The Future History of Adelaide: Education & Work

Sharon Ede
8 min readJan 13, 2024

This ‘future history’ of Adelaide was based on ‘Los Angeles: A History of the Future’ (1982) by Paul Glover, and is written from the year 2136. It examines how Adelaide became an ‘ecopolis’ — an ecological city — over 150 years, reversing the damage done to the region since European colonisation began in 1836. At the time, there was a proposal for a ‘piece of ecocity’ in Halifax Street, whose features and design principles are referenced as the first fractal of this change. This larger scale proposal did not eventuate, but a smaller scale exemplar, Christie Walk, can be found in the CBD at 105 Sturt Street, Adelaide.

This was written in 1995 at university, as a directed study for history, and reflects my thinking, understanding, available technologies and references at the time. The Ecological Crisis of the 1990s is referred to as ‘EC’ and phrases like ‘200 years EC’ mean 200 years after this Crisis.

Education & Work

In traditional Kaurna society, everybody worked. There was no unemployment, because everyone had a purpose and a role. There was no ‘retirement’ with its connotations of being thrown on the scrap heap of life. Education continued throughout life, not ceasing in the mid teens to be replaced by the grind of the workplace.

The imported European industrial culture segregated work from other aspects of life. Work became divided between the public sphere, where men undertook paid work, and the private sphere, where women performed unpaid domestic work. It was not until the Second World War in the 20th century that women entered the paid workforce to take on the tasks of their absent menfolk — for half the pay.

By EC, women were attempting to juggle domestic duties and paid work (whether out of necessity or personal preference). At the time, unpaid women’s labour was calculated at $850 worth of goods and services per household per week! This work was worth $140,000,000,000 annually to Australia, more than any ‘recognised’ industry (The Age, 1989 in Pook, 1989 p105). It was not until after EC that this skewed form of calculating the value of work was abandoned.

Initially, businesses in the South Australian colony were family owned and operated, producing goods only for the colony’s consumption. People usually lived at or near their place of work (Nance et al, 1989 p35). But as South Australia industrialised businesses grew, and so did a management hierarchy which became increasingly distant from day-to-day operations. Often, top level management was not based in Adelaide, or even Australia. Transnational corporations possessed large amounts of mobile capital, and were able to locate their business wherever land and/or labour costs were most favourable to their operations. Such types of organisations had little ultimate stake in the welfare of their workers, and most workers consequently felt little loyalty to an organisation in which they had little say.

The industrial capitalist system relied on a pool of ‘surplus labour’ in order to keep labour costs down and maximise profits. Full employment was rare and fleeting, and the ‘surplus’ suffered the social stigma of being unemployed. This was exacerbated once computers and automated systems took over previously manual tasks, displacing hundreds of human beings. Computers opened up a whole new set of industries and work opportunities, but not for the lesser skilled workers who had been replaced. Private profits were maximised while the welfare costs were borne by society. Other groups were judged according to their contributions to The Economy, and those outside the productive age range of 15–65 — the young and the elderly — were often treated as second class citizens. Schools and hospitals were hit first when the government made budget cuts, and accommodation and facilities for the elderly left a lot to be desired.

Running in the Rat Race

For those in the paid workforce, life was reduced to performing the function of a cog in a machine. The ‘Fordism’ of early 20th century assembly lines had permeated almost all occupations by EC, with workers performing one or a few functions, divorced from the eventual product of their labour. This was more efficient for business but not conducive to a good working environment, and workers’ job satisfaction suffered. Working conditions and occupational health and safety had improved enormously by EC, but people still yearned to break out of the ‘rat race’. In fact, a lottery was held several times a week where participants hoped that a big win would allow them to buy their way out of ‘the system’!

The prevailing view of work prior to EC was expressed by Don Walker and Jim Barnes of the Adelaide band Cold Chisel:

Like any man, I’ve got to work for a living
Just to earn my soul for the weekend show

(Merry Go Round)

Up at seven every working day
Pay goes in, pay goes out
It’s a week by week charade…

(One Long Day)

Cities enabled people to escape the constraint of having to be self sufficient in everything. Cities allowed human beings to specialise in some tasks and unlocked the creative potential and innovative skills of humanity. But in the pursuit of efficiency, work became over-specialised:

As a result, the specialised worker — a magnified hand, or arm, or eye — achieved excellence and efficiency in the part to a degree impossible to reach except by such specialisation; but he lost his grip on life as a whole. This sacrifice was one of the chronic miscarriages of civilisation…

(Mumford, 1961 p124)

During the Industrial Revolution, the city came to be viewed as a machine, with output (production and growth) its only purpose. The human being became

…an anonymous and dispensable cog in the machine…the human fodder to work the great engines of the factories to produce the city’s wealth. The unquantifiables (purpose, self determination) which make people human were either denied or subjugated.

(Engwicht, 1992 p24)

A boilermaker from Whyalla articulated his feelings about this situation just prior to EC:

I’m a boilermaker, trained to work from a plan or drawing. I enjoy having to use my brain in a job, and working from a plan usually involves elementary geometry. Without this, the job is tedious, repetitive and unrewarding in both the monetary and spiritual sense…(now) we are not allowed to work from drawings. The supervisor reads the drawing and gives us verbal instructions…The most unpleasant thing about my work is boredom, because the craftsman side of it has been removed. All we do now is repetitive work. They have destroyed our craft and the pride we had in our abilities…

(in Kriegler, 1980 in Pook, 1989 p27)

The organisation of work, as it existed in the form of ‘jobs’ until EC, had profound implications for our education system and for our systems of knowledge and understanding in general. Or was it the other way around?

Splintered Knowledge, Blinkered Awareness

Western knowledge, although it had not always been fragmented, fell into the trap of separating branches of knowledge and learning. Thus:

The explosive proliferation of knowledge…produced millions of highly trained people, ill informed of what (was) going on outside the confines of their own discipline.

(Myers, 1985 p177).

Despite ‘balance in education’ attempts to rectify this situation, an understanding of the wider impacts of economic decisions, genetic engineering and information technology was not gained, because the links were not made explicit.

This fragmentation of knowledge means many decisions are made without looking at ‘the big picture’…Even more disturbing is the divorce of decision making from its moral and ethical implications.

(Engwicht, 1992 p70)

Education began to be valued only if there was a direct link between the knowledge and economic gain. While this was understandable, given the type of economic system before and during EC, it devalued the role of arts and humanities — the subjects which asked ‘why?’ and ‘should we?’ of the ‘what?’ and ‘how?’ role of science. Great debates began over whether education should become merely the servant of The Economy.

Some educationists argue that schooling needs to be more closely aligned to the direct needs of the economy, while others say it is more important to train young people in the skills of expression and analytical thinking and give them an understanding of their historical and cultural heritages.

(Pook, 1989 p8)

This was never more evident during EC when the State government embarked on a path of shaping Adelaide as Australia’s information technology capital:

Adelaide’s universities and TAFE colleges face a major shake-up to train more workers for technology industries. The Premier…said…education institutions would be asked to make dramatic changes in the…courses they offered…

(Kelton & Read, 1995)

This, however, turned out to be a major miscalculation. The ever increasing pace of technological change required a constant ‘reskilling’ of the workforce. The technologically literate were able to access more of the high paying jobs and the dreaded techno-elite emerged. Myers, writing during EC, described the genuine education required:

…initial education should not teach children to know specific somethings. Instead it must equip them with the ability to acquire knowledge — to teach themselves…Knowledge itself will become less important than awareness that knowledge exists, where to find it, how to exploit it and how to relate one field of knowledge to another — in short, to understand.

(Myers, 1990 p128)

Thinking of the Whole

One of the first examples of this ‘new’ kind of holistic thinking and education emerged with the School of Urban Ecology in the Halifax EcoCity, Adelaide. The School is a descendant of the original Centre for Urban Ecology.

In addition to a library stocked with a range of material which dealt with issues in an integrated way, the School ran courses, workshops and held public lectures which helped people to see things holistically, particularly how a city develops and functions.

Adelaideans today are horrified when they consider that up until EC, their city had no courses at the universities or colleges and no strand of primary or secondary education which dealt with urban issues, let alone urban ecology! In fact, there were only two or three such electives on offer at the University of South Australia’s City campus, taught by the architect of the Halifax EcoCity, Paul F Downton. It seems incredible, considering Australia was the most urbanised nation on earth at the time, with humanity as a whole on the brink of becoming an urban species for the first time in history.

Most kids are educated in cities — we need to link urban education to ecological issues. Kids interact in urban spaces for most of their lives.

(Downton, 1994b)

The holistic thinking required to understand how our cities work, and how to evolve our civilisation in balance with nature, greatly affected the nature of education and work. The false barriers between disciplines disintegrated. During EC, Engwicht (1992 pp70–71) argued that there had to be co-operation between ‘specialists’ and ‘generalists’ in society — those who knew how to do something, and those who knew what to do.

The Barefoot Architecture Program pioneered in the Halifax EcoCity enabled residents to gain an understanding of the processes which shaped their living space, and the architectural teams learned to respond to the needs of real people through working with them. The specialist provided the technical know-how of a Solar Aquatics plant, while learning from the generalist how this fitted into the ‘big picture’ of urban form, water budgets and the hydrological cycle. The generalist in turn picked up knowledge of the workings of a Solar Aquatics plant from the specialist.

Through this shift in thinking, education became relevant and promoted true understanding. The destructive rigidity of the workplace was abandoned in favour of more flexible, integrated and satisfying work practices based on those used in the building and management of the Halifax EcoCity.


Downton, Paul (1994b) ‘Urban Environment Issues’. Fact Sheet. Centre for Urban Ecology, Adelaide.

Engwicht, David (1992) Towards an EcoCity: Calming the Traffic. Envirobooks, Sydney.

Kelton, Greg & Read, Jane (1995) ‘Unis set for big shake-up’. The Advertiser, 2/9/95.

Pook, Henry (1989) Australia Unlimited: Work in Australian Society. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

Nance, C; Speight, DL; Hutchings, A & Fitzpatrick, P (1989) Shaping the Heritage of South Australia. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Mumford, Lewis (1961) The City in History. Penguin, London.

Myers, Norman (1990) The Gaia Atlas of Future Worlds. Robertson McCarta/Gaia Books, London.



Sharon Ede

Regenerative Cities Activist | Circular Economy Catalyst | South Australian Government | Award Winning Author | |