In the Cornish language, Kernewek Lowender means “Cornish Happiness”. It’s the name of a festival held every two years on South Australia’s “Copper Coast” encompassing the towns of Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula. The festival celebrates the unique Cornish history of this former mining region and features Cornish food, Cornish traditions including maypole and “furry” dancing, heritage tours and a Cornish fair (Fer Kernewek).
The first festival was held in 1973 when the area was experiencing tough times. Organisers saw it as a way to boost the local economy and were surprised at the response. That first year, it attracted around 20,000 visitors. Unprepared, the local bakeries ran out of flour for making pasties and the service stations ran out of petrol.
There’s a saying that “If there is a hole anywhere on earth, you’re sure to find a Cornishman at the bottom of it” – a reflection of the long history of mining in Cornwall. South Australia has a significant history of mining, starting in the 1840s. As a result, around 10 per cent of people living in South Australia have Cornish ancestry, compared to around three per cent in Australia overall. Mining began on the Copper Coast in 1860 and, in 1863 and 1864, 42.5 per cent of all immigrants to South Australia were Cornish. Although mines no longer operate on the Copper Coast, locals remain proud of their Cornish heritage.
The Kernewek Lowender festival offers an array of traditional dishes. The hero dish is the Cornish pasty (and pasties of all descriptions) and the festival features a pasty-making competition. One food outlet offers the “proper oggie”, which is a pasty two-thirds filled with meat and vegetables and one-third filled with apples. Your pasty can be accompanied by Swanky Ale, which seems to be a cross between light beer and ginger beer and is brewed specially for the festival.
Perhaps less popular is the Stargazy Pie. “I don’t like my food looking back at me,” someone wrote on the festival’s Facebook page. According to legend, the pie originated in the Cornish village of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel) when a fisherman called Tom Bawcock braved the storms that had kept fishermen ashore for weeks. He brought back a haul of fish that were baked into a pie, with the heads showing to prove that it actually contained fish. Tom Bawcock’s Eve is still celebrated in Mousehole every 23 December.
Less controversial are other Cornish food options, including cream teas (where the jam always goes on the scone BEFORE the cream), saffron cake and Cornish fairings (a spiced ginger biscuit).
The Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish Festival now attracts some 45,000 visitors every two years.