I love to travel and some time ago discovered I also love to write, combine this with my husband's photography and we get to share it all with you. Please visit us at www.facebook.com/brucevandersluisimages
Published March 1st 2018
South Australia's Amazing Mid-North
A Long Weekend in Burra
Let's face it, South Australia has a wealth of weekend offerings and with just a little bit of imagination, it is quite easy to find somewhere to go for a long weekend. Whether you like history, water sports or fossicking, there will be somewhere in South Australia just right for your weekend.
Burra is a small historic town in South Australia's mid-north which lies east of the fabulous Clare Valley and is part of the Mount Lofty Ranges. It is just 2 hours by car from Adelaide through scenic country if you drive straight there, however, there is much to see along the way.
On the Road to Burra. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
You can stop at any of the lovely towns you drive through; we like to take a quick stop in Tarlee where the rest stop is always clean and the bakery has a selection of drinks and refreshments at reasonable prices. My husband loves the old style sausage rolls, which are always hot and fresh.
We also love to stop by the roadside and photograph the lovely settler ruins, which can be found along the roadside, including the beautiful house on the hill not far from Burra.
House on the Hill, Burra. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
On arriving in Burra, we first visited the Visitor Centre at 2 Market Square to purchase our Burra Heritage Passports. The Office is open Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm and Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays from 10 am to 4 pm. The passport along with the included master key gives you access to ten heritage places which are only available as part of the package and at just $30 adults, $25 concession, $20 National Trust members and $20 locals (including up to 6 guests), is fantastic value. The master key requires a $50 deposit, however, this is refunded when you return the key with after-hours returns available.
Burra Burra Mine (1845)
The weekend we arrived was predicted to be over 38 degrees celsius and therefore, the two mine museums included in the passport were not going to be open for the rest of the weekend. We started with Morphett's Enginehouse Museum (1858) at the Burra Burra Mine site. The museum houses information and artefacts about the mine, and with boards on all levels describing the history of the site it is fascinating. Because we had the passport key, we were able to move through the locked gates giving us access around the site, including the Powder Magazine (1847), which is said to be the oldest remaining mine building in Australia.
Powder Magazine, Burra Burra Mine. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
The high point of the site gives a magnificent view across the town. On the other side of the locked gate and with open access is the Dressing Tower and Ore Floor (1870), Open Cut Lookout and Burra Lookout.
Burra Town from Burra Burra Mine. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
Next, we visited the Bon Accord Mine Complex. The guide here was a wealth of information about both mines and the history of the town and district. The site includes mine offices, blacksmith's forge, carpenter's shop, manager's residence and engine-house. The blacksmith's building has a display and audio on life as a blacksmith at the mine in the 1800's. An outbuilding houses a display of vintage fire engines, including a model T ford. There is a lot to see and we spent a good deal of time here.
The passport usually starts from the Visitor Centre (1890) and with the book provided as part of the deal, after a short break it was time to start from the beginning. Many of the locations provided in the book are drive-by sites.
From the Visitor Centre, we drove by the Town Hall and Institute (1874), former Telegraph Station and Post Office (1861), St Joseph's Catholic Church (1874), St Mary's Anglican Church (1879), Peacock's Chimney (originally at Burra Burra Mine and resited 1971), Mine Stores and Residence (1847), former Smelters' Home Hotel (1849), Royal Exchange Hotel (1880), Sara's Corner (1870), former Bentley Photographic Studio (1895), former Butcher's Shop and Residence (1885), Wandillah (1918), former Office of Sarah and Dunstan (1876), Burra Railway Station (1883), former Butterworth Flour Mill (1874), Redruth Courthouse (1857) and former Police Station (1879).
Police Lockup and Stables
Our final stop for the day was the Police Lockup and Stables built in 1847. Erected at the rear of the first police station, which is now a private residence, the cells were used as a temporary gaol until the Redruth Gaol was built. The site contains the exercise yard, cells and stables and it is clear to see that there were no comforts for prisoners.
Police Lockup and Stables. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
Saturday dawned clear and hot and we returned to the Police Lockup and Stables to continue our journey along the trail. This morning we drove by the former Courthouse Hotel (1858), Redruth Methodist Church Complex (1874) and Tivers Row (1856) before arriving at Redruth Gaol.
The gaol is expansive and I knew from the moment I opened the gate that this location was going to bring far more than a quiet visit. Listen for the eerie squeak of the gate reminiscent of scary movies. Built in 1856, this site emits a presence that is large and imposing. Featured in the movie Breaker Morant, the building was used as a gaol until 1894 after which it was renovated and opened as a Girls' Reformatory in 1897, finally closing in 1922. There are a lot of rooms to explore and boards within each of the rooms describe life here in each of its existences. Some of the descriptions are confronting in their sadness with one board describing girls careers after discharge as "doubtful" or "bad report", with others being more positive.
The gaol became a family home between 1893 and 1897 and then again between 1949 and 1956 and a board describes the experiences had here by the children of these families.
This site is large and deserves a good deal of time exploring. Although only my husband and myself were here at the time, I had a general feeling of unease and while in the front exercise yard as we were leaving, I heard footsteps in the gravel even though neither of us were moving. I came to the conclusion that this site is not at rest and that there are stories yet untold, just waiting for someone to listen.
Hampton Township (1857)
Hampton in its time, was a thriving township laid out in the style of an English village. The town contained up to 30 cottages and a Christian chapel and included quarries which supplied the stone for Burra buildings.
Abandoned in the 1960's, it is fascinating to walk around what is left. All of the homes are in ruins, but it is clear to see the town as it stood and there are signs at each home with the name of the family that lived there. One house remains almost fully intact and although you cannot enter for safety, you can peer through the window and imagine the harshness of this town in times gone by.
Locals told us that due to the imposition of land taxes, as the miners left the cottages they would remove the roof to avoid paying tax. The cottages slowly became ruins as over time and locals would "borrow" bricks for other uses. The only intact home was owned by the last remaining resident and therefore, has kept its roof.
Hampton is now a ghost town inhabited only by wildlife, but is a great example of an old mining township.
From Hampton, the trail took us by the former Fuss Residence (1855), Miss Mabel's Cottage (1855), the Smelts Stables and Yards (1849) and former Smelts Offices and Residence (1849).
Burra Smelting Works Site (1849)
While interesting there is not much left of this site. There is a 1.2 km interpretive trail around the site with boards describing what was there. There are some ruins and machinery and it is fairly easy to picture it as it was in operation.
Paxton Square Cottages (1849)
Paxton Square Cottages is a drive-by on the trail, but was our accommodation for our stay. Built-in 1849 as miners cottages, there are 33 cottages all facing into a square which was used for communal events and union meetings.
The cottages have been renovated, and speaking with the operators there is still some work to be done, however, we found the cottage to be delightfully rustic and comfortable enough for a short stay.
After the cottages, the trail takes you by the former Burra Model School (1878) and onto Unicorn Brewery Cellars.
Day 2 (Saturday) – Part 2
Unicorn Brewery Cellars (1873)
Built on the site of an earlier brewery, this site was wonderfully cool and a relief from the heat once we headed down into the cellars. Serving the town's nine hotels, the complex once housed a tall malting tower, offices, cooper's workshop, steam engine and boiler and manager's residence.
The brewery closed in 1902 and the cellars, storeroom, manager's office and wall of the brewery block remain. The passport master key provides access to a large building which houses a number of boards explaining the history of the site.
As you head down the stairs the air cools, and you can wander along a myriad of tunnels. Some tunnels are blocked off, but it is not hard to imagine the tunnels busy with production. A staircase up takes you outside into the yard. There are low ceilings and uneven floors in the cellars, though it was fairly easy to navigate just a little unsteady underfoot.
The trail continued from here taking us by the former Bible Christian Chapel (1850).
Malowen Lowarth Cottage (1850)
This site is part of Paxton Square Cottages and could be visited when driving by. The passport master key will take you into a cottage which has been refit to replicate a mine captain's residence during the 1850's to 1860's.
The cottage consists of one bedroom, a main room and kitchen. Signs within explain that small children and babies would sleep with the parents but older children would sleep wherever they could, even under the kitchen table.
A cottage garden at the back is planted with herbs and flowers of the period.
The trail continues past Kooringa Hotel (1884) and there is the option to stop by the town Cemetery, which is worth a stroll around with headstones dating back to the beginning of the town. Many of the older headstones were removed at one time with some later being replaced. However, the centre of the cemetery is sadly empty as this work has not been completed.
Miners' Dugouts (1850)
While it is said that at one time nearly 600 dugouts existed along the Burra Creek and tributaries with the main line being known as Creek Street, many of the dugouts were lost when a flood devastated Creek Street in 1851, however, two remain and give some sense of this life.
Continuing along the trail takes you past the Pig and Whistle Crossing, former Kooringa Wesleyan Church (1914), McBride Cottage Homes (1910), former Primitive Methodist Church (1879) and Thames Street Cottages (1846).
As part of the passport the Kooringa Heritage Walk will take you past the Burra Heritage Centre (1890), Market Square (1846), National Bank(1861), Dr Brummitt's House (1879), Town Hall and Institute (1874), former Telegraph Station and Post Office (1861), St Joseph's Catholoic Church (1874), St Mary's Anglican Church (1879), The Jinker (1851), Market Square Museum, Burra Hotel (1847), Council Chambers (1923), Kooringa Bridge (1879), former Commercial Bank (1911), Commercial Hotel (1876), Pearce's Building (1915), former Bank of Australasia (1879), former Burra Record Office (1876) and former Drew and Crewes Store (1880).
Market Square Museum
This Museum is housed in an old shop on the Market Square. The front portion allows you to look through the window at an old style lolly shop, however, the museum located at the back replicates a general store and post office at the turn of the century. The passport key will take you into the museum which is the original residence and shop of Andrew Wade, tailor.
Opened as a museum in 1966, you are able to listen to Andrew tell his story from when he operated the shop as the town tailor, how he died and what happened to his family and the shop over time. The story is touching and gives you the sense that he continued to look upon the shop and his family for many years and how proud he was of his family. This was our final stop on the passport trail and a fitting and touching end.
Market Square Museum. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
While it is said that the passport trail can be completed in 1 to 3 hours, this depends on how in-depth you want to do it. It took us a good 1.5 days and we could easily have spent more time at some sites. The trail can be followed by simply driving by each site, however the cost of the passport and key is very reasonable and each of the sites accessible with the key were fascinating in their own right and gave us a very good history of this lovely old mining town.
The trail is easy to follow with little Johnny Green's placed around the town to show you which way to go. The book that comes with the passport is informative and also gives clear instructions on how to find your way around the town to each of the sites. If you have a master key, you can enter any sites displaying the key.
Johnny Green and Key Signs. Photo: Bruce Vandersluis Images
Great article Annette! I was in Burra on the Australia Day weekend and it was so hot we couldn't get out of the car at a couple of the spots. But, we had a great time exploring the town, which we had mostly to ourselves!