When the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in 19th century England, machinery was at a premium and this meant a shortage of metals. Major English, Scottish and Welsh companies turned their sights on South Australia after a rich belt of copper was found. Its exploitation not only satisfied the demands in England, but brought much needed revenue to a colony close to bankruptcy. The legacy of those activities lives on in the former mining towns of Yorke Peninsula and the South Australian Wheatbelt.
Miners’ cottages, Burra
Location: head of Yorke Peninsula, and the wheatbelt district, SA
Length: 307 km (southern loop only); add 367 km if the northern loop via Gladstone, Wilmington and Peterborough is included in the journey
Suggested return journey: the drive can be taken as a loop starting and finishing in Adelaide, or can be incorporated as part of a journey through the region, travelling north from Adelaide or south from Port Augusta. For the purpose of this exercise, this drives starts at Port Wakefield and finishes on the outskirts of the Barossa Valley, however you can start or finish the drive from anywhere in the region.
Features/attractions: old copper mining towns, copper mine ruins; South Australian wheatbelt; Clare and Barossa Valley wine regions; Yorke Peninsula
Minimum duration (one way): 1 day
As this drive visits many very interesting places with plenty to stop and look at, we recommend you allow much more than the 1 day minimum duration if you are to get the most out of a tour through the Copper Belt. There is far more to see and do than we have the space to document here, so we recommend you look out the visitor information centres at each of the major localities who will provide you with all the information you need to get those most out of your tour.
From Port Wakefield, drive north west to what is known as the Copper Triangle, a small area roughly 160 km northwest of Adelaide in which the towns of Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina are the points of the triangle. Moonta was the home to the richest cooper mine in Australia during the end of the 19th century. Considered by some as ‘Australia’s Little Cornwall’ a title perhaps taken from the fact that the first miners to the area were Cornishmen, a fact reinforced by the biannual Cornish Festival held in May.
The Cornishmen employed century old mining techniques to extract copper ore from the mines. It is reputed that The Moonta Company was the first mining company to shell out over a Million Pounds in dividends.
Mining relics at the mine at Wheal Hughes Mine, an old miners cottage nearby, a Methodist church and the old school, which is now a folk museum, tell the story of the Copper Triangle. Mining relics can also be seen at Wallaroo and Kadina.
From Moonta, travel north east through farmlands to Bute, Snowtown and Brinkworth. After reaching the village of Brinkworth, there is a turn-off north to Gladstone. If you have the time, a loop drive through the northern wheatbelt taking in the towns of Gladstone, Laura, Melrose, Wilmington, Orroroo, Peterborough, Jamestown and then to Clare is highly recommended.
Allow a good couple of hours for this loop as there is much of interest to see. If you are short on time, from Brinkworth, proceed direct to the town of Clare in the heart of the Clare Valley wine region. Though it is known for its fine rieslings, this area produces some of our favourite red wines. There are plenty of wineries to visit for some wine tasting if time permits.
From Clare, proceed east to Burra via Sevenhill, then Mintaro, a superbly preserved historic town on the eastern edge of the Clare Valley. Martindale Hall, a superbly preserved Georgian style mansion, was featured in the film Picnic At Hanging Rock, as the girls school.
Terowie station is where in 1942, General Douglas McArthur stood on the platform and gave his first press conference after emerging from the war-ravaged Asian islands, and made his famous declaration “I will return”.
Burra is a wonderful old copper mining town, with many historic buildings, miner’s dugouts, pretty Cornish cottages and National Trust sites still remaining. Once the largest inland centre in Australia, Burra is today a well preserved historic town, with a very informative museum at the mine site. Usually when I’m in Burra a treat myself to a genuine Cornish Pastie for lunch.
South of Burra, on the outer skirts of the Barossa Valley wine region, is the town of Kapunda, another historic copper mining town with strong roots back to the Cornish miners who worked the copper deposits here. Part of the original mine has been preserved as a walk-through open air museum. To the east of Kapunda is the town of Truro, where an old mine shaft has been preserved and can be visited.