Australia’s forgotten copper mining boom: understanding how South Australia avoided Dutch disease, 1843-1850

Edwyna Harris, Sumner La Croix

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Great Britain established the new colony of South Australia (SA) in 1834, and migration from Britain to the colony began in 1836. After seven turbulent years, the discovery of two large deposits of copper at Kapunda (1843–4) and Burra (1844–5) renewed the colony’s economic prospects. Over the 1845–50 period, SA supplied roughly 9 per cent of the world’s copper production. Immigration to SA from Britain soared, with the colony’s population more than tripling between 1844 and 1851. We use the Beine–Coulombe–Vermeulen model of an economy with a booming resource sector to frame our empirical investigation of the boom’s effects on the export of other traded goods and worker living standards. Using newly developed SA wage and price series for this period, we find that immigration mitigated and offset some Dutch disease effects: there were just modest increases in SA living standards, increases in the export of wool and wheat, and a larger share in production for non-traded goods. Finally, we conclude that the decision by Governor Grey to force broad ownership of the ‘monster’ Burra mine and the use of revenues from land sales to subsidise immigration helped SA avoid the corruption and rent-seeking associated with other resource booms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-439
Number of pages16
JournalEconomic Record
Issue number318
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

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