Thu 1 Sep 1932, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) Trove


Why was the Moonta Mine unique amongst its kind? Because it was so rich that it never required a penny of capital to be put into it. It paid its way from the start. The history of this bonanza is one of the most remark- able on record—right from the first day, when Will Horn made his epic dash to Adelaide to lodge the claim, until when, sixty odd years later, operations were suspended.

See Naples and die. See Moonta and live!

I suppose Moonta is one of the bestknown country towns in the world. The mines put it on the map. Oswald Pryor has done the same thing for the mines.

One doesn't have to be a Cousin Jack to appreciate the humor of Pryor. He can draw. He has vision and imagination— especially imagination. He draws imaginary goats— the four-footed variety. He draws imaginary citizens with billy-goat beards and aldermanic corporations, squat bowler hats with bits of candle stuck in by way of decoration, poppet heads, and slag dumps, and mine cap'ns. He presents us with a little bit of Cornwall stuck in this far-away corner of the earth.

The explanation, of course, is that Pryor depicts Moonta as it was. I saw Moonta as it is.

You see. I had not been in Moonta before. I had never travelled. All I had to go on was Pryor's delineation of the town. I don't believe that today you could find a billy-goat in the place if you hunted through it with a microscope. There were plenty of alder manic corporations. But bowler hats were at a discount; in fact, they were a novelty. I think I sported the only headgear of the kind in Moonta, and a local wag was so moved by it that he hailed me as —

"Hey, Lionel!"

I have not got over the shock yet. Nor have I decided whether I ought to feel hurt or complimented at being mistaken for the Premier. Moonta isn't a bit like you imagined it. I am writing, of course, for those ignoramuses who, like myself, have been tardy in making the acquaintance of the "world's metropolis." It is, in fact, quite a good-looking town. It has a big town hall with a tower and a clock. It has a main thoroughfare as wide as King William street, and tarpaved. It has handsome public buildings and commodious shops. It has electric light. And it has real Cornish pasties— not the shrivelled-up monstrosities which masquerade under the name in city shops, but dinkum, mansized mysteries of the sort that "maw-ther" used to make.

The Mayor is Mr. R. C. Kitto. He was absent in the city when I called, but I found a good deputy in the Town Clerk (Mr. T. P. Couch). After I left him I felt I had more than a nodding acquaintance with this amazing little corner of the world. I say "amazing" advisedly, for as I gazed eastward from my hotel over the abandoned dumps and ruins of buildings which were once the celebrated Moonta mines, I could not help recalling the remarkable fact that this mine had been such a wealthproducer that it never needed a penny of capital for its development. Let me tell you the story of the Moonta mine. I promise you it is a fascinating chapter in the history of your State. Moonta Mines Whether you are In Kadina, Wallaroo, or Moonta you are supposed to talk mines. That is not, of course, as true today as it was when the great copper shafts were in full blast. But the residents have been brought up so much on this kind of fare that even now the mines that were are a favorite topic.

The 'Three Towns" are still deeply interested in the whys and the where fors of the disaster which overwhelmed them when the great industry gave up the ghost, and there are many who still hope that some day something of the old glory will come back to them. Unfortunately, my enquiries do not encourage me to share their optimism.

Yet I suppose the story of the Moonta Mines is without precedent. Just imagine, not a single penny of capital was ever subscribed to work Moonta. The mine paid its way from the very beginning. It is a mine of that description which South Australia needs today to extricate her from her difficulties.

But if Moonta was a bonanza, Wallaroo in its early stages was not. Captain Hughes had a very dickens of a time trying to raise the capital to get the Wallaroo mine going. It was only after a long and bitter struggle that he rounded the corner. But when he did a long road of prosperity stretched before him— and it seemed to have no end.

Here is something of which South Australians may be proud. The Moonta mine was the first to Australia to pay £1,000,000 in dividends. Even the famous Ballarat gold mines, which had a long start of Moonta, could not claim that honor. Altogether copper valued at £20,000,000 came out of this field, and altogether over £2,600,000 was distributed in dividends. When you have absorbed those figures— and their real significance— you will understand why I referred to the closing of the mines as a disaster to the State. The Moonta and Wallaroo companies amalgamated in 1889. They held their claims under a 99-year lease from the Government. This lease, which embraces an area of 3,187 acres, still has about 47 years to run. For the right to mine the company paid a rental of 1/ per acre annually, and a royalty of 21 per cent, on the declared profits. So, you see, the State benefited directly, as well as indirectly, from the big venture.

It is not generally known that the late Sir J. J. Duncan was associated with the Wallaroo mines from their inception to his death. It was he who, as a boy, was sent to carry the news of their discovery to the outside world —in that case Adelaide. It was he also who took back in his dray the first miners to work the discovery. Eventually he became a director.

In the early days of its existence the Walaroo company was a private concern, and did not publish its records. But during that period it returned its owners some £500,000 in profits.

Race For A Fortune

Moonta was discovered a few months after Wallaroo. The shepherd who found the copper was named Ryan. Ryan street today commemorates his memory. The circumstance is chiefly interesting here because of the historic race between the late W. A. Horn and Thomas Day to get to Adelaide first to lodge a claim to the mineral rights. This was in 1861.

At the time W. A. Horn was staying on the station of Captain Hughes for the purpose of gaining experience in sheep farming. Close by lived the Days. One morning when Horn was out riding about ten miles from the homestead breaking in a grey mare, which was inclined to bolt, he was surprised by the arrival at a hard gallop of a messenger from Captain Hughes, bringing a note— "Dear Will. Come back to Wallaroo as fast as you can."

For once Horn was thankful for the bolting propensities of the mare. He turned her head for home, and let her bolt. As soon as Horn was within hearing distance, Captain Hughes called out—

"Copper has been found at Moonta. The Days have heard of it, and left for Adelaide last night to register the claim."

The case looked fairly hopeless. The rival family had a start of 17 hours on a journey of less than 120 miles, but over rough country. If they got to town first and were granted the mineral rights, the mine would be theirs. "Do you think you could beat them?" asked the captain anxiously. "I'll try," Horn volunteered, "if you can fix up for horses."

"You can beg, buy, borrow, or steal any horses you come across," retorted Hughes, "as long as you beat them to Adelaide."

Home selected the fastest horses in the stable, and, with a companion, set out on one of the most epic rides in the history of South Australia.

He rode hard until the horses were on the point of knocking up. Then he came across a farmer who was watering two likely-looking animals

"Will you sell those horses?" panted Horn.

''Yes— at a price," said the farmer: "£40 each."

The price was absurd. But Horn had no time to haggle. He counted out the £80 and threw in his own animals as well.

Then he set off again. Night fell, but still the "thud," "thud" of hoofs on the soft turf woke the silence of the bush. A cold, drizzly rain began to fall. Horn's companion commenced to show signs of distress. Horn's own anxiety was increased on hearing that the Days were well ahead, and were taking a shorter track. Horn decided to go by the longer route, so as to avoid them.

At three o'clock on a pitch dark, raining morning they reached Red Banks Station, and got the manager out of bed. They asked for horses.

"You can take whatever horses you can catch," said the manager, and he went back to bed.

Searching for horses on a big station on a dark night, with the rain falling, and the knowledge that your rivals might be eating up the miles between them and their destination, and so render your mission fruitless, was something of an ordeal. After a good deal of trouble they got some animals into the stockyard.

Then further trouble arose. Horn's companion declared he could go no further. Horn himself was wet through, sore, hungry, and sleepy. He decided to leave his mate behind, and to push on. But he couid not fight Nature. He went to sleep on his horse. He had covered many miles in this fashion when he returned to consciousness— to find himself back at Red Banks. Feeling the relaxed control, the horse had returned home.

Horn set out again, wretched and exhausted, but still intent on beating the Days, though now not very hopeful. His mind began to wander. He saw visions in the bush; obstacles, which did not exist, in the track. He found himself muttering incoherently. He tried to rectify these conditions, but could not.

His horse carried him as far as the North Adelaide Bridge. There it collapsed. He did the journey into town on foot.

With the aid of a city friend he got to the Lands Office. He was in time, and secured the right.

As might have been expected, the ciaim of Captain Hughes to these properties was promptly challenged. Charges and counter-charges were hurled at each other by the interested parties. Some of them were not too nice. All Adelaide took sides. Such a noise did the trouble make that Parliament appointed a select committee to investigate the whole business.

This committee awarded the disputed leases to a man named Mills, on the ground that he was the only man who could prove that he was authorised to apply for the leases by the actual discoverer (the shepherd Ryan). Parliament, however, did not adopt the report.

There was later an historic legal fight. I do not propose to take you through the long story of litigation which preceded the acquisition of the mine by the Hughes claimants. If you are sufficiently interested to wade through the mass of charges and counter-charges, accusations of fraud, and other unedifying allegations which at times almost degenerated into a competition of villification, you can read the account for yourself in a book at the Public Library titled "Tipara Mineral Claims: Addresses By Counsel." You will find it an enlightening volume. The main point to be mentioned here is that the Hughes group eventually got control of the property.

Claims In The Sea

These Moonta mines, originally called Tipara, turned out to be the richest copper fields in Australia. The stories told of their fabulous wealth set Adelaide mad with excitement. The Lands Office was besieged by persons anxious to lodge claims in the vicinity. Most of these people had never been near the peninsula. They did not know where the mines were. But that did not deter them from lodging a plan, and paying £5 deposit on each claim. It was a pure gamble— a hope that they might accidentally "hit" on a block which would bring them a fortune.

How How wild these speculations were will be realised from the fact that when the officials had completed mapping out the claims on the plans, it was found that some of the "blocks" applied for were located miles out at sea!

"Cap'n" Hancock

No story of the mines would be complete without a brief reference to the man who developed them — first Moonta and then Wallaroo. This was Captain H. R. Hancock. He died in 1919 There are many who remember the tall, white-haired and white-bearded old man. But there are few who recollect the active young fellow of 28 who, strutting down King William street one day in the early 60's, bent on getting back to England as soon as he could, ran into Mr. Thomas Elder —he had no title then — and was persuaded to try his luck at Moonta. It was this chance meeting which began "th' cap'n's" long association with the mines, a connection which ceased with his resignation in 1898 after 34 years' service. He was known in the 'Three Towns" as "the man who made the Moonta mines." That phrase shows the esteem in which 'th' cap'n" was held.

Captain Hancock came from the copper districts of Devonshire, close to the borders of Cornwall. At 18 years of age he was engaged as assayer at the Wheal Ellen mine, near Callington. It was ten years later, when he had finished his work there, that he had the chance meeting with Sir Thomas Elder.

One of the earliest difficulties which faced him was to get miners. Mining is like everything else— there's a knack in it. When you come to look into things generally there always is a knack. If it's only mending a leak in a tin kettle you've got to know how to do it if you want to make a job of it. That is why I never turn my nose at an experienced workman. I know that, in the matter of his job, he knows more than I do, and to that extent he is my superior. That applies to menial as well as technical work. It is not a man's calling which counts— but the way he does his job.

So "Cap'n" Hancock set out to get miners — not just men capable of digging a hole in the ground and burying themselves under a few tons of rock. He combed Adelaide for them, and when he could not get enough he sent an agent to the Victorian diggings. He knew he would find them there— and he did. He brought them to South Australia in a specially chartered ship, and set them to get out the 60 per cent, ore which made Moonta.

The mines closed down about eight years ago. I understand there is still plenty of good ore in them, but it is too deep down for profitable working. The abandonment by the miners of the sliding scale scheme of wages, under which they were paid in accordance with the fluctuating price of copper, which acted for years as one of the fairest methods of payment ever devised, was another factor an bringing them to a standstill. The miners threw up the scheme in favor of Arbitration Court awards.

I do not want to enter into a discussion of the rights or wrongs of the arbitration system as applied to wages. But I cannot help asking myself whether the workers are not paying too dearly for the privilege of allowing people who know nothing about industry to have most of the say. I also ask myself whether, in regard to our few remaining Australian gold mines, it would not be wiser to apply to them a similar system of payment to that which proved so satisfactory at Moonta for many years?

But perhaps I am old-fashioned and unprogressive. You see, I still believe you can't sell an article for less than it costs to produce without landing yourself in the Bankruptcy Court. And when you do that sort of thing on a wholesale scale, as a nation, you are extremely liable to find the task of balancing the national Budget as easy as an attempt to cross the gulf, Blondin fashion, on a length ot cotton thread.

Impenetrable Scrub

The native name of Moonta was Moonta-Moonterra. It meant 'im-penetrable scrub land." As you look about the country today you are surprised by the absence of trees. The land is comparatively bare of them. In these circumstances you could be pardoned if you imagined that for once black brother had gone wrong in his instinct for descriptive nomenclature. But you would be mistaken.

Years after South Australia was settled the whole of Yorke Peninsula was a mass of tangled scrub. That is why it remained so long unsettled and unallotted. It was just what the blacks called it — impenetrable scrub. I will not go further into the subject here, because the story of the development of the Peninsula belongs to another article. I merely mention it briefly to explain the origin of the name of Moonta.

I wonder if there is a jetty or a pier in South Australia which ought not to be somewhere else? I have never yet visited a seaport in the State without being solemnly assured that there was a better site a mile or two further down. I came up against the same old growl at Moonta, with this difference— that Moonta got its second jetty. Now you can take your choice as to which port you prefer— Moonta Bay, a mile or so west of Moonta or Port Hughes, two miles further south. I think it was Premier Verran who built the Port Hughes pier, which has a depth of 30 ft. 6 in. at low tide. 'The jetty should have been put there originally," I was told.

Probably it should. What I wanted to know was why the taxpayers should have been called on to provide two jetties when one should have sufficed?