Reconciliation & traditional lands


From Bush to Bitumen

Learn more about the land on which the City of Unley is located. 

Bush Heritage

A dense area of bush known as the Black Forest once covered the Unley region of the Adelaide Plains. The woodland forest was a mix of grey-box, blue gum, red gum, native pines and sheoak trees, with grass trees, native grasses and orchids. These plants had deep roots that held the soil together and the plant debris that fell on the earth decomposed releasing nutrients into the soil.

This bush was home to the Kaurna people who moved with the seasons, relying on a deep knowledge of their land to find shelter, food and water. During Autumn, extended family groups travelled inland from their summer camps along the coast, to the bush and the foothills. They knew the bush as 'wirra', and 'willa willa' was the name they gave to the winding creeks lined with red gums.

When the Europeans arrived, they brought with them farming methods, animals and plants from their own countries. Many acres were sown with wheat and barley, while other areas were fenced for grazing livestock. Orchards and vineyards were planted and olive oil, tobacco and jam produced.

With native bush cleared for farming, the habitat for native animals was greatly reduced. Native animals with soft padded feet were replaced with cows, sheep, pigs and horses that had hard hooves which broke the soil and caused erosion. Nutrients were not returned to the soil because crops were harvested or heavily grazed.

Nutrients lost in this way were replaced by farm manure and chemical fertilisers. Tree clearing, ploughing and annual cropping exposed the soil and removed the soil-binding roots, making the soil vulnerable to erosion.

As the increasing population demanded houses, farmland was sold and subdivided. By 1911, the population in Unley had reached 24,000 people who were living in more than 5,000 dwellings. Buildings and roads gradually replaced paddocks during this period, removing much of the remaining native bush.

People were inspired to campaign to preserve trees and land for parks.

"Spare those trees! It would not cost a great deal to secure … a few allotments on which some of these kings of the old forest are growing: but it must be done soon or never." The Register, 1911.

Some native animals adapted to the increasing encroachment of the built environment, including possums and crested pigeons. Species that once fed on native plants began to scavenge in our parks and backyards. Other more vulnerable species were unable to adapt and have been lost from urban life.

Reconciliation Statement 

The City of Unley recognises that the Kaurna people are the traditional owners and occupiers of the land that now comprises the City of Unley.

We apologise for the pain, the grief and suffering experienced by Australian Indigenous people as a result of past laws, government policies, actions and attitudes. The City of Unley expresses deep sorrow that these actions and attitudes have occurred and has determined that such occurrences will not be repeated.

The City of Unley commits itself to an ongoing process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and recognises the historical and environmental significance of Kaurna sites within the City.

We recognise the significance and richness of the Kaurna culture and language.

Signed by Kaurna Elders Lewis O'Brien and Doris Graham with City of Unley Mayor Michael Keenan on 30 November 2001.

Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week is held every year May 27-June 3. 

The City of Unley has in recent times made significant steps towards Reconciliation. We take Reconciliation and ongoing dialogue with our Indigenous community very seriously as part as of our rich and progressive cultural agenda.

Since 2009, every year we have celebrated Reconciliation Week with our community in the Town Hall and in our Libraries and Community Centres with our local schools, Elected Members, staff and wider community.

We have now had many Aboriginal and Torres Strait representatives who have led us in music, dance, Indigenous languages, weaving, murals, stories and a greater understanding about what it means to walk together along the path of Reconciliation.

We also fly the Aboriginal flag and Torres Strait Island permanently in front of the Unley Library, one of the few Councils in South Australia.

Kaurna Acknowledgement

Ngadlurlu tampinthi, ngadlu Kaurna yartangka inparrinthi. Ngadlurlu parnuku tuwila yartangka tampinthi.

Ngadlurlu Kaurna Miyurna yaitya yarta‑mathanya Wama Tarntanyaku tampinthi. Parnuku yailtya, parnuku tapa purruna yalarra puru purruna.*

Listen to the Kaurna translation

We would like to acknowledge this land that we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country.

We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.

*Kaurna translation provided by Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi 2021.