My backyard: Copper Coast

May 19, 2015, updated Nov 06, 2015
The historic Moonta mine site. Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

The historic Moonta mine site. Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Yorke Peninsula’s Copper Coast celebrates its Cornish roots this month with the annual Kernewek Lowender festival, which attracts thousands of visitors to watch events such as maypole dancing, a Cornish pasty bake-off, street procession, concerts and the “dressing of the graves”.

The festival has been running since 1973, when its success took everyone by surprise. The local service station ran out of petrol, and there wasn’t enough flour to keep up with pasty demand.

Rosemary Cock, Kernewek Lowender executive officer, grew up on a farm in the Yorke town of Bute, was a journalist and editor of the Yorke Peninsula Country Times, and now lives in Kadina. Here, she shares advice for visitors to the Copper Coast and explains the legacy left by the early Cornish settlers.

Why is the Copper Coast’s Cornish heritage such an important part of its identity, even today?

Our towns were built on an incredibly rich copper mining boom 150 years ago, which brought thousands of skilled workers and their families out from Cornwall on a dream of a better life. They toiled hard under and above ground, and brought with them never-before-seen massive engines and industrial innovation.

Maypole dancing at the annual Cornish festival. Photo: Kernewek Lowender

Maypole dancing at the annual Cornish festival. Photo: Kernewek Lowender

The Moonta and Wallaroo mines’ prosperity contributed much to the development of SA – for example, bequeathed mine profits built our state’s first university.

Today, the many remnants and landmarks left behind from such vast mining activity serve to remind us of our unique Cornish heritage, and builds appreciation of the efforts and resilience of our ancestors.

What is the main legacy left behind by the early Cornish immigrants?

The churches and halls, schools and cottages, so identical to Cornwall landmarks, remind us of how driven and brave those Cornish immigrants were – to travel so far to a foreign place and work so hard in very tough conditions, against weather, disease, lack of water. The legacy left is more than the towns they built, with their buildings and roads – it’s the community fabric they left us.

Exploring the Moonta mines heritage site. Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Exploring the Moonta mines heritage site. Photo: Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Why do you like living in the region?

It’s easy, relaxed living on the Copper Coast, with its beautiful open spaces and beaches, and great community people. And everything’s here, with the bonus being that we’re less than two hours from Adelaide – an easy day trip when we need a city “fix”.

What are three things that visitors must see/do?

Grab your fish and chips and drive right onto North Beach at Wallaroo (and in low tide on a warm night, grab your deck chair and sit in the water and watch a stunning sunset).

Sunset at Wallaroo. Photo: Tiffany McLean/SATC

Sunset at Wallaroo. Photo: Tiffany McLean/SATC

The Moonta Mines State Heritage area – you step right back in time there, with the engine houses, skimp heap and miners’ cottages. And check out the lolly shop, tourist railway and museum.

If you have kids or grandchildren, they won’t let you not visit the waterpark at Moonta Bay, or the indoor playground at The Farm Shed Museum & Tourism Centre/Copper Coast Visitor information centre at Kadina. There’s plenty of gems there, including Matta House and a miniature train railway.

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Your favourite places to eat and drink?

A very hard question, but to narrow my choices down, I’ll pick one from each Copper Coast town:  The Bellagio Restaurant at Kadina, which offers great food, service and an intimate atmosphere; the Coopers Alehouse at Wallaroo marina, for seafood, music, and a glorious balcony view; and at Moonta, The Patio Restaurant, which has a special menu and is the all-year-round home of our Swanky (Cornish beer).

What will be some of the highlights for visitors to this year’s Kernewek Lowender?

Everyone loves the maypole and furry dancing, the procession, pasty bake-off, the big cavalcade of cars and motorcycles, dressing of the graves, and all the feasts, concerts, art and exhibitions. Thousands come from interstate and overseas, and thousands more from all over SA, and we’re proud to host them.

The town crier leads the Kernewek Lowender procession.

The town crier leads the Kernewek Lowender procession.

New features this year include the Cornish Troyl Dinner Dance (music by The Borderers) and the mid-week comedy night featuring Cornwall comedian “Kernow King”, on his first trip to Australia. He says he can’t wait to “sample the beaches, meet the locals, and tuck into some good ’ol Australian fodder and beer”.

Where will we find the best Cornish pasties?

Everywhere – there are Kernewek Lowender pasty stalls at the major events, stocked by our long-time official supplier Price’s Fresh, and our good local bakeries in all three towns will also be run off their feet keeping up with demand. We usually sell up to 10,000 Cornish pasties during festival week.

Pasty making at teh Kernewek Lowender festival. Photo: Neale Winter/SATC

Pasty making at the Kernewek Lowender festival. Photo: Neale Winter/SATC

The Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish festival will take place from May 17-24, with the program available online.

More My Backyard articles:

Barossa Valley – by Hentley Farm chef Lachlan Colwill
Yorke Peninsula – by singer Ronnie Taheny
Clare Valley – by Good Catholic Girl Wines head girl Julie Barry
Eyre Peninsula – by Boston Bay Wines’ Tony Ford
Kangaroo Island – by artist Janine Mackintosh


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