Land Settlement in SA

South Australia was officially settled in 1836. By 1850 there had been a considerable expansion from the site of the capital, Adelaide. The pioneer agricultural industries were based in the fertile soils of the Adelaide Plains, the Southern Vales and the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges.

The land settlement policies appropriate to the foundation of the colony gradually altered as local needs and circumstances dictated. By 1855 pastoral leases were opening up vast tracts of the South East, and extended north into the southern Flinders Ranges and sections of Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas.

In 1865 South Australia had half of Australia’s area of wheat cropping, and although yields were lower than in other colonies, in good seasons 50% of the Australian harvest came from South Australia.

Wool made a few South Australians very wealthy. In the 1860s some pastoralists secured large freehold estates on choice grazing lands in the Mid North and the South East.

Development of a well organized rail system integrated with many sea ports enabled wool and grain to become a major export earner for the colony.

Copper mining booms on Yorke Peninsula and in the Mid North also drove the development of country towns and extended settlement away from Adelaide.

Soil and climate limited development of SA’s agricultural industries. Agricultural and pastoral expansion continued northwards despite the warnings of Surveyor-General George W. Goyder who was asked to travel north and define the southern extremity of the great drought of 1864-65. It was thought that this would define areas which received enough rain to support agriculture or livestock. The result was “Goyder's Line of rainfall” with areas north of the line unsuitable for farming. The line approximately follows the 10 inch rainfall isohyet (254mm) although average rainfalls had not been established at that time.

There were many subsequent bursts of land development including:

  • Settlement of returned servicemen after WW1 and WW2
  • Drainage of the South East swamps
  • Development of irrigation schemes along the River Murray
  • Discovery of trace elements to enable farming of many sandy soils

Since WW2 there has been significant amalgamation of many land holdings to increase property size and create economic farm units.

Since the 1960s other significant land subdivision has occurred in close proximity to major residential areas to accommodate hobby farmer demands.

Other information

Michael Williams, The Making of the South Australian Landscape

D.W. Meinig, On the Margins of the Good Earth

P.F. Donovan, In the Interest of the Country: a history of the Pastoral Board of South Australia, 1893–1993

Abbot, R.K., Minister of Lands, 1986, The Measure of the Land,  Department of Lands South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.

State records, Goyder’s Line

Flinders Ranges Research

Map of Goyder’s Line History, Trust of South Australia

N. S. Tiver, 1986, Desert Conquest: a review by N. S Tiver of the main events which have contributed to the development of the Ninety-Mile Desert (PDF 3.9 MB)