Proclamation of South Australia

December 20, 2018

On 28 December 1836, the Colony of South Australia (SA) was proclaimed and its government established by then Captain John Hindmarsh beside The Old Gum Tree in what is now the Adelaide suburb of Glenelg North (about 10kms south-west of the current CBD).

During the proclamation of this new British province and colony, Hindmarsh became its first governor and swore in the inaugural members of the council (establishing the first government of SA).

The conditions for a new colony on the southern part of the Australian mainland were set up via the South Australia Act passed by the British Parliament in 1834. It was to be a colonial experiment in reform – a centre of civilisation for:

  • free immigrants
  • religious freedom but no established religion
  • civil liberties (as there would be no convicts), and
  • enforceable land rights (See more details below).

An Emigration Fund was even set up to pay the costs of importing poor, young labourers choosing to come to SA, financed by the proceeds from land sales to colonists. This contrasted the failed approach in other colonies, whereby land was given away for free and an intractable labour shortage resulted.

SA was the first Australian colony to be freely settled. In fact, its constitution uniquely prevented convicts from ever being transported there – thus preventing SA from ever becoming a convict settlement or penal colony.

Despite this prohibition, many convicts from the eastern states that escaped, were freed or had served their terms began making their way to the newly proclaimed colony. The SA police force (now SAPOL) was formed in April 1838 (originally manned by enlisted volunteers) to protect the community and enforce the convict prohibition – in effect, a “border force” to secure SA’s borders and the way of life it intended for its free settlers. (SAPOL is the oldest police force in Australasia and the third oldest organised Police Service in the World.)

Whilst SA’s Proclamation Day is 28 December – with formal ceremonies on that day involving senior current officials and politicians meeting at the Old Gum Tree  – the State now observes a public holiday for the occasion on the first working day after the Christmas Day public holiday.

Celebrate the establishment and proclamation of (the Colony of) South Australia by:

  • getting into the spirit of SA by donning the State’s colours of blue, red and gold 
  • (if you are in/near Adelaide) visiting sites commemorating SA’s colonial history such as The Old Gum Tree, the HMS Buffalo (replica of the ship Hindmarsh and many other original SA colonists sailed on to get to SA) or the statue of Colonel William Light
  • (if you live outside of SA) planning a visit to the Croweater State to enjoy its fine wine, hospitality, churches, pubs, cultural festivals, fishing, surf beaches, opals and history
  • checking out the Sturt’s Desert Pea or hairy nosed wombat – SA's floral and faunal emblems
  • reading Governor Hindmarsh’s proclamation 
  • listening to a song on SA, life there or one of its towns
  • tuning in to watch an SA sporting team in action, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, South Australians and those proud of our Australian history.

South Australia - the birthplace of enforceable land rights

Colonel William Light – SA’s first surveyor-general – was tasked with choosing the location of new colony’s capital (Adelaide) and planning the city that would eventually arise there. He chose a site divided by the Torrens River – designated North Adelaide and South Adelaide (the latter now comprising the Adelaide CBD) – in preference to coastal ports at Port Lincoln, Encounter Bay or what later became Port Adelaide. The site on the Torrens was chosen largely due to better access to fresh water without high flood risk, solid and fertile ground, minimal exposure and a nearby port. Light's grid layout for the two city squares was unique, with their wide tree-line streets (boulevards), large public squares and entire parkland surrounds. As Adelaide grew, it broadly stuck to Light’s plan, remaining well-organised and easy to navigate.

Colonel Light named the River Torrens after the chairman of the South Australian Colonisation Commission, Sir Robert Torrens. Torrens would introduce 24 years later in Adelaide for the first time what became known as 'Torrens title' to land. Frustrated by the complexities of British real property law, Sir Torrens wished to have a register that was conclusive as to the ownership and entitlements to land. 

Torrens Title was subsequently introduced throughout the Commonwealth, Russia and in some of the United States of America. It forms a vital protection of an important conservative principle, namely respecting property rights.

South Australia was also unique in that King William IV issued Letters Patent to recognise the indigenous right to land, and requiring that no land be offered for sale without their consent. Governor Hindmarsh also made clear to the first settlers that all residents, indigenous or settler, were to be equally protected at law. 

As can be seen from the below video, South Australia's present borders were first fixed in 1860, however in 1863 what is now known as the Northern Territory was annexed as part of South Australia instead of being administered from New South Wales. This was the state of SA's borders at the federation of the Commonwealth in 1901, but ceased after 48 years in 1911 when the Commonwealth took responsibility.

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