Life in Australia’s “Little Cornwall” with too many tourists

Old forges, disused holes and chimneys of a mining history.

The flags of St Piran. Tea towels with English and Cornish coats of arms. A long history of fishing. Expensive vacation homes. Pasta.

It probably sounds familiar. It probably looks like Cornwall. And that’s because it is. Type of.

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Some nine and a half miles from where St Piran is said to have established his chapel is another spot which bears his flag.

Nestled in a huge natural bay, northwest of Adelaide, lies Moonta, a small town on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

It has a lot of things you would expect from below: hot weather, dusty conditions, spiders that can kill you.

The town’s mining museum tells the story of how it ended up full of Cornish people

But there is also a lot you would expect from Cornwall, due to an influx of Cornish miners into the area over 150 years ago.

As the colonization of Australia continued into the 19th century, British citizens began to settle in the coastal areas of the enormous landmass.

Gold rushes are a well-known historical feature of the continent – but other minerals were equally prized by prospectors.

Copper, a valuable mineral for machines, early electronics, and just about everything in between, was discovered in the area in 1861.

Cornish people encouraged to relocate to South Australia
Cornish people encouraged to relocate to South Australia

After the formation of the Moonta Mining Company, hundreds of Cornish miners and their families settled in the area, prompted in part by publicity from the South Australian government at the time.

As a result, it became known as Little Cornwall, or Copper Coast.

The mines, just like in ‘great’ Cornwall in ancient times, have become a huge source of wealth for the people of Moonta and the surrounding area.

Many Cornish people stayed there, raising their families, who themselves stayed there.

This story of the Cornish people in Australia, however, is not just a name or ancestry: in addition to their miners’ pickaxes, they brought Cornish culture and food. This is reflected in modern Moonta, which in 2016 had around 4,700 inhabitants.

Every two years, odd numbers, the city hosts the Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish Festival, created in the 1970s to energize what was, at the time, a very disadvantaged district.

A pâté at Cornish Kitchen Moonta
A pâté at Cornish Kitchen Moonta

Traditional Cornish food, including pastries, is served, and there is pole dancing at the three-day festival.

Some houses display the flags of St Piran and the locals of Moonta even serve real Cornish blocks (with a crimp!) In their bars, restaurants and cafes.

One in particular, the Cornish Kitchen Moonta, has a Cornish “dialect translator” who explains to visiting Australians what classics like “dreckly”, “werzetoo en? “And” teasy “.

In addition to this poster, the bakery has Cornish tea towels with art from the towns including St Ives and Penzance on them.

Elsewhere in the city, there is the “Cornwall Hotel”, proudly indicating on a banner outside that it was built in 1869.

And more flags of St Piran can be seen on the Moonta Heritage Trail.

Tea towels with familiar names and places adorn the walls of the bakery
Tea towels with familiar names and places adorn the walls of the bakery

One photo in particular shows the iconic cross overflown from an old mining structure.

Mining mainly came to a halt in the city in the 1990s, as in our own Cornwall, despite attempts to rekindle it.

Instead, modern Moonta is also a popular tourist and retirement destination because of its many hotels and vacation homes.

Even in Australia, Cornish people will complain about tourists, it seems.

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