The city of Adelaide was founded in 1836 as the planned capital for Australia’s only freely-settled British province. Its founder, Colonel William Light, designed the city based on wide boulevards in a grid layout and an inner ring of parks.
This unique design has shaped the city to this day. It has also embraced forward thinking and promoted religious freedom, leading to world-first reforms.
The Kaurna tribe
Prior to European colonization, the Adelaide Plains, or Tarntanya, were home to the Kaurna tribe. The tribe’s land extended from Port Broughton in the north to Cape Jervis in the south.
Many of the city’s streets and squares have dual English and Kaurna names. This is a way to recognise the Kaurna heritage of the area. For example, Victoria Park/Tarntanyangga was a meeting place for the Kaurna people and is also the site of an Aboriginal campsite.
You can learn more about the Kaurna tribe by following the Adelaide Kaurna walking trail, which links 17 significant sites including botanic gardens and museums. Or you can visit Tandanya, the national Aboriginal cultural center.
The British colonization
The city’s first surveyor was Colonel William Light, who chose the site of Adelaide’s town centre and designed its street layout. His work is celebrated on Proclamation Day, December 28, a public holiday.
He also laid out the parklands around the city, and established a grid system that allocated one acre of town land for each 80 acres of country section sold. This helped to develop a vigorous farming industry, with wheat farms spreading from Encounter Bay in the south to Clare in the north by 1838.
Free religious practice was encouraged and the city became known as the “granary of Australia”. This made it a popular destination for European refugees. Unlike other Australian cities, the urban and rural areas were relatively well integrated.
The University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874 and is Australia’s third oldest university. It boasts connections to five Nobel laureates and more than 100 Rhodes scholars. Its alumni include politicians and business leaders, as well as accomplished musical, visual, and literary artists. In addition, the university’s staff and students come from around the world.
Surveyor Colonel William Light designed Adelaide’s unique layout, which is known as “Light’s Vision.” The city is laid out in a grid with a central square and a ring of parks surrounding it.
You can see the legacy of this design today when you walk along North Terrace. Its cultural boulevard and historic buildings offer a glimpse into UofA’s rich history. You can also explore the area by taking a scenic tour down the River Torrens, which is lined with beautiful 19th-century footbridges.
The city center
Located on the northern side of North Terrace is the city center, often called the “city square mile”. This area contains many of Adelaide’s cultural and entertainment precincts/venues, including university campuses and the Adelaide Festival Centre.
The center is surrounded by a ring of park lands and has a characteristic grid layout, surveyed between January and March 1837 by Colonel William Light. Light had chosen, not without some opposition, to build the city on rising ground and close to the River Torrens, which was the chief early water supply.
The city’s documentary heritage is held in the City Archives, a large repository which contains books, papers, maps, plans, photographs, microfilms and tapes. The archives are open to the public by appointment. The City Centre is also home to the city library, which was built in 1904. Streets and squares were named after prominent settlers, early directors of the South Australian Company, colonization commissioners and other notable people.
Rundle Mall opened as a pedestrian mall in September 1976 by closing a section of Rundle Street between King William Street and Hindley Street to traffic. The Mall features a variety of shops, restaurants and services. There are also a number of public art works throughout the precinct.
One of the most popular is the Spheres sculpture by Bert Flugelman, known as “Mall’s Balls”. Other artworks include the bronze pigs of the Hindmarsh Building Society and A Day Out by Marguerite Derricourt.
The Mall is home to many local businesses including large Australian retailers, boutiques and independent shops, as well as numerous services like watch repair, banking and hairstyling. The historic Beehive Corner, which has been in the Mall since 1896, is a popular meeting spot. The building is in a Neo-gothic style and was once the headquarters of the Colonial Mutual Life Insurance Company.