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23 October 2017
Our Truely Tribal mini-coach (seats 20 people) arrived at 7.45am, so we had our alarm set for 6am. There were 17 tourists on the bus, plus our driver Flick (short for Felicity). The bus was comfortable as we made our way out of Adelaide, and headed toward our first stop of Burra.
Burra is situated about 160 km north of Adelaide, and it was at that lonely and isolated place that copper was discovered by shepherds in 1845. By the end of the decade it had its own mine, smelters and a population of 5000 people (open cut mine shown below). The mine produced high grade copper until 1877 when falling world copper prices, and the high cost of running the mine, resulted in it being closed.
The mine was worked by the South Australian Mining Association which did extremely well for itself and its shareholders. The effects of the fortunes paid by the Monster mine were felt far and wide. For many years Burra became one of the greatest copper producing centres in the world. At the same time it attracted migrants from all parts of the world.
Most of these migrants lived in their own little villages, built around the mine, such as Redruth, Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Hampton, Copperhouse, Kooringa, Llwchwr and Lostwithiel. Some of the early directors, and particularly its secretary, Henry Ayers, did extremely well and lived in Adelaide. Although the majority of the miners came from Cornwall, there were also men from Wales, England, Germany, China and South America.
Once we arrived in Burra we were met by a young guide Brodie who rode with us on the bus as Flick drove us around Burra, and Brodie told us the history of the town. Our first stop was the open cut mine, which followed the closure of the underground mine and we were driven to a spot where we had a bird’s eye view of the old mining operations – how difficult it must have been to be a miner in those days. We drove around the villages, many with English and Welsh names, past the old Museum and then on to the old Gaol, which was later a girls’ reformatory (below). Most of the buildings in the town are built of stone as timber was hard to grow, and too valuable, in the dry areas of South Australia, but I loved the designs of the old stone cottages. Then we moved on to the Unicorn Brewery and underground cellars, which were quite fascinating.
Many of the miners and their families were very poor, and had built dugouts along the creek banks as their homes. The Miner’s dugouts provided accommodation for an estimated population of 1800. This was over 40% of the population of what was then the seventh largest settlement in Australia. There were about 600 dugouts in the nearby creek banks (right), being cheap to construct they were occupied by miners due to a housing shortage.The main line of dugouts was known as Creek Street. In 1851, a flood devastated Creek Street driving the inhabitants from their dugouts. By 1860 the dugouts were virtually deserted. Three dugouts survive in this tributary which was not flooded like Burra Creek, and we were able to see the dugouts and walk inside them – how families lived in them is hard to imagine.
Lunch today was a Cornish pastie by the side of the river, shared with the ducks and some ducklings and it was very peaceful and relaxing sitting in the shade.
The pretty main street of Burra (left) and the war memorial (right)
Our final stop for the day was Peterborough, a railway town. Its greatest claim to fame is that it is one of only two places in Australia (the other is Gladstone) where three railway gauges met. This particular absurdity was the result of different state governments being unable (or unwilling) to agree on a standard railway gauge.
Some of the old trains at Steamtown, Peterborough
Peterborough developed relatively late in the history of South Australia. Land was selected in the district and purchased from the government in 1875. It was, as Johann Koch one of the first settlers was to observe, ‘a wild place and kangaroos were swarming’.
Four years later a public meeting was held and the first building in the town was constructed. There was news that the town would soon be connected to the mines in Broken Hill by a railway. One of the local landowners, Peter Doecke, decided to cut up his land and sell at auction. So successful was the auction that land which had been virtually useless a few years earlier was sold at a huge profit. By the end of the first day Doecke had sold 33 acres for £1700. Two years earlier he had not been able to sell it for £1 an acre. On the basis of this success the town was named after Doecke and became ‘Petersburg’.
By 1880 the Petersburg Hotel and the local Post Office had been erected and the following year the rail link from Adelaide was completed. In 1886 the railway connection to Broken Hill was completed.
The town grew rapidly through the 1880s. The public school was opened (1883), the Town Hall erected (1884) and the town was declared a municipality (1886). The change of the town’s name occurred in 1917 when anti-German sentiment was so strong that the Nomenclature Act insisted that all German-sounding names be changed. It then became Peterborough and never changed back. Today the town is a small service centre for the surrounding farms.
We spent almost two hours at Steamtown, a railway museum, and our guide Shirley was a fountain of information about the railways, she had come from a railway family so was involved with the railways for most of her life. It was an eye-opener and totally fascinating to hear the story of the railways, and the difference it made to the towns in South Australia.
Tonight we will have dinner at our motel, and tomorrow head off for Arakoola Resort in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges.