Cornish Happiness on the Copper Coast

To everyone reading this story, I say dydh da! Pronounced ‘dith da’, this means ‘hello’ in Cornish, an ancient language that is currently being revived from near extinction, in part with help from festivals such as the Kernewek Lowender, held every two years in South Australia.

Meaning ‘Cornish Happiness’, the Kernewek Lowender festival does indeed bring happiness to those with Cornish heritage, as well as anyone who loves a pastie and a spot of maypole dancing.

Our language class is taught by a Bard, no less! Lilian James taught us how to get our tongues around some of this earthy language. Perhaps most importantly, she helped us learn how to pronounce the name of the festival. With the help of a ski-jump style dip of our hands, we get the rhythm of each word; ‘Ker-NEW-ek Low-EN-der’.

Migration to Australia from Cornwall, the south-west most section of the peninsula of land in the United Kingdom, was sizeable, particularly over the middle of the 1800s. Even now, Australians with Cornish ancestry are estimated to make up three percent of the population.

It is no random coincidence that the Kernewek Lowender festival is held in South Australia; the percentage of people in this state with Cornish heritage is more like 10 percent. The copper mines around the three towns of the Copper Triangle; Wallaroo, Kadina and Moonta, were a natural fit for the skilled and hardworking miners of Cornwall.

I attended the 2019 festival with 19 members of my extended family. For me, it was a triple win; exploring Cornish history, visiting the town my mother’s family lived in during her childhood, and presenting about my father at the Cornish History Seminar. I had always known my mother was from Cornish stock but news that my father also had Cornish ancestry had only emerged in recent years (after his death). I suspect that this lack of knowledge is because the connection is through his maternal grandmother’s line. Sadly, we always seem to know less about the history of women than men.

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