Kernewek Lowender 20 years ago

The Yorke Peninsula (click to enlarge)

By Tom Bowden

I see that there is another Kernewek Lowender in the “Copper Triangle” in South Australia in May 2011. This brings back memories of when my wife, Pam, and I attended this celebration over 20 years ago. Then the Kernewek Lowender was from Friday 12th May to Monday 15th May 1989 with some Cornish heritage events leading up to it. Now, the organisers have added some Cornish interest and social events to take in the whole week from Monday to Sunday inclusive. I was pleased to see that the important events in 1989 were retained in 2009 and therefore my description of things in our time may be similar to events coming in 2011.

The three towns of: Kadina, Moonta and Walleroo were the centre of the copper mining district on the Yorke Peninsula near Adelaide. Many Cornish men, women and children immigrated to Australia attracted by work in these copper mines. There were 13,000 working and living there at its peak in the 1870s when it was the largest producing copper mine in The British Empire. Moonta was then the biggest settlement in South Australia outside of Adelaide. In the 1920s the mines started to decline as the copper output fell and the mines then closed in 1923 putting many miners out of work. The Moonta area has now been made into a Mining Heritage Centre attracting tourists. Wallaroo is a thriving deep water port and Kadina has grown to be an administrative and commercial centre. The whole peninsula is now a barley and wheat growing area.

So the Kernewek Lowender is a Cornish Festival in this old copper mining district in South Australia. The words mean “Cornish Happiness” in Cornish and this was chosen to be the name of the festival. Many Cornish descendants still live in this area and many more Cornish descendants live in other parts of Australia. It is now an event that also attracts thousands of Australians to join in these old-fashioned Cornish joyous celebrations.

I worked for the Royal Navy in Bath in Somerset and was about to retire at the end of March 1989, and I was then Chairman of the Bath Cornish Society. My Australian cousin (also Tom Bowden) had invited my wife, Pam, and I to visit him in Port Pirie which is about 70 miles north of the Copper Triangle. So we decided to visit Tom and go to the Cornish Festival, and look around Australia. Eventually, we found ourselves driving down to the York Peninsula for the Cornish Festival as official guests.

The Kernewek Lowender

Friday 12th May

Hughes Pump House and Chimney

The Kernewek Lowender Committee Secretary, Sue Woodforde, had made arrangements for us, and we arrived in Moonta on Friday afternoon the 12th May to stay at Bice’s Farm outside the town. We took the opportunity to look around Moonta and Moonta Bay and visit the Moonta Mines Heritage Centre outside Moonta. The Hughes Pump House and Chimney in the old mining area is a very familiar sight for Cornish people. It is empty now but it did contain a Cornish Pumping Engine built by Harveys of Hayle. The engine house and its chimney were built in 1865. There was also a boiler house here which contained five boilers to supply steam to drive the engine, but this has disappeared. This pump engine was essential for the operation of the Moonta mines because it removed the water that continually seeped into the deep shafts and drives of the mines. Specifically, it removed water in the Hughes Shaft (366metres deep) and the Taylors Shaft (768 metres deep). Those few thought-provoking facts are given on the notice-board beside the pump house.

Moonta Uniting Church and Church Hall

At 6.30pm we attended the “Meet the Cornish” evening at the Moonta Uniting Church Hall in Robert Street in Moonta. We had a pasty tea and then the Kerensa Singers from Penzance gave a concert with John Harry accompanying them on the piano. The evening was a great success with a very appreciative audience. We met up again with the Kerensas and Paul Smales President of London Cornish, and were introduced to George Pawley White, Past Grand Bard, who would lead “A Gathering of Bards” at Moonta Mines the following day. The local people and visitors were very friendly and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We also found that the other guests attending the festival were: Sir Donald Dunstan KBE, CB, Governor of South Australia, Mr Ashley Shilling, Mayor of North Yorke Peninsula, Lady Wilson CBE, Ms Lilian James (Bard) and Mr Howard Curnow, Town Crier of Helston.

Saturday 13th May

Kadina High Street

Kadina Flora Dance Procession with Bill Phillips, Howard Curnow and George Pawley-White

This was Kadina Day and there was a Village Green Fair throughout the day in Kadina’s Victoria Square. It was all the fun of the fair with stalls, dancers, music, magicians, and Cornish pasties, Swanky beer and Ginger pop. At 11.30 am the Flora Dance Procession started to wend its way around the streets of Kadina watched by thousands of visitors from all over Australia and overseas. The music was played by the Royal S.A.Regiment Army Band and taking part in the procession were members from the South Australia, NSW and Victorian Cornish Associations carrying their banners, and Bards of Cornwall in their flowing purple robes. Some men wore “old” Cornish outfits with bowler hats, waistcoats and gold watch-chains, whilst their ladies wore old fashioned dresses. Also there were local Beauty Queens and local mayors and politicians, guests and about 40 children from local schools and everyone had a good time. Later, the children took part in Maypole dancing. See my photograph (right) of the procession as it went by: In the foreground with the Victoria Banner is Bill Phillips, then Secretary of the Victoria Cornish Association. Behind him is Howard Curnow in full cry and holding the Saint Piran Banner aloft. Behind him in full regalia is George Pawley White.

Kadina Town Hall

The Kernewek Lowender was officially opened by Sir Donald Dunstan, the Governor of South Australia, at 12.00 noon and this was followed by speeches and then the Kerensa Singers performing “Trelawny” to the delight of a vast crowd. Then we joined Sir Donald Dunstan and other guests and officials for a buffet luncheon in the Mayor’s Parlour in Kadina Town Hall. I shall always remember the massive Snapper Fish dish. You just nervously approached it and helped yourself, whilst you chatted to the Governor and members of the Australian Parliament. You could get used to that sort of thing.

The Kerensa Singers at Moonta Mines

In the afternoon the Gathering of the Bards of the Cornish Gorsedd of Cornwall was held at Moonta Mines. This was conducted in Cornish by Mr George Pawley White who had travelled to Australia for the festival. Many Australian Bards attended the service and there was an induction of new Bards. There was a programme provided showing the order of the ceremony, printed in Cornish and English, and the Kerensa Singers sang hymns and songs including “Cornwall our Motherland”. Finally, on Saturday evening we saw a play “Voices from a Veranda” performed by the Kernewek Players at the Cultural Centre in Kadina.

Sunday 14th May

Moonta Mines Uniting Church

We attended the Annual Meeting of the Australian Federation of Cornish Associations which was held in the Moonta Uniting Church Hall at10.30am. The Cornish Associations in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria have formed a Federation to co-operate together and further their objectives. Therefore they hold an annual meeting during the principle Cornish event that year. Mr J Faull President of the SA Cornish Association chaired the meeting and reports were made by all three associations. Then guest speakers Mr George Pawley White and Mr Paul Smales made their contributions. There was some discussion during General Business at the conclusion, then the next meeting was agreed to be in Bendigo in March 1990. It was a very well organised meeting and I enjoyed listening and learning.

Inside Moonta Mines Uniting Church

At this time activities were also being held at Wallaroo the sea port in the Copper Triangle. There were pipe bands and Celtic games like caber tossing. There was also a large cavalcade of veteran and classic cars and motorcycles which toured around the three towns. Later in the day tempting sea food was served on the Wallaroo waterfront.

Pam and Tom at Moonta Mines Uniting Church

There was a Heritage Service in the historic Moonta Mines Uniting Church in the afternoon and we had been advised to get there early to get a seat! I think we arrived at about 1pm and gradually this fine Wesleyan Church filled up. At 2pm community hymn singing started and continued for about 30 minutes. Then the vicar talked to the congregation and asked: “Put your hand up if you come from Adelaide?” Then “Who comes from Sydney?” and “Who comes from Cornwall?” And we all responded. Then the Heritage Service started at 2.30pm and I thought the whole experience was uplifting and the best part of our trip. The Moonta Mines Church is in the mining area near Moonta and it was completed in November 1865 at a cost of £1,395. A gallery was added in 1872 and now the church holds a congregation of 1400 people. The story is that Captain Henry Hancock, who was in charge of the mines, expected his men to attend chapel, and you did if you wished to work in the mines! After the service we took photographs outside this fascinating church.

Gael Phillips, Ron Daw (Bard) and Noel Carthew (Bard), Vice-Presidents of South Australia Cornish Association

In the evening we went to a band concert presented by the Royal S.A.Regiment band and the Kadina, Wallaroo and Moonta Band at Wallaroo Town Hall. The Kerensa Singers did a very successful guest spot, and it was another good evening.

Monday 15th May

Pam and Jim Faull (Bard), President of S. A. Cornish Association

On this final day of the festival there was one of South Australia’s best regional processions through the streets of Moonta. There were over 70 floats, many old cars, bands, entertainers and children, and the show had a strong humorous flavour. I took a photograph of Pam and Jim Faull before the parade. Then Pam and I joined in with everyone and we marched through the streets waving like royalty to the crowd of about 40,000 visitors and locals. Eventually we reached Moonta Oval, their Show Grounds, ready for a traditional Cornish Fair.

Opening of the Cornish Fair on Moonta Oval

Mr Reg Williams, the President of Kernewek Lowender, then opened the Cornish Fair (The Fer Kernewek) and there were a number of speeches from the rostrum. Then there were children dancing around the maypole, also a tug-o-war contest and wheelbarrow races. The Kerensa Singers again pleased the crowd with their final performance at the festival and they ended up having a go at the tug-o-war too! Everyone was enjoying the day’s activities when we circulated and said goodbye to all our old and new friends. Then we left the Moonta Oval and drove back to Port Pirie for the next part of our journey around Australia.

Maypole Dancing at the Cornish Fair

The lasting memory for me was the enthusiasm of the members of the Cornish Associations in Australia. Their pride in their Cornish heritage shone through, and the hard work of the Kernewek Lowender Committee was rewarded with a memorable Cornish event which has become one of the most successful in Australia. I hope that you have enjoyed my memories of the Kernewek Lowender in 1989. If there are a few inaccuracies I would put that down to old age. We met many friendly people and I remember them as they were long ago. Now, here comes Kernewek Lowender 2011!

More images

Moonta Town Hall

Kadina Fair Ground

Kadina Fair Stall

Tom, Ron Daw, Pam, Joy and Chris Dunkerley and Paul Smales at Moonta Mines Uniting Church