Moonta Mines, South Australia

Living South Australian history

The discovery of copper in the colony of South Australia in the mid 1800s saved the colony from financial distress. (bankruptcy!) and brought prosperity to the rural areas around the mines. Moonta Mines was the settlement that grew around the copper mine, once the mine closed down the village lost most of its population and now is a historic site. I went along and visited it during a stay on the Copper Coast.

A model of Moonta Mines from its time as a mining town, remnants remain today, the large chimney, the school building and the railway line.

The Moonta Mines museum has an excellent and informative exhibition on the area, although it seems a bit strange to have a taxidermy wombat at the beginning of the exhibition, it's a very important part of the mines story. Without a certain wombat, copper might not have been discovered. The area had been a pastoral station and a shepherd saw a wombat hole where the wombat had dug out some copper. A mining claim was registered in Adelaide the mining commenced.

The miners who came out to work at the mines predominantly came from Cornwall. They brought along their familiar items and foods, Moonta and surrounding towns are the home of the Cornish pasty in Australia!

A replica mine tunnel in the museum, it really all is a very well done exhibition, great for children to understand the mining era in Moonta.

Once the ore was processed it was transported to Wallaroo to the smelters there and then exported.

At its height Moonta Mines was the second largest town in South Australia (after the capital city of Adelaide) and had a resident population of 5,000. The museum displays include replica shop frontages of the era that was found in the town.

Worldwide copper prices started to drop in the 1880s and the mining finally came to an end in 1923, with no mines to work in, people then began to leave the area in search of work elsewhere.

The Moonta Mine Museum can be found in the building that had been the Moonta Mines Model school, which only closed down in 1968. Something that I found somewhat surprising as it stayed open for over 40 years after the closure of the mine. The National Trust run the museum (free entry for National Trust members!) and I thought the exhibition was terrific, there are a number of rooms, including one set up like an old schoolroom complete with cane!

Next to the museum is the remains of the reservoir, constructed to provide clean water for the township.
And the Moonta Mines railway station where National Trust volunteers operate a little train that takes you around part of the township.

Across the road from the museum is a heritage sweet shop, housed in the building that had been the postoffice. The post office closed long ago, but there's still a postbox infront of it incase you want to post a letter! The Sweet Shop was doing a roaring trade the day I was there and so I didn't want to take a photo as there were far too many people!

A short distance from the museum are other parts of the mines story.
Richman's Enginehouse, this was one of three at Moonta Mines. It crushed and concentrated the ore once it was taken out of the mines and the ore was then sent onto the smelters. It was built between 1867 and 1869, and operated until the mines closed in 1923.

Right next to the enginehouse is a tailing heap. (The tailings being the bits left over from excavating the ore) There's a walkway up the tailings and it provides a really good view of the surrounding area from the top.

In a different direction from the enginehouse are the remains of the pumping station.
The Hughes pumping station and round Cornish chimney. (Thanks to visiting South Australian historic sites, I now know a lot about historic industrial chimneys!!) The pumping station was built between late 1863 and early 1865 and it pumped out water from the underground mines. 

Moonta Mines isn't a completely abandoned settlement, there are still inhabited cottages to be found, there was a small cluster that I found around the old Methodist church.

The Methodist (now Uniting Church) at Moonta Mines.
The church was built in 1865 at the peak of the mining boom and could seat 750, a gallery was added in 1871 and the seating was increased to 1200! It gives an indication as to how many people lived nearby to attend the church services.The church still holds services every Sunday and it's open for visitors to come and see as well.

The National Trust also have restored an old miners cottage, which unfortunately shut just as I got there so I only managed to wander around the garden. The cottage was built on a third of an acre which was the amount allocated to miners to build a residence, it has mud bricks, additional rooms made from wattle and daub as well as rammed earth. It was very labour intensive to build and so it's quite low, as the National Trust information says "Just as well, the Cornish miners were short in stature!"
The outside of the cottage was given a yearly coating of lime wash to keep the cottage waterproof. The stick fence around the cottage was to keep the children in and the goats out!

Moonta Mines is well worth visiting on a trip to the Copper Coast, it's all very well done so a great way to learn about another era and some South Australian history. I drove around, but there are also walking trails for those who like to hike and take in the surrounding countryside at a slower pace.