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Burra, SA

Town which describes itself as "Historic Copper Town and the Merino Capital of the World"

Burra, which calls itself 'An Historic Copper Town and the Merino Capital of the World', is a unique township. It did not become an official entity until 1940 when the tiny, separate mining communities of Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Kooringa, Llwchwr, Redruth and Graham were drawn together under the name Burra. It was declared a State Heritage town in 1994 because of its wealth of outstanding historic buildings and the opportunity it offers for the visitor to understand a little of what life was like in a 19th century copper mining town. Burra is on the edge of marginal land. It is a pretty and historic town where the visitor can easily spend a full day exploring the town's rich mining history.

Location

Burra is located 161 km north of Adelaide via the Horrocks Highway.

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Origin of Name

There is considerable disagreement about the origin of the word "burra". Some sources claim that it comes from a Hindustani expression "burra burra" meaning "great great" and was used by shepherds who came from India to work in the area. Others claim that it is a very common Aboriginal root which appears in words like kookaburra and Tibooburra. And another interpretation is that Burra Burra was used by miners from Devon.

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Things to See and Do

Burra Heritage Passport
An inspired idea the Burra Heritage Passport allows the visitor access to eight locked sites around the town. The cost includes a guide book which lists a total of 49 historic sites around the town and provides details of an 11 km walk or drive. The passport includes such important local sites as the Monster Mine, the Redruth Gaol, the Unicorn Brewery and the Dugouts. Some of the historic sites need to be opened by a key which is provided with the Historic Passport. It is available at the Visitor Centre tel: (08) 8892 2154 or check out http://visitburra.com/web/things-to-do/things-to-do-in-burra/burra-heritage-passport.

The historic sites which are accessible to the Passport purchasers include:

Monster Mine Site and Powder Magazine
This is a huge open cut copper mine which was so productive it ensured the town's continuing existence. The site offers excellent views from the platform at the Lookout and there are boards with extensive information and important historic photographs about the mines. A notice at the entrance to the site announces: "The Burra Mine Open Air Museum has been developed to conserve the history and extensive remains of the Burra Mine. The Burra Mine, which operated between 1845 and 1877, was once the largest in Australia. In total it produced 50,000 tonnes of copper and is credited with saving the young state of South Australia from bankruptcy. The site is recognised as one of the most significant mining heritage sites in Australia. Explore the site along self-guided walking tracks. Interpretative panels at key points explain the various mining operations."

Powder Magazine
This is the oldest surviving building in Burra and reputedly the oldest surviving mining building in Australia. It was built in 1847 (before the goldrushes) and used to store explosives which were used by the miners.

Morphett Engine House Museum
This remarkable National Trust building was first constructed in 1858, gutted by fire in 1925 and fully restored in 1986. It has a number of displays of Beam Engines. It offers some of the best views in the town and is open from tours from 10.00 am - 12.30 pm.

Police Lock-up and Stables
Located on the corner of Ludgvan and Tregony Streets the police station, with its lockup and stables, was completed in 1847 when, after a number of years as an unruly frontier town, law and order arrived in Burra.

Redruth Gaol
Located off Tregony Street Redruth Gaol was built in 1856 and it housed criminals until 1922 when it was decommissioned. Although it started as a gaol by 1897 it had become a girl's reformatory and many of the stories are about the adventures of the young women who were incarcerated. This gaol has an extensive collection of memorabilia depicting the kinds of prison conditions which existed in the 19th century. It was used extensively during the filming of Breaker Morant and there is now a room devoted to Breaker Morant with suitable memorabilia from the film. The placards around the gaol offer a rare insight into the life of the prisoners. One recalls:  "In 1902 on escaping two girls cut their hair, donned boys caps and breeches and roamed for ten days in the guise of two lads looking for work ... In 1919 three girls Violet Benson, Ada Newchurch and Ursula Cruse were on the roof, dancing, singing low songs, swearing downright insolence, destroying the government property and undressing and exposing themselves to all passers by in only their flannels and bloomers." The Redruth area of the town was the home to most of the Cornish miners.

Hampton Township
Hampton Township is located on the edge of town and is now little more than ruins. Today there are now no complete buildings in Hampton. The town is in ruins. This has been the result of locals seeing the abandoned brick houses as ideal for further building and simply "borrowing" the bricks. Although its premier location on the top of a hill overlooking the town offers the best views, it also means that it was the last place in town to receive electricity and water and consequently people moved from Hampton down the hill.

Smelts Paddock
Located on Smelts Road this is the site of the two smelting houses which accompanied the Monster Mine. Between 1849 and 1868 over 1,000 workers, mostly Welsh miners, processed the copper which was then transported to the coast and shipped overseas.

Unicorn Brewery Cellars
Located in Bridge Terrace, the Unicorn Brewery Cellars were built in 1873 and operated until 1902. It supplied beer to Broken Hill and to one quarter of South Australia. The history of the brewery is a series of sublime accidents. Just as one mine closed down another opened up. Basically, as told on a PDF of State Heritage Areas produced by the South Australian Department of Environment, the story is that: "In 1873 the erection of a new brewery in Burra probably seemed a risky venture. Although the Burra Mine was still working, the number of miners employed there had dropped from 1,000 in the early 1860s to less than 300, and the town's population had fallen to 3,000, with more mining families leaving each week. There were still nine hotels open in the townships, but these were supplied by another, long-established brewery in Burra. Quite probably though the new brewer, William Banks, and his financial backers were counting on the expansion, beyond Burra, of the Northern Railway. (In 1878 it extended to Hallett, in 1880 to Terowie and in 1887 to Cockburn near Broken Hill.) The arrival of the line to Burra (in 1870) had made the delivery of barley and the brewery's machinery much easier, and enabled cheaper transport of bottled and casked beer. Another factor that contributed to the new brewery's success was the opening up of the northern areas for agriculture in 1872. Each new township soon had a hotel, and so a market for the brewery's products was assured. The Unicorn Brewery's machinery, and the extensive cellars that held 500 hogsheads, was far superior to their rivals, and by 1875 Unicorn was the sole brewery in Burra. When the Burra Burra Mine closed in 1877 the loss of trade in Burra was soon counter-balanced by the unexpected opening of the Silverton and Broken Hill mines. From 1880 until 1902, thirsty Broken Hill miners drank mostly Unicorn Ale. Following Banks death in 1878, the Unicorn was taken over by an Adelaide Company, and run by the Lockyer family until its closure in 1902, following legislation to control individual breweries. A Commonwealth Act that came into force on 1 January 1902, stated that "No person shall make beer unless licensed to do so." The new regulations were so stringent, and the required paperwork so involved, that only the larger breweries could afford to comply. In 1911 the South Australian Education Department acquired a portion of the property for a school residence and used some of the brewery stone for its construction. In 1913 the massive malthouse tower was dismantled and stone used to build the row of three cottages now on the site. The offices were converted to a residence, while the cellars and storeroom remained intact, but largely forgotten. In the early 1970s the underground cellars were 're-discovered' and opened to the public. In 1987 the cellars were acquired by the local council, restored and re-opened in 1989. The cellars are a unique design. They are 5 metres wide and approximately 600 metres in total length, and have been tunnelled to form an underground square, the centre of which has been subdivided. The stone vaults are arched, with earth flooring remaining in five main cellar runs. An interesting item is the cold room, which is a basement at the level of the cellars. Massive timber beams support the flooring of the storeroom at ground level."

Miners Dugouts
Located in Blyth Street (known as "Creek Street') these primitive dugouts were built in the 1840s as basic accommodation for the miners who came to the diggings. They are extraordinary reminders of the hardship which was part of early life at Burra. It is still possible to walk inside and inspect these simple dwellings. The 1851 census recorded that about 1800 people lived in dugouts along Burra Creek and its tributaries. The town's population at the time was 4,400. Of these one-third were children under the age of 14 and the unsanitary living conditions contributed to outbreaks of smallpox and typhoid fever. During 1851 alone there were 153 deaths in Burra, many of them young children in the dugouts.

Malowen Lowarth
Located on Paxton Square this delightful run of stone cottages (a total of 33 cottages were built at the time) was built between 1849-52. One of the cottages, the Mine Captain's Cottage, is open for inspection with authentic artifacts dating from the 1860s. The term "malowen lowarth" means "hollyhock garden" in Cornish.

Burra Market Square Museum
Located off Market Street and opposite the Anglican Church, this museum, which was built in 1880, is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily, is designed as a re-creation of an old style general store and post office. It was opened in 1966 and includes original furniture and fittings. It was originally the home of Andrew Wade, a tailor.

Bon Accord Mine Complex
Located on the corner of West and Linkson streets, the Bon Accord Mine Complex is an interpretative centre which provides a diorama so that visitors can experience what Burra was like in the 1850s when it had a population of over 5,000. The complex includes a blacksmith's shop and a pump shed and shaft which were used to provide the town with water from 1884-1966. The complex also includes three of Burra's fire engines including a rare 1919 Model T Ford. It is open for tours from 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm daily. There are photos and detailed descriptions of all these locations at http://www.burrahistory.info/BurraHeritageTrail.htm.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Myth of Burra
One of the great benefits of the internet is that if you get something wrong it can be corrected instantly. If you make a mistake in a book you have to wait until a second edition is printed before you can correct it.
I have no problem with correcting mistakes and recently, through no fault of my own, I made a truly egregious error.
When I first went to the copper mining town of Burra in South Australia about twenty years ago I was accompanied by South Australian Tourism (such are the joys of a travel journalist) and they introduced me to a local historian who, telling me the orthodoxy, explained how different areas of the town had become little ghettos of British miners.
“It is worth noting that Burra was a uniquely segregated community with Redruth for the Cornish miners; Aberdeen for the Scottish miners; Llychwr for the Welsh miners and Hampton for the English miners,” the historian explained as he showed me around the ruins of Hampton.
For many years it was believed that the towns were established by different groups of miners but some tenacious and creative research by members of the local historical society has shown that although this story seemed to be true it was nothing more than a myth.
When I attempted to perpetuate the myth I received a suitably caustic reply from the local Historical Society:
“The true story,” they explained, “is that the Burra Mining Company wouldn't grant freehold title within their property which incorporated the township of Kooringa where most of the miners, smelts workers, masons, carters and labourers lived. By 1851 the census showed a population of 6000, 1800 of them living in primitive dugouts along the Burra Creek. The government established the township of Redruth for their police station, stables and lockup. The government also built the Redruth Courthouse and eventually the Redruth Gaol. So Redruth wasn't established by Cornish miners. Aberdeen was established by the owners of the Bon Accord Mine who happened to be a syndicate formed between the Scottish Australian Investment Co and the North British Australasian Investment Co and they named their township Aberdeen and there were few people who lived there during the mining era and they most certainly weren't Scottish. The Bon Accord miners were in fact mainly Cornish and they lived in Kooringa. Whilst Llwchwr is a Welsh name it wasn't established by the Welsh smelters who worked at the Patent Copper Co's smelter between 1849 and 1869. Hampton was established by Thomas William Powell the postmaster in Kooringa. It was the site of stone quarries that provided much of the stone for the buildings at the mine and in the townships. It is an English name meaning home town but the residents came from anywhere and everywhere. As to this rather quaint idea that the towns didn't amalgamate untill 1940 because of any ethnic differences, that was simply wrong. The township had been referred to as The Burra long before that and when the railway came to Burra in 1870 it was officially known as the Burra Raiilway Station. “Furthermore, after the closure of the smelter in 1849, and the closure of the mine in 1877, both the Welsh and the Cornish left the area.”

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by the Ngadjuri Aboriginal people.

* Copper was first discovered near the Burra Burra Creek in 1845 by two shepherds, William Streair and Thomas Pickett.

* The Monster Mine site began operating in 1845.

* In 1846 the Bon Accord Mining Company began mining operations.

* The area was so substantial that it was initially known as 'The Burra' and divided into a number of separate communities.

* In 1846 the tiny township of Kooringa came into existence.

* In 1847 the Powder Magazine, the oldest mine building still standing in Australia, was completed. The Police lockup and stables, and the Kooringa Wesleyan Chapel, were built the same year.

* In 1847 the tiny township of Redruth came into existence.

* In 1849 the tiny townships of Aberdeen and Llwchwr came into existence. Smelting ore began in the district.

* By 1850 miners were starting to build dugouts along the river. 80 dugouts were affected by a flash flood.  Dividends paid by the mining company reached 800%.

* By 1851 the excitement produced by the copper had led to 5,000 miners moving to the area.

* By 1852 many miners had left hoping to find vast riches on the Victorian goldfields.

* By 1856 Redruth Gaol had been completed and was housing criminals.

* By 1857 Hampton, the village for English miners, was laid out. Redruth Court House was erected.

* In 1858 the tiny townships of Copperhouse and Lostwhithiel came into existence. Morphett's Engine House was built.

* By 1859 the mine's wages bill had reached £178,900. There was a major flood in the town.

* Underground mining was suspended in 1867 with a loss of 500 jobs.

* By 1870 open cut mining had begun in Burra. Railway to Burra completed.

* In 1872 the tiny township of New Aberdeen came into existence.

* In 1873 the Unicorn Brewery Cellars were producing beer for the community.

* In 1875 the tiny township of Graham came into existence.

* In 1876 the town's first newspaper, the Burra News and Northern Mail, was printed.

* By 1877 the open cut mining at the Monster Mine Site had stopped.

* In 1881 Essington Lewis was born in Burra.

* By 1897 Redruth Gaol had been converted to become a Girls Reformatory.

* In 1940 the town was officially named Burra and it included the settlements of Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Kooringa, Llwchwr, Redruth and Graham.

* In 1970 the mine reopened and it continued to operate until it was closed again in 1981.

* 1974 saw the town experience its wettest year on record with 865 mm.

* Breaker Morant was filmed around Burra in 1979.

* When it ceased mining operations the town was not dismantled. It became an important regional service centre and in 1993 it became a State Heritage Town.

 

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Visitor Information

Burra & Goyder Visitor Information Centre, 2 Market Square, tel: (08) 8892 2154. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm on weekends.

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out http://visitburra.com/web for comprehensive information about the town.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • Your statement that Burra was segregated into townships along ethnic lines is demonstrably false. The majority of the population of The Burra lived in the township of Kooringa (1845), a name that doesn’t get a Guernsey in your description of the town. Which segregated ethnic group are you assigning to this township? The facts are that there were very few Scots that came to Burra early on and the township of Aberdeen was named by the owners of the Bon Accord Mine and they employed Cornish miners from the Burra Mine. Known as the Sydney Syndicate, they sold off the property known as Aberdeen over several years with very few people actually living there until the arrival of the railway at The Burra in 1870.
    The township with the Cornish name of Redruth was established by the government of the Colony of South Australia specifically for the purpose of providing a police station and police lockup and stables, a Courthouse and eventually the Redruth Goal. Whilst this name was chosen by the government for their town and allotments were offered up for sale, in fact very few properties were actually occupied and those that were we certainly were not occupied exclusively by Cornishmen. The township of Llwchwr, whilst having a Welsh name meaning a lake being named after a little village near Swansea in Wales, and despite the influx of Welsh smelters to the Patent Copper Company’s smelting works established in 1849, very few Welshmen actually lived there. In fact the Welsh Church was on the corner of Welsh Place and Kingston Street, Kooringa, which is a long walk away from Llwchwr. To assert that the townships of Burra were segregated and racist is ignorant in the extreme. These people were working day by day alongside of each other to make their living in rather harsh conditions. The mine and smelter couldn’t haven’t functioned otherwise. You would be well advised to listen the carefully researched work of the members of the Burra History Group who live in this town and are proud of its heritage.

    Julian Ratcliffe
  • The Redruth Gaol was used as a family home from 1943 to 1966.

    Norm todd
  • Population?

    Aussie Towns doesn’t record population because we are trying to create a website that remains relatively the same. Population changes. We don’t.

    Lorraine whitford