South Australia has a rich history of copper mining, dating back to the 1840s when Cornish miners and their families poured into hubs such as Burra, Kapunda and Moonta to partake in the copper boom. Salomae Haselgrove investigates what’s ahead.
In the second chapter of Genesis, the Pishon River flowed from the Garden of Eden and through the land of Havilah, which translates to “the land of good gold” and has become the namesake for explorer Havilah Resources.
With this positive omen promising a land of good gold, Havilah is also set up on a land of prospective copper, known as the Curnamona Craton in north eastern South Australia near Broken Hill.
The Curnamona Craton hosts copper-gold deposits of a different style to the famous iron oxide copper-gold deposits on the Gawler Craton like Olympic Dam and Prominent Hill.
It is closer in geology to the copper deposits found in African nations such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which also host cobalt.
As Havilah Resources technical director Chris Giles explains, the company’s flagship Kalkaroo copper deposit in the Curnamona Craton is in an ideal position to capitalise on South Australia’s strong history of unearthing the copper deposits of the future.
“The Kalkaroo project is a large copper resource with over a million tonnes of copper and three million ounces of gold, and huge exploration upside at both ends and the wider surrounding area,” Giles tells Australian Mining.
“In the western part of South Australia, in the Gawler Craton, we hear a lot about big, iron stone hosted deposits, while out where we are the mineralisation has very strong analogies to those very large deposits in Africa, where cobalt is also produced.
“There is a lot of upside in the Curnamona Carton area and there are numerous prospects with great copper-gold drilling intercepts with a very high potential to find more.”
With South Australia’s track record of copper mining and a supportive government, Giles believes the state is a fantastic environment to explore for and develop new copper mines.
The state government has highlighted a strong future in copper mining as a key priority during the next decade, launching the South Australian copper strategy, which aims to boost production to one million tonnes per year by 2030.
To support this, the state government is awarding accelerated discovery initiative (ADI) grants, which in the first round, successful applicants will receive funding of just under $3 million funding to progress South Australian-based exploration programs, including copper.
Why South Australia? Giles cites having highly prospective projects on home soil as an enormous advantage, which has become particularly relevant during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Geologists enjoy working in exotic places like South America or central Africa but when you have a situation like what we have faced with COVID-19, people are unable to go back to somewhere like Brazil to manage a project,” Giles explains.
“Having your projects in Australia, particular in your own state is proving to be a huge advantage and in the case of Havilah, we have been able to keep drilling throughout the pandemic, as we were naturally self-isolated being out in the outback, which was a huge advantage.”
Giles expects that executives of mining companies may re-evaluate their risk matrix of overseas projects due to the impact of coronavirus in South America or the sovereign risk of central African operations.
He says that deposits in the Curnamona Craton bring together the best of both worlds, the geological prospectivity of central Africa with the safety of operating in Australia.
With copper prices changing dramatically, including a sharp increase since March, and the base metal being an essential element in the renewable energy industry, Giles says the untested tenements waiting to be explored around South Australia will help cement the industry’s importance in Australia.
“For us with the Kalkaroo project, the area is also associated with cobalt and rare earths as well as gold,” he says.
“Cobalt is a vital ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, and we have the largest cobalt resource in South Australia, so that this could be produced as a by-product of copper is a huge advantage.
“This positions Havilah well to take advantage of future green industries, with copper being key to the revolution in renewable energy and electric vehicles (EVs) that is sweeping the world.”
Giles describes this as a “turning point” for the commodity, with it still being used in traditional industries such as construction, but also in these modern age industries.
“Renewable energy and the EV revolution is all unstoppable because of climate change and all of this uses abundant copper, pointing to a rapidly increasing demand for copper,” Giles says.
“The outlook for copper on that basis is pretty bullish and I’d be very surprised if copper doesn’t stay above $US6000 ($8620) for quite a while until supply and demand evens out.”
Havilah Resources is still in its early stages, seeking the capital support of a larger investor, but with all this in mind, Giles is confident for the company’s future in South Australia.
“We’re not quite the Garden of Eden yet, but it’s a work in progress,” he says.
Minotaur Exploration is a company that knows the rewards of unearthing a significant future copper deposit, being responsible for discovering Prominent Hill in 2001.
This shot Minotaur Exploration into fame as an industry name, winning an Explorer of the Year gong for this momentous find and giving it enormous credibility as an Australian explorer.
In the years since the Prominent Hill discovery, Minotaur Exploration has been working on projects in both South Australia and Queensland, including the Peake and Denison project, and the Jericho, Breena Plains and Eloise joint ventures to find another big base metal deposit.
Minotaur exploration manager Glen Little says these discoveries are often a “once in a decade” phenomenon for copper, which is less frequent than some other commodities, but the prize is worth it.
“South Australia is very prospective, but it can be an incredibly difficult place to explore as everything is undercover,” Little tells Australian Mining.
“What you need is to find the right group of copper-focussed people that are willing to work together with copper as their principal commodity focus.”
Little says the challenges of exploring in South Australia become a little less daunting with the state government’s support.
Minotaur Exploration has secured one of the ADI grants for the Peake and Denison projects, allowing it to complete further exploration at the tenements, which are prospective for copper mineralisation.
Little says copper exploration competes against other commodities for funding, like gold, which is very attractive at present.
“The instant gratification of early success for investing in gold is really attractive for shareholders,” Little says.
“Competing against record-high gold prices can be a struggle for small copper companies, but copper investment is generally with a view of longer-term success.
“With everybody talking about copper and its role in new industries like renewable energy and electric vehicles, the reality is the world is going to need more copper than anything else going ahead.”
With copper being an essential ingredient for future industries, the support of the South Australian Government and a backyard full of prospects with the potential of Olympic Dam or Prominent Hill, the base metal continues to cement itself as part of the state’s history, now and into the future.
“There have been enormous discoveries like Olympic Dam in the 1970s then it wasn’t until 2001 Prominent Hill was discovered then Carrapateena in 2005,” Little says.
“There is a fairly long time between drinks, but the prize can be incredible. Everyone wants to find another Olympic Dam or Carrapateena because the prize is so spectacular, if you manage to have a win in copper, it can be a big one.”
The importance of copper as an essential part of South Australia’s future was highlighted at the Copper to the World conference in June.
South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan says by combining the mining and renewable energy sectors, the state can lead the world by ensuring the supply of copper becomes significantly less carbon and water intensive.
“The first round of ADI offers were awarded to 14 dynamic projects, sharing a total of $3 million in confounded grants to test for new styles of copper, open new spaces, sophisticated ways to look for mineralisation and better drilling and movement of heat in basement rock pointing to orebodies,” he says
“Copper is the essential element to South Australia’s mining future, as we aim to increase South Australia’s energy from renewable sources to 85 per cent five years from now.”
This article also appears in the August issue of Australian Mining.