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Aboriginal people of South Australia: Aboriginal History of South Australia

South Australian Aboriginal people and languages

Colonialism and its aftermath

Survival in our own land



Survival in our own land (1988) was the first publication to present South Australian history from the Aboriginal viewpoint, and remains one of the most comprehensive historical overviews of the experiences of Aboriginal South Australians.


Selected South Australian newspapers, published prior to 1955, have been digitised as part of the National Library of Australia’s Trove website, and this is an excellent source of information about the history of Aboriginal people in South Australia.

Further newspaper articles may be identified by using the following, Newspaper index : references to Aborigines in Adelaide newspapers, 1836-1940, 1989.

The State Library has a number of electronic resources that are useful for finding periodical articles. Some of these can only be accessed within the library and others can also be accessed from home by becoming a Home Access User. Learn more on our eResources page.

Aboriginal History. v. 24, 2000, Foster, Robert. 'Rations, coexistence, and the colonisation of Aboriginal labour in the South Australian pastoral industry, 1860-1911.'

Australian Historical Studies. v. 34, no. 121, Apr 2003. Paul, Mandy and Foster, Robert. 'Married to the land: land grants to Aboriginal women in South Australia 1848-1911.'

Cabbages and kings : selected essays in history and Australian studies. v. 22, 1994. Martin, Susan. 'Relationships between Aborigines and Europeans from 1860 to 1940.'

Getting started

This guide to sources relating to the Aboriginal history of South Australia was last updated by Library staff in 2020. It comprises selected material held by the State Library or available online.

To find further material relevant to this topic, try searching with this subject heading in the State Library catalogue:

Aboriginal Australians - South Australia - History 

Or conduct a keyword search using the following terms:

Aborigin* and South Australia and History

If you are looking for the history of specific towns, regions, Aboriginal communities or language groups, try searching with this subject heading in the State Library catalogue:

Aboriginal Australians - South Australia - (Geographic location)

or with the following keyword searches:

Aborigin* and (Geographical location)
(Aboriginal Language group) eg. Ngadjuri

Histories of some Aboriginal language groups have been brought together on the other tabs of this Library Guide. Resources relating to Aboriginal missions in South Australia can be found on another guide. 

For more assistance, talk with staff at the Library's Information Desk or Ask Us.

Books and pamphlets

Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. Reflections: 40 years on from the 1967 referendum, 2007.

Berg, Shaun (ed). Coming to terms : Aboriginal title in South Australia, 2010.

Berndt, Ronald and Catherine. From black to white in South Australia,1951.

Brock, Peggy and Gara, Tom (eds). Colonialism and its aftermath : a history of Aboriginal South Australia, 2017.

Brock, Peggy. Outback ghettos : Aborigines, institutionalisation and survival, 1993.

Davenport, Sue, Johnson, Peter and Nixon, Yuwali. Cleared out : first contact in the Western Desert, 2005.

Foster, Robert and Nettlebeck, Amanda. Out of the silence: The history and memory of South Australia's frontier wars, 2012. Also available as an eBook, 2011.

Foster, Robert, Hosking, Rick and Nettlebeck, Amanda. Fatal collisions : the South Australian frontier and the violence of memory. 2001.

Gibbs, RM. Humanitarian theories and the Aboriginal inhabitants of South Australia to 1860,1959.

Guide to archival records held in the Mortlock Library of South Australiana relating to Aboriginal people, 1990.

Hall, Andrew. A brief history of the laws, policies and practices in South Australia which led to the removal of many Aboriginal children... 3rd ed. 2014.

Jones, Philip. Ochre and rust : artefacts and encounters on Australian frontier, 2007.

Kwan, Helen. Living in South Australia: a social history, 1987.

Levi, Tamara J. Food, control, and resistance : rationing of indigenous peoples in the United States and South Australia, 2016.

Lydon, Jane. Calling the shots: Aboriginal photographies (e-Book), 2014. Ch 7. South Australia.

Mather, Gayle. Vince, 2019. (About the life of Vince Coulthard) 

O'Brien, Lewis Yerloburka. And the clock struck thirteen: the life and thoughts of Kaurna Elder Uncle Lewis Yerloburka O'Brien, 2007.

Pope, Alan. Resistance and retaliation : Aboriginal-European relations in early colonial South Australia, 1989.

Rafferty, Judith. Not part of the public: non-indigenous policies and practices and the health of indigenous South Australians 1836-1973, 2006.

Raynes, Cameron. The last protector : the illegal removal of Aboriginal children from their parents in South Australia, 2008.

Raynes, Cameron. A little flour and a few blankets : an administrative history of Aboriginal affairs in South Australia, 1834-2000, 2002.

Simpson, Jane and Hercus, Luise (eds). History in portraits : biographies of nineteenth century South Australian Aboriginal people, 1998.

This is what happened : historical narratives 'by Aborigines' ; edited by Luise Hercus and Peter Sutton, 1986.

Watson, Irene. Looking at you looking at me: an aboriginal history of the south-east. Volume 1, 2002.


AIATSIS. South Australian legislation and Protector's reports relating to Aboriginal people.

SA Health. South Australian Aboriginal history timeline.

Oral Histories

Oral history is a means of documenting the past by recording interviews with people who have lived through a period or an event of interest, and the State Library holds several such interviews with Aboriginal South Australians.

The full collection can be found via an 'advanced search' in the State Library catalogue by entering Aboriginal Australians as a subject search, and then limiting to 'spoken sound' in the 'material type' drop down menu.

Alternatively, to see if there are oral histories on a particular subject, conduct a keyword or subject search and then 'refine' your search to 'spoken sound' on the left of the screen.

Read more about the State Library's oral history collection here.