In 1859 a shepherd discovered traces of copper in South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. This prompted a rush for mining leases and soon after, mines had been established in Moonta, Kadina and Wallaroo.
The area roughly bordered by these three towns became known as the Copper Triangle as a result (evolving to being named the Copper Coast after local council amalgamations in 1997).
Thousands of miners from Cornwall emigrated to South Australia to work the mines, and they flourished.
Moonta Mine was the first mine in Australia to pay one million pounds in dividends.
Moonta contained the country’s second largest urban population behind Adelaide.
The Moonta Company produced more than $10 million worth of copper.
The Moonta-Wallaroo mines produced around 350,000 tonnes of copper – this was nearly half the total mineral production of South Australia up to 1924.
By 1865, Cornish settlers were thought to make up over 42% of South Australia’s immigrant population, and by 1875 Moonta had surpassed Cornwall as the British Empire’s largest copper region.
By 1890, population of the district was approximately 30,000 people.
Profits from the mine were reinvested in South Australia or donated to organisations such as the University of Adelaide. A School of Mines was established, becoming an important precursor to vocational training in Australia.
Today, about 10% of South Australia’s inhabitants are of Cornish descent and the Moonta Mines area is under current Heritage Significance Assessment for formal National Heritage listing.
The heritage area contains an important collection of 19th century mining structures and covers most of the former Moonta Mining Company lease, including the main mining, industrial and residential components of Moonta Mines and Yelta.