When the mine was exhausted and closed the population shrunk dramatically and the townships, for the next 100 years, supported pastoral and agricultural activities. Today the town continues as a centre for its surrounding farming communities and, being one of the best-preserved towns of the Victorian era in Australia as a historic tourist centre.
The main body of copper ore formed between two geological faults in broken dolomite rocks. The ore body was up to 70 metres (230 ft) wide and mainly consisted of green malachite and blue azurite veins and nodules amongst the host rock. The malachite and azurite were formed from copper sulphate minerals, by a process known as "secondary enrichment". This process took millions of years to convert the low grade copper sulphate ore, which was probably created 300 to 400 millions of years ago during the last period of vulcanism near Burra.
The name applied to what is now the town of Burra has changed over time. The Burra Burra Copper Mine was named after the Burra Burra Creek that flows through the town. From at least 1851 the collection of townships near the mine became referred to as "The Burra". The town of Burra was officially formed in 1940 by a notice in the South Australian Government Gazette with the consolidation of the mostly culturally-based townships of Redruth, Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Hampton, Copperhouse, Kooringa, Llwchwr and Lostwithiel.
The name Burra Burra has been asserted to have come from numerous sources. Most favoured is that it comes from the Hindustani for ‘great great’, used by Indians working for early pastoralist James Stein to refer to creek. The name could also have come from Stein’s home country of Scotland or a number of Aboriginal languages.
On 9 June, 1845 William Streair bore samples of a rich copper ore into the office of Henry Ayers,secretary of the South Australian Mining Association (SAMA). Streair, a young shepherd in the employ of local pastoralist James Stein, had walked the 90 miles from Burra as did Thomas Pickett, a shepherd on a neighbouring property who made a further find. News of the copper this heralded was published on 21 June in Adelaide newspapers, and the site was soon named The Monster Mine.
Governor George Grey had amended land grant regulations forcing the hundred of Kooringa to be a rectangle, placing the two copper finds at opposite ends. Due to the £20,000 (sterling) price of the land it was divided in two, with each half sold to a different group and the division decided by lot. The surveyed area was named the Burra Creek Special Survey. It is by , divided into two squares, 4 miles to a side. A group of wealthy capitalists (known as "the nobs") purchased the southern half of the division and a group of shopkeepers, merchants and SAMA (collectively known as "the snobs") the northern half.
The Burra Burra Mine was established by the snobs in their northern selection, the Princess Royal Mine by the nobs in their southern. In 1846, just north of the division was sold to the Scottish Australian Investment Company for £5,550 where they established the Bon Accord Mine. Mining began on the 29th of September, 1845 with the first gunpowder charge set off on the monster Burra Burra copper lode and by mid 1846, the Bon Accord Mining Company had also commenced operations.
Until 1860 the mine was the largest metals mine in Australia. From 1845 to 1877 the mine produced approximately 50,000 tonnes of copper. The mine was reopened as a modern open cut in 1971, operating for a decade with 24,000 tonnes of copper extracted. The mine's Adelaide operation was run by Henry Ayers, secretary of SAMA, from its opening until the 1890s. The investors had put up a total of £12,320 of which £10,000 was spent purchasing the land. The first dividend was paid on the 24th of June, 1847 and by the 1st of December, 1847 the mine had returned total dividends of £49,280. Over the mine's 32-year life, less than 100 shareholders received £826,586 in mining dividends. All mining dividends stopped after the mine closed in 1877, with the mine area sold in 1902 and the last property of SAMA in Kooringa sold in 1914. A final dividend was paid on the 5th of May, 1916 and SAMA was wound up and closed.
Most of the copper was for sale to India as it was taking over a third of world copper supply in the mid-19th century. Due to the lack of smelting in South Australia, copper ore was initially shipped to Cornwall. The company purchased a Cornish beam engine which was the first in Australia when erected in 1848. Due to the uneconomic state of the mine, in 1868 a decision made to open cut the mine. Mining ceased underground, having reached a depth of 183 metres (600 ft) and open-cut operations starting in 1870 although, over the remaining life of the mine, small underground operations extracted more ore than the expensive open cut.
Over the life of the mine, Henry Ayers jealously preserved shareholder profits by ruthlessly controlling wages and expenses. In October, 1846 this caused the first strike, of masons and bricklayers, with the company refusing to pay more than 8 shillings per day. With declining copper prices (from £91 per ton in 1845 to £87 in 1848) the company continually sought to reduce wages. By 1848 the wages reached their lowest level, which precipitated the Burra miners' strike, being the first industrial strike in South Australia and earliest workers' strike of any consequence in Australia. The strike came and went numerous times, with miners not completely returning to work until January, 1849.
By April, 1848 the mine was employing 567 people and supporting a population of 1,500 in the township of Kooringa. Employment at the mine peaked at 1,208 in 1859 and declined continuously until the mines closure in 1877. In November, 1877 most of the remaining disposable equipment and stores were sold off and mining by SAMA ceased. Bon Accord Mine
The Bon Accord Mining Company was formed on behalf of Scottish speculators, in the expectation that the Burra lode would extend under the properties boundary. No extension was found and, to recoup money, the townships of Aberdeen (1849) and New Aberdeen (1872) were formed on company land. Stoppage of pumping at the Burra Burra Mine in 1877 caused a rise in the water level in the neighbouring Bon Accord Mine forcing it to also close. Mining activity lasted from 1846 until 1849, was restarted in 1858 and finally ceased four years later with no orebody having been discovered. Many of the mine's buildings remain and are preserved by the Australian National Trust as a museum. Princess Royal Mine
The Princess Royal Mine was never successful, and in June 1859 the Princess Royal Mining Company closed its doors. During its brief life the mine produced of copper worth £6,500 from of ore. The mine and surrounding of then pastoral land was auctioned on April 24 1860.
Shepherding had been common around Burra with flocks grazing from 1843, as early pastoral pioneers were granted grazing rights on unsurveyed land. Over the life of the Burra Mine, most food was brought in as there was no freehold offered by SAMA on the land and no adjoining hundreds were declared until 1860. Agriculture was delayed by the slow surveying of hundreds, as until these had been done there was no freehold or leasehold land but only grazing rights. As Burra lies almost on Goyder’s 1865 line it is rated at the edge of marginal land for farming. After mining the town became a pastoral centre, and South Australia’s main sheep trading centre until the mid-20th century.
During a visit in October, 1845 to Burra by Henry Ayers and the directors of SAMA the site of the township of Kooringa was chosen. George Strickland Kingston surveyed and laid out the township, completing it in April, 1846, and named many of the streets after directors of SAMA. From the beginning the township was a company town, built at low cost and with insufficient housing, which forced many miners to dig makeshift homes. In the census of 1851 over a third of the population were living along the creek and the census compiler took time to note:
There are no houses, the dwellings being excavated in the banks of the Burra Creek.
Largely due to the company nature of the settlement, development was slow, with the first bank not opening until 1859 and the town's first newspaper being printed in 1876. Until the National Bank established the first branch in Kooringa, most exchange was either in the form of company scrip or at shops operating as money exchanges.All towns, except Kooringa, were built outside the mining lease but were still close to the mine as it was at the northern edge of the lease. The formation of the townships was forced by the refusal of SAMA to grant any freeholds within Kooringa, so miners began moving into other townships from the end of 1849. During their early lives each of the townships largely had their own hotels, churches, post offices, schools, and shops and identity. In 1851 the gold rush near Bathurst, New South Wales, emptied the town of many miners. Whole families, government officials and other townspeople left for the gold fields and by 1854 the town appeared largely deserted. The number of townships increased dramatically as a result of an 1858 proposal to extend a railway line from Gawler. When the railway failed to be built most of the new townships failed and, in 1876, the remaining townships formed the Corporation of Burra.
In September, 1846 the townships had their first police force with the movement of four constables from Julia Creek to the south into temporary accommodation provided by SAMA. Permanent lockup cells and stables were completed in Redruth mid-1847. In September that year, William Lang was appointed resident magistrate and coroner for the Murray District and initially housed in a company cottage in Kooringa. The first hotel was a temporary wooden structure erected at the entrance to the township of Kooringa in mid-1846, and the first permanent hotel was the Burra Hotel (opened the 25th of September, 1847) built by William Paxton, a SAMA director and original owner of Ayers House. The Burra Hotel became the town’s first public hospital in 1878 and was demolished in 1968..
Burra’s first parliamentary representative was George Strickland “Paddy” Kingston who was elected in 1851 to the first legislative council as member for Burra and Clare, and for the same area to the house of assembly in its first parliament of 1857.
Piped water was supplied from 1884 from the flooded and abandoned Bon Accord Mine with water reaching 100 houses by 1885. This was the primary source for Burra until 1966 when it was replaced with water piped from the Murray River. The Burra received its first supply of electricity on the 27th of March, 1924 from the newly-formed Burra electric supply company.
Burra's population has declined from a peak of 5,000 in 1851 to a present figure of approximately 1,000. The dramatic decrease at the end of mining inhibited expansion and helped preserve many of the original buildings and houses. The District Council of Burra was proclaimed in 1872, the Town Corporation in 1876 and in 1969 the District Council and Town Corporation were amalgamated.
Redruth was a government township formed in 1850 to break SAMA's monopoly. It is named after Redruth in Cornwall and its streets are named after Cornish mining towns. The township was the site of all original government buildings (courthouse, gaol and police station). The courthouse was erected in 1857, and the gaol, built in 1856, was the first country gaol in South Australia. From 1897 to 1922 the gaol was used as a girls' reformatory. SAMA delayed building in Redruth when they bought 77 of the 120 lots on offer at the initial land auction, paying almost 20 times the overall reserve price. Kooringa
Kooringa was the first company township in Australia and, until the closure of the mine, was maintained as a strictly company-run town. The township's name is derived from the Aboriginal word kuri-ngga meaning either in the circle or locality of the sheoak. During the life of the Burra Burra Mine, the township was widely reported as shabby, rundown and poorly maintained with the inhabitants having little incentive to maintain their rented properties. Kooringa is still the main section of the town and is known as Burra South. Llychwr
Llychwr, sometimes spelled Llwchyr, was built by the Patent Copper Company (later the English and Australian Copper Company) to avoid the need to ship all of the ore to Wales. The streets are named after street names in Llychwr, Wales and other nearby villages. In May, 1848, the company had imported from Swansea the entire of a smelting works comprising men, materials, tools, staff and families, and smelting was reported to be in operation by May, 1849. Aberdeen and New Aberdeen
In 1846 a group of speculators from Scotland formed the Bon Accord Mining Company, purchasing a section of land on the northern boundary of the special survey, hoping that the ore body extended under the boundary. Due to the lack of success in mining company land near the mine was subdivided in 1849 forming Aberdeen (named after the east coastal city of Aberdeen in Scotland), with the company seeking to recoup some of their investment. Streets were named to honour directors of the Bon Accord Mining Company and the retention of mineral rights by the company prevented SAMA from acquiring the land, as they had in Redruth. New Aberdeen was subdivided after 1872 arrival of the railway from Kapunda, and most of the early buildings in the two townships were constructed in the three years following. Other townships
The townships of Copperhouse, Hampton and Nelson were not included in the 1940 proclamation forming the town of Burra, as they had become ghost towns. Other townships that either never succeeded or had been abandoned by 1940 were Princesstown, Lostwithiel, Westbury, Roachtown, Yarwood, Millertown, Warrapoota and Clonmel.
Burra today is an important regional centre for surrounding farming communities and a historic tourist destination. From its 1994 declaration as a State Heritage Town, tourism has grown to an estimate of 41,000 visitors in 2000. While many visitors are day-trippers and are from Adelaide, over 40% of the visitors come from outside South Australia and over 50% stay overnight.
The town and mine are both well preserved with many original buildings, the water filled open cut mine, well-preserved mining buildings and a pump engine house which today houses a museum. Several chimneys from the mining industry have survived and a tourist trail showcases the old Redruth Gaol, miners’ dugout cottages in the creek bank, a row of miners' cottages built in 1850, the cellars of the demolished Unicorn Brewery and other historic places. Burra is listed on the Register of the National Estate and many buildings are on the List of State Heritage Items. The town is publicly claimed to be the "Merino capital of the world".
|Year||Town, people and local area||Mining|
|1843||Surveyor General E.C. Frome sketches a shepherd’s hut on the Burra Burra Creek|
|1845||Townsite chosen and first streets laid out in Kooringa||Discovery of copper and commencement of mining operations at the Burra Burra Mine|
|1846||First cottages built and a police contingent arrives||Mining begins at the Bon Accord Mine|
|1847||Kooringa Wesleyan Chapel built as the first church|
|1848||The miners' strike was the first strike in South Australia and the first industrial strike of significance in Australia|
|1849||Redruth and Aberdeen land auctions held||Patent Copper Co. begins smelting copper ore|
|1850||First public town meeting to discuss the proposed South Australian constitution|
|1851||Burra’s reported population of 5,000 made it the 7th largest town in Australia and the largest inland settlement|
|1856||Redruth Gaol completed|
|1858||The Burra Burra Mine covers 15 acres with of tunnels and galleries.|
|1859||Telegraph, post office and National Australia Bank open. Floods wipe out most of the miners' dugouts along the creek||Princess Royal Mining Company closes|
|1867||Act No. 20 passed authorising construction of railway to Burra||Underground mining ceases|
|1869||Freehold land for sale on Kooringa||Burra Burra Mine workforce reduced to 46|
|1870||First train and rabbit plague arrive at Burra||Open cut operations begin|
|1872||Burra District Council formed. Township of New Aberdeen laid out|
|1876||Burra News and Northern Mail first printed. Proclamation of the Corporation of the Town of Burra|
|1877||Inaugural agricultural show. Burra Hospital opened||Burra Burra Mine closes|
|1890||Discovery of diprotodon skeletons at Baldina Creek|
|1897||Unsuccessful attempt to form a company to reopen mining|
|1899||Burra slag extraction company begins operations on slagheaps|
|1901||White Sunday – Burra’s greatest snowstorm|
|1902||Motor vehicles appear for sale in Burra|
|1916||Burra Mine area (262 acres) sold for £6,000|
|1921||Morphett’s Engine House demolished for use as building stone|
|1922||Prime minister Billy Hughes unveils the Burra and District Fallen Soldiers' memorial|
|1925||Burra Electricity Supply Company switches on|
|1930||Gold discovered at nearby Mongolata|
|1932||Sir Charles Kingsford Smith lands in Southern Cross and takes townspeople for joyrides|
|1934||183-ounce gold nugget (Pexton’s nugget) found at Mongolata|
|1938||The Council merges into the District Council of Burra Burra|
|1951||First housing trust homes built|
|1957||Television first displayed in the town hall|
|1961||Burra Burra Mine area opened as a tourist resort|
|1967||Driest year on record with of rain|
|1970||World record price for a Merino Ram of $27,200 from the Collinsville Stud|
|1971||Samin Ltd begins production of copper concentrates|
|1972||Resited Cornish chimney opened by Governor Sir Mark Oliphant||$3 Million plans for expansion announced by Samin Ltd|
|1979||The Burra Charter was adopted by Australia ICOMOS in Burra|
|1980||The film Breaker Morant was filmed in the area with Market Square featuring due to its preserved Victorian buildings|
|1974||Wettest year on record with of rain|
|1981||Work ceases at the mine.|
|1983||Final attempt to reopen the mine|
|1988||Burra proclaimed Merino capital of the world|
|1993||Burra proclaimed a state heritage area|
|1997||District Council amalgamated into the District Council of Goyder|
|2000||Princess Royal Mine area sold to CR and SP Pty Ltd|