Kapunda, S.A.

Kapunda is a large and prosperous township which has enjoyed three clear periods of development - the period of copper mining, the period when it was the base for Sir Sidney Kidman's huge cattle operations, and the current period when it has become an important service centre for the surrounding rural area.

Where is it?: Kapunda is located 79 km north of Adelaide

A place with the reputation of being the most haunted town in Australia, Kapunda was a keystone in the early development of South Australia. It has the distinction of being the oldest copper mining town in Australia, but not the oldest copper mine. The honour of this goes to Noarlunga, where a copper deposit was discovered and worked on the banks of the Onkaparinga River in May 1841.

The town and mine area are now a part of the National Estate. Some of the buildings are decorated with exceptionally fine examples of intricately patterned iron lacework, which were wrought at the local foundries. Pastoral landowner Sir Sidney Kidman once had his headquarters here and in 1921 donated his house to the education authorities. His local horse sales were reputed to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Kapunda Mine Trail

An easy walk close to the town centre, which passes through the Kapunda copper mining area. It takes about one hour to complete. Interpretive signs explain how the ore was once mined and treated. You can pick up a map of the trail from the Kapunda Visitor Information Centre. The Mine Lookout can be accessed by taking Lucas Street east from Main Street, turning south into Whittaker Street which becomes Mine Street and then turning into Morton Street which leads towards the Mine Lookout chimney. There is a fence around the site so you have to walk to the chimney.

There is no better way to understand the process of mining which occurred in the district than to visit the main open cut mine. There is a walk around the edges of the cut and it is possible to go down into the valley where the miners worked and look into the various small cuttings in the sides of the valley. The area has a large number of descriptive displays which point out the features of the mine and provide fascinating early photographs which show the views, which are full of buildings and activity. The mine chimney (which was built in 1852) stands like a sentinel on the hill above the operations. It is still possible to see the sides of the cuttings covered in the distinctive bright green of copper washed down by the rains.

Below the Mine Lookout is a pleasant and interesting walk around the edges of the old Open Cut mine. There are descriptive panels with old photographs around the edges of the mine and at various points it is possible to walk down into the valleys where the ore was mined. You can still see the green in the rocks.

Map the Miner

The first sight to greet visitors to Kapunda is that of 'The Big Miner' which looms over the road into the town. This is a depiction of 'The Cornish Miner' who was instrumental in the development of this whole region. The statue was named Map Kernow, being the Cornish dialect for 'Son of Cornwall'. It was unveiled on 5 June 1988. The sculptor was Ben Van Zetten who was commissioned. The statue is a monument to the profound, role and contribution of the Cornish miner in the Kapunda and in due course in other mines in South Australia. The Kapunda mine, established in 1844, was the first successful metal mine in Australia and contributed greatly to the economic development of South Australia. Up to its closure in 1878 ore to the value of more than £1 million was produced and up to 340 men and boys, mainly from Cornwall were employed.

Herald Printing Office - Bagot's Fortune

Two or three doors along at 5 Hill Street is Bagot's Fortune, the perfect introduction for anyone wanting to understand the rich mining history of the district. Through a series of excellent displays it depicts the lives of the early miners. There is a model of a miner pushing a load of copper ore, a small mine, a miniature of the main Kapunda mining operation and an accurate recreation of an Irish workers cottage at Kapunda in the 1840s. The building, the old Herald Printing Office, was completed in 1866 to house the operations of the Northern Star, a local newspaper which had started in 1860. The Kapunda Herald was published in this building from 1864-1950.

Kapunda Museum

This large building was originally the local Baptist church and was built in 1866 with some financial assistance from George Fife Angas, one of South Australia's most important early citizens. The building ceased to be a church in 1948 and was used as a technical school until the 1960s. The unusual architectural style of the building is known as French Romanesque. Although it is open daily from September to May and open Sundays and public holidays during June, July and August 1:00 p.m.to 4:00 p.m. (contact tel: (08) 8566 2021 or (08) 8566 2603) it is well worth visiting. It has one of the finest collections of old record players (from cylinders through the 78rpm machines) in the country and also has a particularly interesting collection of early motorcycles. There are lots of interesting memorabilia spread through the building and it is easy to spend a couple of hours.

Gundry's Hill Lookout

Head north along Main street and turn left into Clare Road and then right into West Terrace. Follow the road until you come to the signs to Gundry's Hill Lookout. This offers an excellent overview of the township and the surrounding agricultural land. It was here that a Captain Gundry managed an early copper mine.

Mine Square Cottages

This Mine cottage is all that remains of three rows of six attached stone cottages built by the Kapunda mine owners on their property to house mining families. The first two rows were built by 1845 and the third by 1849. This is a portion of the third row. It is not available for inspection.


Founded in 1842, Kapunda can be considered the birthplace of Australia's commercial mining history. Mining dominated the town for more than thirty years. When the mine closed in 1877, the town became the centre for a thriving pastoral industry and later the home of the world's largest private landowner, Cattle King Sir Sidney Kidman. He made the name Kapunda once again famous throughout Australia and the world for thirty years with his yearly horse sales.

During its mining days it produced equipment such as Cornish boilers and other machinery for mines all over Australia. Not only that, it also supplied the northern mines with transport facilities and miners, including August Helling. By the time the mines closed the town had a population of well over 2,000 people with a similar number of people living around the town. Before the discovery of copper, land in the area was occupied by a number of pastoralists and some Aborigines who occasionally annoyed them by killing their sheep. Francis Dutton and Charles Bagot almost simultaneously discovered the copper in 1842 but as their families only had the land on leasehold, it was kept a secret until they had bought the land at the going rate of that time of $2 an acre.

A few Cornish miners, who were already in South Australia, were hired and mining was started in January 1843 with an official opening by Johann Menge. Soon more Cornish miners from Cornwall were engaged and before long the town had a truly multicultural society. The largest group in the early days was the Cornish, most of them miners followed by the Welsh who were mainly concerned with the smelting and engineering aspects of the mine. Other groups were the Irish who assumed the labouring duties and some farming and the Germans who were also involved in the smelting and farming. The English controlled the mine and town.

Each of these ethnic groups had different reasons for migrating to South Australia. The English sought wealth, the Irish escape of famine and the Germans religious freedom. They all contributed to the development of the mine and town, although there were the occasional disagreements, flights and even riots between the different groups. Dutton sold his 25% share of the mine for more than $30,000 in 1846, entered politics and eventually became Premier of South Australia before returning to England. There were several pastoralist/mine-owners who would enter politics and become Premier. John Baker part-owner of the South Kapunda mine, John Hart, William Morgan, Sliding Rock and Sir Henry Ayers of the Burra are just a few to mention.

Irishman Patrick McMahon Glynn, solicitor, became involved with the local newspaper and later became the first South Australian to be appointed Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Australia. Kapunda itself has produced more than thirty members of parliament including six Premiers. One Kapunda descendant even became Prime Minister of Australia. Kapunda marble was used extensively for South Australia's Parliament House.

Kapunda can claim a few "firsts". Among them having the first horse whim, first Cornish beam engine and the first open cut mine in Australia. In 1866 the town's District Council was formed and in that same year one of Australia's first Australian rules football clubs started playing in Kapunda. In November 1870 Miss Thorne lectured at Kapunda on 'Young Womanhood'. The attendance was very large and the lecture was delivered 'really well' according to the local newspaper reporter. Miss Thorne had also been lecturing at other towns in the north and on Sundays preached in the Baptist Chapel at Kapunda when seats, aisles and platform of this large building were crowded, and many people had to be turned away.

Long after the closure of its copper mine Kapunda had its own gold rush at the Moppa field. Within a few days claims were pegged out, tents went up and a blacksmith opened up for business. While nothing startling had been discovered like in Bendigo or Coolgardie, the field provided employment for a large number of men, during the 1890s depression, who otherwise might have walked the streets in search for jobs.

Map The Miner

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