Outback country in South Australia is a bit of a drive, but totally worth it if you are anywhere near the area. Nine and 1/2 hours (878 km) from Melbourne, or 3 hours from Adelaide (175 km). Only 18 km from World’s End. We had spent several days driving along the Murray Region toward Clare Valley. Friends told us about Burra so we made a slight detour and had a brilliant and informative day in this Copper Ore mining area.
So why visit Burra? Until 1860, Burra was one of the world’s largest copper ore mining towns, it was Australia’s largest mining town. It employed more than 1200 workers. By 2023, the whole town is surrounded by fantastic historical sites, copper mining facilities and townships. It is well worth the visit, even if it is a long way from anywhere. Still, I thought some of you might enjoy reading about this interesting town.
Get a key pass
Burra is a wonderful place to explore. Visit the Tourist Information kiosk to grab a key pass, it’s $30 for 24 hours and totally worth it (there is a $50 deposit on the key). The pass key gets you access to all sorts of areas that the general public can’t access. Yes, it’s possible to see some of the stuff from the road, but you really need the pass key to explore everything properly. Sadly the Miners Dugout and Unicorn Brewery Cellars were closed during our visit due to recent flood damage. I believe they are now open again.
The Burra district was actually a collection of settlements and was first established in 1851. It was the seventh-largest town in Australia and the largest inland settlement prior to the discovery of gold in Eastern Australia in the 1850s. Here are some of the locations we visited.
Malowen Lowarth and Burra Smelting Works
This is a row of miners’ cottages, now mostly transformed into accommodation. One such residence is retained for historical significance. We then visited the Smelting Works. To be honest, not a lot remains. This whole area was all about the copper mine and smelting. But it was interesting.
Now, this was really interesting and many of the houses still standing, mostly. It was built in the style of an English village by Thomas Powell in 1857 (family ties???) and named after Edward Hampton, assayer at the smelting works. It was abandoned in the 1960s.
Built in 1856, it was the biggest gaol (jail) outside of Adelaide, accommodating up to 30 male and female prisoners and a goalkeeper. It was closed in 1894. Then, in 1897 turned into a girls’ reformatory, which was then, in turn, closed in 1922. This was also the location for filming the old Australian movie, Breaker Morant.
The Burra Copper Mine
Built in 1845 for mining copper, it has extensive buildings from the engine house, the powder magazine, ore floors and chimney stacks. The open-cut mine operated between 1971 and 1981 to a depth of 100 meters. There is still a large open mine pit, although fenced off for safety.
This was rebuilt in the current location in 1971, after being removed from the original spot, where the open-cut mine is currently. When in use, it provided an updraught for the boilers in the engine-house.
The Powder Magazine
Built in 1847, it’s one of the oldest remaining mining buildings in Australia. It was used to store gunpowder, hence the extra reinforcement. It’s a long way from the other buildings … just in case! Gunpowder was notoriously unstable back in the day.
The Police lockup and Stables
Built-in 1879 at the rear of the old police station (1847), it housed three mounted police and their horses. So interesting to read all about the Police Station and the life and times of the town and era.
The Railway Station
Built-in 1883, this current station replaced the original wooden ‘Aberdeen’ structure. The Adelaide to Burra line made up more than half the total railway laid in South Australia! The journey to Adelaide took 5 hours by train (160 km). There was once a large roof structure over the tracks but was removed in 1935, and the line itself closed in 1998.
The Midnight Oil House
Technically not part of the Burra tour, but not to be missed. This house is one of the most photographed ruins (supposedly) in Australia, or at least South Australia. It was the cover of Midnight Oils Diesel and Dust album cover. The funny thing is I’m not really a fan of the band, but it was such an iconic part of 1980s culture in Australia.
After a fabulous day (or two) in Burra, you should also wander the streets, check out all the local historic houses and buildings, and perhaps have a delightful lunch on local produce and wines. Maybe even a touch of retail therapy in some of the antique stores.
While Burra may not be on the list for many, it is a fabulous and iconic part of Australia’s history. We found it interesting, rustic and thoroughly worth the detour.
These are just some of the tourist attractions in this remote part of South Australia, but I feel they are the “not to be missed” parts. But there are a few things to consider:
- The Key Pass really is worth it to gain access to many of these structures and buildings. There is a booklet that gives more information, maps and the history if the area.
- There will be LOTS of walking to do, so wear good sturdy shoes. Take a hat, sunscreen and water, and insect repellent.
- I found having a zoom (at least 200 mm) very handy as not all subject matter is close at hand. The telephoto lens helped me to capture close-up details I would not have otherwise caught.
- Other than a telephoto a wide-angle is an excellent choice for capturing wide vistas.