An Australian man accused of murdering his wife in 1973 told police she packed her bags and told her children "goodbye, you little bastards" before running away, a court has heard.

Geoffrey Adams, 72, is standing trial over the murder of his wife, Colleen Adams, at their home at Maitland, on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia, more than 46 years ago.

He has pleaded not guilty to her murder but guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Opening his Supreme Court trial in Adelaide on Monday, prosecutor Jim Pearce QC said Adams killed his then 24-year-old wife by hitting her on the head with a metal bar.

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"After killing his wife, the accused set about concealing his crime," Pearce told the court.

"Within a few hours, he dug a shallow grave in the backyard of the matrimonial home, and he buried Mrs Adams' body."

Geoffrey Adams is facing trial for the murder of his wife Colleen Adams in 1973. Photo / Channel 9
Geoffrey Adams is facing trial for the murder of his wife Colleen Adams in 1973. Photo / Channel 9

He said the couple had got into an argument after Geoffrey Adams returned home from a meeting one night in November 1973.

Pearce said the accused then struck and killed his wife while their two young daughters were in their bedroom.

"It was the following morning that the accused buried Mrs Adams in the backyard of their house ... having left her on the kitchen floor overnight," he said.

Jurors heard that Adams then concealed the crime by telling others his wife had got up, packed her bags and walked out because she "could not cope" with family life.

Colleen Adams was reported missing by a relative a month after her disappearance, but it was 12 months before her husband was interviewed by police.

Adams told officers his wife had been picked up by a woman driving a Ford Falcon sedan, leaving him and the children behind.

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He told police that Colleen Adams told her daughters "goodbye, you little bastards", and that she was "bloody glad" she was leaving and did not want to see any of them again.

"On the prosecution case, none of that was true," Pearce said.

Adams was interviewed by police as part of subsequent reviews into the case and in 1999 a team returned to Maitland with ground-penetrating radar to examine a slab of concrete that had been laid after Colleen's disappearance.

Pearce said nothing was found during that search because, although police were looking in the right area, the dig was not deep enough.

Geoffrey Adams has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife, Colleen, in 1973. Photo / Supplied
Geoffrey Adams has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife, Colleen, in 1973. Photo / Supplied

In 2018, information was released to the media and police again visited Adams to speak with him.

In a recorded interview, he "set the record straight" by telling police he killed his wife and buried her body under the slab of concrete in the backyard, the court heard.

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He told officers that "nice guys get pushed to the limit" and that he found it difficult to live with someone who suffered psychiatric conditions and post-natal depression.

Recounting the incident, Adams said he got home that night, the couple argued and "I just struck her a bit hard and that was it".

Police took the accused to the backyard in Maitland, he showed them where his wife's body was buried and her remains were finally recovered.

The remains of Colleen Adams were found underneath a concrete slab outside the Maitland home where she lived with her husband and daughters. Photo / Supplied
The remains of Colleen Adams were found underneath a concrete slab outside the Maitland home where she lived with her husband and daughters. Photo / Supplied

Defence counsel Bill Boucaut QC said large parts of the prosecution case would not be in dispute.

However, he said the fact that Adams told "a series of lies" about his wife's death does not mean he is guilty of her murder.

"Don't get the impression that, just because somebody might tell lies and, dare I say it, despicable lies, that does not necessarily mean that they are guilty of the crime of which they are charged," he said.

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Boucaut said the fundamental issue in the trial would be Adams' intention at the time his wife died.

The trial continues before Justice David Peek.