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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia


One of the first minerals to be mined in large quantities in Australia was copper, discovered in Kapunda, South Australia, in the early 1840s. By the 1870s gold, lead and silver were also being mined in the state. The discovery of iron ore deposits in the Middleback Ranges led to a major phase of metal mining in South Australia, and directly contributed to the development of steelworks and shipbuilding yards at Whyalla.

Uranium was also mined in the first half of the 20th century at Radium Hill in the state's east. The 1975 discovery of mineral deposits in the centre of South Australia at Olympic Dam is now the world's largest known single concentration of combined copper, uranium, gold and silver – dominating the South Australian mining industry into the 21st century.

Other materials mined in South Australia include coal (Leigh Creek) and opal (Coober Pedy and Andamooka). There are natural gas deposits at Moomba and Katnook.

Principally a matter of concern for state governments, Commonwealth Government records relating to mining in South Australia are limited. Until the 1970s Commonwealth concerns about mining matters were mainly handled by the Department of Supply, a relevant board or committee, or a central office such as that of the Department of National Development.

The Commonwealth's main interest in relation to mining in South Australia has been the regulation of uranium mining. Radium Hill was the site of Australia's first uranium mine, operating from 1906 to 1961. Commonwealth involvement in the extraction of uranium at this site was sealed with an intergovernmental agreement in 1952. This agreement was between the South Australian Government and the United Kingdom–United States of America Combined Development Agency, and related to the supply of uranium for defence purposes.

Developments in the industry in the mid-1970s, such as the discovery of the deposit at Olympic Dam, led to the establishment of a new body in 1977 – the Uranium Advisory Council – to advise the Commonwealth Government with regard to the export and use of uranium.

Records held by the Archives relating to mining in South Australia include correspondence, photographs and surveys.

Selected series that contain records relating to mining in South Australia
Recorded by: Department of National Development, Central Office
Correspondence files, 1962– A1690
Recorded by: Prime Minister's Department
Correspondence files, 1957– A1209
Recorded by: Mineral Resources Survey/Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics
Central administration correspondence files, 1945–61 A903
Correspondence files, geological branch, 1946–65 A2282
Recorded by: Uranium Advisory Council
Correspondence files, 1979–83 A5993
Selected items relating to mining in South Australia
Mines and mining – South Australia – Wallaroo and Moonta, 1929–32 A786, Y64/8 part 1
Mines and mining – South Australia – Wallaroo and Moonta, 1929–32 A786, Y64/8 part 2
Iron ore deposits – South Australia, 1937–38 A461, G373/1/3
Leigh Creek coal – question of developing coal in South Australia, 1944–45 A367, C56250
Uranium production – Commonwealth cooperation with South Australia – policy, 1950–55 A1209, 1957/4816
Radium Hill uranium – heads of agreement with Combined Development Agency, 1962 A1209, 1957/4196 part 1
Roxby Downs (Olympic Dam) nuclear developments NPB (Nuclear Policy Branch) involvement, 1979–92 A9737, 1990/968 part 1
Plan of gold mining leases and claims at Tarcoola, plus copyright form, 1900 D4477, 444
Export of Coober Pedy opal to Ceylon, Japan and United States of America, 1940–41 D1975, Z1940/600


Chapter 14
Primary industries and natural resources