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Beltana, SA

A true anomaly: a silver, lead and copper ghost town with over 70 residents

Beltana is a unique outback near-ghost town. On first entering the tiny town the visitor gets the feeling that it is a town that is no longer inhabited but, on closer inspection, it is clear that the historic feel of the town is a result of a great deal of love by a committed population and, surprisingly, this isolated settlement has seen new houses built in the past decade. It might feel like a ghost town but Beltana is actually inhabited. Consequently many houses have signs declaring 'Keep Out' because thoughtless visitors assume they are open for inspection.

Location

Beltana is located 534 km north of Adelaide via Port Augusta. It lies at the northern end of the Flinders Ranges 240 m above sea level.

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Origin of Name

There is considerable argument and debate about the name Beltana. Some sources believe it derives from a local Aboriginal word meaning 'running water' or from an Adnjamathanja (they were the district's original inhabitants) word 'veltana' meaning a skin or cloak. Others argue that it comes from an Irish word meaning bravery and courage. Still others believe it was borrowed from the name of a small village in Tasmania and, with a wry sense of humour, some argue that it was created as an indication of where the local station's dinner bell was located.

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Things to See and Do

Beltana Houses
All buildings in Beltana are privately owned and not open to the public. To experience the town you should simply wander around and admire this "living ghost town". There is an excellent, detailed map which can be downloaded at https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161027/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_townmap.pdf. It lists a total of 14 plaques around town - all of which offer insights into the history of this remarkable town.

1. Beltana Spring
Located beside Warrioota Creek, this was the source of water which attracted Aborigines to the area for thousands of years. When Europeans arrived they used the Beltana Spring for water and for swimming. There is more information at https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161533/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_spring.pdf.

2. Beltana Pastoral Company
In 1862 Thomas Elder took over Beltana Station. "During the 1800s and early 1900s there were as many as 60 people living on a station. Some of the employees were married men with families. A blacksmith and a butcher were permanent employees and those living on out-stations were connected to the homestead with a 'party line' telephone. Before the railway was built, Beltana was the 'overnight stopping place' for other pastoralists living further north and travelling to the ports. It was also the launching place for expeditions across Australia to the north and west. Explorers were provided with camels, salted meat and other supplies." For more information check  out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161705/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_pastoral.pdf.

3. Afghan Well and Cameleers
The sign, located near the old Afghan Well, tells the remarkable story of camels in Australia: "The earliest record of camels arriving in Australia is in Tasmania in 1840. In 1846 John Horrocks purchased one camel to be used for exploring. In 1860 John McDouall Stuart used camels in his exploration of the centre of Australia. Also in 1860 Thomas Elder and Samuel Stuckey were riding horses in the Lake Hope area, contemplating pastoral settlement when they observed explorer John McKinlay using four camels brought over from Victoria. In 1862, Samuel Stuckey travelled to Karachi to investigate buying camels and in 1865, Thomas Elder chartered the steamer "Blackwall" to bring a consignment of camels to Port Augusta. 109 camels were taken first to Umberatana in 1866 and then to Beltana station where the Afghan drivers set up their headquarters on the bank of the Warrioota Creek. This site and the existing well became known as "Afghan". Nathaniel Phillipson had recently begun work at Beltana and he set himself to learn the Afghan language.
Thomas Elder had camels carefully selected - the 'Mekraua' for fast riding, the 'Scinde' camel, a hill camel and a beast of burden and the 'Kandahar' camel which was a very heavy animal for heavy work. A breeding programme was set up at Beltana station with these animals. The advent of camels posed threats to the horse, bullock and donkey teamsters. Horses were terrified at the sight and smell of camels and they often bolted. Bullockies considered it cruel that so much load should be put on a camel. When those proud and seemingly arrogant cameleers and their equally proud camels overtook a bullock team, each pretended not to see the other. The Afghan cameleers hold the 'teamsters record' for being able to deliver cargoes of wines, spirit and ales without "breakages". Of all animals, camels were the most able to endure harsh arid conditions and were known to travel 25 miles per day for nine successive days without water. The camel and the Afghan driver were a great asset to the development of inland Australia, being of greatest use in times of most severe drought. Although isolated from their homeland the drivers loyally maintained their Mohammedan faith." Check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161824/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_afghan.pdf.

4. Martin's Eating House
The first building in town was Henry Martin's Eating House which was built in 1873 from pine logs, sawn pine rafters, a galvanised iron roof and whitewashed inside and outside. "Before the railway was built the eating house catered for teamsters en-route between Port Augusta and the Angepena gold fields, Bolla Bollana copper mines and the newly developed copper mine, Sliding Rock." The year after construction it became a hotel and remained as a hotel until 1897. During this time it had an important stone addition. It was purchased by a local hawker, Hassan Ali Monsoor, in 1939 and remained his base and a general store until World War II. In the 1970s it was used by the Beltana Field Study Group and today it is a private home. For more detailed information and photographs check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161420/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_martins.pdf.

5. Beltana Telegraph Station
Beltana's first permanent telegraph station was built in 1875. Before then a temporary repeater station had been operating in rooms on the Warioota Creek since 1872. The station had facilities for sending and receiving messages, employed six people (a chief telegraphist, assistant and four linesmen) and was used by the local copper mining companies to check the price of copper in London. Telegrams were capable of delivering messages in 3-4 hours from London. In 1878 the first telephone call to Beltana was received. The building was eventually sold in 1940 and the services were installed in a local shop. When the railway closed in 1956 the shop and the telegraph services were moved to the empty railway station. For more detailed information and a map check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161509/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_telegraph.pdf.

6. History of Mail Deliveries
Near the Telegraph Station is a fascinating sign recording the history of mail and telegraph services to Beltana. In 1866 an official mail service, run by Cobb & Co and costing a staggering £1,275 a year, brought mail to the town on a weekly basis. The contract stipulated "... a two horse drawn vehicle; rate of travel 7 miles per hour weekly'; distance 153 miles." It travelled from Melrose. It was replaced when the railway arrived in the town in 1881. In the meantime the Overland Telegraph Line Exploring Party reached Beltana station in 1870, by the end of 1871 there was a connection from London to Darwin and by 22 October, 1872 the line connected London to Adelaide via Beltana. For more information check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161636/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_mail.pdf.

6. Royal Victoria Hotel
Located in First Street and now a private residence, the Royal Hotel was built on land which was purchased in 1878. It changed owners and lessees regularly until 1942 when Lance Nicholls purchased it and continued to run it until he closed it in 1958. There are dozens of amusing stories about the hotel, many of which are recorded at https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161444/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_hotel.pdf.

7. Beltana School
Located in First Street, the Beltana School was located at Sliding Rock until 1878 when it was dismantled and re-erected in Beltana. That building was timber and corrugated iron. The present building was constructed in 1893. It operated as a one teacher school with the number of students ranging from 52 in 1904 to, more typically, 25-30 students. In 1967 it was closed and the pupils were bussed to Leigh Creek. For more information check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161603/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_school.pdf.

8. Police Station
A mounted policeman, Police Trooper Henry Panton, was appointed to Beltana in 1879 and this stone building was completed in 1881. It is a typical building of its time with walls that are 450 mm thick and doors which are 55 mm thick. It was closed in 1958 and is now privately owned. For more information check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161917/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_police.pdf.

9. Railway Station
The railway station was completed in 1881 when the Great Northern Railway, later known as The Ghan, reached the town. It was an indication of the town's future - a large stone building with a smaller stone building nearby where the standby crews used to stay the night. By the 1940s up to 64 trains a week were passing through Beltana. The steepness of the climb through Puttapa Gap meant that when coal was discovered and mined at Leigh Creek a new route was sought. In 1956 the Leigh Creek line was opened and the Beltana Railway Station was closed. The road from Beltana to Parachilna runs beside the old railway line. There are many remnants of old railway stations, bridges across creeks and straight stretches where the railway used to run. For more information check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161000/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_railway.pdf.

10. Australian Inland Mission
Located on First Street, the sign explains: "The house on this site was rented in 1895 as the first Presbyterian Manse in Beltana and was purchased in 1898. It served as the Manse for missionaries including Rev John Flynn in 1911. This building became the Beltana Australian Inland Mission Nursing Home in 1919 - another building having been purchased to be used as the Manse. Named "The Mitchell Nursing Home", it was staffed by two nursing sisters who conducted their clinics regardless of the religious beliefs of patients. Advantages of the home were available to all. In 1927 the 'Amy Fairfax Wing', a woman's and maternity ward, was added to the original home, complete with the by then traditional AIM ventilated roof ... The Nursing Home continued its services in Beltana until the mid 1950s when hospital facilities became available in Leigh Creek. The property is now privately owned." For more details check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161759/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_aim.pdf.

11. Presbyterian Manse
Located on Second Street this rather handsome building was completed in 1912 and continued to serve the missionaries who worked in the area - which stretched from Beltana through Parachilna to Tarcoola and Marree - until 1932. For more information about the missionary work check out https://web.archive.org/web/20060920161849/http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/shas/pdfs/beltana_manse.pdf.

Smith of Dunesk Mission Church 
A woman named Henrietta Smith purchased a number of lots of land in South Australia and gave them to the Church of Scotland. She wanted the money to be used spreading the gospel. By 1893 the asset had a value of £3000 and Rev Robert Mitchell, anticipating Flynn of the Inland by more than 20 years, set up an Inland Mission at Beltana in 1895. This mission became known as the Smith of Dunesk Mission.

Lookout Point
At the edge of town it offers the best view across the town and provides an impressive panoramic view of the Flinders Ranges. 

Old Bullock Dray
The Old Bullock Dray at the end of the main street is surrounded by saltbush. It is a 4 wheel dray which was once pulled by a team of 18 donkeys. It used to carry firewood.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Adnjamathanja Aboriginal people. The water at Warrioota and Sliding Rock Creeks was vital in the harsh environment.

* By 1840 explorers and settlers were moving through the area. 

* The explorer Edward John Eyre passed through the district in 1840. 

* By the late 1850s John McDouall Stuart had passed through the area. Around this time Beltana Station, owned by Thomas Elder and part of the Beltana Pastoral Company, was established to graze sheep in the district. 

* Beltana Station became a kind of "limit of civilisation" and was used by explorers moving further north. 

* By the mid-1860s there was considerable European activity in the district. Small mines, searching for silver, lead and copper, had been dug in the northern Flinders Ranges.

* In 1866 camels were imported and bred at Thomas Elder's Beltana Station. 

* In 1870 copper was discovered at Sliding Rock near Warrioota Creek. In the same year the Overland Telegraph Line passed through the district and it was decided that Beltana would become one of the repeater stations between Adelaide and Darwin. 

*  In 1871 a Mr Martin established an eating house on the road to and from the mine at Warrioota Creek. That year saw the opening of the Overland Telegraph in Beltana. 

* The explorer Edward Giles left from Beltana Station heading north in 1872.

* In 1873 the town was surveyed and Martin's eating house became the Beltana Hotel. 

*  In 1873 the explorer Peter Egerton-Warburton departed from Beltana Station heading west.

* In 1874 the town was laid out in a simple grid system and 115 allotments were offered for sale. 

* In 1874 the explorer John Ross used Beltana Station as a base for his expedition across towards Perth. 

* In 1875 a stone repeater station was opened for the Overland Telegraph.

* A policeman arrived in the town in 1878. The Royal Victoria Hotel was built that year.

* The town's future seemed assured when the Transcontinental railway arrived in 1881. It became an important railhead for the copper mines as well as for the local sheep industry. At this time there were some 70 houses and the town provided services as diverse as a hospital, a saddler, blacksmith, butcher, baker.

* In 1881 a Police Station and cell block were built. 

* In 1883 the explorer Lawrence Allen Wells joined the Northern Territory and Queensland Border Survey and helped peg the line to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He used Beltana Station as a final post before heading into the desert.

* The establishment of the Smith of Dunesk Mission at the Presbyterian Manse occurred in 1895.

* The population of the town had reached 400 by the end of the nineteenth century. 

* The Reverend John Flynn was in Beltana at the Smith of Dunesk Mission from 1911-12. Flynn probably got his inspiration for the Flying Doctor and the Australian Inland Mission while he was in Beltana.

* By 1911 the population had dropped to 192.

* In 1919 the town saw the opening of an Australian Inland Mission Nursing Home.

* By 1933 there were only 101 living in the town. 

* Coal was discovered at Leigh Creek and mining commenced in 1941. The development of the new township meant that there was a more modern centre in the district. 

* In 1956 the railway line was moved.

* By the 1960s Beltana had lost its hospital, policeman and school.

* In 1980 electricity was connected to the town. 

* In 1983 the road was realigned and the town declined in importance.

* By 1984 the population was down to nine people.

* In 1987 the town was declared a State Heritage Area.

* Between 1990-2018 12 houses have been added to the tiny settlement.

* Today it is a superb example of a 'living' ghost town with a population of around 70. 

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Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information Centre in the town.

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Accommodation

There is no accommodation available.

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Eating

There are no eating facilities

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.beltana.org.au.

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