During 1860 copper was discovered on the northern Yorke Peninsula by a shepherd who noticed 'greenish coloured stones' at the entrance to a wombat’s burrow', just south of the current town of Kadina. This soon led to the development of the Wallaroo Smelting Works located at Wallaroo Bay, about twelve kilometers from the mine site. This mine was soon surrounded by other profitable mines. A year later a higher grade deposit was unearthed approximately 17 km to the south-west at a locality called 'Moonta' where the ore averaged 25% copper, along with some gold too! Many hundreds of Cornish families migrated from England to live in the nearby towns of Kadina, Wallaroo and Moonta to work in the Copper Mines. This is why this region of Yorke Peninsula is quite often referred to as 'Australia’s Little Cornwall'.
During 1866 a tramway was constructed connecting the town of Moonta with the Wallaroo Copper smelters. This soon proved it worth as on one occasion 40 tons of malleable copper was delivered in one train load of ore on one day. The Moonta Copper Mines became known world-wide for producing high grade ore. It lasted into the 20th century, finally closing down in the 1920s mainly due to falling prices and increasing operational costs. Nowadays with modern mining equipment this region is currently undergoing extensive drilling exploration, with the long- term possibility of a copper mine - or two - becoming operational once more.
The discovery of copper also increased the need for better transportation as the mines were on the north-west coast of the Peninsula. By sea this was a good twenty hours sailing from Port Adelaide. A shorter route was urgently sought, which came about by using a paddle steamer from Port Adelaide to the tiny outpost of Port Arthur. Now a ghost town which died in its infancy. The only known building to be built was Browne’s Hotel, near the top of St Vincent Gulf on the Peninsula side. Transport then went by horse and cart onto either Wallaroo, Moonta, or Kadina. After a while this changed to Port Clinton, with a fast horse-drawn stage coach connecting with the boat.
During 1878 a railway line which connected to the Adelaide-Port Pirie Line at a locality called Bowmans, a few km east of Port Wakefield, then through Port Wakefield, across the top of the Peninsula, winding its way through the southern Hummocks range, then onto Kadina, Wallaroo and connecting to the Moonta line which was subsequently up-graded. This promptly made an enormous difference to accessibility of the north Yorke Peninsula region.
Several privately owned copper deposits have also been discovered in other areas of the Peninsula. One near the inland locality of Urania, south of Maitland, another two near the east coast township of Pine Point, with the Hillside mine near Pine Point proving to be the most valuable over the ensuring years. Today it is set to become part of the massive Rex Minerals Exploration Site, appropriately named 'Hillside' after the original mine.