Moonta Heritage Foundation
Visiting Moonta is a fascinating journey back into our Cornish mining heritage and the history of the area.
The National Trust of South Australia is the custodian of a number of heritage buildings in the Moonta Mines Heritage Precinct and they are staffed and managed by local volunteers of the Moonta branch of the National Trust.
A visit to the Moonta Mines Museum, with its many rooms of memorabilia highlighting the Cornish way of life and death, allows you to experience the ways in which our ancestors established this renowned historic area. Duck your head as you enter a typical Cornish Miner’s Cottage, take a train ride through the historic and very productive and rich mining precinct and see the historic ruins of the engine house and pump house. Watch a Blacksmith at work, sit in the huge space of the Moonta Mines Heritage Wesleyan Church with its mezzanine floor, research your family history (many Australians can trace their history back to the Cornish Miners of Moonta), take a walk along the many trails of this famous mining area, or go and buy some old fashioned lollies from the Moonta Mines Sweet Shop (formally the Moonta Mines Post Office).
Several heritage grants have been received from State and Federal Governments over the years to assist with the conservation of these historic buildings. However, we still have a long way to go to restore and maintain these historic buildings in the Moonta Mines Heritage Precinct.
The National Trust of South Australia is launching an appeal to raise funds for this important conservation project: The Moonta Heritage Foundation. The Foundation will accept gifts (fully tax deductible) to fund conservation and restoration works on heritage buildings and sites within the Moonta Mines National Heritage Precinct to ensure future generations are given the opportunity to learn and experience how their ancestors lived, worked and played their part in establishing this very historic region of South Australia, and indeed Australia.
The history of Moonta and the Moonta Mines
The name Moonta is derived from the aboriginal work Moonta-Monterra meaning impenetrable scrub. Walter Watson Hughes occupied the area as part of his Wallaroo sheep run and it was one of his shepherds, Patrick Ryan, who discovered copper in the mouth of a wombat burrow in 1861.
The Moonta field consisted of several mines, the main ones being Moonta, Yelta, Paramatta, Hamley and Mid Moonta. The Moonta Mining Company was the first in Australia to pay one million pounds in dividends to its shareholders. The Moonta Mining Company and the Wallaroo Mining Company amalgamated in 1889 and formed the Wallaroo and Moonta Mining Smelting Company. The mines worked until 1923 when the company went into liquidation. During the 1930’s small syndicates worked several leases, subsidised by the Commonwealth and State Governments. Since 1960 exploration companies have located many zones of copper ore bodies near the Poona Mine and Wheal Hughes, just north of Moonta have been mined by open cut and underground methods since 1989.
The district became known as “Australia’s Little Cornwall” because the early miners who emigrated to the district were of Cornish descent, most coming directly from Cornwall or via the earlier mining areas of the state. Headstones in Moonta Cemetery indicate the Cornish birthplaces of many early Moonta residents.
The Moonta Mines produced about 170,000 tonnes of copper metal and, along with the Wallaroo Mine, were the longest worked in South Australia’s mining history. The mechanical workshops were the largest in the southern hemisphere. Moonta was the first mine in Australia to have a Cementation Works (a process of further copper extraction from previously treated ore). The Gas Works and School of Mines outside of the metropolitan area were established at Moonta in 1872 and 1890 respectively.
The closure of the mines in 1923 led to a rapid decline in population particularly in the mine area, but Moonta survived as an agricultural and service centre. Since the 1970’s this has been supported by a growing tourism industry.
Appeal to raise funds for the statue of Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams KBE, CB, DSO, Father of the RAAF
Richard Williams was born in the National Heritage Listed Moonta Mines, South Australia on 3rd August 1890, eldest son of Richard Williams and Emily nee Hodge. His parents were Cornish. His father emigrated from Cornwall on the City of Adelaide.
Richard excelled at Moonta School and was offered a teaching position before working for the Moonta Post Office, a greengrocer, and the Union Bank. He then joined the South Australian Infantry Regiment in 1909 before being commissioned as a Lieutenant in the permanent forces.
In 1914 he was one of four trainees to complete the first military pilots’ course in Australia graduating as Australia’s first military trained pilot. Serving with No 1 Squadron (Australian flying Corps) in World War 1, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in August 1917 for conspicuous gallantry when attacking the enemy force and rescuing a pilot behind enemy lines. He then commanded No 1 Squadron in 1917 before assuming command of the Royal Air Force’s 30th Wing. By the end of the war, he was the AFC,s foremost operational commander.
Showing immense political acumen, he was instrumental in the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force in 1921 and its development between the wars. He also completed a pioneering flight to the South Pacific in 1926. Appointed the first Chief of Air Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force, he served in the position three different times for thirteen years rising to the rank of Air Marshal. Serving in World War 2 in various staff positions across the globe, he retired in 1946.
After leaving the RAAF, he led the Department of Civil Aviation and was knighted in 1954 and died in Melbourne on 7the February 1980, aged 89 years. He was accorded an Air Force Funeral, with a flypast by seventeen aircraft. To this day he is regarded as the “Father of the RAAF” and the most significant figure in the history of the RAAF.
The RAAF is celebrating Australia wide their Centenary this year. Moonta is honoured to be part of these celebrations and will honour Sir Richard Williams with a day of celebrations on the 29th August 2021.
A Bronze Statue of Sir Richard Williams has been commissioned from renowned Sculptor Tim Thomson. This statue will be placed in Moonta’s Queen Square and unveiled by the Premier of South Australia the Honourable Steven Marshal during these celebrations.
Your support to finance this project would be very much appreciated.
The Moonta Heritage Foundation will undertake a range of conservation and regeneration projects to ensure Moonta’s historic buildings preserved and enjoyed by future generations. We will undertake projects that utilise and pass on the skills associated with traditional trades and materials. Wherever possible we will involve the community as volunteers.
With your help we can establish a fund for heritage conservation projects in Moonta under the management of the National Trust. All donations of $2 and above are tax deductible.
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