SOUTH AUSTRALIA, a state in south-central Australia
covering 379,925 square miles (984,000 sq km), or 12.8 percent of Australia's
total area. It is bounded on the north by Northern Territory, on the northeast
by Queensland, on the east by New South Wales and Victoria, on the south
by the Indian Ocean, and on the west by Western Australia.
Most of the state is less than 2,000 feet (600 meters) in elevation and is relatively flat, with low tablelands in the northwest and shallow depressions such as Lake Eyre in the northeast. Lakes Torrens and Gairdner are the largest of several bodies of water in the southeast. The only important river is the Murray, in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, but artesian water underlies much of the east. At the Northern Territory border rise the Musgrave Ranges, highest point of which is Mount Woodroffe (4,721 feet; 1,439 meters), and in the east the rugged Flinders Range dominates the surrounding lowlands. South Australia shares with Western Australia the Great Victoria Desert and Nullarbor Plain.
The northern half of the state is arid to semiarid, with 5 to 10 inches (125-250 mm) of rain a year, but the southern half, semiarid in the north, changes to humid in the southeast, where the average annual rainfall is over 50 inches (1,300 mm) at Mount Gambier, a city at the southeastern tip. Erratic throughout the state, rainfall is least reliable in the north. While northern rains come with the invasions of summer monsoons, those in the south are caused by cyclonic storms and fall in winter. Winter temperatures are moderate, but summer temperatures are high nearly everywhere except on the southeastern coast. The mean annual temperature at Adelaide, the state capital, is 63°F. (17°C).
Forests, Soil, and Water
dense eucalyptus forests in the southeast, mallee (dwarf) eucalyptus along
the Murray River and westward along the coast, open forests and parklands
with grass and trees near Adelaide, and throughout most of the north desert
and semidesert grasses, shrubs, and trees. There is little commercial timber.
Although soils around Adelaide and along the Murray are good, large areas
have soils too poor for agriculture.
South Australia shares, with New South Wales and Victoria, water from the Dartmouth Dam on the Murray River system. The dam, impounding the largest storage reservoir in Victoria, was completed in 1979.
In 1991 the population of South Australia was 1,400,655, exceeding the 1986 figure by 4.1 percent. With 8.3 percent of the Commonwealth population, South Australia is the fifth largest Australian state. It is about 85 percent urban, with two thirds of its population concentrated in the urban center of Adelaide, the capital. The 1991 population of the state's largest urban centers, all of which are located on the southern coast, were: Adelaide, 960,300; Whyalla, 25,740; Mount Gambier, 21,156; Port Augusta, 14,966; and Port Pirie, 14,398.
The nominal head of the state government
is the governor, who is appointed by the British Crown. Actual governmental
powers are exercised by a cabinet of ministers, headed by a premier, who
represent the majority party in the state's house of assembly and are responsible
to the house. Before 1965 the Liberal and Country League was the dominant
party in the state, once holding office for a 27-year period. Since 1965
the Australian Labor Party has usually prevailed.
The state legislature consists of two houses: the 22-member legislative council, the upper house; and the 47-member house of assembly, the lower house. The members of both houses are elected by universal adult suffrage, and voting is compulsory. Council members are elected by proportional representation on a single-constituency basis for the entire state. They are elected for eight-year terms, and half of them retire every four years. Assembly members are elected for each of 47 electoral districts for four-year terms. In 1894 South Australia became the first Australian state to grant women the right to vote.
Revenue for the fiscal year 1989-1990 was A$4,555 million (U.S. $3,559 million) and expenditures A$4,484 million (U.S. $3,503 million). The major sources of revenue were Commonwealth grants, railroad earnings, and taxation. The major items of expenditure were servicing of the state debt and education.
Despite the rapid strides made by industry
since World War II, agriculture and other primary production are the basis
of the state's economy. Agriculture is largely confined to about 6 percent
of the state's area in the southern coastal region and in the valley of
the Murray River. Livestock graze in the northern plains. Fishing for rock
lobster and tuna is important. Most of the state's manufacturing activity
occurs along the southern coastal strip.
South Australia is the Commonwealth's leading producer of grapes that are used to make wine and brandy. Major crops are wheat, with 15 percent of Australian production in 1987, and barley, with 43 percent. About 12 percent of Australian wool was clipped in South Australia.
Minerals also contribute to the state's economy. Pipelines carry natural gas and petroleum from fields in the northeast to Adelaide and also to Sydney. Three quarters of the world's opal is mined from three sites. Reserves of copper have been found in the Flinders Range. There are large deposits of brown coal, and one such deposit north of Adelaide fuels a power station.
Major industries include oil refining, ore processing, and the production of automobiles and engines, refrigerators, home appliances, optical plastics, and iron and steel.
South Australia has a brisk export trade, including commodities from other states. The state's leading exports are wool, wheat, petroleum products, meat, and barley.
South Australia has about 3,940 miles (6,345 km) of railroads, including national trunk lines linked to Perth in the west, to Sydney in the east, and to Alice Springs in Northern Territory. Lines previously belonging to the state, except for those in the Adelaide metropolitan area, were nationalized in 1975. Of the 59,700 miles (96,000 km) of highway, about 14,600 miles (23,500 km) are hard surfaced, and much of the rest is graveled. Port Adelaide is the busiest seaport. The main airport is at Adelaide.
Schooling is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. In 1988 there were 715 government schools, with 184,800 pupils, and 178 private schools, with 55,000 pupils. The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874. In 1966 the Flinders University of South Australia was opened at Bedford Park. The state maintains, besides these universities, the South Australian College of Advanced Education, the South Australian Institute of Technology, and the Roseworthy Agricultural College, all at Adelaide, and 21 colleges of technical education.
The early history of South Australia is closely
associated with the colonization theory of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who
held that land should not be granted to settlers but should be sold to
them at a reasonable minimum price, and that the proceeds should be used
to bring in more colonists. The South Australian Land Company, which was
founded in 1831, could not persuade the British Colonial Office to issue
a charter or provide financial aid to a private company. However, in 1834
the South Australian Act provided for a chartered colony under government
auspices that would adhere to Wakefield's plan. A new South Australia Company
was formed to buy land and dispatch settlers. Land was sold for at least
12 shillings an acre (0.4 hectare), and transportation of criminals was
prohibited. Under the management of George Fife Angas, a wealthy shipbuilder,
land was bought and the first settlers landed in 1836. The colony was proclaimed
at Adelaide in December of that year.
Because of the heavy expenditures required, George Gawler, the governor, used government funds for public construction. Those who bought land sold it as a profit, instead of putting it to productive use. Gawler spent more than $1 million (£291,000) in excess of the colony's revenue, and a boom resulted. The government decided not to honor the excess bills on the Treasury and sent Captain George Grey to replace Gawler. After an inquiry, the British Parliament in 1842 passed an act making South Australia a Crown colony. Governor Grey, arriving in 1841, attacked with vigor the task of saving the colony. His policy was one of forcing it to live within its means, and he persuaded the home government to honor the excess bills and thus enable the colony to make a new financial beginning.
A parliamentary act of 1850 made possible the adoption of new forms of government in the Australian colonies. South Australia prepared a new constitution, which went into effect in 1856, providing for a bicameral legislature. The lower house was to be elected and the members of the existing legislative council were given life tenure in a new upper house carrying the same name. This system of responsible government was put into operation by common consent.
The absence of gold fields in South Australia and the decision to prohibit the transportation of convicts to the colony made a better-balanced economic life than that in New South Wales and Victoria. The gold rush that transformed Victoria in the 1850's stimulated the production of grains and meat to supply the mining communities. By 1870 South Australian wheat had supplanted American wheat in the Australian market, and successful breeding from the original stock of Merino sheep for arid conditions allowed sheep farmers to keep pace with the developments in agriculture. The mineral discoveries at Broken Hill, New South Wales, in the 1880's brought wealth to the South Australian ports.
South Australia for a time cooperated with the federal council set up in 1885. The Constitutional Convention of 1897 met in Adelaide, and South Australian voters gave a heavy majority to the proposed constitution in 1898 and 1899. In January 1901 South Australia joined the other Australian colonies in uniting to form the Commonwealth. In 1911 Northern Territory, formerly part of South Australia, was detached and made a separate territory.