Copper

This information has not been updated since 2010 and is provided for general reference purposes. For more detailed information and for the latest data, please see the Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources copper chapter.

Australia is one of the world’s top six copper producers with substantial copper resources located in all States and the Northern Territory, but predominantly in Queensland and South Australia. Copper mining takes place in all States and the Northern Territory with most production coming from major mines in the Mount Isa region in Queensland and at the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. Copper is one of Australia’s top 10 commodity exports, worth about $6 billion a year.

Geoscience Australia provides a range of geoscience data and information to encourage and support the discovery of new copper resources in Australia.

Pouring copper anodes for electro-refining, Olympic Dam operations, South Australia, © BHP Billiton

Pouring copper anodes for
electro-refining, Olympic Dam
operations, South Australia
© BHP Billiton External site link

Copper Uses

Copper is an important metal widely used in electrical applications, plumbing and other building applications, and in metal alloys because of its high thermal and electrical conductivity and ductile behaviour. Further information about copper, distribution and use are given in the Australian Mines Atlas copper fact sheet External site link.

Copper Production and Exports

Copper has been produced in Australia since the first discovery of copper ore at Kapunda in South Australia in 1842. Australia currently produces about 900 kilotonne of copper metal a year, about six per cent of world copper production, making it the sixth largest producer after Chile, Peru, the USA, China and Indonesia. Australia exports about 1800 kilotonne of copper concentrate and 300 kilotonne of refined copper a year, making it one of Australia's 10 most valuable commodity exports. The major markets for Australia’s copper exports are China, India, Japan and Korea. Information on Australia’s mineral production and exports is given in Australia’s Mineral Statistics and Australian Commodities produced quarterly by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) External site link.

Although most of Australia’s copper is produced from the Mount Isa and Olympic Dam mining operations there are several other significant mines producing copper. They include Ernest Henry and Osborne in Queensland, Cadia-Ridgeway and Northparkes in New South Wales, and Telfer in Western Australia. Further information on these deposits is available from the Australian Mines Atlas External site link.

Copper Resources

Australia is estimated to have about 13 per cent of the world’s economic resources of copper, the second largest after Chile and ahead of Peru, Mexico, the USA, Indonesia and China. Australia’s national inventory of copper resources are updated annually in Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Almost 75 per cent of Australia’s copper Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) is in South Australia, mostly contained in the giant Olympic Dam deposit although there are substantial copper EDR also in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. Copper is one of the commodities included in maps produced by Geoscience Australia of Australia’s mines, mineral deposits, and mineral endowment.

Copper Exploration and Discovery

Australia attracts significant investment in copper exploration each year, reflecting continuing world demand for copper resources. Most of the exploration is focussed in South Australia and Queensland although exploration for copper occurs across the continent.

Recent copper discoveries include the Prominent Hill copper-gold mine discovered in South Australia in 2001, the Carrapteena copper-gold deposit, discovered in South Australia in 2005, the Rocklands deposit discovered in Queensland in 2006 and the DeGrussa copper-gold deposit discovered in Western Australia in 2009.

Highlights of mineral exploration, including copper, are reviewed annually in Australia’s Mineral Exploration Review and Australia’s Identified Mineral Resources.

Topic contact: minerals@ga.gov.au Last updated: April 17, 2014