SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S COPPER BELT
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The Copper Belt Triangle between Wallaroo, Moonta and Kadina
In the early colonial days, when the population of this vast country was very sparse indeed and most of the inland territory was unexplored, a steady trickle of new settlers continued to arrive, mostly a hardy lot, as they needed to be, to create the new colonies from a harsh and unforgiving land. A number of lone men tried their hand at fossicking, ever hopeful of finding gold. Thus, when the first few of them did strike the precious metal at various remote spots, there was an immediate rush to those areas, with invariably an influx of hardworking Chinese, employed by Hong Kong businessmen to increase their already considerable fortunes. In the rush to strike gold, men arrived from all over the world. Many died, others almost starved or became seriously ill, as rough gold fields were no places for sick folk. A few lone men made their fortunes and certainly big overseas investors at the time were able to increase their wealth by mining the minerals commercially. While digging, scratching, sluicing or panning for gold, inevitably other minerals showed up at various points and these included silver, tin and copper, all of which were good money makers, although the independent miners of the day preferred gold.
In the central north of what is now the State known as South Australia some gold was found, as well as some silver and tin, but the main veins were of copper - a metal which at that time was fetching good prices, because the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in England and to a lesser extent America and Europe and they were catching up fast. Machinery was at a premium and this meant a shortage of metals, so major English, Scottish and Welsh companies turned their sights on South Australia and sent out skilled representatives to assess the possibilities. At the same time, the tin mine owners in Cornwall, in the south west corner of England, where this mineral had been mined by Cornishmen for thousands of years, were becoming increasingly alarmed. At last the ore was petering out, no matter how deeply they dug. As they closed down or cut back on staff, the miners were unable to feed their families when they were sacked from their jobs. Some of these men managed to scrape together the fare to get out here under their own steam, with the promise or likelihood of copper mining work at this end. Where major mining companies decided to set up operations out here, they offered men the jobs on a contract basis with basic cottage accommodation provided for the men and their families. So out they came, full of hope, those Cornish Jacks and Jennies, as they were called in those days. In the heyday of the South Australian copper industry, there were major, overseas owned mines at Kapunda, Burra, Wallarroo, Moonta and Kadina where men toiled long hours six days a week in huge mines for their masters. Some, who had come out independently, had no money to buy or rent a cottage, so they burrowed rooms into the side of the river banks, inserted chimneys and lived in that fashion until they could hopefully progress to a shack of their own. When the river flooded, they lost everything they had, if anything and had to start again. After the copper petered out here too, the mine owners didn't care what happened to these people. They returned to the UK and got on with other investment projects. Some of the miners had managed to scraped together enough money to return to the land of their birth. Others trudged on foot to the larger towns seeking work. The hardiest stayed on and tried to tame the land for agricultural purposes. Their descendants still live in these delightful pioneering townships, which languished for over half a century, until they realised the tourist potential of their area. Every other year now they hold a Cornish Festival (the Kernewek Lowender) and dress in old Cornish costumes, eat Cornish pasties and other traditional fare, give brass band concerts, enjoy colourful parades and other activities. Some of these folk can still speak and write the old Cornish language, which is now enjoying something of a revival in the area. And what a host of sights, first rate cottage accommodation and activities there are to be found and enjoyed here. Each of these towns has a tourist information office, with heaps of free literature available for the asking. The staff can also recommend and book accommodation for visitors and they never fail to do it with a cheery smile. All this around three hours or less by road from Adelaide.
Driving up from South Australia's capital, be sure to take in Kapunda, with its lovely old buildings, its gigantic statue of a Cornish miner, complete with headlamp, pick and tucker tin. There's a grand mural too, alongside the statue and a great park in which to stop for a picnic. The colourful areas of old tailings and mine buildings are worth a photo or two. Excellent colonial style B&B accommodation can be found in this town, with all the modern amenities unobtrusively added for total comfort. From here, move on to Burra, with its spectacular tall brick chimneys, so reminiscent of those to be seen all over Cornwall in England, where mining has been terminated. The timber from the buildings around them has long since fallen, or been 'confiscated' to fuel someone's fires after the mines closed down, so the chimneys seem to rear up from the bare, undulating terrain like ghosts. Again, there are big, startling old tailing pits, with a myriad of colours in the walls, having been stained by the minerals for over 150 years. A good way to see Burra is to call at the information office in the centre of town and purchase a fun, low cost Burra passport (which lists all the places to visit). This comes with a key and you can use it to open a number of important historic buildings in and around the township, such as the old gaol and the powder magazine. (There is a small deposit involved). It will also allow entry to the quiet reserve where several of the early earth walled homes in the banks of the river can still be seen. Burra has an old world village square with a rotunda, a traditional brass band and a thriving community. Many of the early miners cottages are now very well equipped B&B accommodation, some with only one bedroom, but most with two and all delightfully furnished in period style. It really is a good idea to spend a night or two here and either take the self conducted tour, or one of the guided ones.
From Burra, in an hour or so one can drive across to the Copper Triangle, as the three townships of Wallaroo, Moonta and Kadina (which form the corners of the triangle) are known. One can whip around them all briefly in a day, but it is much more enjoyable to rent one of the historic cottages and stay for a night, or two, or three. For instance, the Miner's Hut is a three bedroom cottage (built in 1870), with every conceivable comfort, including a four poster, beautifully draped bed in one of the rooms and a mighty barbecue patio out back. It can be found in the Wallaroo Mines at . You can sit on the front verandah and watch the sun set behind Harvey's old engine house and next morning, after you've cooked your huge, supplied breakfast, you can stroll across the road and ramble through the remains of all the old mine buildings, of which there are many, so it pays to buy a small booklet about them in the tourist office first and follow the map as you walk around, being careful where you tread, as this is a Heritage listed area.
The Kadina Heritage Trail takes in the old railway station, a really great Currency Museum, the pioneers' cemetery, the old hotels and much more, including the Heritage Museum. There's a great square outside the tourist centre, with a big old loco in the centre and lots of huge, leafy trees, ever ready to shade picnickers at any time.
At nearby Moonta, there are more numerous abandoned mines to be explored, then there's an excellent museum in the old Mines School (now National Trust), plus another (much newer), as well as Ryan's Shaft and heap, the powder magazine (1875), Taylor's Shaft, scores of fine early civic buildings and the old lolly shop opposite the the Mises School, which incidentally also has a collection of steam locos in the adjacent sheds. These are used to provide 50 minute rides for tourists at weekends and in school holidays. The 1908 railway station is somewhat ornate, then there's the small old Druid's Hall, many well kept mine foremen and manager's cottages and some elegant, two storey, lace embellished, early hotels to be seen. The copper, once mined, was smelted before it was shipped to the UK and thus Wallaroo became an important part of the triangle, for it was here that the giant smelter was to be found. From its jetties, badly needed goods and extra machinery and explosives were unloaded. Copper was then stacked aboard for its long voyage to Europe. In quiet, clean and friendly little Wallaroo, one can browse leisurely through the Heritage and Nautical Museum and stroll down to Price's Jetty where, in the late 19th century it was common to find half a dozen or more big sailing ships busily unloading and reloading. Now all you'll see are the big, modern grain silos. The courthouse, police station, Kirribilli House, the Waterside Workers' Hall, the town hall and railway station are all on the Heritage Walk. Here, as in the other townships, there is a wide range of cottage B&B accommodation available. In addition, there are the pubs and each town has its caravan park, always ready to welcome visitors. At nearby Port Hughes and Moonta Bay there are a couple more caravan parks, offering powered and tent sites, plus air conditioned family cabins, with colour TV and full cooking facilities, to rent by the night or week.
So much to see and, if you enjoy our history, so much to learn
about this quiet and unique corner of the world. Don't miss it.
Related Links: South Australia