I'm a resident of the northern suburbs of Adelaide, keen to share interesting ideas for weekend activities, especially but not exclusively, north of Gepps Cross.
Published March 29th 2015
How Green Rocks Saved our State
Kapunda is a picturesque town about an hours drive, north of Adelaide. It was South Australia's first mining town and after Gawler it is the second oldest town north of Adelaide. On the Kapunda Mine Trail, you can learn how the discovery of copper here saved South Australia from financial disaster.
Map the Miner looms up as you enter Kapunda
The settlement of South Australia was an experiment based on the ideas of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Where the other Australian states were founded as penal colonies to alleviate the over crowded British prison system, South Australia was to be settled by selected immigrants and no convicts. The fledgling state was to be self supporting by selling land to raise funds, rather than granting free land to settlers as had happened in the other parts of Australia. South Australia was proclaimed a British province (rather than a colony) in 1836, but by 1839 a decreased demand for land meant that South Australia was unable to support itself. Governor Gawler, the second governor of South Australia, was replaced by Captain Grey and the British government provided a loan to stave off economic collapse. In 1842, as the state was facing bankruptcy, copper was discovered in Kapunda. This discovery brought desperately needed money into the South Australian economy, allowing our state to become what it is today. Kapunda was one of the largest inland towns in Australia, during the mining boom.
Path at Kapunda's Mining Trail
Captain Bagot and Francis Dutton, both pastoralists in the Kapunda area, found copper ore outcrops, separately but around the same time in 1842. They sent the green coloured rock back to Britain to be tested and it proved to be the richest copper ore ever to be discovered. Mining commenced in 1842, with Captain Bagot's workers removing the surface copper with picks. By 1844 Cornish miners had arrived in the area and had started underground mining. The copper loaded rocks were sent to Port Adelaide by bullock wagon on a six day trek. From Port Adelaide they were sent to Wales, by ship, to be smelted.
As the mines grew older and deeper, technical issues started to arise - groundwater had to be pumped out and in 1847 a steam engine was installed for this purpose. The steam engine was also used to haul and crush ore, but by 1850 it's frequent breakdowns were evidence that it was being overworked and so in 1851 a new more powerful engine was installed. This engine had an underground flue which led to the circular smokestack which is still present today. In 1850 a smelter was erected on the mine site as it was no longer financially feasible to transport the ore to Wales for smelting.
In 1865, the mine was leased to a Scottish mining company in an attempt to improve profits. The ore was harder to get at, was lower grade and the mining operation had high running costs. The Scottish company took a radically different approach. They closed the smelters and built an expensive treatment plant which essentially cooked the copper ore with salt, to make copper chloride. The Scottish company also closed the underground mine shafts and went to an open cut mining system instead. The Scottish company made a small profit over the next ten years, but in 1877, copper prices crashed and the Kapunda mine closed in 1879.
Chimney at the Kapunda mines
The Kapunda Mine Trail is an easy to walk 1.5 kilometre circuit and is a fascinating look into South Australia's history. I would encourage you to have a pub lunch in Kapunda after you have walked the Trail!