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Two Afternoons in Burra, South Australia

9th and 11th May 2009

This is my third trip to the town centre of Burra, South Australia, approximately 90 minutes drive north(ish) from Gawler. Fourth, if you include the second trip two days later on the 11th of May.

The first time Rose and I were here, during our 2007 Road Trip, I briefly wrote about our visit in two posts titled Miranda's Bedroom and Searching for C. J. Dennis and Gunning for Broken Hill.

At the time I was disappointed that the towns Community Art Gallery had an exhibition of quilts (not really my thing but I do appreciate the work involved). On the first day of this trip to Burra we visited the same gallery and... an exhibition of quilts (sigh). Must be an annual exhibition that occurs during the month of May?

The town of Burra is actually famous in these parts for its copper mining history and in particular the open cut 'Monster Mine' which is now used as a venue for Jazz concerts and can be seen in the background of this photo of Rose (above) taken on the balcony of Morphett's Engine House Museum.

Just to give you an idea of where Rose is standing in the first photo here is a photo of the Engine House Museum from ground level. See that balcony at the top? She was standing on the balcony, in the corner closest to the camera.

The engine house is one of three local history museums you can visit in Burra for a reasonable cost - though you have to time things just right if you want to catch all three on the same day. They have limited opening hours but are worth the visit because each one is staffed by a guide who will provide you with additional information on Burra's history as well as answer any questions.

In case you were wondering the Engine house used to contain a massive Cornish beam engine that would pump water out of the mine. The gap between the two balconies used to support the massive pumping arm (known as 'Bob') that was pushed and pulled by a giant piston up and down 24/7 during the mine's working days.

All three museums are part of a historic, 11km Heritage driving trail that you can follow as an essential part of the Burra experience. The trail is free to follow and takes in 49 different historical sites of interest. For an extra fee you can purchase a pass key from the Burra Visitor Information Centre which will give you additional access to eight of the 49 sites.

To do the tour properly and at a leisurely pace I'd recommend three days in Burra. You could do it in two but you'd have to skip a lot of information. Rose and I tried to do all three museums and the Heritage Trail in two afternoons and failed. Though we did manage to see all the various key access sites - albeit the Old Police Station we saw after sunset and virtually in the dark with only natural light.

One highlight of the tour for movie buffs is the old gaol which was used in the Australian, Bruce Beresford film, Breaker Morant (1980). (Note that the historic railway station in my home town of Gawler also appeared in this film). The gaol is a key access site if you want to look around inside.

One thing that I have learned about heritage trails in general is that the phrase interpretive walking trail translates to everything has been reduced to its foundations or rubble and you have to imagine what buildings looked like based on the detailed information boards along the way.

One or two of the key entry sites on Burra's trail are interpretive walking trails (much like Kapunda's mine site). Whilst the sites are probably very interesting to walk around, when you're in a hurry to see as much as you can, spending time imagining how things looked isn't something you really want to do. Especially if you're running out of daylight and are in danger of missing seeing other sites that are still standing.

After two afternoons in Burra we finally had to give up and be glad we saw as much as we did. There is a lot here that I haven't written about, such as the Town Hall museum (which is free) and the very interesting display and guided tour of the Bon Accord Mine Museum (which includes a detailed model of the Burra mine before it was converted to an open cut mine).

If you have an interest in Australia's mining history or you have Cornish, Welsh or Irish descendants who emigrated to Australia to seek their fortune in the mines then Burra, South Australia, may be of interest to you. It's recognized as one of the most complete historical mining townships in Australia and a nice town to visit too.

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