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Moonta is a town located on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia, 165 kilometres north-northwest of the state capital of Adelaide. It is one of three towns known as the Copper Triangle or "Little Cornwall" for their shared copper mining history.
It is about 20 kilometres (12 mi) southwest of Kadina, site of the famous Wallaroo Mines, and 19 kilometres (12 mi) south of the port of Wallaroo. At the 2006 census, Moonta had a population of 3,350. There are several distinct localities or hamlets surrounding Moonta, including Moonta Mines, Yelta, North Yelta, Moonta Bay, Port Hughes and Simms Cove.
It is thought that the name "Moonta" is derived from Moontera, an (Indigenous) Narungga word meaning 'impenetrable scrub'.
Prior to European settlement, the Moonta area was occupied by an indigenous community known as the Narungga. When Matthew Flinders was navigating the coastline of Southern Australia in 1802 he explored the coastline near Moonta. British settlers arrived in the Moonta area in the 1840's, as pastoralists, but there was no significant development until the 1860's, primarily because of the lack of water. The scrub in the area was difficult to penetrate (as testified by the town's name) so the first settlers had a hard time clearing the land.
Church in Moonta
Large and rich deposits of copper were discovered at Moonta in 1861 by shepherds from Walter Watson Hughes' sheep farm. This became a prosperous mine, named Wheal Hughes, with other mines soon to follow. The town was laid out in 1863 and a horse drawn tramway to Wallaroo was established in 1863. Following advertising by the South Australian Government, Cornish miners arrived in Moonta soon afterward. The mines at Moonta proved to be the richest mines in the whole of South Australia by 1917, exceeding the total wealth created by all other mines since 1836, the year of establishment of South Australia. The population of Moonta in 1875 was 12,000. The primary copper mining operations ceased in 1923, but smaller-scale operations recommenced in the area in the 1990s, and geological explorations continue.
Geography and climate
Moonta exists in a semi-arid location, above Goyder's Line. Moonta is surrounded by mallee scrub. The centre is located four kilometres inland and is 20 metres above sea level. Moonta has a dry Mediterranean climate with seasonal temperatures a few degrees above Adelaide's temperatures. The temperature ranges are similar to those of Kadina and the weather patterns are similar to those of both Kadina and Adelaide.
Following the demise of copper mining, the district successfully merged into dry-grain farming. Moonta's surrounds are used for growing barley and other crops such as legumes, canola, chickpeas and field peas. Barley from the region is considered to be some of the best in the world.
Shops in Moonta
Moonta, the town centre, consists of old limestone miners' cottages and churches, giving the town a historical feel. There are several eateries in the town centre, as well as at Moonta Bay.
The nearby locations of Moonta Bay, Port Hughes and Sims Cove are on the foreshore and are rapidly developing. They are extremely popular locations for retirement. The beaches, with fine white sand, are popular with recreational anglers and sailboarders. The natural state of the coast has largely been retained.
Tourism is a significant local industry, focussing on the availability of beachside accommodation- including several caravan parks and a motel.
North Yelta is an old mining village just north of Moonta. Like Moonta, it has an historic ambience.
Moonta also contains the Wheal Hughes Tourist Mine at the site of Wheal Hughes, the Moonta Heritage Site, the Moonta School of Mines and a folk museum.
The popular three-day Kernewek Lowender Cornish festival is held every odd year in May in the Copper Triangle towns, where each of the three towns hosts the festival for one day.