The Great Depression

This guide has been prepared to assist those researching the provision of welfare services within the City of Adelaide during the Great Depression of 1929 and the years afterwards.

    The records reveal in detail the nature and extent of the City Council’s response to the Great Depression. In essence, the measures taken by the Council in dealing with the situation seem to have been directed towards achieving two clear objectives, namely:

    1. Reducing Corporation expenditure by means of a policy of "financial stringency", the main elements of which were:-

      • the curtailment and deferral of Corporation construction and maintenance works and other municipal services (this included a proposed remodelling of the Adelaide Town Hall);
      • a reduction in the size of the Corporation’s workforce (especially in the City Engineers and the Parks and Gardens Departments) by means of retrenchments and "rationing" of employees between the various Departments;
      • a reduction in the salaries of Corporation officers by up to 10 per cent;
      • increased agitation by the Council for the State Government to abolish the Police Moiety by which the Corporation contributed a large amount of money each year towards the cost of policing the City (this was eventually abolished in 1938).

      2. Alleviating distress among the citizens of Adelaide by such means as:

        • the reduction of the annual City Rates;
        • the reduction of rents charged for properties leased by tenants of the Corporation, including stall tenancies at the City Market;
        • participation in various unemployment relief schemes in co-operation with the Federal and State Governments to provide short-term work for unemployed men in the City;
        • the establishment in 1929 of the Lord Mayor's Relief Fund to co-ordinate the collection and distribution of assistance (in the form of food, clothing, blankets and firewood) to needy families in Adelaide. In August 1933 the appeal was widened and combined with those of all other municipalities in the metropolitan area (between 1933 - 36 the Fund raised over £17,000 which was distributed among the municipalities in accordance with the percentage of unemployed men within their respective districts).

        The following published works include relevant historical information about the City of Adelaide during the Great Depression:

        • Broomhill, R., Unemployed Workers: A Social History of the Great Depression in Adelaide (University of Queensland Press,1978)
        • Linn, Rob, Those Turbulent Years. A History of the City of Adelaide 1929 – 79 (Adelaide City Council, 2006)
        • Summerling, Patricia, Bert Edwards. King of the West End (Wakefield Press, 2019)

        The primary source of information relating to this subject is the archives of the Town Clerk’s Department. This was the central administrative epicentre of the Corporation which dealt with a wide range of matters relating to the everyday functioning of the City and the welfare of its inhabitants.

        These are records that were printed and published annually by the Town Clerk’s Department. They reported on and summarised the activities of the Corporation during the year and often contained links to more detailed and extensive sources of information. The two main series are:

        Annual Reports, 1928 – 36

        These contain the reports of the Lord Mayor on the various unemployment relief schemes supported by the Council during the Depression years. They also contain annual reports of the Town Clerk, City Engineer, Medical Officer of Health and City Inspector and the part their respective departments played in dealing with the social and economic hardships experienced by the City’s workers and residents during the Great Depression.

        Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerks Department (Cl5) Annual Reports (S21)

        Digests of Proceedings, 1928 - 36

        They were bound and indexed volumes published annually which contained the minutes of Council and reports of its Committees. They also provide references to correspondence dockets and files which contain far more detailed information about a particular subject.

        The Digests show the extent of the cost cutting measures adopted by the Corporation during the early 1930s. Of most interest are the Reports of a Special Committee formed by Council on 25 August 1930 "to enquire into the finances of the Corporation with a view to ascertaining what economies could be effected."

        Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerks Department (Cl5) Digests of Proceedings (S35)

        The Town Clerk’s dockets were the Corporation’s central administrative correspondence series of records. They are organised in an annual single number format and contain items of incoming correspondence together with copies of outgoing letters, reports to Council, Committee Minutes and newspaper clippings relevant to a particular subject. There are annual registers and nominal indexes available that can be used to identify relevant dockets, and so too can the annual Digests of Proceedings which contain references to Dockets that relate to subjects dealt with by the various Committees of Council.

        A small sample of Dockets which deal with the Council's role during the Depression is listed below:

        1928/727Relief Work for Unemployed
        1930/1926Corporation Finances
        1930/2461Unemployed Camp - Torrens Lake
        1931/1722Rationing of Employees
        1931/2229City Market Rents
        1932/3795Contributions to Benevolent Organisations
        1932/1734Unemployment Relief
        1932/2097Curtailing Corporation Expenditure
        1932/2098Corporation Employees - Rationing
        1932/2513Parks and Gardens Employees - Retrenchments
        1933/1810Control of Unemployment
        1933/1930Funds for Relief of Cases of Distress
        1934/1650Appeal for Funds for Blankets
        1934/2376Torrens Lake - Unemployed Camp
        1934/4280Christmas Cheer for Unemployed
        1935/1023Unemployed Relief - Subsidy Scheme
        1935/1461Unemployed Relief
        1935/1764Unemployed Relief Scheme
        1935/1875Appeal for Funds for Blankets
        1935/4255Christmas Cheer for Unemployed
        1936/1557Unemployed Relief

        Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerks Department (Cl5) Town Clerks Dockets (S3).

        The Town Clerk’s special files were created for matters of major importance which required ongoing attention. They were usually made up initially of Dockets but also contained reports, correspondence, memoranda, newspaper cuttings and extracts from the Minutes of Council pertaining to the same subject. Files often comprise multiple parts indicated by an alphabetical suffix.

        The series consisted of almost 700 separate file titles, most of which comprise multiple parts.You can view the Town Clerk's Department Special Files register here.

        Material relating to the Depression may be found on the following Special Files:

        • Special File No. 154A-H Lord Mayors Unemployed Relief Fund.
        • Special File No. 160A Unemployment Relief Works.
        • Special File No. 164A-C Finances of the Corporation.
        • Special File No. 168A Reduction in Rents - Corporation Properties.

        There are 12 volumes of clippings from Adelaide and selected interstate newspapers relating to municipal and civic affairs during the Depression years 1928 to 1936. The volumes are indexed and page numbered.

        Adelaide City Archives. Town Clerks Department (ClS) Newspaper clippings - General 1928-1936. Accession 283 Items 31 to 42

        Other relevant material may be extant among the City Engineer and Surveyor's Dockets which can be identified from the Kardex Index to City Engineer and Surveyors Dockets (Accession 2340).

        Need more information?

        For further information and assistance please contact the friendly staff at the City of Adelaide Archives Office:

        Send an email