Parliament of South Australia
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Establishing Representative Government

Aboriginal South Australians and early Government of South Australia

European settlement on Aboriginal land

When European settlers arrived in South Australia, it was inhabited by many Aboriginal peoples. The site of the City of Adelaide was the home of the Kaurna people.

The plan for the new Colony was that land would be sold to the new settlers, for farming and for the new city of Adelaide. The preamble to the South Australia Act, which founded the colony declared

"... all the Lands of the said Province to be Public Lands open to purchase by British Subjects ..."

This followed on from the British Government's earlier decision when the First Fleet settled New South Wales, that Australia was "terra nullius" (the Latin words meaning "land belonging to no-one").


Attempts to protect Aboriginal rights

At the same time that the South Australian colony was being planned, a Select Committee of the British House of Commons was enquiring into the condition and protection of the rights of the natives of the colonies. So the British Government decided that there should be some protection for the rights of the Aborigines in the new South Australian colony.

The Colonial Office instructed the South Australian Commissioners to protect

" the rights of any Aboriginal Natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any lands therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such Natives."

Leters Patent establishing the Province of South Australia, quoted in The Flinders History of South Australia - Political History, p.41.

A Protector of Aborigines was also appointed and the Commissioners assured the Colonial Office that Aborigines would be compensated for any land that they lost.

In practice, some lands were set aside for Aboriginal reserves, but no Aboriginal land was exempted from sale. The Commissioners decided that as the local Aboriginal people did not farm their land or put permanent buildings on it, that their use of the land did not count as "occupying or enjoying" it as laid down in the Colonial Office's instructions.

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