The Future History of Adelaide: Transplanting a Culture

Sharon Ede
5 min readJan 9, 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.

Adelaide: Light’s Map, 1841, State Library of South Australia

Transplanting A Culture

And her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second-hand Europeans pullulate (sprout)
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.

(‘Australia’ — AD Hope in Williams, 1974 p21)

The Kaurna lived a lifestyle which:

was ingenious in its adaption to a harsh environment, and was intricately interwoven with the conditions and rhythms of nature. Into that harmonious relationship…burst Western man whose purpose was to change all he saw, to recreate in one blow an economy and society that had taken at least 2,000 years to evolve on the other side of the world.

(Williams, 1974 p5)

There was trouble inherent in the very proposal of transplanting European society and economy into alien territory. The sudden arrival of a people who viewed the South Australian landscape through British eyes could only cause manipulation of the environment to suit the purposes of the ‘model’ colony, not to mention the suffering and decimation of the Kaurna, the Aboriginal people of the Adelaide Plains.

The Europeans saw the new land as alien and wild, land which needed ‘taming’ and subjugating (Whitelock, 1985b p47). The British country the immigrants had left behind was lovely, but safe and controlled — it had been tamed by human endeavour. In order for the new colony to survive and flourish within the economic system in which it was operating, the land had to be developed and made productive. Natural resources had to be exploited for both domestic use and export. Unequipped with millennia of learned survival skills for the South Australian environs as the Aboriginal cultures were, the new arrivals had to re-create their way of living in an alien environment.

The Plan…

The plan for the colonial city of Adelaide was based on the military grid, imported from London and imposed in its ready made form on a landscape unseen by its creators (Downton, 1995). Adelaide was one of the best planned — and the last — of the British colonial cities. The city was a grand social experiment, based on the writings of Edward Wakefield, who advocated ‘systematic colonisation’ in order to achieve a society comprising a ‘…well regulated gentry and free and honest yeomen.’ (Whitelock, 1985a p22).

The price of land, in contrast to the other Australian colonies, would be fixed at a high enough price to attract capital and investment, the proceeds of which would be used to sponsor skilled immigrants from ‘home’. Thus, ‘…the volume and pace of immigration should be related to the available land…’ (Whitelock, 1985a p22) ensuring an optimum balance of land and labour, as opposed to New South Wales, where cheap land and the scarcity of labour conspired against those with capital.

Light’s Vision

The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged at present. My enemies, however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the great service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me. I am perfectly willing to bear it; and I leave it to posterity and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or blame.

(Light in Whitelock, 1985a p27)

So wrote the Surveyor-General and founder of Adelaide, Colonel William Light, in his journal in 1839.

Light’s doggedness that Adelaide should be situated where it is today was the only thing that prevented the fledgling colony being established at Port Lincoln or Encounter Bay (Whitelock, 1985a p31). Light had running battles with the administrators of the colony, in particular South Australia’s first Governor Sir John Hindmarsh, who wanted to shift the settlement to Encounter Bay after Light had completed most of the surveying of the now-Adelaide area. Other colleagues, including Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger, favoured Port Lincoln as the site for settlement.

In December 1836, Light had examined Encounter Bay and Port Lincoln. He rejected the former as a potential site as it offered little protection as a harbour. Port Lincoln offered a fine harbour, but lacked good agricultural lands and a reliable water supply (Whitelock, 1985a p8). Ill-timing in London resulted in the first settlers arriving at Holdfast Bay before Light had even begun his surveying, and he was under immense pressure to select Adelaide’s site and complete his tasks (Whitelock, 1985a pp28–29).

Light was a well-travelled man, having served in India, Spain, Portugal and Egypt, and he was both a musician and an artist as well as a soldier and sailor (Whitelock, 1985 a p6). Light brought with him the ideas and concepts of other cities which he had observed on his travels.

Despite the interference of his colleagues, Light’s imagination and foresight resulted in the pleasant setting enjoyed by Adelaideans today. The City of Light nestles on the Adelaide Plains between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the sea, with the Torrens River splicing Adelaide and North Adelaide.

Light’s attitude to the land and the indigenous people was far more sympathetic than most. He selected Adelaide’s location in a very short period of time during the summer of 1836 when almost nothing was known of the local climate or rainfall levels. However, he applied his skills in bioclimatology by drawing conclusions about the local area via ‘…a thorough inspection of the local plant life.’ (Twidale, Tyler & Webb, 1976 p75).

In addition, despite the almost total fixation with profits, the transplanting of British society and ‘scientific’ social experiments, William Light incorporated in his siting of Adelaide the only known instance in Australia where the built form of the Europeans acknowledged the indigenous culture. Light laid the centre of Adelaide over one of the main meeting places of the Kaurna — Victoria Square (Downton, 1995).


Downton, Paul (1995) ‘A Car Crash Led Economic Recovery’. Fact Sheet. Centre for Urban Ecology, Adelaide.

Twidale, CR; Tyler, MJ &Webb, BP (Eds) (1976) Natural History of the Adelaide Region. Royal Society of SA Inc, Adelaide.

Whitelock, Derek (1985a) Adelaide: a Sense of Difference. Savvas Publishing, Adelaide.

Whitelock, Derek (1985b) Conquest to Conservation. Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

Williams, Michael (1974) The Making of the South Australian Landscape. Academic Press, London.



Sharon Ede

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