South Australia’s reputation as a progressive colony and state stemmed from the nature of its founding as a free settlement and its concomitant rejection of an established church. Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s concept drew heavily on English radical liberal thought and encompassed a vision of human progress free from the shackles of anachronistic religious and political structures. It was the first colony to entirely separate church and state, and its early embrace of religious pluralism included making a home, from 1838, for a large number of German Lutherans who were suffering persecution at the hands of the Prussian state.
The Dissenting faiths benefited from the premises of the foundation, and early politics and social life more than occasionally involved sniping between Methodists and Anglicans, though they were predictably united in their suspicion toward the minority Catholics who settled in larger numbers from 1848.
The early liberal promise was not immediately apparent in the colony’s politics, and the rapid succession of administrations after self-government in 1856 was only eased by the premiership of Charles Cameron Kingston (1893–99). Kingston played a critical role in the enactment of legislation extending the franchise for both men and women, establishing a state bank, promoting rural village settlements for the urban unemployed, and relating to the supply of land, labour conditions, arbitration and education.