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.
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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