The City of Unley's history

Located on traditional lands of the Kaurna people, the City of Unley is rich in history, character and atmosphere, and centrally located only minutes from Adelaide’s city centre.

Early development

The City of Unley began life as a series of large rural holdings that were sold prior to settlement. 

When colonists arrived, the land was subdivided and small villages sprang up to cater to the new residents. 

The first six subdivisions were Unley and Unley Park, which were subdivided in 1840. Goodwood, Fullarton and Parkside were subdivided in 1849 and Black Forest followed in 1850. 

Unley acted as a town centre for the growing number of communities, but each settlement had its own shops, schools, tradesmen, pubs and churches. 

Villages continued to spring up on the main roads between Adelaide, Mitcham and Glen Osmond, as orchards and vineyards were planted, dairies were established, and olive oil and jam-making factories opened. 

As these new subdivisions were opened, the space between the villages closed up, especially from the 1880s onwards. Open landscape that was once bush and farmland filled with houses as Unley gradually grew into the united urban community it is today. 

Until 1871, the original villages were part of the District Council of Mitcham. When the Unley communities' combined populations reached 2,000, they were able to secede and the Corporate Town of Unley was born. 

Thirty five years later, the population had reached 20,000 and Unley was entitled to become a city. 

By the end of the 1920s, the area was almost completely subdivided and the scattered villages had become a thriving city that combined the best of all the settlements. 

The concept of the 'City of Villages' survives in the varying characteristics of the different suburbs and shopping precincts that combine to make up the City of Unley as we know it today.


Unley was proclaimed as a City in 1906 as a result of its population reaching 22,000. It was reported in the Government Gazette on 8 November that year.

On Friday 7 December, Governor Sir George Le Hunt presided over a large gathering at the Unley Oval, where he officially proclaimed Unley as the third city in the State of South Australia.

In his report at the time, Unley Mayor John H. Cook describes the scene:

"In the presence of His Excellency the Governor, (Sir George Le Hunt) the Hon. the Premier (Thos. Price MP), the Right Worshipful Mayors of Adelaide (Mr T Bruce) and Port Adelaide (Mr J Sweeney) and their Worships the Mayors of Norwood, St Peters, Hindmarsh, Brighton and other municipalities and a large number of distinguished guests, the whole city made a holiday event of the occasion, shops and places of businesses being closed."

"Under the direction of Mr C. Charlton, the Head Master of the Unley State School, the demonstration of children, numbering between 3,000 and 4,000, were marshalled, and by 2 o'clock Mr Charlton had established perfect order amongst his miniature troops from the twenty-one primary and secondary schools in the municipality."

"The procession, formed from the Town Hall and headed by the Military Band, marched along in the direction of the Oval. First followed by the State School Cadets with their rifles to form the Governor's guard of honour, then followed the fife and drum bands and for a quarter of a mile the school children eight deep. On arrival at the Oval, the procession was marshalled into various divisions and the sight was brilliant when the lines converged into marked positions facing the stand, where the children were allowed to sit whilst waiting for the arrival of the vice-regal party."

His Excellency, the Governor, accompanied by Captain the Hon RD Ryder, reached the Oval at 3 o'clock and after passing through the guard of honour, under Mr RF Cowan, was welcomed by myself and introduced to the members of the Council, who with the Hon the Premier (Mr Thomas Price) were waiting His Excellency's arrival on the platform. The children saluted the flag and at the suggestion of His Excellency, resumed their seats on the grass.

"In welcoming His Excellency, it was my privilege to sketch briefly the history and progress of our city from the time when it severed from the Mitcham District Council in 1871 to the present date. His Excellency's acknowledgment of welcome is reported in the contemporary papers as follows..."

"His Excellency, who was greeted with cheers, said that the program had suggested he was going to make an address in reply to the kind words of the Mayor's welcome. If a hasty explanation of only a few minutes duration could be called an address, then he was fulfilling his duty. He thoroughly sympathised with everybody, and especially with the schoolchildren, that the day had turned out so hot and close, and he admired the many hundreds of small children before him who were so pluckily sticking to their post and doing their duty so heartily." (Applause.)

"He supposed the younger citizens before him had not many recollections of 35 years ago (Children: 'No!') Well, he hoped they would be able to say 'Yes' 35 years hence. Those who would be living in Unley in that distant time would be able to look back upon an even greater 35 years of advance than could the grown-up people of the present day. For Adelaide and its suburbs were going to grow into a still greater city, and he said he had not any great fear what kind of citizens the youthful colonists of the present day would make."

"He understood that the most important feature in a girl's career was when she put her hair up and went into long dresses, and that the greatest thing in a boy's life was to get into long trousers. (Laughter.) Well, their pretty town of Unley had just accomplished a feat of that kind regarding its own history. Unley had now put its hair up and attained the full rights and honours of a city!" (Applause.)

"To the 3,000 or 4,000 school children whom he saw before him he would say that he was pleased to hear that they had been given a holiday. They fully deserved it and he would have quickly seen that they all got a holiday had it not been granted."

"At the call of His Excellency the Governor, cheers were given for His Majesty the King, His Majesty's Government, the Mayor and Council of the City of Unley - and for the children. The children were again assembled in the proper ranks and after singing one verse of 'The Song of Australia' were marshalled away to the shade of the trees surrounding the Oval and to other shelter provided for their protection provided by the City Council. During the remainder of the afternoon, the Military Band played various selections and the children executed a Maypole dance and various marching and calisthenics movements. The proceedings concluded with the National Anthem."

Naming Unley

Thomas Whistler is credited with naming Unley.

Whistler was one of 15 land holders in Unley in the late 1830s. He owned approximately 420 acres which he subdivided to create Arthur, Mary and Thomas streets.

There is much speculation as to the origin of the name Unley.

Some believe that Whistler originally named Unley after Undley Common in the Parish of Mildenhall Suffolk and that the name Unley was derived as a result of mirroring local speech which omitted the letter d. However, research has shown that he had no actual connection with Undley and it should be noted that on all of his land transfers the name is spelt Unley.

Another theory is that Unley was the maiden name of Whistler's wife however, this can be proven to be untrue as Whistler never married.

The Black Forest

The City of Unley acknowledges the Kaurna people as the traditional owners of the Black Forest.

The name 'Black Forest' is reputed to have been given as a result of the dark coloured tree bark and thick dark green foliage.

The area formerly extended from the eastern foothill suburbs of Burnside, Erindale, Beaumont, Glen Osmond, south-west through to Urrbrae, Malvern, Mitcham, Unley, Goodwood, Wayville, South Adelaide, Black Forest, Hyde Park, Clarence Park, Plympton, Edwardstown, St Marys and the River Sturt near Marion.

The Urban Forest Biodiversity Program reports that grazing, agriculture, horticulture, residential development and industry have progressively all but replaced the unique flora and fauna of the Adelaide Plains. Less than 2% of the original habitat is left intact and remaining native plants and animals are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.

Individual trees from the original Black Forest still exist within the City of Unley but only one remaining stand of grey-box woodland can be found - in Heywood Park at Northgate Street, Unley Park.

Information for this article has been sourced from a book by local Millswood resident, Darrell Kraehenbuehl 'Pre-European Vegetation of Adelaide: A Survey from the Gawler River to Hallett Cove' (1996).

The first Unley Council meeting

The meeting was held on 19 June, 1871, and was presided over by Unley's first Mayor John Henry Barrow.

Thomas Whistler

Thomas Whistler was one of 15 land holders in Unley in the late 1830s and is credited with giving Unley its name.

On 19 February, 1839, Thomas Whistler, a colonial agent of Fenchurch Street, London, was issued land orders by the colonisation commissioners for three town acres in Adelaide and three country sections each consisting 134 acres which became known as Unley and Unley Park.

On 4 April, 1840, Whistler boarded the ship the Fairliee and set sail for life as a gentleman farmer and land speculator. After spending a short time living in Adelaide and Mitcham, Whistler settled in a two-room wooden cottage on Section 236 located on the bank of Brownhill Creek. This area is now called Heywood Park.

Whistler's first recorded land sale was to the Chigwedden brothers, Charles and Alexander, who purchased allotments 67 and 68 on Arthur Street in the Village of Unley.

In 1855 Thomas Whistler, wishing to return to England, sold 'slips, pieces or parcels of land situate in and forming the roads and streets of Unley' to the Mitcham District Council for five pounds, an amount he believed to be 'well below the actual value of the land in question'.

Unley's Own

The City of Unley has a long relationship with the 10th/27th Battalion, The Royal South Australia Regiment, known as "Unley's Own" due to the large number of Unley residents who served in war.

It is also the Battalion of Colonel Walter Dollman VD (Volunteer Officers Decoration or Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers Decoration) who was the Mayor of Unley during World War I and commanded the Battalion at the landing at ANZAC Cove.

"The Roll of Honour in the Town Hall commemorates all Unley residents who served in this and subsequent world conflicts. The Honour Roll lists 1,189 men and 16 nurses from Unley who enlisted in WW1; 308 of those from Unley died in this "war to end all wars". Some 790 more were wounded, leaving the City of Unley with a casualty list of 1,100, all from a population of about 29,000 in 1915. Few families in Unley remained untouched or exempt from this toll".

The 10th/27th Battalion, The Royal South Australia Regiment have previously been granted the Freedom of the City where their rights and privileges to "pass through the City of Unley with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating, bands playing and colours flying".

Information for this article has been taken from Dolly's Dinkum Diggers written by Colonel Dollman's Grandson, Chris Colyer.

Unley's Mayors

The Mayors of Unley and the councils over which they have presided have influenced the shape and character of the City as it is today.

The office of Mayor has attracted a wide range of people, from tailors to tea merchants, pasty cooks to publishers, cartoonists to chemists. Many were drawn to the role through a concern for public issues and a desire to make a difference in their community. It gave some the taste for politics. Unley can count state and federal politicians and a Premier among its former Mayors.

Mayors of the Town of Unley

This information is listed from December to December, unless stated otherwise.

  • John H. BARROW M.L.C. June 1871 – 1872
  • Luther SCAMMELL M.P. 1872 – 1874
  • Henry CODD 1874 – 1877* (resigned April 1877)
  • Josiah H. BAGSTER M.P.  1877 – 1878
  • William TOWNSEND M.P. 1878 – 1881
  • James S. GREER 1881 – 1884
  • George HOWELL 1884 – 1886 * (resigned August 1886)
  • William A. HUBBLE 1886 – 1887
  • John G. JENKINS M.P. 1887 – 1888
  • William SHIERLAW 1888 – 1889
  • John O’CONNELL 1889 – 1890
  • James VINER-SMITH 1890 – 1891
  • Caleb G. GURR 1891 – 1892 and 1899 – 1900
  • Thomas SMITH J.P. 1892 – 1893
  • Thomas C. HOLLAND 1893 – 1896
  • William DRING 1896 – 1897
  • Theodore BRUCE 1897 – 1899
  • Archibald MACKIE 1900 – 1902
  • John H. CHINNER J.P. 1902 – 1904 and 1909 – 1912
  •  John H. COOKE J.P. 1904 – 1907.

Mayors of the City of Unley

Unley was proclaimed a City in 1906 as a result of its population reaching 22,000.

This information is listed from December to December

  • John H. COOKE, J.P. 1904 - 1907
  • Alfred S. LEWIS 1907 - 1909
  • John H. CHINNER, J.P. 1909 - 1912
  • Walter DOLLMAN 1912 - 1914
  • Thomas E. YELLAND 1914 - 1916
  • William N. PARSONS 1916 - 1918
  • William H. LANGHAM 1918 - 1920
  • Herbert C. RICHARDS, M.P. 1920 - 1922
  • Alfred E. MORRIS 1922 - 1924
  • Ethelbert BENDALL 1924 - 1926
  • George W. ILLINGWORTH 1926 - 1928
  • Benjamin J. SELLICK 1928 - 1930
  • Charles M. REID 1930 - 1932
  • Frederick J. BARRETT 1933 to June 1935.

This information is listed from July to June

  • John McLEAY 1935 - 1937
  • James McG. SOUTAR 1937 - 1939
  • Colin R. DUNNAGE, M.P. 1939 - 1941
  • Keith T.A. BENTZEN 1941 - 1943
  • Henry S. DUNKS, M.P. 1943 - 1946
  • Capt. William M. HARRELL 1946 - 1948
  • Samuel GILD 1948 - 1949
  • Claude S. COOGAN 1949 - 1952
  • Joseph Y. WOOLLACOTT 1952 - 1953
  • Theodore F. BALLANTYN 1953 - 1955
  • Alfred G.M. FREEMAN 1955 - 1957
  • George S. BARLOW 1957 - 1959
  • Claude F. PAGE 1959 - 1961
  • John E. McLEAY 1961 - 1963
  • Leonard ILES 1963 - 1965
  • Alexander L. HOOD 1965 - 1967
  • Lewis G. SHORT 1967 - 1970
  • Clement COLMAN 1970-1972
  • Eric H. PARISH 1972 - 1974
  • Laurence K. SIMON 1974 - 1975
  • Lloyd L. LOVELL 1975 - 1977
  • John H. SOUTHERN 1977 - 1980
  • Cecil S. ROWE 1980 to September 1982
  • Denis A. SHERIDAN October 1982 to May 1985.

This information is listed from May to May

  • Barry L. SCHUETZ 1985 - 1987
  • David H. McLEOD 1987 - 1991
  • A. Michael KEENAN 1991 - 2006
  • Richard THORNE 2006 - 2010
  • Lachlan CLYNE 2010 - 2018
  • Michael HEWITSON AM 2018 – present. 

Heywood Park

A fierce battle was fought in the 1920s to save Heywood Park for the Unley community.

The park takes its name from the Lancashire birthplace of its last private owner, State MP William Haslam, who bought 14 acres of land and a house by Brownhill Creek in 1896. Locals began looking longingly at tree-covered Heywood in 1909 but the land was not for sale.

When eight acres of the land became available in 1917, shortly after Haslam's death, Unley councillor William Langham took up the cause. Three years later, while he was mayor, he suggested the council should buy the land to use as a park.

There was a heated public debate and a poll on whether the council should acquire the land was lost. But Mayor Langham was not willing to give up the fight and decided to raise the money himself by calling for public donations.

Some councillors cried foul and another row broke out but the mayor had managed to raise more than 4,000 pounds. The council gave in and paid for the land in April 1920. The stoush was still not over though, with two rival buyers taking the matter to court because the poll had failed.

 After a year of legal action, the council eventually took possession of the land and Heywood Park finally had its gala opening - complete with pony rides and a merry-go-round - on 10 December, 1921.

Heritage Walking Tours

Council has developed a free self-guided walking tour app so that you can learn more about parts of our historical City. It is available in the App Store on your phone by downloading izi.TRAVEL. Once in the app, search for Discover Historic Goodwood and Discover Historic Unley. You will also some find some interesting and innovative Public Art walking trails here.

Here is an example of what is on offer for Discover Historic Goodwood.

Discover Historic Goodwood

Discover Historic Goodwood is a free self-guided walking tour app, which will take you on a journey of Goodwood like no other before. 

It is available in the App Store on your phone by downloading izi.TRAVEL. Once in the app, search for Discover Historic Goodwood.

We'll then walk you through the strange and intriguing stories of people and buildings past and present along Goodwood Road. Take a leisurely tour to visit 14 stops, listen to stories by local people, view historical photographs and discover the history behind each place.

Members of the community have shared their stories of Goodwood with the assistance of Open Space Contemporary Arts and various artists and ten of these stories are included in the text, photographic and audio tour.

Fourteen pavers entitled Discover Historic Goodwood, manufactured by Smart Artisans, will also help to guide you around the trail.

To find out more about additional historic walking trails in our City (including Discover Historic Unley which was launched in 2014 and the Unley Road Traders’ Business History Makers in 2016) visit the Unley Museum at 80 Edmund Avenue, Unley. 

You may be also interested in...