Cornish miner Yestin Tregarthy begrudgingly brings his family to South Australia as part of the first wave of colonists in 1836. He is restless for an opportunity to dig for ore once more, and his deepest desires are eventually fulfilled by the discovery of a huge copper deposit in the outback at Burra Burra. Beginning with the construction of huts dug into the dry banks of the Burra creek, a community springs up and grows ever larger in order to service what rapidly becomes one of the largest copper mines in the world. Inevitably friction arises between the rank-and-file miners, who follow the tribute system of mining to which they are accustomed, and the board of directors in Adelaide, who represent shareholders reaping vast profits and desirous of more. Inevitably, too, Yestin's family life passes through a number of vicissitudes and begins to disintegrate.