Burra is a country town in South Australia located 160km north of Adelaide, with a population of approximately 1,200 people. Founded in 1845, it was from then until 1877 the site of one of the world’s major copper mines, the income from which did much to save the young colony from financial disaster. By the time the mine closed in 1877 it was already also serving as a transport centre for the north-east of the colony and parts of western NSW and SW Qld. In the following decade it served the growing wheat farming areas to the west and for a while the untimely doomed expansion in the drier areas to the east. In the late 19th century and early 20th century it was South Australia’s main centre for sale of sheep and became renowned as the main town in an area famed for stud merino sheep breeding. As the 20th century progressed the sheep sale and transport function declined. The mine operated again from 1970-1981 and afterwards the processing of copper ore from other sources continued under Adchem which produces copper oxide. Burra is now a rural service centre for a farming and grazing community and tourist attraction focussed on its mining heritage.
The companies, nicknamed the Nobs and the Snobs, jointly purchased a special survey of land from the government, at a cost of twenty thousand pounds. As the two discoveries only just fit into the survey, they drew lots to see which company took control of each. The Nobs, a group of pastoralists which included the owners of the Kapunda mine drew the Southern lode, and called their mine the Princess Royal. Its yield was small compared to the Northern discovery, and the Snobs, a group of Rundle and Hindley Street traders, made incredible fortunes, extracting three hundred million dollars worth of copper from the mine, in today’s value.
A population expansion, through the mining period, saw five thousand residents in Burra, a greater population than Brisbane and Perth combined. 1600 men, women and children, lived in tiny dugouts in the banks of the Burra Creek. “Creek Street”, stretched for three miles, with floods, disease and the companies’ insistence, eventually forcing them out of their homes, and into the first company built housing in Australia. Separate villages developed, which are all distinguishable today. The Cornish lived in Redruth, the Scots in Aberdeen, the Welsh in Llwchwr, and the English in Hampton, each village having separate shops and facilities.
Burra’s Redruth Gaol, was the first built outside Adelaide. It housed some thirty prisoners, of both genders, and later became a girls reformatory. Extracts from the Doctors journal are contained in the gaol, with ailments such as “unable to walk to Adelaide” and “silly, a little” or “venereal eruption” leaving much to the imagination. Medicine seems to have come a long way!
It’s hard to imagine Burra as it was in the copper mining era, let alone before it… before the trees were stripped from the hills, to feed the furnaces of the now demolished smelting works. A time when the Ngadjuri people wandered freely through this same pristine location.
Home for the world famous ‘Monster Mine’… Burra, what a town! Burra’s Market Square looks so much part of the 19th Century that it features in the film Breaker Morant. Crowds of Cornish miners no longer sprawl out of the pub for fist fights and wrestling bouts; instead it is a relaxed, quiet and historic place for a getaway.
Very few mid-nineteenth century settlements have been preserved like Burra. It has escaped the ravages of modernisation through the great work of the National Trust and local residents. Today Burra has everything you will need for a truly memorable stay.