We may earn a commission on products you buy through our links, but we only recommend products we actually like.
Australian outback in drought conditions, dry and dust

Unearthing the Past: The History of the Adelaide Plains

The Adelaide Plains have borne witness to a tapestry of human experiences, from the time-honored traditions of its indigenous inhabitants to the transformative impacts of European colonization. 

Want to discover the history of these plains? Here are insights into this remarkable region’s past.

What is the history of the Adelaide Plains?

The 932.1 km² Adelaide Plains served as the traditional lands of Aboriginals, particularly the Kaurna People, for over 45,000 years. 

Adelaidia states the Kaurna people utilized the land from Cape Jervis to Port Broughton for various purposes like hunting, camping, and gathering. 

They relied on the fertile land and waterways for food resources such as kangaroos, fish, and native plants.

British colonists led by Colonel William Light established the city of Adelaide on the plains in 1836, marking the beginning of European settlement in the region, and effectively changing its way of life. 

What’s the indigenous name for the Adelaide Plains?

The Indigenous name for the Adelaide Plains is Tarndanya, which means “place of the red kangaroo.”

What did the Adelaide Plains look like before European colonization? 

What did the Adelaide Plains look like before European colonization

According to SA History Hub, before colonization, the Adelaide Plains featured a landscape dominated by natural vegetation, including grasslands, wetlands, and a few shrubby and woody areas. 

What was the way of life in the Adelaide Plains before the European colonization?

What was the way of life in the Adelaide Plains before the European colonization

The indigenous Kaurna people played a central role in the way of life on the Adelaide Plains before European colonization. 

They followed a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, relying on the region’s resources, including kangaroos, tap roots, and bush fruits. 

They caught fish and drank the water of the Karrawirra Pari (present-day River Torrens). 

According to the same source, the Kaurna people’s education system focused on understanding the environment and learning practical needs, so children often studied food, medicine, and tools.

The Kaurna spirituality saw a deep connection between people and the natural world, including plants, animals, and celestial bodies. 

They also followed a moiety system, where a community is divided into two smaller groups. Each smaller group has its special customs and jobs.

For example, one group might have specific responsibilities related to hunting and gathering food, while the other group might have customs related to storytelling and ceremonies. 

What language was spoken in the Adelaide Plains before colonization? 

The language spoken in the Adelaide Plains before European colonization was the Kaurna language.

This language belongs to the Pama-Nyungan language family, one of the largest language families among Indigenous Australian languages.

How did European colonization impact the Adelaide Plains and the Kaurna people?

From Australian Nationa Maritime Museum

The impact of colonization on the Kaurna people was severe, as they faced negative consequences such as the introduction of new diseases, and most significantly, the loss of their land and traditional ways of life. 

Additionally, the colonizers took deliberate actions to contaminate water sources and asserted control over natural resources such as wild game and the region’s vegetation. Many Aboriginals also think colonial linguists altered their traditional language. 

By the 1850s, a significant decline in the Kaurna population was evident in the Adelaide Plains. 

What is the current state of the Adelaide Plains? 

Today, the Adelaide Plains includes the urbanized southern City of Adelaide.

The central area, especially the lands encompassing the towns of Angle Vale and Virginia, are now vital agricultural centers, often described as the primary source of South Australia’s agricultural produce like wines.

The northern portion is known for the cultivation of cereal grains, such as wheat, barley, and canola, as well as sheep farming.

Related topics