Adelaide City – The Question of Rightful Ownership.

This article asks the question ‘who really owns Adelaide City’ in light of startling evidence the city and surrounding land was illegally appropriated from the denied occupiers, the Kaurnu people, who occupied the Adelaide Plains, and the adjoining coastal area.

They were according to the regulations set down to be paid commercial value for their land on approach if indeed they agreed with Resident Commissioner to bargain with it. A rather twisted and sad tale but with any hope yet a truthful examination of the history may pave the way for its correction and proper acknowledgement of how events should have transpired.

The rights and protections afforded to the natives  were spelled out in the Letters Patent and spelled out more specifically in regulations published by the South Australian Board of Commission, the body governing emigration and land sales from the so far unexplored or settled colony.

Provided always, that nothing in these Letters Patent shall effect or be constrained to affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or employment [sic – enjoyment?] in their persons or in the persons of their descendants of any lands now actually occupied or enjoyed by the said Natives.” (excerpt from Letters Patent January 1836)

Further evidenced in the second annual report of the South Australian Board of Commissioners tabled to the House of Commons:
Untitled 3

Lord Glenelg – Colonial Office Reformer & Champion of the Australian Natives



With these protections put in place by the Colonial Office and clear acknowledgement of these recorded by the Board of Commissioners, why exactly did history take a U turn and thus deprive the natives of their guaranteed rights?

Oversight cannot be claimed on behalf of the founders inevitably leading us to a conspiracy to consciously deprive the natives of their legal rights. Other events also saw the fledgling colony spiral into chaos and bankruptcy – a dispute over the location of the capital which stilted development and country surveys, clearly there was inadequate funds to run the colony so the question of native land bargaining and or treaty took a backseat while the capitalists sought avenues to protect their investments and dare we say it illegal acquisitions of land.

Robert Torrens, Integrity of South Australian Founders questioned.

In  The Law of the Land historian Henry Reynolds explores this further:

Clearly all the pious talk of securing ‘this just and beneficial object’, the written commitment, meant nothing. The leading figures of the venture knew all along that they would claim, on arrival in South Australia, that Aboriginal property rights, even the right of occupation and enjoyment, did not exist….

But the self-deception went even deeper; South Australia saw itself as a child of the era of liberal reform, infused with the spirit of the Reform Bill and religious emancipation. What was discreetly dropped from the legacy was the powerful commitment to racial equality that ran through both the antislavery and Aboriginal protection movements. It was for this very reason that reform circles in Britain felt betrayed by events in South Australia. (1)

Complications became apparent as soon as South Australia was ‘erected’ a new British Province on October 22, 1834…The words ‘unoccupied wastelands’ stood out like a red rag to a bull to the reformers seeking to block the appropriation of land from native people for such business purposes, in this case the business of the new free settlement of South Australia, forged over the years 1829 to 1834 by Edward Wakefield and his band of devote followers. Early carnations of the plan included an attempt to charter the South Australian Land Company (1831).  This wholesale effort at a land grab was rejected by a most sceptical Colonial Office, and it also exhibited the convenient flaw of labeling the targeted and unsurveyed country as ‘unoccupied wasteland’ in denial of the well known fact the land so coveted was and had been occupied and by natives for millenia.

Wakefield – Evil Genius

For the Board of Commission, chaired by Colonel Robert Torrens to act properly would have dire implications for the plan of South Australia. An about face for the Colonel and a notice to the real estate investors to the effect they had signed contracts for what could immediately be shown as occupied Land, despite the wording constructed by the zealous and over enthusiastic founders. Of course Torrens was not going to condone this, so these important documents were rarely seen nor the topic of polite conversation.

Edward Gibbon Wakefiled planned SA while serving a term in Newgate GaolWhat Reynolds spells out eloquently is the public front of the South Australia movement promoting the benefits of the Wakefield theory of systemized colonisation, a self funding principle which provided free assisted emigration and thereby a solution to the surplus population of Great Britain. In A Letter from Sydney written in Newgate Gaol by the scheme architect, the proposed plan of South Australia is portrayed as a moral remedy for the social vices associated with the penal life in the colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemens Land….a case of the pot calling the kettle black when the alienation of aboriginal rights and property is closely examined.

The escalation of land prices after that humble beginning pf 12 shillings reveals a land bubble that left many of the early club rich to not just the exclusion of the rightful owners but also to the imported pauper population that labored for the land owner capitalists, most of them armchair investors residing in England. Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger made a small fortune during his escapades in the colony and here speaks ignorantly of the law in his summation of the land ownership question: >

No legal provision, by way of purchase of land on their behalf, or in any other mode, has been yet made; nor do I think that with proper care it is at all necessary. I can see no reason why they should not, in a comparatively short time be made to understand our notions, and to depend on their own exertions for a livelihood…
At any rate, until it and other means shall have been tried and found fruitless, the enervating effect of specific legal protection should not be tried.

This is only a brief overview of the problematic nature of South Australia due to these overlooked laws and regulations.  It would be interesting to hear the views of any of the interested parties, including Kaurnu people and also representatives of government that may be able to offer further perspectives on what is a sticky though highly relevant question. The bi-centenary celebration not yet planned for 2036 would perhaps be an appropriate target date by which to have the issue and the question closed, a celebration that would truly be worth participating in.


(1) The Betrayal of Aborigines in Colonial South Australia . A Review of the South Australian Company and the Angas Legend Revisited. G Manning