1985: Achievement and Uncertainty
By the mid-1972s, the bloom had faded from the industrial dream of the Playford years. The industries attracted during that period mostly made highly protected items such as motor cars, household appliances and electrical goods. As South Australia's earlier wage-rate advantage disappeared and the tariff wall lowered, local industries were exposed to competition from more efficient producers overseas. In 1982-83 the unemployment rate reached 11.2% of the labour force, while in the previous ten years, manufacturing employment fell from about 130,000 to 100,000. In 1975, the population growth rate of the State was below 1% per annum for the first time since the early 1930s. The last ship to be built at the Whyalla yards was launched in 1978. The cities of Whyalla and Elizabeth - creations of the industrial boom became centres of high unemployment, outward migration and social malaise.
Economic directions for the South Australian economy were no longer seen in such clear and undisputed terms as in the past. Until 1930, the recipe for well-being, often proclaimed by the political leaders, had been 'grow more wheat', after 1930, it became 'develop power and water resources and attract more secondary industry'. By the 1980s, the State's proportional literature was extolling the virtues of something called 'life-style', a term unknown in 1950, and implying unhurried living at reasonable cost with sun, sea, sport, good wine and the arts.
There were signs that the community was coming to accept that the basis for future prosperity would have many facets. These would include an agricultural base which, for the most part, was already highly efficient; and a leaner, more specialised secondary industry employing medium technology and competing in overseas markets with at least some of its products. Another facet was the promise of innovative high technology derived from local research and development, as represented by the State Government's sponsorship of Technology Park at The Levels, Adelaide. There was also the potential of resources, unknown in 1950: oil and gas of the Cooper Basin, and lower-grade copper, gold and uranium ores at Roxby Downs. Finally, there was hope for an expanded flow of tourists.
In 1985, there were some promising short-term indicators of renewed economic vigour. The farming community had recovered well after a wounding drought in 1982, but it was restive at the impact of rising costs and falling prices for its produce. The unemployment rate was falling, although still unacceptably high, and the employed work force had increased by 22,000 from the previous year. A brisk housing boom was then under way, and the Housing Trust expected to complete 3000 units a year, the same number as in 1950-51. Construction cranes once more towered over rising office blocks on the city skyline, and an international hotel, convention centre and casino complex were being developed - not without controversy and scepticism - above the platforms and within the Adelaide railway station on North Terrace.
Many changes had occurred in the South Australian landscape between 1950 and 1985. Viewed from the air, the most extensive change would have been the replacement of pastures, during the 1950s and 1960s, of some 500,000 hectares of scrub and heath in southern higher rainfall districts. In what was probably the final expansion of the frontiers of farming in South Australia, government schemes for ex-servicemen reclaimed 250,000 hectares, and established another 680 farm holders, principally on Kangaroo Island and in the South-East. In a separate scheme, the Australian Mutual Provident Society developed 160,000 hectares into about another 150 farms in the upper South-East. In the process, the former Ninety Mile Desert faded from map and memory, and became the more pastoral Coonalpyn Downs. In contrast to earlier phases of land development, only one new township was established during the period to serve an agricultural area - Parndana on Kangaroo Island.
Whereas scrub clearance on a massive scale had been seen as a desirable community objective in the 1950s, many thought it had gone too far by the 1980s, and that it was not consistent with sound principles of land management. Restrictions imposed under the Planning Act in 1983 on further clearance of native vegetation on private land evoked anger and legal challenges in some farm communities, but applause by conservationists.
Changed community attitudes since the 1950s to both the landscape and the Aboriginal people were reflected in the allocation of extensive areas of South Australia as conservation parks and Aboriginal lands. In 1960, South Australia had a smaller proportion of its area in national parks or reserves than any other State - a mere 0.1% of its territory. By 1983, a total of 203 reserves had been declared: 10 national parks, 15 recreation parks, 8 game reserves and 170 conservation parks covering nearly 4.5 million hectares of 5% of the State.
Many of the other recent changes to the face of South Australia are described in the later pages of the atlas. The continual programme of upgrading and bituminising the highway system is evident by comparing the extent of sealed highways, in 1950 with that in 1985. The opening of standard-gauge railway connections to New South Wales via Broken Hill in 1970, and from Adelaide to Port Pirie in 1982, fulfilled plans made long ago, and greatly increased the efficiency of goods movement. The antiquated but much loved route of the old Ghan railway service from Marree to Alice Springs was abandoned in 1980 when the standard-gauge Tarcoola to Alice Springs line was opened. Another transport improvement was the commencement of bulk grain handling from 1952 onward. This brought impressive concrete structures to most country towns and a few seaport terminals, and ended the long era of minor grain ports and the little ships that served them.
Since 1950, the two most significant regional developments were at the moist and dry eastern extremities of the State. First, the maturing of the large stock of Pinus radiata forests in the South-East was the basis of a complex of wood processing, cellulose and paper-making industries. Second, the discovery in 1963 of hydrocarbons in the Cooper Basin in the far north-east transformed the energy map of the State and of Australia. An 800 kilometre natural gas pipeline was opened in 1969 from Moomba to Adelaide, and another to Sydney in 1976. The Cooper Basin now provides about 40% of Australia's natural gas output. The discovery of oil and liquids in association with natural gas had led to the establishment of the Cooper Basin Liquids Project. Since 1983, oil and gas liquids have been piped 660 kilometres from Moomba to a fractionation plant and storage facilities at Port Bonython, near Whyalla.
Another project followed the discovery of a major copper and uranium deposit with significant gold content on Roxby Downs Station, near Andamooka. Extensive drilling indicated one of the world's largest ore bodies ever discovered, extending over an area of 7 kilometres by 4 kilometres. Roxby Downs raised moral issues and community dissent, regarding the mining of uranium, of a kind that never before attended the development of a resource in South Australia.