Introducing South Australia
South Australia is fourth in size to the Australian States and Territories. With an estimated 984 377 square kilometres, it occupies 12.8% of the areas of Australia. In December 1985 it supported a resident population of 1 367 500, or 8.6% of the Australian total.
By virtue of its centrality it is the only Australian State to share boundaries with five other States or Territories, but any sense of neighbourhood across the border is felt only by South Australians living in the South-East, close to Victoria. Many residents of Broken Hill in New South Wales may feel a closer affinity with Adelaide than with Sydney, although this relationship is less strongly felt by South Australians.
South Australia's boundaries were first established in 1834 by the South Australian Colonisation Act of the British Parliament. They were defined in terms of latitude and longitude when scarcely anything was known of the land except the coastline and the course of the River Murray. The northern boundary at 26° south latitude has remained constant. The eastern boundary was established at 141° east longitude but, when the position of this line to the south of the River Murray was marked by the surveyors Wade and White between 1847 and 1849, the border was erroneously set some two minutes of longitude (approximately three kilometres) west of this meridian. The correct position was determined in 1868, during preparation of marking the border with New South Wales. A lengthy dispute arose with Victoria over South Australia's 'lost' border strip, and this continued until the Privy Council ruled in favour of maintaining the status quo in 1914. The western boundary of South Australia was originally defined as the 132° east meridian, leaving, in theory, a strip of New South Wales between South Australia and Western Australia. This anomaly was corrected in 1861 by extending the South Australian border to the 129° meridian.
South Australia is generally a land of vast plains and low relief. More that 80% of the area is less than 300 metres above sea level. Except in a few areas the scenery is panoramic rather than dramatic or intimate. The exceptions include the valley of the River Murray, the many cliffed portions of the 3700 kilometre coastline, and the diversified terrain of the Mount Lofty-Flinders Ranges system, which extends through the heart of the settled districts. The latter area offered the early European settlers a variety of resources, including a moderate and fairly reliable rainfall and excellent summers for grain ripening, some areas with reasonably fertile soils, and vegetation resources in the native grasslands, open woodlands and tall forest patches. Readily worked building stone was widely present in outcrops throughout this zone, and some important deposits of copper ore were soon revealed. The deep indentations provided by Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent gave many points of landfall and shipment that were vital to the early development of the State's predominantly grain-exporting economy.
Beyond this central zone and a well-watered triangle of land in the South-East, the land appeared uninviting to Europeans. Away from the coast, rainfall became scanty and unreliable. The soils were impoverished near the coast, and inland they contained excessive lime or sand. Mineral resources, including iron ore, copper, coal, gas and uranium, although ultimately found in large quantities, were slow to be revealed and have often presented major problems in their extraction and utilisation.
South Australia's rather frugal and widely scattered endowment of resources has called for ingenuity and good management in order to sustain the high living standards that most South Australians have enjoyed through much of the period of European settlement. The invention of the grain stripper, the stump-jump plough and the Stobie pole, and the correction of trace element deficiencies in soils, are examples of South Australian contributions to the creation of wealth from a not-too-generous physical environment. Similarly, many of the practices of government agencies arose from a tradition combining frugality with imagination. These include the orderly system of land disposal, the early establishment of exotic forest planting, the promotion of the legume-based system of mixed farming, the activity of the Housing Trust in fostering manufacturing developments after the Second World War, and the recent establishment of Technology Park as an 'incubator' to encourage the development of local or imported innovative products and processes.
Not all policies and practices have been soundly based or wisely implemented, and this atlas records some of the failures and shortcomings of South Australians over the past 150 years as well as many of their successes. South Australians celebrated both their golden jubilee and their centennial in times of economic uncertainty: 1986 is thus no exception to that pattern. More than ever, the well-being of South Australians in the future will depend on their response to national and international circumstances. With a well-developed, well-tended territorial base and a civilised, uncluttered capital city, South Australians have a sound foundation from which to promote their products, attractions and opportunities. Many aspects of that foundation are displayed in the pages that follow.