IN 1842, THE mainly British and German settlers who had arrived en masse at the beginning of South Australia’s colonial history six years earlier were given a huge economic surprise. The colonists, largely farmers, artisans and public servants and their dependents, learnt of the discovery of copper ore at Kapunda. Kapunda was only eighty kilometres from the colonial capital of Adelaide. Three years later, the world-renowned bonanza copper lode at Burra was discovered. Other South Australian copper mines were to follow, and they gave the economy a huge stimulus by high-yield, low-cost mining within workable distances from a port. Even though mineral exploration was on the colony’s drawing board from 1835, South Australia was largely intended to be founded on the steady labour of cropping and pastoralism and reaping the fruits of the sea. Suddenly, luck was a key player too.
Shift forward to 1975, to the forbidding desert west of Lake Torrens – a vast salina in South Australia’s outback – where gravitational and magnetic anomalies were indicating that the vicinity of Roxby Downs Station was prospective for copper. Since 1969, geologist Douglas Haynes and others had been making the relevant theoretical and predictive discoveries. Western Mining Corporation had the exploration licence. Driller Ted Whenan put down the first diamond drill hole close to Olympic Dam, named for its construction in the year of the 1956 games held in Melbourne. The Whenan Shaft at the mine would eventually reach down more than a kilometre.
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