Indigenous Australians inhabited the area now known as South Australia between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. Evidence through rock art and settlement tools has been found in the Nullarbor Plain and Kangaroo Island areas. European settlers didn’t begin to immigrate into South Australia for about four decades after Australia was first colonized.
Dutch explorers in the early 1600s first mapped sightings of the South Australian coastal area. However, colonization of the State didn’t occur until 1836. Initially, the area was part of the New South Wales colony of 1788. However, the British parliament passed an act
permitting the establishment of another state in 1834. This colony state was about 310,000 square miles in the allotment and took up much of New South Wales’s southwestern region. This was called the South Australia Act 1834, and by 1836, the State was formed.
Initially, the first settlers inhabited Kangaroo Island in the present-day Kingscote area. The movement of 636 people and seven ships to the area was known as the South Australia Company. However, five months later, the settlement was moved to the present-day Glenelg district due to several important factors, including lack of water sources on Kangaroo Island. On December 28, 1836, South Australia was proclaimed as an independent colony.
What makes South Australia different from other colony states in Australia is that no convicts settled here. It was a colony that didn’t use terra nullius laws against local indigenous people, meaning land was supposed to be given legally to Aboriginal populations. Unfortunately, the law was not enforced well, and many squatters and colonists took land from indigenous tribes, often through violence. Nevertheless, South Australia still prides itself today on being the country’s ‘free state.’
South Australia grew on the back of agricultural industries like wine and the mining industry in the late 19th century. Economic depression hit the State at the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century, although the wartime era saw Adelaide and other South Australian towns increase revenue and expenditure. New industries, such as Whyalla’s shipbuilding industry, become significant players in South Australia’s market economy during WWII. This led to large manufacturing companies opening up businesses in the State, including carmakers Chrysler and Holden.
Apart from a recession in the late 1990s, South Australia’s modern economic and cultural landscape has continued to develop in recent decades. Much of the State’s history is housed within the History Trust of South Australia (Torrens Parade Ground, Victoria Drive, Adelaide). Glenelg, where the first settlers arrived onto the State’s mainland, boasts the Bay Discovery Centre Museum (Mosely Square, Glenelg, Adelaide). It is full of great information about the first settlers.