South Australian Adoption Records

South Australian Statutes

Adoption of Children Act, No. 1692, 1925

Among other things, this Act provided:

  • regulation of to whom a female or male child may be adopted respectively (3)
  • that the child be under the age of 15 (2)
  • that applicants be ”fit and proper persons” (5)
  •  that a child over the age of 12 consents to the adoption(5)
  • that the parents consent to the adoption (6)
  • that  if parents are dead that that any person or body with legal custody must consent (6)
  • that except for a husband and a wife, no child shall be adopted by more than one person (9)
  • that after adoption the child “shall for all purposes…be deemed in law to be the child born in lawful wedlock of the adopting parents…and thereby terminate all the rights and legal responsibilities” of the natural parents (12)
  • for the temporary adoption of deserted children by the manager of any benevolent or other institution established in connection with any religious denomination  (15)

Adoption of Children Amendment Act, No. 2011, 1931

Among other things, this Act provided:

  • That where any person is the natural or adopted parent of any child, the spouse of such person may make an application for adoption of the child. (2)
  • that consent of the above of the spouse be given in evidence
  • that section 5 of the principal Act is amended (1925): that the child be under 21 years (6)
  • the court question the child in private, and no parent or guardian of the child, or any application for the adoption be present (6)
  • that an Adopted Children’s Register be established and maintained (10)
  • that any person shall be entitled to search the above register and to have an extract of any entry upon payment of a fee (7)
  • that in addition the  Adopted Children Register and the index, the Registrar-General should keep other registers, indices and books that make traceable any entry in the Register of Births which has been marked “Adopted”  and any corresponding  entry in the Adopted Children Register. But these should not be made available for open, public inspection to anyone except by order of the Supreme Court or to the adopted child who has reached the age of 17 years and to whom such information, copy, or extracts relates.

Adoption of Children Amendment Act, 1940 No. 4, 1940

This Act provided:

  • That where an adoption order is varied or reversed communication alteration should be made to the Adopted Children Register (2)

Adoption of Children Amendment Act, 1943 No. 18, 1943

This Act provided for reciprocal arrangements for transmission of adoption orders:

  • The responsible minister may make arrangements for the transmission to him of copies of orders of adoption made in any State or Territory of children born in South Australia and for the transmission by him of orders of adoption made in South Australia of children of any State or Territory (4)

Adoption of Children Act 1966-1967, No. 12, 1967

Among other things, this Act provided:

  • that “child” refers to a person under the age of 18 years (4)
  • penalty for natural parents or guardians who take, lead, entice or decoy a child away, or detains with the intent to deprive adoptive parents of possession of the child (42)
  • penalty for person who harbours a child on behalf of a person who takes, leads, entices or decoys a child away (43)
  • penalty for a person who makes, gives, receives payment or reward for  consideration in regard to an adoption
  • penalty for a person who publishes in a newspaper or periodical, or by means of broadcasting, television or public exhibition, any advertisement regarding the adoption of a child born or unborn (45)
  • penalty for making unauthorised arrangements for adoptions (47)
  • Adopted Children Register to be maintained
  • A charitable organisation conducting negotiations and making arrangements for the adoption of children may apply in writing to the Director for approval as a private adoption agency.
  • “Director” means Director of Social Welfare under the Social Welfare Act 1926-1965
  • hearings to held in camera
  • a child or other person may be asked to leave the room

Adoption Act 1988 No. 90, 1988

Among other things, this Act provided:

  • that The South Australian Adoption Panel be established (5)
  • for adopted adults, birth parents and relatives of birth parents to receive identifying information about each other. It also allows adopted people and birth parents, where the adoption was legalised prior to 1988, the right to restrict the release of information. (27)

The Adoption Act 1988 and Regulations

Other Acts that address aspects of adoption

The Freedom of Information Act 1991 – South Australia

State Records

The records of the State Children’s Department and its various incarnations are interesting for their references to early adoption policy and practice of state wards in South Australia. These records are open up until the mid-1920s and are available to view at the Gepps Cross Repository of State Records of South Australia.

Some records of the State Children’s Council (GRG27) and Destitute Board (GRG28) are incorporated in the Social Welfare Department Group (GRG29). In 1927 the Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Department took over function of the State Children’s Council and Destitute Board and continued some of the series as a part of its own records. On 26 January 1966 the name Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Department was changed to Social Welfare Department.


As a general rule, government records less than 30 years old are not available to readers without the permission of the department concerned. However, as some records in this group contain confidential information of a personal nature, special restrictions have been placed on them. Many of the records in this group have an 80 year embargo. For access to any files less than 80 years old in these series, application should be made to the Archivist, who has been authorised by the Director of Social Welfare to examine files to see if their contents are confidential. These restrictions apply to everyone except authorised officers of the Social Welfare Department, who must produce written authority to use or borrow restricted records. 

Note: For access to adoption records, contact Family and Adoption Service, 9th Floor, Citi Centre, Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide SA 5000, (08) 8226 6694 

Series date range Public access Series ID Series Title
1862-c1921 open GRG27/5 Ledgers of children boarded out
1862-1908 open GRG27/6 Index to ledgers of children boarded out
1877-1878 open GRS/6644 Letters of reference
1879-1884 open GRG27/33 Minutes of the Boarding out Society
1881-1891 open GRG27/19 Reports of inspectress of licensed foster mothers and wetnurses
1886-1910 open GRG27/17 Register of licensed foster mothers
1887-1926 open GRG27/31 Printed copies of annual reports of the State Children’s Council (also available as SA Parliamentary Papers)
1887-1927 part open GRG27/1 Correspondence files of the State Children’s Department. Includes letters from children complaining about their circumstances. (Take plenty of tissues.)
1898 open GRG27/23 Indenture for the adoption of Albert Edward Howe
1899-1910 open   Register of applicants for foster mothers licenses considered by the State Children’s Council
1902-1910 open   Register of children placed with licensed foster mothers
1911 open GRG2727/30 Printed brochure outlining the administration of the State Children’s Council
1855-1867 open GRG28/6 Ledger of children boarded out
1862-1892 open GRG28/7 Register of children apprenticed, adopted or licensed to service
1900-1922 open GRG28/14 Reports on applicants for admission to the Lying-in Home
C1920 open GRG28/28 Printed specimen of form of agreement of undertaking with the Lying-in Home
1886-1965 part open GRG29/124 Minutes of the State Children’s Council and the Children’s Welfare and Public Relief Board
1895-1900 open GRG29/171 Minutes of the Boarding-out Committee of the State Children’s Council
1930-1937 restricted GRG29/2 Weekly reports of the Chairman, Children’s welfare and Public Relief Board
1930-1933 restricted GRG29/17 Reports of Visiting Officer, Relief Branch to the Chairman, Children’s welfare and Public Relief Board
1938-1941 restricted GRG2978 Rough register of children available for adoption
1940-1945 restricted GRG29/95 Report and correspondence on war evacuee children from the United Kingdom
C1915 restricted (still?) GRS/914 Adoption files; Children, Youth and Family Services
1926 available 2006? GRS/7111 Adoption files (Adelaide); Youth Court of South Australia
1926 available 2006? GRS/7112 Adoption files (country); Youth Court of South Australia
1926 available 2006? GRG/8220 Adoption register of documents filed at Port Adelaide Court
1927 available 2007? GRG29/6 Correspondence files of the Social Welfare Department
1869-1969 part open GRG29/162 Alphabetical lists of children
1880-1932 open GRG/2915 Register of infants born in the Destitute Asylum
1910-1940 restricted
early stuff could be open by now
GRG29/93 Reports and correspondence concerning foster mothers and applicants
1911-1916 open GRG29/169 Minutes of Ladies’ Committee of State Children’s Council
C1920-c1950 part open GRG29/123 Files relating to children under departmental supervision
1921-1939 part open GRG29/73 Daily returns of children at the industrial schools
1927-1928 restricted
available 2007?
GRG29/71 Returns of children in the care of the Department
1943-1973 undetermined GRG29/142 Children’s files
1948-1964 open GRG29/125 Conference papers and correspondence on immigration of minors
1953-1956 undetermined GRG29/79 Notification of illegitimate births
1955-1975 open GRG29/155 Women’s Guild minutes, correspondence etc.
1959-1970 undetermined GRG29/137 Licensed foster mother files
1968-1970 undetermined GRG29/167 Correspondence files

Review Of Post Adoption Support Services

July 2005

In February 2005, the Department for Families and Communities (DFC) commissioned a Review of Post Adoption Services in South Australia. The aim of this review was to develop the best service model for South Australia to provide cost efficient service in post adoption support. The review and the relevant documents are available at

Children’s Homes in South Australia

Karen George, Finding your way: A guide to records of children’s homes in South Australia, (Nunkuwarrin Yunti, S.A. Inc., 2005)
Download in PDF form at SA Link-Up Website:

Oral Histories

There is precious little available in the way of oral histories that deal with adoption. The following interviews were conducted as a part of broader projects and refer to adoption. Since adoption is mentioned in the introduction, it may be possible that the interviewee went into at least some detail.

Many of these interviews were conducted some time ago. While in some cases death dates are not given, I expect at least some of the interviewees are no longer with us. SL

State Library of South Australia Archival database

Available at

Copies may be made for research and study. Publication only with written permission from the SLSA

      • Interview with Pam McLaren (1912-)
      • Interview with Lesley Cox (1918-2003)
      • Interview with Nancy Gemmell (1917-)
      • Interview with Gwen Smoker (1958-)
      • Interview with Edna Frost (1904-)
      • Interview with Lilian Johnston (d 1984)

Interview with Pam McLaren (1912- ) [sound recording]

Interviewer: Allison Murchi
Recorded on 29 July 2000

Pam McLaren was born in South Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia and was one of 10 children. Her father was a doctor at the Mental Hospital located in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. She speaks about growing up in Angas Street in the city, travelling overseas in her early 20s; moving to Walkerville; training at the Kindergarten Union during the Depression; opening a kindergarten in her own home; adopting a child as a single woman during the Second World War and experiencing prejudice as a single mother; her daughter contracting polio; and the Walkerville district including the House of Mercy for unmarried mothers.

Project: Walkerville Public Library Oral History Collection

Format: sound cassette
Group no: OH 401/15
Quantity: 1 hour
Use copies: Not currently available

Interview with Lesley Cox (1918-2003) [sound recording]

Interviewer: Catherine Murphy
Recorded on 21 October 1998

Lesley Cox was interviewed as part of the Honoured Women Oral History Project. The interview commences with her family background and her parents’ musical ability…There follows a description of her schooldays at Highclere, a small private school and kindergarten in Norwood, at Marryatville Primary School, Rose Park School and Presbyterian Girl’s College. Some observations are made on school and domestic life during the Depression; her working life as a shorthand typist and later, as assistant to solicitor Basil Harford; her marriage to her first cousin, Roderic Cuthbertson, and their adoption of three children, twin boys, Michael and Jeremy and a daughter, Heather. Brief comment is made on the Kate Cocks Home (see K. George, Finding Your Way referred to below) in the early 1950’s…Lesley Cox became a lecturer at the Kindergarten Teachers’ College, and taught School of Education students at Flinders University. Descriptions are given of drama performances she organised to raise funds for charity, including 22 performances of the Water Babies in the Tivoli Theatre (1979), with 1000 children involved, for the International Year of the Child. Details are given of choreography and costuming for the Down Syndrome Debutante Ball, and the Sacred Dance created for the Festival of Arts 1962. She describes the publishing of her many books, playscripts and music cassettes. Lesley Cox. was awarded an OAM in 1998 for her work with children, her contributions to teaching and her extensive fundraising for charity

Project: The Honoured Women Oral History Project
Format: sound cassette
Group no.: OH 505/1
Quantity: 2 hours 50 minutes
Use copies: Available on cassette (3 tapes)
Documentation: Full transcript available (51 pages)

Interview with Nancy Gemmell (1917-)[sound recording]

Interviewer: Rob Linn
Recorded on 26 November 1998

Nancy Gemmell was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday honours list, 1994, for service to conservation, local history and the community. Nancy Gemmell, nee Hambidge, was born in Adelaide, South Australia on 15 May 1917, and lived her early life at Mount Lofty. Her father was Clive Melville Hambidge, Surveyor General, and her grandparents, John and Cecile Hambidge, were Burnside pioneers. Her mother’s family, Pizey, were well known artists and her father had three Aunts, Helen, Alice and Millie Hambridge who were also artists. She attended the School of Art and in her second year studied under Ivor Hele. During the war she worked for the Red Cross and taught handicraft at Daws Road Repat. In 1947 she married Alan Gemmell and moved to Strathalbyn. In 1952 they adopted their son Richard.

Project: The Honoured Women Oral History Project
Format: sound cassette
Group no.: OH 505/4
Quantity: 1 hour 16 minutes
Use copies: Available on cassette (2 tapes)
Documentation: Full transcript available (26 pages)

Interview with Gwen Smoker (1958-) [sound recording]

Interviewer: Rosemary Willis
Recorded on 25 February 1994

Gwen Smoker came to the Goodwood Orphanage, South Australia when she was about three years old, when her mother could not look after her. She lived there for the next 12 years. While Gwen recalls some aspects of orphanage life as a matter of survival, she also expresses appreciation of the values instilled in her of honesty, loyalty and respect. She learned something of family life from holidays spent with host families. One couple maintained contact and adopted her as a young adult.

Project: Goodwood Orphanage Oral History 
Format: sound cassette
Group no.: OH 201/8
Quantity: 1 hour 16 minutes
Use copies: Available on cassette (1 tape)
Documentation: Full transcript available (24 pages)

Interview with Edna Frost (1904-) [sound recording]

Interviewer: Beth M. Robertson
Recorded on 18 July 1986

Edna Frost, nee Newbold, was born on the family’s wheat and sheep farm near Wauraltee on Yorke Peninsula. Her father was also a lay preacher in the Methodist Church and often was away all day on Sunday travelling between services. Edna was the fourth of five boisterous children; a sixth, her oldest sister, having been adopted by Edna’s father before this, his second marriage. In the latter stages of her schooling Edna, like her siblings, went to boarding school in Adelaide and she did not enjoy the experience. In 1920, four years after he had suffered a stroke, Edna’s father died and Edna left school to help her mother and brother with the home and farm. Three years later, when her brother married, Edna, her mother and youngest sister moved to live near an uncle in Salisbury. Edna attended Muirden College and worked briefly for a ‘so-called solicitor’ and then with the Co-op Building Society until her marriage to a commercial traveller in 1929. She had one son.

Project:  ‘S. A. Speaks’: An Oral History of Life in South Australia before 1930
Format: sound cassette
Group no.: OH 1/41
Quantity: 3 hours
Use copies: Available on cassette (3 tapes)
Documentation: Full transcript available (52 pages)
Notes: Technical quality affected by a good deal of background noise including traffic, aeroplane, and voices. Associated material comprises one photograph.

Interview with Lilian Johnston (d 1984) [sound recording]

Interviewer: Anne Geddes
Recorded in July 1983
Interviewer’s summary: Miss Johnston was a female factories inspector and then an adoptions officer in the Public Service
Project: Women Pioneers Oral History Project
Format: sound cassette
Group no.: PRG 727/2/2
Quantity: 2 hours 25 minutes
Use copies: Available on cassette (3 tapes)
Documentation: None currently available (Transcript, 44 pages, in production) this advice maybe out of date