Pressing on from beautiful Burra on our journey to Tamworth, we passed through more dry countryside and then into the irrigated vineyards and orchards of the Riverland. Roses also grow well in this area and in October is celebrated the nine day Rose Festival.
Arriving at Renmark, we took a break to walk along the bank of the Murray River. Renmark was a port for paddle steamers until the introduction of the railway, which eventually gave way to prime movers transporting freight.
The Murray river is a major attraction for those enjoying water sports and the scenery is stunning. Houseboats are big business in this area, hired out to tourists holidaying and wanting to travel the great river. At a wharf near the Tourist Info Centre, a marker has been erected showing the levels to which the river has flooded over the years.
Following our break, we proceeded on a little further to seek out our free camping site for the night, on the bank of the Murray at Plushs Bend. We followed a gravel track through trees to the edge of the river where there were sites along the road and a main site with a toilet, at the end of the track.
Having made camp, Mike and his partner in crime and travelling partner Barry, set about unpacking and inflating the rubber boat and give the new motor a trial. Some issues to start, but between them they finally, sluggishly ‘sped’ off for a trip down river and back.
We had several hours left of daylight to see as much as we could. We drove north of Burra and about 3.kms out of town on the Barrier Highway, we saw the abandoned farmhouse photographed by Ken Duncan for the cover of Midnight Oil’s “Diesel and Dust” record. It is one of Australia’s most photographed ruins and we of course, took our photos.
Travelling further north, we were on the path to Sir.Hubert Wilkins Homestead, restored with the assistance of Dick Smith, the National Trust and the volunteers of the Sir.Hubert Wilkins Memorial Trust Committee. This homestead was the birthplace of the explorer. Continuing along Dare’s Hill Circuit, we reached the magnificent views from Dare’s Hill Summit. We should have Googled the exact distance and not relied on the Tourist map which is more the style of a ‘mud map’ as we travelled much further than anticipated and needed to turn back to Burra, mindful of our fuel supply.
The landscapes varied as we travelled through the mostly pastoral farming country that was so dry from drought. We saw many kangaroos near old deserted farm house properties and around a dam. Emus could be seen in the distance at one point. Despite the drought affected land, the scenery was amazing.
While we were staying at Burra, good friends of ours came from Adelaide to meet us for lunch. Spoilt for choice at Burra with all the cafés and hotels offering meals, we were guided by local residents who recommended Café St.Just and it proved an excellent choice.
The café has tables out on the verandah as well as inside, where a separate section is a shop. At the rear of the shop, two lounges and coffee table. A reservation was made for us and the owner was aware we were meeting friends we had not seen for a while. We were seated at our table when the owner invited us to sit in the more private lounge area if we wished, it then being vacant.
The food was fantastic, the owner and staff very friendly, service was top-notch and we had a wonderful time. We recommend you have a cuppa with a delicious cake, or enjoy a meal, at St.Just Café at Burra and have a look around their gift shop as well.
Several hours were spent by us looking around the amazing Open Air Museum – the site of the Burra Burra Mine – and reading about the history of the place and equipment, the remnants of which remain.
The impact of the discovery of copper here in 1845 was felt across the world in the UK where copper prices plummeted. Many miners came to Burra from Cornwall, Wales and Scotland and the best of Cornish machinery imported. Until 1860 it was Australia’s largest metal mine.
Our Burra Heritage Passport key opened the gates for us to enter the mine site and also Morphetts Enginehouse, which was originally erected in 1858 to pump water from the mine. It ceased pumping in 1877 and around 1920 the machinery was removed for scrap. The building was later gutted by fire in 1926. A Jubilee 150 project in 1986 saw the enginehouse reconstructed and the shaft re-timbered and now serves as a museum.
We viewed what was left of other structures and equipment left from the mining era and the remains of the houses next to the top of the mine. The powder magazine, situated further away from the mine, was restored in 1970. It is considered to be Australia’s oldest mine building, completed in 1847 for the purpose of storing gunpowder used in blasting at the Burra Burra mine. The walls are 60cm thick and originally lined with sheepskins to reduce the risk of a spark-induced explosion.
The Police Lockup and Stables (1847-1878) are located near the Court House in Burra, a grim location for those discovered on the wrong side of the law and worse, once convicted, time in Redruth Gaol (1856-1894). These places are also unlocked by our Burra Heritage Key.
Police Lockup and Stables:
After the Redruth Goal closed, it was a family home for a while, but in 1897 it became Redruth Girls’ Reformatory – a form of prison – until 1922. Used as a family home between 1943 and 1956, in 1979 the building was used in the filming of “Breaker Morant”.
The information and displays at these location are definitely worth a visit.
To escape the high rent of homes charged by the mining company, townships that now form Burra were surveyed. A postmaster from Kooringa, Thomas Powell was one of those who lodged township plans for Hampton in 1857. Thereafter, the sale of allotments began and by 1866, there were over 30.dwellings and a Chapel built next to the stone quarry of Hampton Village. The miners and their families are long gone and it is somewhat eerie to walk the tracks around the ruins, along the way reading the various notices erected about the site. It looked to us that “Jacka House” is being restored. It is the most complete of the buildings.
Burra is such an interesting town, having preserved much of the 1840’s buildings and at every turn, there is something to explore or a sight to behold. As one would expect, old hotels survive and are well patronised. Amongst the various shops and services are a number of cafés with some displaying collectibles for sale and unusual decor. With the strong Cornish connection to copper mining here, it is not surprising that Cornish pasties are on the menu. Cornish pasties were made containing the much needed meat and vegetables to sustain miners working deep in mines, with the arched rope-like crust serving as a disposable handle for miners who were handling dirt and often poisonous material.
Within walking distance of the Tourist Information Centre in the centre of Burra, there are a number of places to visit. Remember to plan your visit in accordance with opening times for buildings without the passport key facility, as all of these places are manned by volunteers and therefore by necessity, have restricted opening hours. If already a National Trust Member, the cost of the Heritage Passport Key is reduced.
Some places we visited included the museum in Market Square in a building once used as the general store, and out back (where the entrance is) a display of the working and living areas of it’s first occupant, a tailor, and the building’s history.
At St.Mary’s Anglican Church of Australia, we admired the amazing lead-light windows.
Paxton Square Cottages were 33 cottages built on three sides of a square, to house miners and their families. No..11 is now preserved as display of how a family might have lived in one of the cottages. The rest have been renovated and can be rented for accommodation.
We arrived to spend the weekend in the fascinating town of Burra, that lies in a pastoral area in the mid-north of South Australia. Burra is an historic copper mining town, created when the small mining communities of Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Kooringa, Llwchwr, Redruth and Graham were combined under the name Burra in 1940.
On arrival we visited the Burra Tourist Centre to obtain Burra Heritage Passports. What a terrific innovation! The passport comes with a key to unlock various historical places of interest and view at your leisure. We were given maps and information of a huge list of things to see in the area – far too many for two days but as usual, we would give it our best shot!
Close to where we were staying, and first on our list: Miner’s Dug Outs – a few of the many that in the mid-1800’s were dug out of the river’s banks (now dried up) to house the miners and their families, an estimated 1,800, in unsanitary conditions that would result in the deaths of many through disease.
The coastal town of Cowell has a unique art display – in their public toilet between the Franklin Harbour Institute and District Council buildings on Main Street. Proceed through the arch to the toilet viewing of “Crap Art”. Also have a look at the art and crafts on display for sale next door in the Institute.
We stretched our legs and walked Main Street, wandered around the harbour and traversed the boardwalk through the mangroves to the view point, before starting our last leg of the day, to travel to Port Augusta, South Australia.
If in the area, stop at Crewe and walk around this friendly town with a penchant for mosaics. The “Eyre Montage” involving the Cleve Area School Year 10 Students of 2009, although now a little worse for wear, is a beautiful representation of the Eyre Peninsula.
Call in at the “Birdseye Bus Stop” – a collection of mosaics and tile art telling the story of Sylvia Birdseye and her involvement with a transport/bus service operating in the area. It is an interesting insight into the struggles of the past and of an apparently very determined and capable woman back in the early 1900’s.