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SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future


Mining has been a staple industry of South Australia since the early years of European colonisation. In March 1841, the Wheal Gawler silver-lead mine at Glen Osmond (now within the Adelaide metropolitan area) opened and was the first metal mine in Australia. The following year copper was discovered at Kapunda, north of Adelaide, by CH Bagot and F Dutton and a mine opened there in 1844. In May 1845 copper was unearthed at Burra Burra (now simply Burra) in the colony's mid-north. Copper was discovered on a property near Kadina on Yorke Peninsula called Walla-Waroo in late 1859 and mining began at Wallaroo Mines in 1860, shortly followed by the discovery of further copper deposits at Moonta in 1861.

Copper mining was to become one of South Australia's most important primary industries. In 1983 it was estimated that two-thirds of the metal mined in South Australia to that date was mined between 1860 and 1923 in the Yorke Peninsula region known as the 'Copper Triangle' (Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina). The profitability of metal mined in this area was enhanced by its proximity to the sea (Wallaroo is on the coast) and, therefore, to sea transport for overseas markets. By the 1870s, the Copper Triangle had become the largest producer of copper in the British Empire, eclipsing Cornwall, UK. Miners from Cornwall were attracted to immigrate to South Australia and their work, religious and cultural practises had a lasting impact on the area. Aside from the being known as the Copper Triangle, the region has also been called 'Little Cornwall' as a result. Descendents of the Cornish miners still inhabit the district today and a Cornish festival, Kernewek Lowender, is held there every two years.

Australia's first commercial iron ore mine was established at Iron Knob, in the Middleback Ranges west of Port Augusta on the Eyre Peninsula, in 1880. Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP), now known as BHP Billiton, took over the mine in 1899. The ore was transported from Iron Knob to BHP smelters at Port Pirie. Until rich deposits of iron ore were found in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Iron knob was Australia's largest iron ore mine.

South Australia's state gemstone, the opal, was first discovered at Coober Pedy in 1915. It is estimated that South Australia produces about 80 percent of the world's opals, primarily from fields at Coober Pedy, Andamooka and Mintabie, all in the state's far north.

Precious metals are also found in South Australia. Gold was first mined in South Australia in 1846 at the Victoria mine north-east of Adelaide and although the colony never experienced a gold rush as in Victoria and New South Wales, many gold mines were later established throughout the state. As mentioned above, silver was first mined at Glen Osmond in 1841 and today most South Australian silver is mined at the Olympic Dam Mine in the state's north.

Lead and zinc have been found throughout the state and are currently mined at mines such as Menninnee Dam, west of Port Augusta, and Eukaby Hill, north-east of Port Augusta.

Coal was first discovered in South Australia in 1885 near Pidinga in the state's west and subsequently found throughout the state. For many years this resource was not exploited and coal was imported from New South Wales for electricity production. During the Second World War, mining at Leigh Creek in the far north began and most of South Australia's coal is still taken from this area.

Uranium was first discovered in the Flinders Ranges in the early 1900s, but first mined commercially at Radium Hill, in the far north-east of South Australia, in the 1930s. Today, the main uranium mine in South Australia is Olympic Dam site near Roxby Downs; the world's largest known uranium deposit currently being mined.

Interior scene in the Burra Mine
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Miners at Iron Monarch
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Mining, Kapunda
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Prospectors, Mt. Grainger
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The Kapunda Copper Mine
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The mining area of Moonta
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