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Yorke Peninsula


 

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This district was the ancient home of the Narungga people. The Narungga occupied the whole of what came to be known as the Yorke Peninsula, to as far north as present day Port Broughton. The Narungga consisted of four sub-groups, or clans: the Kurnara, Windera, Wari and Dilpa.

From the late 1840s the Peninsula was also the home of wandering shepherds caring for flocks belonging to European pastoralists including ex-sea captain Walter Hughes who took up the lease of the Wallaroo run in 1854 . One of these shepherds, Paddy Ryan, discovered copper ore on Hughes' land in 1861 - reputedly in a wombat's burrow. Ryan died soon afterwards, but Hughes and his co-investors became very wealthy men. The network of lodes which made up the legendary Wallaroo and Moonta mines brought wealth to their owners, and led to the founding of South Australia's three largest towns outside of Adelaide - Kadina, Wallaroo and Moonta. Within four years the three towns had a combined population of 8,000. Cornish miners - world famous for their skill over thousands of years - flocked to the area. Under mine manager 'Captain' HR Hancock, the towns of the northern Yorke Peninsula came to be not only 'the copper triangle' but also 'Little Cornwall', as Hughes and Hancock imported thousands more miners direct from Cornwall. When mining collapsed in 1923, the cartoonist and former mine captain, Oswald Pryor, made the Yorke Peninsula's Cornish-Australian miners world famous through his 'Cousin Jack' and 'Cousin Jenny' cartoons.

But the Peninsula was not only the home of Cornish copper miners. The large runs of the wealthy pastoralists were gradually broken up and turned into smaller farms to meet the demand for agricultural land. From the 1870s agriculture became a vital component of Peninsula life and was increasingly important as world copper prices fell and the affluence of mining slowly dissipated. The tiny towns and settlements of the Peninsula clung onto existence through barley and wheat crops. A bustling coastal trade was built up around the export of grain to Port Adelaide, and the import and later production of superphosphate. Gypsum and limestone quarrying were significant industries on the lower Peninsula.

Amongst these miners and farmers a political dichotomy grew up on the Peninsula. The infant South Australian Labor Party was nurtured by the local mining union (formed after the 'Great Strike' of 1874) and particularly through local miner turned South Australian Premier, John Verran. Other sections of the community, notably including many local women, supported the birth of the Liberal Union, out of the earlier Farmers' Unions, in 1910.

A similar mixed set of outlooks existed in religious circles. Although the Cornish miners under the pious Captain Hancock formed a community who were 80 per cent Methodist church members, the Peninsula was also the home of a strong Catholic community with an early convent school at Kadina in the care of Mary MacKillop's Josephite nuns. At Wallaroo a group of Welsh miners established a Welsh speaking Congregational Church. An array of visiting evangelists contributed to often spectacular religious revivals. The Cornish were proud of their strong historic associations with Wesleyan Methodism and replicated larger versions of their chapels on the soil of Australia which were funded by the local mineral wealth. But despite the strength of teetotal Methodism, Kadina witnessed two 'beer strikes' protesting at the local price of alcohol, in 1902 and 1920. And Wallaroo was the home of the only South Australian woman ever to be sentenced to death - the accidental murderer, Elizabeth Woolcock.

With the end of mining and changes to agricultural methods, the social and economic focus of the Peninsula changed once again. From the 1950s cheap subdivisions and government leases around the coast, together with increased motor vehicle ownership, brought the rise of shacks fanning out from Ardrossan along beaches including Port Julia, Black Point, and in many other places around the long coastline. With the Peninsula now the home of small farming communities, tourism became an important supplement to the local economy. Based in the Cornish heritage of the area, an annual 'Cousin Jack Carnival' began in 1963. In 1973, through the vision of Premier Don Dunstan, 'the world's largest Cornish festival' was born, with the advent of 'Kernewek Lowender'. The festival has continued to be a biennial celebration of the Cornish heritage of the Peninsula.

The Narungga people had dwindled to less than 200 at the birth of the copper mines in 1861. In 1866 a Moravian missionary, Julius Wilhelm Kuhn, passing through on his way to Coopers Creek, was persuaded to stay and found the mission which, with 70 Aboriginal residents, became Point Pearce. A school and church were started and the mission worked to be self-sufficient through farming. From the 1950s, under government assimilation policies, most of the remnant descendants of the Narungga moved to the northern suburbs of Adelaide. In 1972 almost 6,000 acres of land was returned to the Point Pearce Community Council, managed from 1974 by the Narungga Farming Company as a remnant of the most ancient people of the land.

Further reading:

Mattingley, Christobel and Hampton, Ken (ed.s). Survival in our own land: Aboriginal experiences in South Australia since 1836, Adelaide, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 1988

Payton, Phillip. Making Moonta: the invention of Australia's little Cornwall, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007

Pryor, Oswald. Australia's little Cornwall, Adelaide, S. Aust.: Rigby, 1962

Pryor, Oswald. Paddy Ryan's tragic end, [Moonta, S. Aust.: National Trust, 1976?]


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