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Kapunda Took Out Gold, But the Town Struck Copper

It was a winning trifecta that never required Kapunda, Australia's first mining town, to look beyond the British Isles. The Irish were the labourers, the Welsh were the smelter specialists, and the Cornish were the miners.

For whom did they work? Ah, that would be other Englishmen. The English not only controlled the mine, but also the town. There was also a smattering of Germans escaping religious persecution who became timber getters to fuel the smelters. Some also grew fruit.

And the story of how Kapunda grew to become the heart of the Light Region in South Australia is told through a long mural. The left-hand half of the artwork is a recreation of an 1871 photograph of store owner Robert Brewster and his family alongside a local family enjoying a car ride circa 1910, but it was the right-hand half of the mural that really impressed the Australian Street Art Awards judges, leading to the piece winning the Best External Mural category.

“We love that this section is an authentic artistic reproduction of the Lord Palmerston Hotel and J. Harden Confectionery building in the exact location where those businesses once stood, even though the original building was demolished in 1968,” the judges commented.

Fifteen local volunteers pulled together to create this sizeable mural under the experienced guidance of artist Danny Menzel. The finished work is witness to the pride Kapunda residents obviously feel about the place their town played in forging an economically triumphant South Australia.

Kapunda abounds with fascinating heritage buildings

Let me explain… Copper was discovered in Kapunda in 1842 by a farmer, Francis Dutton, who then went into partnership with Captain Charles Bagot to buy the land where the green rocks had been found. Visitors can look into the eyes of both these leaders when looking at the mural.

Bagot initially employed the men who'd been his farm labourers to break up the ground. Then Cornish miners came, the mining turned underground and serious amounts of ore were pulled from the earth. Yet still there was a huge challenge - the ore had to be sent on a six-day trip by dray to Adelaide and then a three-month journey by sailing ship to Wales to be smelted. That's a long time to wait for any return on investment! And so much of the process was out of the owners' control. Dutton did not need that hassle, so he sold his lesser share in 1846 for a sizeable amount, entered politics and eventually became Premier of SA.

The Kapunda Mine went from strength to strength, producing 100 tons of ore each month by 1850. The following year the private partnership that had run the mine evolved into the Kapunda Mining Company and secured its first smelter.

Old Kapunda Mine site, once home to the most pure copper ever found

But then a funny thing happened. Gold was discovered around Ballarat, a mere five days' walk away, and many copper miners decided they'd try their luck in Victoria. For about three years that put a serious dent in Kapunda's copper production. How many of these 'deserters' struck gold? I'm guessing not many, because by 1855 Kapunda was back up to top production.

Kapunda's Map the Miner - big in stature, big in history

During its mining heydays the town also dominated the mining machinery industry, producing equipment for mines all over Australia, but by 1863 the main copper lode had been mined out. The years later the Kapunda Mining Company leased the land to another venture, which started Australia's first open cut mine. By 1878 that was no longer viable either and mining finished. By then, 4,000 people lived in and around the prosperous town.

More than £1 million of copper was produced from Kapunda, and it claims a title will be hard to beat: Kapunda was the richest, most pure copper ever found anywhere in the world!

On a whim... a horse-driven whim used to pull the copper ore to the surface. Sculpture by Joel Zimmermann.

More information: Light Country and Kapunda Mural Town SA.

By Awards Director, Liz Rivers


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