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Burra, SA

Open cut mine site

Redruth Lock Up

Burra railway station

Natural features: Burra Creek; Burra Gorge (18 km east)
Built features: village of Hanson (14 km south); remains of old gold mines at Mongolata (north east); Hampton township (the original settlement for the English who came to live in Burra).
Heritage features: Burra Creek Miners' Dugout; former Post Office, Kooranga; Peacock's Chimney; Burra Mine Open Air Museum; Morphett's Engine House Museum (1857); 33 Cottages, Paxton Square (1858); Princess Royal; Kooringa Bridge; St Mary's Church of England; Burra Primary and High School; St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church; Tivers Row Cottages; Thames Street Cottages; Smelts Yard and storehouse; Storeman's house, storerooms and yards, The Rookery; Copper Company Manager's House; Woolacott Jinker; entry tunnel to Morphett's Shaft; Unicorn Brewery's underground cellars (1873); Police Lockup and Station (1849 - Burra North); Bon Accord Mining Complex (1846); Redruth Gaol (1857); Burra Market Square Museum; Malowen Lowarth cottages (1849-52).
State Heritage Area information; Baldina and Burra Creek fossil site

Burra nestles in the rolling hills 160 kilometres north of Adelaide, close to the creek which gave the town its name and its reason for existence. The rich lode of copper which was discovered in the banks of the Burra Burra Creek in 1845 provided not only a much-needed financial stimulus for the infant colony of South Australia but also 30 years of regular employment for the thousands of Cornish miners and Welsh and German smelters who flocked to the region. In fact, this was the first of the mineral rushes, predating the gold fever of the east coast by almost a decade.
In those days before multiculturalism, the settlers all went their own way; The Burra, as it was known, was made up of the original mining company town with an attendant group of government-sponsored villages, each with its own characteristics. The English lived in Hampton, the Scots in Aberdeen, the Welsh in Llywchwr, and the largest group, the Cornish, 600 came here from a single parish in Redruth. In time, the villages merged to form Burra, and North Burra.
Today, thanks to the no-nonsense craftsmanship of its original masons and carpenters, Burra survives as a living museum of the industrial and domestic architecture of the mid-1800s. The ruins of the mine shafts, chimneys, engine houses and powder magazines still stand today as stark monuments to the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in a peaceful rural setting. Two of the dugouts which once housed 1500 miners are preserved in the banks, the others were washed out during the floods of the 1850s, while the terraces of workers cottages and the free-standing houses with their white quoins, all built of the same local stone as the mine buildings, testify to the Celtic origins of the original inhabitants.
Redruth Gaol, built at a time when Burra was the largest country settlement in South Australia, was the colony's earliest provincial prison. Behind its high walls and Georgian portals were three cells for males and three cells for females, a workroom, two large yards, and a residence for the jailer and turnkeys. It closed as a jail in 1894, and from 1897 to 1922 was used as a reformatory. Since the 1920s, it has been restored to order and figured prominently in the film Breaker Morant.
Chimneys leading to shafts deep below the ground, square to a traditional Welsh design, round in the Cornish style, still stand starkly on the hills around Burra after 130 years. Paxton Square a three-sided complex of thirty three two-roomed and three-roomed cottages was built I the mid 1850s to house Cornish workers, the first example of company housing in Australia.
Market Square is actually more of a triangle, and is the centre of Burra, where roads from Adelaide, Morgan and Broken Hill meet. In its earliest days it consisted only of a standpipe and horse trough shaded by a single tree. Until as late as 1900 livestock was sold here on market days in the old, English village fashion. The square today is dominated by a traditional band rotunda, built in 1911 and dedicated to the memory of King Edward VII and decorated with cast-iron lacework. Other buildings include the National Trust folk and mining museum, which began life as a tailor's shop, and the 1847 Miners' Arms, now the Burra Hotel.
The Mine and Enginehouse museums incorporate many of the restored and un-restored buildings of the original Burra copper mine including offices, cottages, enginehouses and the 1847 powder magazine, believed to be the oldest mine building in Australia.

The Corporation of Burra

When copper was discovered at Burra in 1845 the main population centre that grew up was the town of Kooringa, to the south of the mine, on the land of the South Australian Mining Association (SAMA). Their tight control of the town and their refusal to grant freehold title until the 1870s encouraged the growth of other towns or subdivisions beyond the border of their Special Survey. Most notably to the north there was the Government town of Redruth, but also the private subdivisions of Aberdeen, Llwchwr, Millerton and Hampton (and others that did not develop.). To the west and south-west of SAMA's land about nine subdivisions were made, but only Copperhouse and Lostwithiel had numbers of houses that persisted into the twentieth century.
Despite having a population in excess of 4,000 while the mine prospered, Burra did not have any form of local government for many years after far less populous centres and districts obtained either a District Council or a Town Council. The lengthy delay was due to a number of reasons. Sammie (as the Mining Association came to be known) discouraged any group or organisation which might have challenged its absolute control over its town. The fact that all businesses and houses in Kooringa were on relatively short term leases also discouraged local pride and capital investment in both real estate and infrastructure. The proliferation of 'towns' was a source of disunity, particularly because the majority of the population was divided into a southern centre at Kooringa and a northern concentration at Aberdeen-Redruth with a significant central gap occupied by the Burra Burra Mine and the lease of the English and Australian Copper Company which operated the smelting works. In addition the surrounding land was mainly held in large pastoral runs with few small farms and consequently not very many people living in the district.
Eventually in 1872 a District Council was formed which had some effect in bringing the disparate settlements together. As the mine declined the interests of Sammie also began to change and slowly through the 1870s some freehold properties were bought in Kooringa. The 1860s saw the beginning of the break-up of some of the old runs while the following decade also saw the spread of smaller farms in the newly proclaimed hundreds to the east.
In 1875 ratepayers from the towns other than Kooringa petitioned for a Corporation (ie. a Town Council) of Aberdeen and Redruth. Since Kooringa was the largest population centre in the district this was unlikely to impress the government in Adelaide and the counter petition from ratepayers in Kooringa saw the move fail. After some twenty years of intermittent struggle the time had finally arrived when the question would not be shelved again and on 29 December 1875 a meeting in the Burra Institute drew more than 150 ratepayers who were determined to see a Town Council established. The Corporation of the Town of Burra was eventually proclaimed on 28 June 1876 and the first appointed mayor and town councillors were sworn in on 12 July 1876.
With the neglect of thirty years to rectify, the Council was faced with an immense task of road, footpath, and bridge construction as well as drainage and sanitation problems. A little over a year later the closure of the mine added the lack of a town water supply to their problems and resulted in a falling population and declining real estate values to add to their difficulties.
A serious economic depression that occurred in the late 1880s and 1890s makes the achievements of the Councils of the nineteenth century all the more remarkable. There is a fascinating book waiting to be written about the Councils, councillors and their employees, especially in the period before World War I. This was the time that saw so much infrastructure built. It was also the period when the Council was running the town water supply which resulted in much difficulty, a great deal of heartache, and sometimes episodes of high farce. The local paper reports some wonderful Council meetings where serious matters were in dispute, but where the script would not be out of place in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

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Where Is It?: South Australia: Central Agricultural