Australian Heritage Database Places for Decision

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Australian Heritage Database
Places for Decision
Class: Historic



National Heritage List

Name of Place:

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout

Other Names:

The Adelaide Park Lands and Colonel Lights Plan

Place ID:


File No:


Nomination Date:


Principal Group:

Parks, Gardens and Trees



Legal Status:

01/12/2005 - Nominated place

Admin Status:

09/07/2007 - Assessment by AHC completed




Place meets one or more NHL criteria

Assessor's Comments:

Other Assessments:




Nearest Town:


   Distance from town (km):

   Direction from town:

Area (ha):



South Tce, Adelaide, SA, 5000


Adelaide City SA

Proposed final boundary:
About 900ha in Adelaide and North Adelaide, defined as follows:
1.   an area with an outer boundary defined by the centerlines of the following streets: Park Terrace, Fitzroy Terrace, Robe Terrace, Park Terrace (east), Hackney Road, Dequetteville Terrace, Fullarton Road, Greenhill Road, the Mile End Railway line and Port Road.
2.   Within 1. above, the following areas are excluded. Areas 1. and 2. have boundaries that are defined by the road reserve boundaries of the named streets, such that each road reserve is included in the place:
Area 1: North Terrace, East Terrace, South Terrace and West Terrace
Area 2: Barton Terrace West, O’Connell Street, Barton Terrace East, Lefevre Terrace, Kingston Terrace, Kingston Terrace East, Mann Terrace, MacKinnon Parade, Brougham Place, Sir Edwin Smith Avenue (originally named Roberts Place), Pennington Terrace, Palmer Place, Brougham Place, Montefiore Hill, Strangways Terrace, Mills Terrace.
Area 3: All land under the care, control and management of State Government Agencies and Instrumentalities, other than: West Terrace Cemetery (Land ID F219057 A7), Adelaide Zoo (H105100 S590, S1187), Adelaide Botanic Gardens (D66751 A101, A102), Botanic Park (H105100 S574) and Torrens Parade Ground and Buildings (F38386 A23).
Area 4: Government House and grounds (H105100 S755 and S757), Old and New Parliament Houses and grounds (H105100 S747 and S748).
Area 5: Land owned by Rail Track Corp Ltd and Australian National Railways (F14185 A22; F22072 A23, A24 and A25; D15497 A29; F14184 A20; D56872 A58 and D58245 A20).
3.   Notwithstanding the areas excluded in 2. above, the following areas are included in the place:
(a)       six squares and two gardens being: In North Adelaide - Wellington Square, Palmer Gardens and Brougham Gardens and in Adelaide - Victoria Square, Hindmarsh Square, Hurtle Square, Whitmore Square and Light Square, and
(b)       the grid of major roads (including the whole of each road reserve) consisting of the City centre grid defined by four major roads: East Terrace, North Terrace, West Terrace and South Terrace; the following streets traversing the City east-west: Hindley, Currie, Waymouth, Franklin, Grote, Gouger, Wright, Sturt, Gilbert, Rundle, Grenfell, Pine, Flinders, Wakefield, Angas, Carrington, Halifax and Gilles, the following streets running north-south: Morphett, King William, Pulteney and Hutt; and
(c)        three smaller grids in North Adelaide including the following major streets (including the whole of each road reserve): Barton Terrace East, Mills Terrace, Strangways Terrace, Ward Street, Lefevre Terrace, Hill, Jeffcott, O’Connell, Childers, Buxton, Gover, Molesworth, Tynte, Barnard, Archer Streets, Brougham Place, Palmer Place, Kermode Street, Pennington Terrace, Kingston Terrace, Kingston Terrace East, Mann Terrace, MacKinnon Parade, Jerningham, Stanley, and Melbourne Streets.

Assessor's Summary of Significance:
The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is a significant example of early colonial planning which has retained key elements of its historical layout for over one hundred and seventy years.
The 1837 Adelaide Plan attributed to Colonel William Light and the establishment of Adelaide marks a significant turning point in the settlement of Australia.  Prior to this, settlement had been in the form of penal colonies or military outposts where the chief labour supply was convicts.
The Colony of South Australia was conceived as a commercial enterprise based on Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theory of systematic colonisation.  It was to be established by free settlers who would make a society that would be ‘respectable’ and ‘self-supporting’. 
The Adelaide Plan was the basis for attracting free settlers, offering certainty of land tenure and a high degree of amenity.   Being formally laid out prior to settlement, with a grid pattern and wide streets and town squares, the Plan reflected new town planning conventions and contemporary ideas about the provision of common or reserved land for its aesthetic qualities, public health and recreation. 
The Plan endures today in the form of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout.  The key elements of the Plan remain substantially intact, including the layout of the two major city areas, separated by the meandering Torrens River, the encircling Park Lands , the six town squares, the gardens and the grid pattern of major and minor roads.
The Park Lands, in particular, are significant for the longevity of protection and conservation and have high social value to South Australians who regard them as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city of Adelaide.
The national significance of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout lies in its design excellence.  The Adelaide Plan is regarded as a masterwork of urban design, a grand example of colonial urban planning.  The city grid and defining park lands were laid over the shallow river valley with its gentle undulations, described by Light as the Adelaide Plains.  The city layout is designed to take full advantage of the topography, an important innovation for the time.  The streets were sited and planned to maximise views and vistas through the city and Park Lands and from the city to the Adelaide Hills.  The encircling Park Lands provide for health and recreation for the inhabitants while setting the city limits and preventing speculative land sales on the perimeter.
The emphasis on public health, amenity and aesthetic qualities through civic design and provision of public spaces were to have an influence on the Garden City Movement, one of the most significant urban planning initiatives of the twentieth century. Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City Movement cites the Adelaide Plan as an exemplar in his Garden Cities of Tomorrow.
Even before this influence, however, the Adelaide Plan was used as a model for the founding of many towns in Australian and New Zealand.  It is regarded by historians and town planners as a major achievement in nineteenth century town planning.
The Adelaide Park Lands and Historic Layout is also significant for its association with Colonel William Light who is credited with the Adelaide Plan and its physical expression in the form of the Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout.    

Draft Values:




A Events, Processes

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is the physical expression of the 1837 Adelaide Plan designed and laid out by Colonel William Light. It has endured as a recognisable historical layout for over 170 years retaining the key elements of the plan; encompassing the layout of the two major city areas separated by the Torrens River, the encircling Park Lands, the six town squares, all the gardens within the Park Lands, and the grid pattern of major and minor roads. It is substantially intact and reflects Light's design intentions with high integrity.
The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is of outstanding importance because it signifies a turning point in the settlement of Australia.  It was the first place in Australia to be planned and developed by free settlers, not as a penal settlement or military outpost.  The colony of South Australia was established by incorporation as a commercial venture supported by the British Government, based on Edward Wakefield's theory of systematic colonisation.  To be commercially successful, there needed to be contained settlement to avoid speculative land sales and this settlement needed to be designed and planned to attract free settlers and to provide them with security of land tenure.  The city layout with its grid plan expedited the process of land survey enabling both rapid settlement of land and certainty of title.  The wide streets and abundant open spaces provided amenity while the surrounding park lands ensured a defined town boundary.  These elements are discernable today.
Adelaide Park Lands is also significant for the longevity of its protection and conservation. The Adelaide Municipal Corporation Act (1840) established the city council as the ‘conservators’ of the city and parklands. The establishment of the Park Lands Preservation Society in 1903, along with successive community organisations marks a continuing pattern in safeguarding the significance of the Park Lands for the Adelaide community.
The Adelaide Plan was highly influential as a model for planning other towns in Australia and overseas.  It is acknowledged by town planners and historians as a major influence on the Garden City Planning movement one of the most important urban planning initiatives.


B Rarity

The Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is rare as the most complete example of nineteenth century colonial planning where planning and survey were undertaken prior to settlement.  The historical layout as conceived in the 1837 Adelaide Plan remains clearly legible today. The place is also the only Australian capital city to be completely enclosed by parklands and is the most extensive and substantially intact nineteenth century park lands in Australia.


D Principal characteristics of a class of places

Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is an exemplar of a nineteenth century planned urban centre.  It demonstrates the principal characteristics of a nineteenth century city including a defined boundary, streets in a gridded pattern, wide streets, public squares, spacious rectangular blocks and expansive public open space for commons and public domains.  The expression of these features with their generous open space reflects the early theories and ideas of the Garden City movement of an urban area set in publicly accessible open space.


F Creative or technical achievement

Adelaide Park Lands and City Layout is regarded throughout Australia and the world as a masterwork of urban design. Elements of the Adelaide Plan that contribute to the design excellence are the use of the encircling park lands to define the boundary of the development of the city and to provide for health, public access and recreation thereby meeting both economic and social requirements.  Designing the city layout to respond to the topography was highly innovative for its time with the northern sections of the city located and angled to take advantage of the rising ground while retaining the Torrens River as a feature within the parklands. The judicious siting and wide streets maximised views and vistas through the city and Park Lands and from the city to the Adelaide Hills.  Light's planning innovation is supported by substantial historical documentation.
The formal organisation, delineation and dedication of the Park Lands space was also pioneering.
The creativity of the city and parkland design is clearly legible in the contemporary landscape viewed from the air or from the Adelaide Hills.  The civic design of Adelaide was used as a model for founding many other towns in Australia and New Zealand and it is cited in later seminal Garden City planning texts including Garden Cities of Tomorrow by Ebenezer Howard.


G Social value

The Adelaide Park Lands has outstanding social value to South Australians who see them as fundamental to the character and ambience of the city.  
The present Adelaide Parklands Preservation Society is the latest in a  long history of community groups dedicated to protecting the Adelaide Park Lands. These have included the Park Lands Defence Association (1869-87), the Park Lands Preservation League (1903, 1948) and the National Trust of South Australia. The longevity of the involvement of community groups in the protection and safeguarding of Australian park lands is exceptional.


H Significant people

Colonel William Light is most famously associated with the plan of Adelaide.  He bore the ultimate responsibility, as recorded in his surviving publications and letters.


Historic Themes:
Group: 03 Developing local, regional and national economies
  Themes: 03.03 Surveying the continent
    Sub-Themes: 03.03.05 Laying out boundaries

Group: 04 Building settlements, towns and cities
  Themes: 04.01 Planning urban settlements
    Sub-Themes: 04.01.04 Creating capital cities

Group: 04 Building settlements, towns and cities
  Themes: 04.01 Planning urban settlements

Group: 04 Building settlements, towns and cities
  Themes: 04.06 Remembering significant phases in the development of settlements, towns and cities

Group: 08 Developing Australia's cultural life
  Themes: 08.01 Organising recreation
    Sub-Themes: 08.01.03 Developing public parks and gardens

Nominator's Summary of Significance:
The three most significant World Heritage Values:

1. The Adelaide Park Lands are the oldest 'set apart' and 'dedicated' public park lands in the world -15th March, 1837 by Colonel William Light.

- All of the Park Lands and Squares (excepting certain reserves for Government purposes), were 'dedicated' for the USE and RECREATION of the citizens in perpetuity and paid for from the Emigration Fund - a circumstance which prevailed in no other country to that time.
- UK's oldest public park is Birkenhead, designed 1843 - officially opened 1847.
- USA's oldest public park is Boston Common - the garden section was first laid out in 1837.

2. The FIRST PIECE OF LEGISLATION (Section 3 of the 1842 Imperial Waste Lands Act), protecting the 'dedication' of 'places for public recreation and health', arose directly as a result of the reservation/purchase by promissory notes in December 1839 of OUR Park Lands.

- This Act was applied to all the other British Colonies around the world, including greater NSW, WA, Tasmania and to New Zealand (1841), after which, Park reserves boomed.
- Legislation enabling public parks was not passed in the UK until 1847.
- The expressions 'Park Lands' (parklands*) originated with OUR Park Lands. The word 'park-land' first appears in Robert Gouger's book South Australia in 1837.

3. CUSTODIANSHIP defined. First (Citizens committee) public Park Lands Trust proposed 15th October, 1839.

- Adelaide was the first City to have public Park Keepers 1839.
- In August 1840 Adelaide became the first Municipal Corporation in Australia, (4th in any British colony), and the first modern Borough government after the passing of the 1835 Municipal Corporations Reform Act, making them the 'conservators' of the City and Park Lands.

(* parkland (Macquarie) n. 1. a grassland region with isolated or grouped trees, usu. in temperate regions. 2. S.A. a public garden or park)

The City of Adelaide is divided into two distinct sectors that straddle the River Torrens, the City centre to the south, and suburban North Adelaide. The City has a hierarchical grid street pattern, contains six town squares and is entirely surrounded by Park Lands. The city of Adelaide was originally laid out as 1042 town acres and in some instances the original boundaries are still evident. South Adelaide, the city centre comprises 700 acres while the North Adelaide residential area covers the remaining 342 acres. Six squares were laid out within the City of Adelaide.

The city streets are organised into four blocks, with the City centre encompassing one large block, and North Adelaide three smaller blocks. The siting of the blocks reflects the topography of the area, with the main block situated on generally flat ground and the other three blocks, each at an angle with the others, on higher land in North Adelaide. The main block, the City centre, is defined by four major roads: East Terrace, North Terrace, West Terrace and South Terrace. In total, eleven original streets traverse the City east-west and six original streets traverse it north-south. Nine streets which traverse the City east-west culminate in the centre at King William Street which also defines name changes for the streets running east-west. The streets are primarily named after key historical figures: Rundle, Grenfell, Pine, Flinders, Wakefield, Angas, Carrington, Halifax, Gilles, Gilbert, Start, Wright, Gouger, Grote, Franklin, Waymouth, Currie and Hindley Streets. The central streets in this grid, Wakefield and Grote Streets are marginally wider than the others, to illustrate their greater importance. The City also contains numerous minor streets that were constructed within a few years of survey, but were not part of the original plan.

North Adelaide comprises three smaller grids in which the majority of original streets run east-west. The major grid of North Adelaide is defined by Barton Terrace, Lefevre Terrace, Ward Street and Hill Street, with O’Connell Street as the major thoroughfare and Wellington Square in the centre.

The streets in both the City centre and North Adelaide are broken up intermittently by six town squares before they culminate at the Park Lands. Five squares, Victoria, Hurtle, Whitmore, Hindmarsh and Light Squares are located within South Adelaide, while Wellington Square is in North Adelaide. Some squares have been altered with the road ways around and through some of the squares changed, both from an urban design perspective and to address traffic management issues. The substantial design of each Square, except Victoria Square, remains intact. These changes reflect changing aesthetic tastes and requirements in the twentieth century.

Each square retains a distinct character, with different development on the edges. The form of Victoria Square remains, but its design, driven primarily by traffic changes, has changed markedly. It is no longer a focus for the City for pedestrians. It has retained a primarily public function with and office development around its perimeter. Hurtle and Whitmore Squares are more residential, while Hindmarsh and Light Squares accommodate more commercial uses. Wellington Square, the only square in North Adelaide, is surrounded by primarily single storey development, but of a village character, which includes a former shop, former Church and public house.

The squares contribute to the public use of the City, providing open green spaces for residents, workers and visitors who value them highly.

The Park Lands comprise over 700 hectares providing a continuous belt which encircle the City and North Adelaide. The Park Lands vary in character from cultural landscapes, to recreational landscapes, and natural landscapes. Some areas are laid out as formal gardens, other areas have a rural character and others are used primarily for sporting uses.

The Park Lands act as a buffer to the City Centre, and also provide both passive and active recreational uses to the community. They are the setting for numerous public functions, and serve an aesthetic function in defining the city. The Park Lands are visible from many parts of the City and North Adelaide and form end points for vistas through the City streets. They contribute to views out of the City, together with the distant views of the Adelaide Hills in the background, as well as providing views into the City. The visual character of the Park varies with its many uses - formal gardens and lawns, informal parks of turf and trees, a variety of sports fields, with associated buildings and facilities. The Adelaide Parklands have been valued by many South Australians over time for their aesthetic qualities, and as a place for recreation and other community activities.

The Park Lands are described as a single feature, yet they vary in character greatly from area to area. Some areas are laid out as formal gardens, others have a rural character and others are used primarily for sporting uses.  The Park Lands also accommodate many other, mostly public, uses in areas identified as reserves by Light, such as the West Terrace Cemetery and the Governor’s Domain, as well as in other areas alienated from the original Park Lands as defined by Light, such as the civic uses of North Terrace and Victoria Park Racecourse. Many cultural institutions occupying the park Lands: the Botanic Gardens, Zoo, the State Library, Migration Museum, the Art Gallery, the SA Museum, Government House, Parliament House, the Festival Theatre and Playhouse, the Convention Centre, the Parade Ground, the hospital, Adelaide University and Adelaide High School. Other reserves include the Torrens linear park, Government Walk, the Parade Ground, the Pioneer Women’s Gardens, the Adelaide Oval and two public golf courses.

Today there is little physical evidence remaining of Aboriginal occupation and of the pre-colonial landscape. This includes scarred trees, occupational sites, quarrying sites, human remains and stone artefacts (Ellis, 1976: 1). However there is no evidence to suggest that any of these examples exist within the Adelaide Park Lands with the exception of the stone artefacts.

The Adelaide parklands continue to be significant to Kaurna and other Aboriginal people because:

  • of areas where they camped prior to and since European settlement,

  • many Aboriginal people are buried in West Terrace Cemetery, 

  • the area continues to be a contemporary meeting place for some Aboriginal people,

  • various stone artefacts have been found during heritage surveys conducted in the area, and

  • on April 22nd, 1844 the Aboriginal Protector (Moorehouse) prevented an attempt by the local Aboriginals to repeat their annual and traditional contest between the Encounter Bay and Murray tribes within the parklands (Adelaide City Council, #24, 2005).

The South Australian Old and New Parliament Houses is entered into the National Heritage List (Data Base No. 105710).  The Adelaide Park Lands and the City of Adelaide Historic Layout and Park Lands are listed in the Register of the National Estate (RNE) (Register Nos: 6442 and 102551). The following places are individually listed within the RNE: the Zoological Gardens (Register Nos: 8593 and 18585), the Botanic Gardens (Register No. 6433), the Elder Park Bandstand (Register No. 6351), the Women's War Memorial Gardens (Register No. 14568), the Adelaide Oval and Surrounds (Register No.19236), Victoria Park Racecourse (Register No. 18546), Art Gallery of South Australia (Register No. 6396), Barr Smith Library (within the University grounds) (Register No. 6365), Bonython Hall (within the University grounds) (Register No. 6368), Brookman Hall (Register No. 6382), Catholic Chapel, West Terrace Cemetery (Register No. 6357),  Cross of Sacrifice/Stone of Remembrance (Register No. 14568), Elder Hall (Register No. 6367), Government House and Grounds (Register No. 6328), Union Building Group, Margaret Graham Nurses Home, Adelaide Oval Scoreboard, Yarrabee, River Torrens (outside Adelaide City), Institute Building (former), Bank of Adelaide (former), Tropical House, Main Gates, Botanic Gardens, Watch House, Catholic Chapel, Chapel to Former Destitute Asylum, Mitchell Building, Albert Bridge (road bridge), Schoolroom to Former Mounted Police Barracks, Historical Museum, Mortlock Library, South Australian Museum, Art Gallery of South Australia, Old Parliament House, Old Mounted Police Barracks, Adelaide Gaol (former), Powder Magazine (former) and Surrounding Walls, North Adelaide Conservation Area, Victoria Square Conservation Area, River Torrens (within Adelaide City), Mitchell Gates and Fencing, Adelaide Railway Station, Administration Building and Bays 1 - 6 Running Shed, South African War Memorial, Royal Adelaide Hospital Historic Buildings Group, North Adelaide Railway Station, Old Grandstand, Hartley Building, Torrens Training Depot, University Foot Bridge, Adelaide Bridge, Torrens Lake Weir and Footbridge, Rose Garden Fountain and Botanic Garden Toolshed.

Over 70 places in the Adelaide Park Lands are entered in the South Australian Heritage Register. Most notably these include the institutions along North Terrace, including the Adelaide Railway Station, Old and New Parliament Houses, and buildings belonging to the State Library and South Australian Museum, Art Gallery of South Australia, University of Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA Heritage Branch, 2005).

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