South Australia’s Little Cornwall

With the discovery of copper and the arrival of Cornish miners, the three towns in the Copper Triangle of South Australia – Kadina, Wallaroo and especially Moonta – have an affinity today, as in the past, with the baking of the traditional Cornish pasty; a reminder of the heritage that belongs to this area of the Yorke Peninsula. Moonta, 16km. south of Kadina, is often referred to as “Australia’s Little Cornwall” and is widely known for its copper mining and Cornish heritage. The many Cornish cottages and mining relics which abound in the area allow visitors to experience the atmosphere of bygone days. The name Moonta is derived from the Aboriginal word’s “Moonta-Moonterra” meaning “impenetrable scrub”.

The Moonta Mines produced the highest-grade copper in the world and were the longest operated mines in South Australia’s mining history. The mechanical workshops were the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. When mining operations ceased in 1927 the effect was felt throughout the whole area. The Moonta National Trust of South Australia has seen to the restoration of many pieces of mining equip-ment and thousands of artefacts are now housed in the former Moonta Mines School. What this museum holds reflects on the history of the Cornish miners and their fami-lies as they carved out a living so many years ago. The district became known as Australia’s Little Cornwall due to the fact that most people came from or were descendants of Cornwall. The Moonta Cemetery with its headstones is a history lesson in itself. The Kernewek Lowender – Cornish Festival – is held here annually, featuring such events as making the tra-ditional Cornish Pasty, Meeting the Cornish, Judging the best dressed Cousin Jack, The Furry Dance, Maypole Dancing and Gathering of the Bards of the Gorsedd of Cornwall in Australia and a Fer Kernwek – the traditional Cornish Fair. The first miners at Moonta were Cornishmen, using methods developed in Cornwall over several cen-turies. A miner began his life as a “pickey boy” whose job was to sit at a table or conveyor belt sorting good ore from waste. After a few years he would join a team working underground at the rock face sinking shafts and opening dri-ves, this was known as “tutwork”. Miners worked under extremely uncomfortable and dangerous conditions. They worked long shifts in near darkness surrounded by dirt, dust and deafening noise, with their clothes saturated by water seepage, they were in constant danger from rock falls or premature explo-sions; miners were also susceptible to lung disease caused by long exposure to dust and foul air. John Verran, born 9th July 1856 at Gwennap, Cornwall, was the son of a copper miner whose family migrated to South Australia. He spent eight years at Kapunda before moving to Moonta when copper was dis-covered there and began work in the mine at the age of nine as a “pickey boy”. He later became president of the local branch of The Amalgamated Miners’ Association. In 1901 he was elected to the State Assembly seat of Walleroo and became leader of the Labour Party in 1909 and Premier of South Australia in 1910. His government was defeated in 1912, he lost leadership of his party in 1913 and his seat in 1918. “Honest John” died 7th June, 1932 at Unley. The writer of this article is proud to own a medallion cast in his honour promoted by The Northern Yorke Peninsula Coin Club Inc., South Australia.