The story of Burra began in 1845 when copper was discovered and it became home to one of Australia's largest metal producing mines. The Monster Mine, as it was known, provided a much needed boost to South Australia's struggling economy.
While times have changed, very little else has in Burra. The town is heritage listed as a site of historical significance. It is considered one of the country's best preserved Victorian era towns and provides a fascinating insight into early settlement life.
The best way to explore Burra and its rich history is with the Burra Heritage Passport. The passport follows an 11 kilometre Heritage Trail around the town and includes an information booklet with a step-by-step guide to 50 historical sites, a key that allows access into nine locked sites, and free entry into the town's three museums.
The main attraction is arguably the Burra Mine Site with Morphett's Enginehouse Museum, spectacular views of the open-cut mine, and extensive remains of the mining operations. The site also features one of the oldest remaining mining buildings in Australia, a powder magazine from 1847. Like many of the highlights of the tour, the powder magazine is only accessible with the passport key.
Morphett's Enginehouse Museum at the Burra Mine Site
The arrival of miners in the 1840s was met with insufficient housing, so they dug into the banks of the Burra Creek to live rent-free. There were nearly 600 cave-like dwellings accommodating over a quarter of the total population. Disease and floods in 1851 lead to many deaths and the devastation of "Creek Street", but a couple of the dugouts were restored by the National Trust and can be viewed with the passport key.
In contrast to the dark and dingy dugouts was the relative luxury found in townships like Hampton. Hampton had 30 houses, a chapel, and a stone quarry. It is now a rare example of an abandoned 19th century village that passport key holders can wander around. When mining operations ceased in 1877 and residents eventually moved on, the village became a ghost town. All that remains now is the rubble and ruin of the miners' homes.
Even though the mining was declining, the Unicorn Brewery opened in 1873 to supply the town's nine hotels and compete with the existing brewery. It was forced to close in 1902 due to new licensing laws and was demolished for stone, but the eerie underground tunnels of the cellar can be explored with the passport key.
At the time, the legal drinking age was just 12, hotels were open from 5 am until 11 pm on weekdays, and the hardworking miners enjoyed a drink at the end of a long day. Alcohol related crime increased the need for South Australia's first gaol outside of Adelaide, Redruth Gaol.
Redruth Gaol also served as a girls' reformatory and found fame in the 1979 film, Breaker Morant. It is presented with some interesting excerpts of its history, such as criminal records, doctor's journal, and an escapee list. Many tried to get out over the years, but now tourists pay for the passport key to get in.
The Market Square Museum is a nice conclusion to the Heritage Trail. It was once a general store and shopkeeper's residence, but it now functions as an old-fashioned lolly shop and museum with artefacts from the 1880s and sweets that are hard to resist.
There is so much to see with the Heritage Passport. The Bon Accord Mining Museum and Complex has an impressive diorama of the Burra Mine and a large collection of photographs and memorabilia. Some other interesting sites include the Burra Smelter, Police Lockup, Burra Railway Station, and Kooringa Telegraph Station (now an art gallery).
The self-guided tour can be completed in a day, but it is full day and somewhat of a rush. To thoroughly discover Burra, it would best be completed at a leisurely pace over two days. The trail is well signposted and easy to follow. Directions, when necessary, are provided in the information booklet.
The Heritage Passport can be purchased from the Burra Visitor Information Centre at 2 Market Square. It is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 4 pm on weekends.
It costs $25 for each adult and a $20 deposit is required for the key. Discounts apply for concession card holders and National Trust members. Children are free and will enjoy completing a treasure hunt sheet.
Some of the buildings on the Heritage Trail now provide visitor accommodation, such as the Tivers Row Cottages, Miss Mabel Cottage, and Paxton Square Cottages. Morella House Bed and Breakfast in Clare comes highly recommended and is about a 30 minute drive from Burra.
There are some nice antique and gift shops and plenty of places to eat in Burra. It is located approximately 160 kilometres north of Adelaide and makes for an interesting and relaxing holiday spot in the Clare Valley.
So nice to see Burra again - I lived there (and went to school) in the 80s. A great destination now for family trips, especially when we've got interstate visitors. It's a wonderful town to visit and explore, full of history. One of SA's best kept secrets!