cultural tours of the Yorke Peninsula by Adjahdura Land. In Adelaide, there is Tandanya – National Aboriginal Cultural Institute; the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery in Adelaide’s South Australian Museum; indigenous-guided Tauondi Aboriginal Cultural Tours; and Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills.
Probably the best-known Aboriginal language of SA is Pitjantjatjara (also known as Pitjantjara), spoken throughout the Anangu-Pitjantjarjara Aboriginal Lands of northern SA, down almost to the Great Australian Bight. The traditional language of Adelaide and surrounds, however, is Kaurna. Many place names are derived from Kaurna and these have survived in and around Adelaide, for example: Aldinga comes from Ngultingga, Onkaparinga from Ngangkiparringga and Noarlunga from Nurlungga.
The Coorong, a complex series of sand dunes and saltpans separated from the sea by the Younghusband Peninsula, takes its name from the Ngarrindjeri word kurangh, meaning ‘long neck’ (a reference to the very thin peninsula). According to the Ngarrindjeri, their Dreaming ancestor, Ngurundjeri, created the Coorong and the Murray River.
Flinders Ranges National Park, in the southern end of the ranges, is home to the iconic Wilpena Pound. This natural basin is sacred to the Adnyamathanha (Hills People), who have lived in the area for over 15, 000 years. The Adnyamathanha name for Wilpena Pound is Ikara, and Dreaming stories tell of two akurra (giant snakes) who coiled around Ikara during an initiation ceremony, creating a whirlwind and devouring most of the participants. The snakes were so full after their feast they could not move and willed themselves to die, thus creating the landmark.
In 1966, SA became the first state to grant Aboriginal people title to their land. In the early ’80s most of the land situated west of the Stuart Hwy and north of the railway to Perth was transferred to Aboriginal ownership. Cultural clashes still occur, exemplified in SA by the politically and culturally divisive Hindmarsh Bridge controversy, pitting Aboriginal beliefs against development.