An international campaign to have South Australia’s Cornish mining sites World Heritage listed is gaining momentum. In the mid 1800s thousands of Cornish miners flocked to Burra in the state’s Mid North and shortly after to Moonta on the Yorke Peninsula to mine two of the largest copper deposits in the world, at that time.
Philip Payton, a professor of Cornish and Australian Studies from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, says the sites deserve global recognition by the United Nation’s heritage organisation (UNESCO).
Cornwall’s own mine sites are already World Heritage listed but Professor Payton says that only tells part of the story. “It’s not really complete until people recognise that actually there’s an international linking,” he says.
“That it’s a global story and if places like Burra and the copper triangle don’t feature in that somehow, the experience in Cornwall is diminished.”
It’s estimated 500,000 Cornish migrants left England between 1815 and the start of World War I, as the once booming mining industry on their home soil slowed down. But their advanced mining skills were an asset to other projects emerging all over the world. “They were cutting edge,” said Professor Payton.
“Cornwall was the centre of [mining] skills and technology and where the steam power for mining engineering was really developed and brought to its pinnacle.
“They were the expert hard rock miners so they could sink shafts in extremely hard rock whether it’s granite or limestone and they had a particular method of extraction.”
Mining began at Burra in 1845 and while copper was initially processed back in Cornwall, four years later a smelter began operating on the site too.
Copper was later found at Moonta and nearby Wallaroo and Kadina, a region known at the ‘copper triangle’, and miners flocked there during 1859 and 1861,
“Burra first of all and then Moonta and Wallaroo became powerhouses of Cornish expertise and knowledge,” Professor Payton said.
While the mines provided an immediate boost for the state, saving South Australia from bankruptcy at the time, the Cornish had a longer lasting impact on Australia’s mining industry as a whole.
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