Skip to content

ExploreSA: The Gawler ChallengeRex Minerals Hillside mine: program for environment protection and rehabilitation | Consultation on draft mining regulations | COVID-19 Updates for resources sector : fee relief | Accelerated Discovery Initiative Round 1 announced |

South Australia's copper resources are a key focus for more than 130 companies currently committed to exploring, developing and mining copper in South Australia

On this page

Copper facts

Copper is one of the most important and widely used metals of modern society due to its properties of:

  • high electrical conductivity
  • high thermal conductivity
  • resistance to corrosion
  • ability to form alloys with other metals such as brass (zinc), bronze (tin) and cupronickel (nickel).

The largest use of copper is in the electrical industry where copper wire and cable account for about half of the world’s copper production. Other major markets are the motor vehicle and construction sectors. Copper is also an integral part of the expanding information technology sector and is used in the manufacture of computers, mobile phones, fax machines and televisions.

Copper can occur naturally in its pure state (native copper) but is principally mined as the primary sulfide chalcopyrite (CuFeS2). The main oxidised ores are the copper oxide cuprite (Cu2O), and the carbonates azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2) and malachite (CuCO3(OH)2).

Australian Mines Atlas copper fact sheets

Copper in South Australia

copper1South Australia is a major copper producer and exporter, currently attracting hundreds of companies (including global majors) exploring, developing and mining copper in the State. Copper is the leading commodity produced in South Australia with vast resources:

  • South Australia hosts 68% of Australia’s economic demonstrated resources of copper (GA, 2015)
  • South Australia produces around a quarter of Australia’s mined copper production (262 569 t (DSD, 2014) of 995 921 t (BREE 2013).
  • Copper is the commodity most explored for within South Australia. The state is a major national destination for copper exploration attracting around a third of copper exploration in Australia.
  • South Australia hosts four of the most significant copper discoveries in the past 10 years in Australia – Carrapateena, Prominent Hill, Hillside and Khamsin.
  • In addition to the discovery of these copper resources, the Olympic Dam resource has increased by a massive 48 Mt of contained copper in the past ten years. More than the aggregate of all significant Australian copper discoveries in that time.

Copper mining has played a key role in the development of South Australia since European settlement in 1836. In particular, the discovery of rich copper deposits at Kapunda (1842), Burra (1845), Kanmantoo–Callington (1846), Wallaroo (1859) and Moonta (1861) were vital to the early development and prosperity of the State.


Copper statistics 2012-13

Mine Production Volume1 283 098 t (comparison figures 1999-2000 to 2012-13)
Mine Production Value1$2071 billion (comparison figures 1999-2000 to 2012-13)
Selected Mine Production· Olympic Dam, 166 200 t Cu cathode
· Prominent Hill, 86 887 t Cu in concentrate
· Kanmantoo, 14 629 t Cu in concentrate 
Exploration Expenditure$106.3 million (comparison figures 1999-2000 to 2012-13)
Resources289 Mt contained Cu
Reserves213 mt contained Cu
Mine Production3963 000 t
Exploration Expenditure$319.3 million
Resources491 Mt
Reserves425 Mt
Selected Mine Reserves2· Olympic Dam (SA) 10.9 Mt Cu
· Cadia East (NSW) 4.7 Mt Cu
· Ernest Henry (QLD) 0.78 Mt Cu
· Prominent Hill (SA) 0.75 Mt Cu
Mine Production516.3 Mt - Chile 5.4 Mt
Resources690 Mt

619 Mt - Chile 190Mt

  1. DSD production returns
  2. Published company reports
  3. Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics. Resources and Energy Quarterly, September Quarter 2013
  4. Geoscience Australia and Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, Australia's Mineral Resources Assessment 2013
  5. United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013
  6. USGS reported reserves modified to include only the stated JORC reserves for Australia
South Australian copper production, 1990-00 to 2013-14


South Australian copper exploration expenditure, 1999-00 to 2013-14 (source: ABS data Cat. 8412.0)

Back to top

Major mines - production and exports

South Australia has a number of long-life deposits, including Olympic Dam which is the fourth largest copper resource in the world.

Copper remained the state’s major mineral commodity produced, with total sales value of $2.058 billion (276 550 t) in 2013–14 decreasing by $14 million (6548 t) from $2.072 billion (283 098 t) in 2012–13.

South Australia currently hosts four major approved poly-metallic copper mines -  Olympic Dam (Cu, Au, U and Ag), Prominent Hill (Cu, Au, Ag), Kanmantoo (Cu-Au-Ag) and the recently approved Hillside (Cu-Au and Fe ore conc.).

Levels of copper production are expected to be maintained or increased as major mines continue to produce at near capacity and look at increasing run-rates and making productivity improvements.

Production, resources and reserves and contained commodity can be found in the following table for South Australia’s major copper mines.

Back to top

Developing projects

Major developing copper projects in South Australia include:

  • Carrapateena – undertaking feasibility studies (discovered with Government’s PACE co-funded drilling partnership with industry), has contained metals of 2.5 Mt Cu, 3.5 Moz Au and 39 Moz Ag.
  • Khamsin – undertaking scoping studies, has contained metals of 1.1 Mt Cu, 0.9 Moz Au, 11 Moz Ag.
  • Kalkaroo – completed feasibility studies and in assessment/approvals stages, has contained metal of 0.6 Mt Cu and 2 Moz of Au.

Exploration models and geological environments

Copper mineralisation is widespread and found in most geological provinces throughout South Australia.

Gawler Craton

Olympic Dam

The deposit is within the Mesoproterozoic Hiltaba Suite Roxby Downs Granite (1588 Ma) beneath approximately 300 m of undeformed Adelaidean and Cambrian platform sediments of the Stuart Shelf. Mineralisation is hosted by a large, broadly zoned hydrothermal hematite–granite breccia complex comprising a barren core of hematite–quartz breccia flanked by 1–2 km wide mineralised zones of hematite-rich breccias intermingled with altered granitic breccias.

Ore mineralisation mainly comprises disseminated and fragmental chalcocite, bornite, chalcopyrite, pitchblende and finely disseminated free gold, with sulfide veinlets developed locally.

Historical copper mines in South Australia


Surface and underground mining between 1845 and 1877 produced approximately 700 000 t of ore containing 50 000 t of copper. Between 1969 and 1981 open-cut mining at the same site produced 2 Mt of ore containing 40 000 t of copper. Total production was 2.7 Mt of ore containing 90 000 t of copper and grading approximately 3.3%. The major copper minerals were malachite, azurite and chrysocolla, with minor chalcocite, cuprite and native copper.

The Burra metallurgical plant, built for the 1969–81 mining operation, is now operated by Adelaide Chemical Company using feedstock from Mount Gunson and elsewhere to produce specialty copper chemicals such as cupric oxide.

Burra Mine lies on a major northwest-trending lineament, with mineralisation developed as a matrix to brecciated country rock and as veins, blebs and nodules within a pipe-like hydrothermal zone. Country rock is Adelaidean Skillogalee Dolomite comprising dolomite, siltstone and minor sandstone and limestone in faulted contact with unmineralised diapiric breccia.


Copper was discovered at Kanmantoo in 1845. Mining continued to approximately 1875 from several workings producing 3200 t of copper. Following a major exploration program in the 1960s, open-cut mining of a new ore body during 1970–76 produced 4.05 Mt of ore containing 36 000 t of copper (grade 0.89% Cu). A resource of approximately 2 Mt at 1.2% Cu remains below the open pit.

The mineralisation comprising chalcopyrite, pyrrhotite and magnetite with minor gold and silver is hosted by garnet–andalusite–schist within the Tapanappa Formation of the Cambrian Kanmantoo Group. The ore body consists of a number of mineralised lenses flattened parallel to the major axial-plane schistosity, with the overall shape of an elongated pipe plunging steeply to the northeast.


Copper was discovered at Kapunda in 1842 and mined until 1879, producing approximately 13 700 t of copper from 69 000 t of ore. A resource of 4.3 Mt at 1.1% Cu has been estimated in the supergene oxide and sulfide zone plus a large low-grade resource of primary chalcopyrite–pyrite mineralisation at depth.

Mineralisation mainly comprised secondary copper carbonates, oxides and supergene sulfides associated with quartz veins hosted by feldspathic dolomitic siltstone of the Adelaidean Tapley Hill Formation.

Numerous copper deposits occur in the Adelaide Geosyncline and Kanmantoo Trough; most were worked until approximately 1900 and many still contain significant resources. Deposits include:

  • Adelaide Geosyncline — Anabama, Balhannah, Blinman, Clara St Dora, Copper Claim, Eurelia, Lorna Doone, Lynda, Montacute, Mountain of Light, Myall Creek, Paratoo, Prince Alfred, Princess Royal, Sliding Rock, Utica, Wheal Barton and Yudnamutana.
  • Kanmantoo Trough — Bremer, Kitticoola, Strathalbyn and Wheal Ellen.


Copper was first discovered at Moonta in 1861, resulting in a number of mines. Moonta mine was the most successful, with a total production of 170 000 t copper metal through to 1923. Small-scale mining and prospecting continued until the late 1930s and some high-grade ore remnants were mined at shallow depths, with leaching of tailings dumps continuing until 1943.

Five major lodes or ore zones were worked within the mien area. These lodes, which filled fractures withinghte volcanic country rock, trended north-south and dipped westerly at 40° to 65°. Productive veins initially yielded up to 30% copper but by 1908 the average grade had dropped to 4%. The principal ore minerals were chalcopyrite and bornite.

For more information, contact:

Mark Twining
Senior Principal Geoscientist - Resource Assessment and Advice

Phone: + 61 8 8463 3000