The story of copper told in a new free public display at the South Australian Museum

15 June 2017


Copper: A richly South Australian resource, on view at the Museum from 15 June, is a free display that tells the important story of South Australian copper.

From its chemistry and history to its future potential in our state and in our lives, this new display highlights the critical importance of copper to South Australia. 

Our state’s geology was key to South Australia once producing 10 per cent of the world’s copper and being known worldwide as the Copper Kingdom.

South Australia hosts 68 per cent of Australia’s known copper resources. The Copper Belt is already home to Olympic Dam, Prominent Hill, Kanmantoo and the copper discovery at Carrapateena.

“This is an exciting time once again in the story South Australian of Copper and the state’s collections are a wonderful and important resource to share this story,” says Museum Director Brian Oldman.

“This display brings the community closer to our vibrant copper industry in South Australia, which contributes almost $2 billion a year in exports” says Charles Moore, Director, Resources and Strategy, who is leading South Australia’s Copper Strategy.

South Australia’s Copper Strategy outlines the plan to triple the state’s copper production with the aim of establishing South Australia as the leading contributor to Australia becoming the world’s third largest copper producer by 2030.

The display is curated by Ben McHenry, Senior Collection Manager of Earth Sciences at the South Australian Museum and the curator of the Museum’s much-celebrated Opals exhibition in 2015.


Display details
15 June to 31 July 2017
South Australian Museum, North Terrace Adelaide
In the early years of the South Australian colony the state’s fortunes were built on the foundation of copper: at one-time South Australia was known worldwide as the Copper Kingdom. Copper ore, discovered most notably at Kapunda in 1842 and Burra in 1845, brought sudden and unexpected wealth to a colony struggling to establish agricultural and pastoral industries.

Items on display include:

  1. Copper ingot, produced at Kapunda in SA’s mid north. The ingot was part of 93 tons of copper being shipped to Melbourne on the steamship SS Admella on 6 August 6 1859. In the early hours of that morning and in huge seas, the Admella hit and broke up on a submerged reef at Carpenter Rocks near Mount Gambier. 89 people lost their lives in one of the nation’s worst maritime disasters.
  2. A small Egyptian bronze from the time of the Pharaohs
  3. 4,000 year old axe head from England – marks and indents indicate that the axe was well used for hitting heavy objects, possibly during conflict.
  4. A Burra malachite brooch made in 1860 by renowned Adelaide silversmith Charles Firnhaber.