In the mid-north region of South Australia, which is about 2 hours out of Adelaide, lies Burra. It is a fabulous destination for a day, but there’s plenty to see to warrant staying longer.
It began as a mining town, in the mid-1800s, and supplied most of South Australia’s copper and 5% of the World’s copper for more than a decade. Most of the buildings and houses are original, so this historic town (in Australian terms) is charming and interesting.
We did the Burra Heritage Passport, paying a fee to the Visitor Centre and getting a map and keys to historic sites in the town. This is a kind of self-guided ‘tour’ and took us about 2 hours, covering only about 10 km. There are some shocking tales, of mining families that lived in the river bed, digging their homes into the banks – as miners they knew how to dig into anything – only to suffer illness and death when the rains came and the river bed filled up. Generally it was children and the old who couldn’t survive.
The tunnels under the brewery were educative and in very good condition. You could easily imagine being down there, rolling barrels along, probably in the dark.
The open cut mines were a feature of Burra, the miners having experienced cave-ins in Britain from where many came. It was a good solution to a familiar disaster. The buildings on the mine site are well-maintained and quite beautiful. There are little green bits of copper lying everywhere, for the geologist in you.
A row of miners cottages remain and are used as accommodation, opposite the river and caravan park. The park was well-located for exploring the town.
The school was very grand and formidable but I think it is the town hall, now. There is a cottage set up as an historical display of life at the time of Burra’s heyday.
Visiting the lollie shop, after having a great snack in the cafe nearby, I commented on how the door to the rest of the house seemed to drop down. The attendant told us that the buildings were very well constructed and withstood high temperatures in Summer (40C) and very cold in Winter (around 2C at night), with the occasional flood that entered the room where we stood. The shop was on the banks of the river, but it was several metres above it. Most of the houses are stone, from nearby quarries, and the soil was obviously suitable for houses to be dug out of it and on it, as there was very little cracking or signs of movement. Well, I found it fascinating.
There are a few places to eat or buy food and at least one secondhand store that had such treasures it was hard to walk past. It is a snug town, where you feel that you’re returning home, rather than visiting. I had the impression of being in a valley, despite open fields and arid landscapes.
The Burra Visitor Centre has some good information about the megafauna of the region which became extinct about 50 000 years ago. There are fossil displays in the Council chambers but we didn’t get to see them. Various trails can be taken, too, to explore this aspect and vegetation as well.
We travelled fast, of course, and didn’t stop more than two nights, so we were moving the whole time, seeing things, walking, driving. We would go again, for sure. It is a town just waiting for an historical mini-series!
The Clare Valley is to the West, Broken Hill is North East and Morgan is South East. All good destinations to follow with.
Take a camera, a hat, and water.