In November, 1836, Colonel William Light found a safe anchorage on the eastern side of St. Vincent’s Gulf at Holdfast Bay, about 11 km south-west of where central Adelaide is now situated. Glenelg was favoured by freshwater lagoons and shady trees, and on 28th December, 1836, Captain John Hindmarsh proclaimed His Majesty’s Province of South Australia at the proclamation tree, later to be a much photographed bent eucalypt. Despite Glenelg’s apparent attraction, Light moved inland to survey the site of Adelaide, and most settlers moved there in March, 1837.

Glenelg’s immediate function was as a port and sea-side resort. Surveyed land was sold there in March, 1839. Severances from existing councils created the Glenelg municipality on 27th August, 1855. A jetty was built in 1859. Glenelg’s role as a port was strengthened when heavy cargo could be taken to Adelaide by the railway which opened in 1873. Goods yards and railway workshops became a source of local employment until about 1900 when Port Adelaide was developed. The Australian Handbook’s description of Glenelg in 1904 was –

… a watering place and municipality, with post, money-order, savings bank and telegraph office, on Holdfast bay or the Patawalonga creek, 6 1/2 miles SSW. from Adelaide. It is in the county and police district of Adelaide, and electorate of Sturt. It is a favourite place of resort during the summer months. The hotels are Pier, Family, Jetty, Terminus, St. Leonard’s, Berkshire, Globe, and Broadway. The places of worship are Episcopal (St. Peter’s), Wesleyan, Roman Catholic (Our Lady of Victories), Congregational Church of Christ and Primitive Methodist. There is a Town Hall in which the Glenelg Institute (with 2,400 vols.) has accommodation, and there are also several relics of the early days. Has Masonic, Oddfellows, Foresters, Druids, and Rechabite sociedties. A State school and several private ones. Swimming baths. Two Government railways connect it with Adelaide, trains running each way about half-hourly. A fixed red light on an iron lighthouse – the lantern being 39 feet above high-water mark – is placed on the head of the jetty (which is 1,356 feet in length, with a depth of 11 feet of water at the outer end). It was off Glenelg, better known as Holdfast Bay, that H.M.S. Buffalo ahchored in 1836, when South Australia was proclaimed a British province by Governor Hindmarsh, under the historical “Old Gum Tree,” which is situated about half a mile from the beach, and on the 18th June, 1887, young gum trees were planted around the old one to perpetuate its memory. Glenelg is supplied with gas and water. Agricultural district of sand, sandstone, and conglomerate formation. Area of municipality 560 acres, property of annual ratable value of 37,170 pounds. Population of the municipal district about 4,500.

Between 1901 and 1932 the Glenelg municipality’s boundaries were enlarged by severances from Marion and West Torrens Councils, to take in new housing estates. Large influxes of Summer visitors attracted foreshore improvements and tree planting. The Anzac Memorial Highway League, formed in 1917, succeeded in getting an improved road link to Adelaide, capitalising on motorised day trips to Glenelg. The railway was replaced by the Glenelg tram in 1929.

The insular turn-of-the-century township gradually merged with metropolitan Adelaide as post-war housing filled in the Glenelg plains. In 1947 The Australian Blue Book described Glenelg as –

The Corporation, always mindful of this reputation, and of the interests of the town generally, has provided beautiful promenades running north and south of the jetty road, many grass-planted and tree-shaded reserves, and beautiful gardens. Everything possible has been done towards encouraging, and providing for, excursionists and, at the same time, towards providing an area attractive to residents. The effect of the latter is seen in the number of large and tasteful homes, many of them worthy to be called mansions, which adorn the area. The beach is a beautiful one, sandy and gently sloping, and from it bathing, safe for both children and adults, can be enjoyed. Bands and concert parties give performances on the jetty, and for many months of the year both beach and jetty give the appearance of a continuous fair.

Sporting facilities include many tennis courts, bowling freens, Glenelg Oval, a golf links, and an enclosed bathing area on the sea front.

The shopping centre is of considerable size, electricity and water are both reticulated. Transport to the city is by fast electric tram- acknowledged to be the fastest and best service in Australia. The broad Anzac Highway provides motorists with a fast-travelling highway to Adelaide; omnibus services also use this route.

In the later postwar years Glenelg increasingly became a dormitory suburb for Adelaide. Large building allotments and unimproved capital value rating were an incentive for higher-density redevelopment for flats and units. Glenelg continued to be a day-trip and holiday destination. Its area of 4.8 square km held 18 hotels/motels, 7 private hotels and numerous holiday flats. In the Summer months there were the Proclamation Day celebration (28 December), a Christmas Pageant and Carols by the Sea, and in January a regatta and the Birdman Rally.

The shopping centre is in Jetty Road, along which the Glenelg tram runs. It has about 200 shops, many with extended trading hours. At the end of Jetty Road is Moseley Square, containing civic buildings and the Buffalo memorial. (HMS Buffalo was the vessel which brought early settlers to Holdfast Bay, and a replica anchored in the Patawalonga Boat Haven has a museum and a restaurant.)

Glenelg has six primary schools, three secondary schools (all private), two public hospitals (one for servicemen and veterans), and three private hospitals. Glenelg’s populations contains an above-average proportion of persons over 60 and a below-average proportion under 20. Glenelg’s census populations have been 4,849 (1911), 10,409 (1933), 12,966 (1954) and 12,956 (1991).


Postcard c.1908.

Further Reading:

  • Brown, Tom, “Glenelg, an urban village 1839 – 1972”, T.J. Strehlow, 1972.
  • Mitchell, N, “Historic Glenelg: the birthplace of South Australia”, 1968.

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