Mining & Exploration in South Australia

Mining has a proud history in South Australia

Once known as the Copper Kingdom thanks to large copper discoveries in the 1800s, the discovery of this resource is seen as having saved South Australia from bankruptcy. South Australia lays claim to the first commercial metalliferous mine in Australia, Wheal Gawler, at Glen Osmond which commenced producing silver-lead ore in 1841. Now a wide variety of commodities are generating global interest in South Australia.

South Australia is:

  • The largest producer of uranium in Australia and hosts 25% of the world's known recoverable uranium reserves and 80% of Australia's.
  • Host to the world’s largest uranium deposit and Australia’s largest underground mine - Olympic Dam - which is the world's fourth largest remaining copper deposit and fifth largest gold deposit
  • The sixth biggest copper producer, producing a third of Australia's copper and hosting 68% of Australia's known copper resources
  • The second highest mineral sands producer in Australia
  • Producer and exporter of 25% of the global zircon supply
  • Host to Australia's largest magnetite deposit
  • Host to the world's largest single-stream lead smelter at Port Pirie, where refined zinc, copper and silver are also produced
  • In the top 10 in the world overall for mining investment (Fraser Institute)

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Hillgrove's Kanmantoo mine in the Adelaide Hills. Image: James Knowler

Mining today

Minerals continues to be South Australia's largest export group, making up around 40% of South Australia’s total exports. A variety of commodities are mined in South Australia. These include copper, uranium, iron ore, gold, silver, zinc, zircon and graphite. 

Activity in the last ten years has increased with vigour due to the recognition of South Australia’s mineral wealth, thanks largely to pro-active polices by current and recent State Governments. Since the introduction of the Plan for Accelerated Exploration (PACE2020) program in 2003, exploration for minerals has increased from $41 million annual expenditure to the hundreds of millions.

The majority of South Australia's exploration has been targeted at copper, followed by iron ore, base metals, uranium and gold. These figures acknowledge the world class copper region of the Gawler Craton, particularly as 62% of all exploration tenements in the State are within this area.

Iron ore is South Australia’s second most explored and produced mineral, and is undergoing a transformation from exploration expenditure around $1 million per year in 2000, to current levels around $50-70 million per year. The production of iron ore has also risen sharply, from 3 million tonnes per year to 11.

The annual Fraser Institute Mining Survey (which assesses the attractiveness of jurisdictions to mining investment) continues to rank South Australia highly as a favorable mining jurisdiction.

South Australia's impressive resources wealth is increasingly supported by growing investment into research and innovation, giving rise to strategic collaborations between industry, education and government. This will see further innovations to optimise our resources, and technologies developed for domestic and global use.

With the number of mines increasing from four mines in 2000 to 21 in 2014, there is no doubt that South Australia will continue to be a significant destination to explore and invest.

Henry Muller


There is no doubt Australia has a talented community, with artists, authors, medicos and even the odd politician who have made significant contributions to our nation’s heritage and way of life. To a large degree, many of these champions are modest to a fault about their achievements, so it is only history that will carry that legacy forward. Such a person is Henry Muller.

Read the full story on the summer 2016 edition of Resourcing SA

History - Sir Douglas Mawson

Read the Spring 2016 Resourcing SA to discover Sir Douglas Mawson's love for South Australia and his contribution into today's mining and energy sector.

Below: Members of the Adelaide University final year geology class, 1940 atop Wilyerpa Hill, Southern Flinders Ranges. Reg Sprigg top right, Sir Douglas Mawson standing bottom right. (Photo courtesy Doug and Margaret Sprigg)

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