Where's Burra?


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Oceania » Australia » South Australia » Burra
March 13th 2011
Published: March 18th 2011
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Friday 11th March and at last we said goodbye to Marion and Adelaide. We had Sat Nav on to help get us out of the city and I could see that it would take us towards Port Adelaide but Graham misunderstood one of the directions so we travelled closer to the city centre than we would have liked. However by the time we were on the road the morning rush hour had finished so although it was a bit ‘stop-start’ the journey through the city wasn’t too bad. Once out of the city the roads were good and we made excellent progress. We stopped in Tarlee for a tea break and, remembering the Marion CP receptionist’s very last words to us about planning ahead over the weekend, I phoned the CP in Clare where we were heading. We hadn’t really given any consideration to the fact that this was a “long weekend” with a National Holiday on the Monday and, predictably, caravan parks were busy and the CP in Clare was fully booked. We hadn’t bargained for that but, on the advice of some fellow travellers, we rang the Burra CP and luckily they had room so we diverted there. We were later to find out that there must have been a cancellation as a near neighbour, who also diverted from Clare, was told that they had the last available pitch.

The people in the CP were very welcoming and we were soon settled into a spacious site. We had never heard of Burra so we strolled into the centre of town (a two minute walk) and popped into the Information Centre. Before we knew it we were in the possession of a key, a pass, a booklet and a map (at a cost) which would give us access to numerous historical sites of interest and three museums dotted around the town.

Most of the buildings in the town have some sort of historical interest and in 1993 Burra was placed on the National Heritage Register as a significant historical site. The town came into being when copper was discovered near the Burra Burra Creek. At that time the town was called Kooringa and by 1851 it had rapidly grown to be Australia’s largest inland town. There were a few immensely prosperous years of copper production but mining stopped in 1877. As we were to discover, Burra is really
Peacock's Chimney Peacock's Chimney Peacock's Chimney

Moved and rebuilt in 1971. The figure at the top is 'Johnny Green' the mascot of the Burra miners.
a collection of small townships each with their own story. Some have very familiar names – Lostwhithiel, Aberdeen, Llwchwr, Redruth and Graham. Many of the names were brought in by the immigrant workers – Cornishmen were excellent miners – Welshmen were excellent smelters – and so on.

Just opposite the CP was one of the historical sites so I left Graham relaxing and popped across the road, opened the gate with my key and walked in to the grounds of the former Unicorn Brewery. When it was built the town had nine hotels but it already had another brewery so this one always struggled to be profitable and closed down in 1902. I was able to look around the cellars and listen to a commentary on its history.

In the evening we drove up to the lookout which gave good views of the copper mine complex – the main tourist attraction - and then on to Redruth Gaol which was one of the buildings we needed our key for. The Gaol, at one time, could hold up to 30 prisoners in pretty unpleasant conditions. In 1880 the Gaol Keeper of the time, William Pollitt, wrote a letter describing ‘the wretched conditions’ there. It was closed in 1897, renovated and later became a Girls’ Reformatory but conditions were not much better for the girls. There were many records of ‘riotous behavior’ that the warders struggled to cope with and it was closed in 1922. Some of the 1980 film ‘Breaker Morant’ was filmed at the gaol and also in Burra market square. In fact, the area has been used often in such well known films as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Rabbit Proof Fence and many others.

Back in town we found another ‘key’ site – ‘Miners’ Dugouts’. Because there had been a huge influx of miners to the area in 1840, there was no housing for them so they provided their own by digging into the soft clay banks of the Burra Creek – how amazing! In 1851 nearly 600 people lived in the dugouts but then three floods devastated ‘Creek Street’ and many of the people left. At one time there were 300 dugouts. Two have been retained and made safe for tourist viewing but most have disappeared or deteriorated. We chatted to a couple of ladies from Adelaide who were staying in one of the historic cottages opposite the dugouts – no doubt they were pleased their cottage was built of stone and not made of mud!

The following morning we drove the 40 kms to Clare, strolled, shopped and had a bit of lunch. We were in the famous wine growing area of the Clare Valley so all around were well known vineyards of varying sizes. We quite enjoy the occasional bottle of wine but we’re not all that interested in wine tasting so we didn’t bother visiting any of the wineries.

On the way back to Burra we diverted to the small hamlet of Mintaro. The guide books said it was like an English Cotswold village - a slight exaggeration perhaps! Still, most of the buildings were constructed of stone and the surrounding slopes were reminiscent of parts of the Cotswolds (if you have a vivid imagination). We had a wander round, past the ‘Magpie and Stump’ pub and then had an ice-cream from a delightfully old fashioned tea shop before tootling back to Burra. Apparently some of the 1975 film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ was also filmed in Mintaro.

Back in Burra we wandered round the centre enjoying the window display in Polly’s tea-shop where they advertise traditional Cornish Pasties! We found the historic ‘jinker’ which is a huge wooden carriage and in 1851 was used to transport heavy beam engines which had been imported from the UK. The jinker was pulled by 72 bullocks and took about two weeks to haul its load from Port Adelaide.

On Sunday morning we were at Burra Burra Mine and outside Morphett’s Engine house Museum at 10am when it opened and were greeted by a very affable chap called Neil. We had to wait while more visitors trickled in and then he showed us round and explained some of the intricate details of how the pump worked. After taking in the view from the balcony we wandered around the grounds and to the edge of the water filled quarry which is now an important scuba diving centre. Neil asked if he would see us later as he would be going on to the Bon Accord Mining Museum which opened at 1pm. As we talked to him it started raining so we retreated back to the caravan for a warming lunch of soup.

Although the rain continued after lunch we drove
Kitchen items at the gaolKitchen items at the gaolKitchen items at the gaol

and a reminder about the daily rations
to Bon Accord Mine where Neil had already started showing a group round and at his suggestion we tagged on the end. We walked past a wonderful model of the original mine complex to the old blacksmith’s shop which was full of old carriages, saddles and implements. We were then shown the actual mine shaft the depth of which was cleverly illustrated by a series of lights flashing down the shaft for as far as one could reasonably see. The actual depth was at least three times more than we could see!! At this point Neil went into great detail about why Cornish Pasties came into being in Burra and why they were so perfect for a miner’s lunch! In another shed were three of the original Burra fire engines, including a 1919 model T Ford (which doesn’t really mean anything to me but no doubt sends car buffs into a frenzy of excitement!). For many years after the copper mine closed the water in the quarry was used as the town’s main water supply and it was brought up the shaft by the pump. In the building which had housed the main pump there were smaller items such as a large, heavy bucket which, because of a clever design, could be easily rolled over to empty it, and a wheel barrow purposefully designed without any legs!

The final museum didn’t open until 3.30, which was half an hour after the Bon Accord Museum closed so we had a funny feeling we’d see Neil again later and so we did! Before that though we looked around the town art gallery but sadly just missed going into the town hall as it closed at 3pm. We needed a cup of tea so popped in to an antique shop which doubled as a café. Neil was just finishing the first tour when we strolled over the road to the Market Square Museum but it was no hardship to wait in what was an old fashioned sweet shop. It had been a grocery store for many years with the owners living on the premises. I had to buy a fridge magnet as a memento and almost got a car sticker asking 'Where's Burra?' We certainly now knew where it was and hoped that many other travellers would take the time to visit in the future. Neil took us into the rooms at the back and told us a bit about the people who had lived there over the years. Relatives had donated many of the lovely old bits and pieces that filled the rooms.

Neil was obviously very passionate about Burra and its mining past and he did a fantastic job of giving us a brief insight into how the town rose up and then sank back into the sleepy little place it is today.

We were ‘museumed’ out by now but we were so pleased that Clare CP had been full giving us the opportunity to discover the delightful little town of Burra.



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An open-cut mine An open-cut mine
An open-cut mine

was operational from 1971 - 1981 when low-grade copper metal was mined.


18th March 2011

Fantastic
... where are you finding these wonderful places!! We missed so much!! It just goes to prove how enormous Australia is and how much there is to explore! Fab blog - ace pictures - you both look fantastic! x x x
18th March 2011

Clare Valley
Impressed I share the same name as a whole Valley, & one with vineyards to boot! perfect. Fire engines certainly have come along way since 1922! love Claire (not the valley) & Simon x

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