building now used as the Sonbern Lodge
Historic copper mining town
Located 158 km northwest of Adelaide and 13 m
above sea level, the first sight the traveller
has of Wallaroo is that of the looming grain
silos. Here is a town which is a strange mixture
of seaside resort (there are some delightful
cabins beside the sea and some excellent fish
and chip shops) and working, industrial town.
Wallaroo's importance is based on its role as
the major port for the vast copper deposits
which were found and mined at Moonta.
The first European to see the land around
modern day Wallaroo was Matthew Flinders who
sailed by on 15 March, 1802 and commented that
'the immediate coast ... which extends several
leagues to the north of the point, is low and
sandy, but a few miles back it rises to a level
land of moderate elevation, and is not
ill-clothed with small trees.'
The first land settlement in the area
occurred when Robert Miller took up 104 square
miles of land in 1851 which he used for sheep
grazing. By 1857 Walter Watson Hughes had taken
over the lease. It is claimed that the town got
its name from the Aboriginal words 'wadla waru'
(some sources say this means 'wallaby piss' or,
more politely, 'wallaby urine') which were
changed to 'Walla Waroo' which was the name
Hughes gave to his land. It is claimed that
Walla Waroo was shortened to Wallaroo because
the longer name could not be stencilled on wool
The land in the area was scrubby mulga
country which was difficult to work. Its future
was assured when two of Hughes' shepherds -
James Boor and Patrick Ryan - found copper. Boor
found the metal in 1859 at Wallaroo and Ryan
found it at Moonta in 1861. Hughes and Sir
Thomas Elder became the main miners on the Yorke
By 1861 the town had been named Wallaroo and
it was located on Wallaroo Bay. It was formally
proclaimed in 1862.
Although copper mining was important in the
area the real basis for Wallaroo's continuing
prosperity was its role as a port. From 1861
until 1923 it was the most important port in the
Yorke Peninsula copper triangle and until the
establishment of the smelters at Port Pirie in
the 1890s it was the largest and most important
port on Spencer Gulf. This development was
partially due to the establishment of a
horse-drawn tramway from Kadina in 1862 and from
Moonta in 1866. It was also connected to
Adelaide in 1880.
A jetty was constructed at Wallaroo in 1861.
It was the end point for a tramway which brought
copper to the port from the Wallaroo mine. Not
only did the ships take copper from the port but
they brought foodstuffs, timber, coal and mining
equipment to the port.
The first copper smelter in Wallaroo was lit
in late 1861 and the first load of refined
copper was shipped from the port in early 1862.
By 1868 the operation had grown to such a point
that over 100 tons of copper was being produced
per week by a number of smelters around the
township. These smelters were burning over 1000
tons of coal and employing more than 200 people.
The importance of copper was vital to the
entire region and saw a huge influx of people.
By 1865 Wallaroo had a population of around 3000
and this rose to 4000 in the 1909 and 5000 by
the early 1920s.
In spite of this population boom it seems
that the local Aborigines were treated
reasonably well. As late as 1888 a traveller was
able to report on the 'satisfactory condition of
the natives generally ... they have been well
behaved and healthy, only suffering occasionally
from severe colds'. Inevitably the population
dwindled and only a few Aborigines were left by
When the local smelter closed in 1923 the
town went into decline so that today it only has
a little over 2000 people but it has survived
because of its importance as a centre for grain
shipping, its tourist appeal.
Inevitably, as copper became less important,
the town began to diversify. At various times
between the 1890s and the 1920s it smelted gold
and lead, produced lead strips, distilled
sulphuric acid and manufactured superphosphate.
By 1910 a Bessemer converter had been installed
but by 1923, due to low prices for copper, the
whole operation had been closed down. Both
Hughes and Sir Thomas Elder had made fortunes.
Part of Hughes fortune went to establishing the
University of Adelaide.
Today the main industries associated with the
town includes Top Fertilizers and Agricultural
Products as well as the grain handling
facilities. The town still has the sense of
being an active port. As you enter the town you
are confronted with a main street with rail
lines crisscrossing as they make their way to
the port. The town is characterised by some
really lovely old hotels and homes.
Things to see:
The best way to explore all of Wallaroo's
attractions is to purchase a copy of Discovering
Historic Wallaroo which includes both a Heritage
and a Walking Trail. The Heritage Walk includes:
and Nautical Museum
The Old Post Office
Built in 1865 it served firstly as a Post office
(1865-1910) then was used by the Police
Department until 1975 when it was given to the
National Trust. Located in the centre of town it
is now the National Trust Maritime Museum
housing a display of maritime, smelting,
communication and local history artefacts. It
proudly announces that it has the largest
pictorial display of sailing ships in any museum
in South Australia. It is open Wednesday,
Saturday and Sunday and school holidays 10.30
a.m. - 4.00 p.m. Public holidays 10.00 a.m. -
The Assay House
Built in 1873 it carried out up to 4000 separate
assays each year and was connected to the town's
three major chimneys.
Built by David Bower in 1862 this was the
harbourmaster's customs house and was used
continuously until 1920 when it became a private
Erected in 1868 as the office for the manager,
accountant and clerk of the Kadina and Wallaroo
Railway and Pier Company it became part of the
South Australian Railways in 1878.
You are looking at the third Wallaroo Jetty. It
was built to hold the railway line and is 863
metres long. It became part of the Bulk Handling
facility in 1958 and was opened to anglers in
1971. The first jetty was built near here in
It is worth walking along Lydia Crescent. It has
a large number of elegant 19th century houses
grace this handsome street.
Located on the corner of Lydia Terrace and
Hughes Street, Kirribili House was built in 1862
as the residence of David Bower, a local
businessman. The coach house and the stables can
still be seen out the back. It is now a private
Built in 1866 the Court House operated from 1866
until it closed in 1972 at which time it became
the home of the Kadina and Wallaroo Band.
Police Station and Residence
Built on the corner of Thomas Street by local
businessman David Bower in 1862. It was
eventually closed in 1972.
Chambers Hall with the Soldiers Memorial
There are a total of 44 locations around the
town. Other places of interest include the
Weeroona Hotel (1861), the Coffee Palace (1908),
the Waterside Workers Hall (1902), the Wallaroo
Hotel (1862), the local Methodist Church (1863),
St Marys Anglican Church (1864), the Town Hall
(1902), Prince Edward Hotel (1864), the Masonic
Lodge (1914) and
The last tangible remnant of the golden era of
copper. It was built in 1861 from 300,000 bricks
and stands 36.5 metres high. It stands on the
There is also an excellent Wallaroo Walking
Trail which covers much of the area covered by
the Heritage Walk but also looks at other
buildings of significance.
Wallaroo Flora and Fauna Park
Located on Ernest Tce this park has a good
collection of Australian fauna including
wombats, geese, kangaroos and numerous birds
which are housed in an aviary. For more
information contact (08) 8823 3069
Wallaroo to Kadina Railway
The Yorke Peninsula Rail Preservation Society
operates out of the Wallaroo Railway Yards. It
departs from Wallaroo Station on the second
Sunday of every month at 1 pm. Contact (08) 8823
3111 for departure times.