“Australia’s Little Cornwall”
Visiting Moonta is a fascinating journey back into the mining history and heritage of the area. Honestly, ‘kids and history tour’ can be a tough sell at times but Moonta’s mining area has plenty for all ages (plus a sweet shop…so there is always that to look forward too!)
The name Moonta is derived from the aboriginal word Moonta-Monterra meaning impenetrable scrub.
Copper was discovered in 1861 and was then settled by the famous Cornish Miners renown for their unique skills in the mining of Copper. They came directly from Cornwall and quickly turned this area into what is now known as “Australia’s Little Cornwall”.
You will find remnants of the way these world famous miners lived, worked, worshipped and the way they honoured their dead.A ride on the Moonta Mines Tourist Train is a must do – this train will take you through the National Heritage Listed mining precinct with detailed commentary along the way telling the story of this famous mine – once the backbone of the South Australian economy. Enjoy a unique experience in an authentic heritage place.
We genuinely had a fantastic day out and thoroughly recommend exploring the whole area. We took about 4 hours all up but really how short or long you spend is entirely up to you!
Things to do and see in Moonta
Moonta Tourist Office
The beautiful old Railway Station was a great spot for us to finish off our Moonta Mines day trip. Erected by Gambling & Son and opened in 1909, in 1985 the Moonta Railway Station became part of the Moonta Mines State Heritage Area and is a stately and very special part of Moonta’s history. The Old Railway Station now houses the Moonta Visitor Information Centre, which provides a comprehensive range of tourist information and is manned by a group of friendly, experienced and knowledgeable volunteers. We had to grab some souvenirs from the gift shop (anyone else collecgt stubby holders from places they visit or is that just Tim?) and there was a nice selection to pick from.
On special display, located within the grounds is the 1914 Moonta Memorial Gun. The display holds a fully restored 105mm Light Field Howitzer used in WWI, and a number of other articles with historical significance.
The area received National Heritage listing in 2017.
The building is open daily from 9 am until 5 pm.
Moonta Miners Cottage & Gardens
Built around 1870, this Cottage in the Mines Settlement is typically Cornish. The land on which the Cottage was built is only one third of an acre, similar to other blocks allocated to miners in the 1870s when they arrived to mine copper, after its discovery, so that they could build a home for their family. It is considered an excellent example of its kind, and was opened to the public by the National Trust in October 1967.
The kitchen and dining room were built of sun dried mud and grass bricks, and the next two rooms were of wattle and daub. Thereafter the parlour and main bedroom were built by ramming clay and mud mixed with lime stones between two building boards about half a metre high and 300 mm apart. This was repeated until the appropriate height was reached – not too high as fortunately the Cornish were of short stature! The walls received an outer layer of lime and sand plaster and finally a liberal coating of lime wash, repeated yearly to keep them weatherproof.
Floors were of compressed earth and later, boards from old packing cases were used. Cement floors caused problems with rising damp and deteriorating plaster. Linoleum became the eventual solution.
The roof was originally split wooden shingles, but were later replaced with corrugated iron. The original shingles are visible through a skylight in the passageway ceiling.
Primitive laundry facilities and ever present dust caused the women of the mines constant work keeping the lovely white bed linen and handiwork clean.
The interior of the cottage now contains furniture, clothing and artefacts donated by descendants of mining families still in the district, giving authenticity, as do old photographs of original family members.
The garden is surrounded by a heritage stick fence – built to keep the children in and the goats out! Original plants are still in evidence as old stumps and vines, but the ancient agonis flexuosa and strelitzia nicolai tower over all in the front garden, needing regular attention, but giving good afternoon shade to the house. “Modern” plants add colour and structure, but where possible, the present volunteers try to maintain integrity of an old heritage garden by using cuttings and seedlings from original plants, also mingling these with drought tolerant varieties.
During term time, the cottage is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1:30 PM until 4:00 PM
During SA Public and School Holidays the cottage is open daily from 1:30 until 4:00 PM
Moonta History Centre
The southern portion of this building was erected as a Baptist Church in 1866. The adjacent residence is the original Baptist Manse. The church was purchased by the government in 1891 and converted for use as a School of Mines, the first one outside of Adelaide.
The Moonta School of Mines building now houses an extensive collection of medical equipment from the early days of Moonta, and an apothecary display.
The School of Mines houses the Moonta History Centre. Here you can research your family history; as well as the history of Moonta and its residents, since the establishment of the district. The collection housed here includes a range of newspapers on microfilm; including the Wallaroo Times, Yorke Peninsula Advertiser and People’s Weekly; all newspapers from the Copper Coast region dating back well over 100 years.
The Moonta History Centre is located at Ellen Street in Moonta, in the School of Mines Building and is open Tues, Wed, Sat, Sun 1:00pm – 4:00pm.
The Coffee Barn and Gelateria Moonta
One of the most requested little spots for us to pop in and try out, this cute little shop (Cash only we must stress!) is just on the outskirts of Moonta, with some of the tastiest gelati and coffee you will find in the area! A great litlte stop on your travels.
Open every day from 10am til 5pm
Taste The Yorke
Another ‘must visit’ little eating spot we were told to have a look at, which promises (and delivers!) on an authentic cornish pasty experience. Great coffee and relaxing vibes all round, this one is just on the Main Street….can’t miss it!
Open every day 8am til 4pm
Moonta Mines Sweet Shop
This building, the former Moonta Mines Post Office, was built in 1946 and operated until it closed in the mid 1970’s. But lets be honest, as cool as historic post office sounds, sweet shops are where its at and this is a little beauty!
The building was bought by the Moonta Branch of the National Trust for $200, and was used as a store room. A shop named “Refreshments” was set up in the building just in time for Easter 1979, and ran until 1983 when Keith & Sheila Crosby bought it and established The Old Sweet Shop.
The Old Sweet Shop closed in 1998, and the name was transferred to a shop in George St Moonta. The National Trust decided to upgrade the building and it was renamed the Moonta Mines Sweet Shop, operated by former owners Bob & Pat Haywood until 2000, when it was taken over by the Copper Coast Council and run by volunteers. In 2002 the shop was transferred back to the National Trust, and is still run by volunteers.
Featuring a large range of old-fashioned sweets and drinks, plus a whole heap of modern chocolates and lollies that you will stock up on, a trip to Moonta is not complete without a visit to the Moonta Mines Sweet Shop.
The sweet shop is open daily form 10 am until 4 pm
Moonta Mines Tourist Railway
We have wanted to do this for what seems like years and when we got our chance it did not disappoint. Departing from the platform adjacent to the Moonta Mines Museum, the Moonta Mines Tourist Railway is a guided tour of the historic Moonta Mines State Heritage Area. Featuring extensive commentary through speakers in each carriage (plus the odd tidbit from the driver), passengers are taken past many historic landmarks of the former mining operations, including the reservoir, ore sorting floors, and through a tunnel in Ryans Tailings Heap. It visits the former Precipitation Works, which was set up in 1900 to recover additional copper from the tailings heaps, a process which continued until 1943.
Proudly maintained and operated by volunteers of the National Trust of SA Moonta Branch.
The journey takes about 50 minutes by narrow gauge train.
Non School Hoildays & Public Holidays: Wed 2 pm and Sat & Sun 1 pm 2 pm & 3 pm
SA Public & School Holidays 10:30 am 11:30 am 1 pm & 2 pm
Adults $12 each and Children $5 each
PLEASE NOTE: during extreme weather conditions the train will run at driver’s discretion (temp 37c & over / very wet weather). Check with Tourist Office on the morning of your trip for confirmation if temperatures are extreme, or weather is very wet.
Moonta Mines Museum
The museum is located in the former Moonta Mines Model School, built in 1878. The school remained an active and important centre for the Moonta Mines community for ninety years and closed in 1968.
The National Trust of SA, Moonta Branch took over the building and established a museum which now tells the story of Cornish pioneers who came to South Australia for the copper mines 1861-1923.
The museum has 14 rooms and houses thematic displays on the Cornish miners’ lifestyles – mining, lodges and friendly societies, sports and pastimes, death and hardship, extensive displays of costumes, china, silverware, photographs and memorabilia and a classroom furnished c.1900.
Open daily 1 PM – 4 PM
SA Public Holidays and School Holidays 11 AM -4 PM
Make it a Home
Rule of a family road trip…..whenever you stop in a small town you must check for cute litle homeware shops. Just has to be done doesn’t it! We loved this little spot, just down the road from Taste the Yorke and quite big too, which meant our little Mr 6 got a tad bored waiting outside for us to finish!
Moonta Splash Town
You know all those awesome splash parks tucked away in holiday parks for guests only? Not this one! Totally available for all the public to use and it is FREE! Check out more at the link here.