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Aerial view of MAB building Tonlsey

Tonsley Innovation District brings together leading-edge research and education institutions, established businesses and startups, business incubators and accelerators, plus government and the wider community to connect, collaborate and innovate.

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About the project

The former 61-hectare Chrysler/Mitsubishi Motors site continues to transform into a globally recognised Innovation District.

The redevelopment of Tonsley is facilitating growth in high-value manufacturing and its four focus sectors, cleantech and renewable energy, health, medical devices and assistive technologies, mining and energy services and automation, software and simulation, and is contributing to a resilient and prosperous South Australian economy.

Over the past ten years, Tonsley has risen to be Australia’s most awarded Innovation District and has become a benchmark globally, driving excellence in executing the Innovation District model comprising of physical, economic and networking assets.


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Objectives and outcomes

Tonsley Innovation District has surged into its second decade of operation, continuing its laser-focused commitment to driving innovation and energising the state’s economy.

The government-led District, has made dramatic strides since opening in 2012. From its initial remit to re-ignite a stalling manufacturing sector in Adelaide’s southern suburbs following the closure of the Mitsubishi plant in 2008, to now solving some of the world’s most complex problems through creative innovation, Tonsley has become a global benchmark for the successful re-use of a former industrial site.

As a hub for cutting-edge research and development, Tonsley has driven Adelaide’s transition from traditional to high-value manufacturing and with it, built out the state’s sovereign capability.

Around 2,000 people across 150 organisations are now employed at Tonsley – more than double than when Mitsubishi closed. 8,500 students’ study alongside this highly skilled and specialised workforce each year at anchor academic institution Flinders University, and TAFE SA. And more than 660 residents call Tonsley home as part of its growing community.

These statistics reflect the substantial increase in scale, productivity, output, and economic impact of Tonsley in its first 10 years. Much of Tonsley’s competitive advantage and its positioning as a global leader in innovation comes from the strategic identification of four focus sectors - health, medical devices and assistive technologies; cleantech and renewable energy; automation, software and simulation; and mining and energy services.

During the next 12 months, a new long-term governance model for Tonsley will be defined as the state government further refines its desire for a strategic and coordinated approach to the management of South Australia’s innovation districts and economic zones.

This state-wide Innovation District Framework will provide new scope for Tonsley to grow its impact, leverage opportunities and attract more investment as the entire state capitalises on its multi-billion-dollar AUKUS nuclear submarine deal. The new model will foster stronger connections between Tonsley, Lot Fourteen, Adelaide BioMed City, Osborne Naval Shipyard, Edinburgh Defence Precinct, Waite Research Institute and the future Australian Space Park in a bid to unlock value and supercharge innovation.


Renewal SA has so far unlocked 48.5 hectares of Tonsley’s 61-hectare footprint, including the award-winning MAB, which has set a new benchmark for sustainable urban regeneration projects nationally.

The 5-hectare outer shell of the MAB was strategically retained from its assembly line days and adapted into a magnetic and accessible space peppered with lush urban forests, placemaking, services and easy links to Adelaide’s rail network and greenways. The result is a true ‘centre of gravity’ within the District, not only for the dozens of businesses and students who work and study there, but for the wider community, which over time has come to utilise it as a place of gathering and connection. Weekends at Tonsley are now filled with community events, citizenship ceremonies, birthday parties and rite-of-passage moments for young children learning to ride their bikes on the MAB’s vast concrete floor.

On the MAB roofline, 13,000 solar panels have been linked up to a District-wide energy scheme, capable of producing up to 80% of Tonsley’s current energy needs.

Throughout the last decade, Tonsley has advanced sustainable transport endeavours by hosting autonomous bus trials. It has welcomed Tesla’s service and maintenance hub, which is responsible for optimising the capabilities of Tesla Powerwalls used in some of the world’s largest battery storage facilities. And it’s demonstrated its continued environmental commitment through the planting of some 42,513 plants and trees site wide.

Heritage and culture

For thousands of years, Tonsley and the surrounding areas were home to the Kaurna people. The land was crossed by the Wattiparinga Creek that runs into Sturt River north-west of the area. The Sturt River (Warri-Pari) provided a transport route for First Nations peoples moving from the hills to the coast. Plants and animals near the river provided food sources; the Kaurna took fish and yabbies from the river and hunted other animals such as ducks and other wild fowl, possums, kangaroos, wallabies and small marsupials.

The river was a special meeting place for celebrations and rituals. Gatherings sometimes included other clans, as well as the Kaurna. The First Nations peoples gathered at nearby Warriparinga (bounded by present day Stuart Road, South Road and Diagonal Road), which is now home to the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre.

The land to the north of Warriparinga was a ‘law ground’ for the Kaurna people. Traditionally Aboriginal law was decided in councils of men who met on law grounds that were usually within the boundaries of a tribes’ country. Law grounds were also used to put young Aboriginal men and women through traditional law. The Kaurna law ground may have encompassed present-day Tonsley, although this is not clear.

Post settlement, in 1839, the land now known as Tonsley was purchased by Henry Watts as his country estate and in 1868, Richard Ragless took possession of the property and after purchasing a number of neighbouring sections, he renamed the area Tonsley, after Tonsley Hall in England.

In the years that followed, the land was primarily used for farming, market gardens and vineyards until in 1955, Chrysler purchased 73 hectares of land for its motor parts and accessories division and the construction of an engine plant. In 1979, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation of Japan purchased a share of Chrysler Australia and the following year they purchased the remaining share, changing the company’s name to Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited. In 2008, Mitsubishi closed its assembly plant and the site was purchased by the state government in 2010. Since then, work has been underway to deliver a new vision for the site and its transformation to becomes a sustainable economic base for future industries.

*History taken from Tonsley – Cultural Heritage Report prepared by Martins Integrated


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