South Australian population growth

In 1958, the population of South Australia was rapidly increasing and more school leavers were seeking places in higher education. The University of Adelaide was heading towards full capacity in student numbers and was severely restricted by the size of its city campus.

The idea of a second university for South Australia was introduced in Parliament. Both political parties agreed that there was a perceived need for a second university within the state, but that it should be decentralised. The University of Adelaide was asked to estimate its future land requirements.


A new campus

In 1960, the Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, announced that 150 hectares of land in the suburb of Burford (now known as Bedford Park) would be allocated to The University of Adelaide for establishment of a second campus. Eight hectares of this land was to be reserved by the Government for a future teachers' college, under the control of the Education Department. This area is now known as the Sturt Campus.

The land

The land had an interesting history. The traditional owners were the Kaurna people. After 1836 it had various owners, until 1915 when the government purchased the land. Initially, it was used as a remount station for horses, but by the end of World War I the old farmhouse buildings on the site had been turned into a sanatorium for returned soldiers with tuberculosis. It was used for this purpose until 1961.

The land was then allocated to The University of Adelaide, but while awaiting development, the existing buildings were used as a remand centre for juvenile first-offenders. These buildings were demolished in 1965.

The land for Flinders University


Planning committee

In May 1961, the new university started to become a reality. Sir Thomas Playford authorised the Council of The University of Adelaide to proceed with planning. A planning committee of 9 members was appointed and met regularly for the next 5 years.

One of the committee's first major decisions was to appoint a Principal-Designate for the new campus. In July 1961 Professor Peter Karmel, then a Professor in Economics at The University of Adelaide, was appointed to the post. Professor Karmel insisted that the new university should operate independently from the Adelaide campus. He also insisted that it provide a fresh start, be an alternative to tradition, and be innovative.

It was also decided at this time that the new university would not follow the traditional faculty structure, but would be organised into schools of related subjects.

Professorial and facilities committees

Two further committees were established, the first comprising of University of Adelaide Professors only, and the second having a broader composition, including one student member. The committees' focus was to shape the future of the new university.

The Professorial Committee was to advise on:

  • academic structure
  • academic autonomy
  • degree structure
  • statutes and regulations.

They also insisted that academics of the new university be given the freedom to develop their own degree courses and syllabuses. Arts and Science would be the initial focus, as these areas were rapidly becoming overcrowded at The University of Adelaide. It was proposed that professional schools would be added in the early 1970s.

The second committee made recommendations on:

  • union facilities
  • sporting facilities
  • residential facilities for overseas and country students
  • staff club
  • student meeting rooms
  • the refectory.


Capital works begin

Mr Geoff Harrison was appointed the University Architect. He worked in conjunction with the architectural firm Hassell, McConnell and Partners and The University of Adelaide Department of Civil Engineering to design and construct the future university.

Building works begin at Flinders University

The aim was to design a university that would attract new students, and at the same time, allow for continual expansion of facilities to accommodate up to 6000 students, plus academic and general staff.

Because the location was at the base of the foothills, it experienced extremes of weather, and for this reason, it was agreed that the buildings should be no more than three stories in height, simple in form, and each focussed around a central courtyard.

Building design

An allocation of £3.8 million ($7.6 million) was approved by the Australian Universities Commission for capital works for the period 1964 to 1966. Building of the main campus and the teachers' college commenced, and the foundations were laid for the University as we know it today.

Committee proposals approved

The proposals emanating from the university committees were submitted to the Australian Universities Commission, the Federal Government's higher education advisory body, and were approved in 1962.

Professorial roles advertised

In this year the first professorial positions were advertised.

Medical school discussed

The idea of establishing a medical school at Flinders was discussed but, before any progress could be made, the state government needed to commit itself to establishing a public teaching hospital in the southern area.

A site had been reserved opposite Warradale Army Barracks for that purpose since 1953, but the Highways Department decided it needed this land for an interchange bus service.

The second proposed site became the area in the Sturt Triangle, now Science Park, but this was unacceptable as it lay on a geological fault.

Negotiations were undertaken with Flinders and in 1966 it was agreed that 12 hectares of land would be allocated at the Bedford Park site in exchange for the equivalent land in the Sturt Triangle.


Academic appointments

The first academic appointments were made in March. All the foundation members of the University were men and all were leaders in their fields.


Landscaping and tree planting commenced around the campus.

Arial view of the land


The professors meet

First meeting of the Bedford Park Professors was held at the Bedford Park Planning Office on North Terrace, Adelaide. Present were Professors Peter Karmel (Principal Designate), Max Brennan (Physics), Max Clark (Biology), Jack Clark-Lewis (Chemistry), Ralph Elliott (English) Keith Hancock (Economics) and Oliver MacDonough (History). Also present were Noel Stockdale (Librarian - Designate) and Howard Buchan (Secretary, later the first Registrar).

Bedford Park Professors at their first meeting


Bedford Park campus becomes independent and Flinders is born

Sir Thomas Playford's Liberal and Country League government was defeated in the state election and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) took power. The ALP was of the view that the University of Adelaide had too much influence over the professions, and that it could only benefit from some healthy competition.

[missing FMS file]

The ALP announced its intention to constitute Bedford Park as a separate university.

Name and insignia

Flinders University crest

Now that the University was independent of The University of Adelaide, a new name had to be found. The state government favoured naming the University after the state, ie. the University of South Australia, but academic staff pursued the idea that it should be named after a distinguished but uncontroversial person. Hence, the name of The Flinders University of South Australia eventuated, named after the British explorer and navigator Captain Matthew Flinders. Captain Flinders had explored and surveyed the South Australian coastline in 1802.

The University's insignia was designed by a member of the academic staff from the Fine Arts Discipline. The design incorporates a coat of arms with an open page of Flinders' journal A Voyage to Terra Australis (describing the section of coastline adjacent to the University) and a reproduction of Flinders' ship Investigator .