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Rundle Street Before It Became a Mall

Remember before the mall, when Rundle Street was open to vehicular traffic from King William Street all the way through to East Terrace?

In 1976, then Premier Don Dunstan officially opened Rundle Mall as a pedestrian only thoroughfare from King William to Pulteney Street and Adelaide and (although there is some debate surrounding this), became home to Australia’s first pedestrian mall.

Rundle Street was named after John Rundle who was a member of the British House of Commons and one of the original directors of the South Australian Company. The street was named on 23 May 1837 but I understand it was never meant to be Adelaide’s main thoroughfare. When Colonel William Light laid out his plans for the Adelaide square mile, the wider streets around Victoria Square were to be the centre of the city. However the land in that part of the young city was far more expensive so the traders of those early days bought the cheaper plots at the northern end, around Rundle Street, and set up business there.

By 1972 the narrow Rundle Street had become so congested with traffic and pedestrians it was reduced to a crawl for a good part of the day and so the government decided to turn it into a mall.

In a post last year on the Adelaide Remember When Facebook website, poster Geoff Cartridge recalled; “I was a junior clerk in the AMP society in King William street in 1968. I worked in the Groups Department on the 6th floor of the old brown AMP building. At the time it was the tallest building in Adelaide.

I remember the crush of pedestrians at the traffic lights before and after work. The buses disgorging hundreds of passengers in the rain. Rundle street was always packed with cars and pedestrians there were double decker trolley buses and with the rain and humidity, no one could see out of the fogged up bus windows. And gentlemen would give up their seats for little old ladies and attractive young ones too”.

It was before the time of the large suburban shopping centres and to do any serious shopping you had to go into the city. Rundle Street had major department stores like John Martins, Birks, Foy and Gibsons (later Cox Foys), Cravens and Harris Scarfes. There was also the picture theatres including the Regent, Sturt, Rex, Savoy, York and Plaza, the hotels and the major electrical retailers, milliners (every lady wore a hat then), fashion houses and a host of other retail shops.

Geoff continued; “What about lunches at the Hotel Rundle? Three courses for 50 cents! I am not joking. Three courses for 50 cents in 1968! On the corner of King William and Hindley Streets there was Tunneys Tobacconists with bowls of pipe tobacco displayed in the window. Nearby was a deli where you could buy double cut ham, salad, asparagus and pineapple rolls for 30 cents. The city was really alive then”.

Rundle Mall has undergone quite a few changes and a number of facelifts since it was opened in 1976, including the present relaying of the pavers at the eastern end (which seems to be taking forever). It’s always a great topic for discussion as to whether the changes really are an improvement on what was there before or whether it was really better off as a street.

What are some of your earliest memories of Rundle Street as you were growing up in Adelaide?



6 Responses to Rundle Street Before It Became a Mall

  1. Doug Tilley September 18, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    In the mid to late 60s, 100 or so Vespas (mainly) and Lambrettas all parked at right angles to the kerb, between James Place and King William Street, on any Saturday night.

  2. Malcolm Norton September 18, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    I remember cruising Rundle street Friday and Saturday nights when i was a young fella with my friends. There were always dozens of us just doing laps or parking for a while watching others doing it. and the Fuzz on foot patrol keeping an eye on us.

  3. Gail June 24, 2019 at 12:36 am #

    What was on the corner of Rundle and pulteney ..a furniture store

  4. Mike Roberts January 23, 2020 at 7:20 pm #

    My mother, Pat Roberts, was a ‘caller’ outside Woolies back in the 60’s – she would stand out on the pavement in Rundle Street enticing people into the store. How many of you have seen and heard my Mum over the years. Now a pedestrian zone – not the same is it.

    • Kay July 9, 2022 at 5:16 pm #

      Definitely NOT!

  5. Melissa Collins January 4, 2022 at 7:20 pm #

    Competition of a typing challenge that went in the Guiness Book of Records. My Aunty typing in Harris Scarfe shop window for 36 hours.
    Kay Price

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