Living in South Australia

South Australia is the southern, central state of mainland Australia. It has a total land area of 983,482 square kilometres (379,725 square miles), which is similar in size to Egypt, the Canadian province of Ontario, or the combined areas of France and Germany. It borders all the other mainland states and the Northern Territory.

Its landscape varies from rugged outback wilderness and desert, including some of the most arid parts of the continent, to scenic mountain ranges and a coastline that stretches more than 3,700 kilometres.

The state has a population of 1.8 million people, 80% of whom live in Adelaide and surrounding metropolitan areas. Large regional population areas include Mount Gambier in the state's South East, and Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Port Augusta on the Eyre Peninsula.

While English is the principal language, the state has over 200 ethnic communities.


Indigenous Australians

The first Australian people migrated from the north some 50,000 years ago. Rock engravings in the Olary region of South Australia are said to be more than 35,000 years old.

Although never large in numbers, indigenous peoples occupied all areas of the state, including Kangaroo Island.

European exploration

European interest began early in the 17th century when the Dutch explored parts of southern Australia. In 1802, British explorer Matthew Flinders mapped the entire South Australian coast in his ship, the Investigator. French explorer Nicholas Baudin was mapping the southern Australian coastline at the same time. The two expeditions met at Encounter Bay near Victor Harbor in April 1802.

Early settlement

The first European entry into South Australia in the early 1800s was unplanned and made up of sealers who lived on Kangaroo Island. The sealing industry peaked in the 1820s.

In the early 1830s, southern right whales passed close to Encounter Bay and Kangaroo Island on their annual migration west. The lure of quick profits from whaling and longer-term land speculation saw the formation of the South Australian Company, which selected land around Nepean Bay near the current town of Kingscote as its headquarters.

British colony

After the British Parliament passed the South Australia Colonisation Act in 1834, the South Australian Company was formed. Its purpose was to establish a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labour used in eastern Australia. A number of Adelaide city streets, including Wakefield, Angas, Currie, Hindley, Pirie and Rundle, are named after members of the founding board of directors.

The first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836 aboard nine ships and landed at Kangaroo Island, where they initially started a settlement near the current town of Kingscote. Less than four years later it was abandoned because there was no reliable supply of fresh water.

Surveyor Colonel William Light was given the responsibility of surveying Adelaide for the new colony. Governor John Hindmarsh proclaimed the province of South Australia on 28 December 1836 in a ceremony at Glenelg.

Copper discoveries in the state's mid north helped attract more immigrants, while religious refugees, particularly German Lutherans, moved to South Australia to avoid persecution.

Democratic constitution

South Australia became a self-governing colony in 1856 and its constitution was one of the most progressive and democratic in the world.

The state was the first Australian colony to introduce male adult suffrage for parliamentary elections and in 1895 it became the first place in the world to allow women to stand for parliament. At that time, women were given the right to vote.

When Australia was declared a federation in 1901, South Australia became a state within the Commonwealth of Australia.


South Australia's rural regions are an integral part of the state's community and economy, offering diverse work and lifestyle opportunities.

People with professional qualifications and trade expertise are in strong demand in the mining sector, manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, wine and tourism.

About a quarter of South Australia's population lives in regions outside Adelaide.

If you’re visiting South Australia, the state is informally divided into 12 tourism regions:

Find out more about migrating to South Australia.


Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth largest city in Australia.


The Kaurna Aboriginal people, whose traditional lands include the area around the Adelaide Plains, are recognised as Adelaide's original inhabitants.

The site for metropolitan Adelaide was chosen and mapped out by surveyor Colonel William Light in 1836, based on a plan of one square mile (2.6 sq km) of town surrounded by parklands.

As the city grew, new suburbs developed west along the coast and east into the Mount Lofty Ranges as well as to the north and south.

As well as early British migrants, there was a strong German influence in the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley. More recently, migrants include large communities of Chinese, Italian, Greek, Indian, Vietnamese, African and Middle Eastern origin.


Adelaide consistently ranks highly for its quality lifestyle and as one of the world's most desirable cities to live. Our cultural diversity is evident in all aspects of city life from shops and restaurants, to numerous music, theatre, dance, and visual arts events and festivals.

Visitors from around the world are attracted to Adelaide’s many festivals and sporting events. It's a clean green city, known for its vibrant food and wine culture.

From the city, an hour's drive or less can take you to as far north as Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley, south to McLaren Vale or Aldinga Beach, or to the Adelaide Hills towns of Lobethal, Hahndorf or Mount Barker.


Adelaide is South Australia's commercial centre and has advanced manufacturing, technology and research bases.

Many of the world's leading companies are represented, including those involved in defence, resources, information and communications technology.

South Australia also has a large agricultural industry and is a major wine producer. The National Wine Centre located in Adelaide is appropriate, given that SA produces over 45 per cent of the country's wine grape crush.

Health and service industries are also important to the economy, together with education. Thousands of international students study at the city's secondary schools and universities every year.

Visiting Adelaide

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Page last updated 24 October 2022

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