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. 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.
Miner's dugout, home for several years.
The discovery of this copper deposit proved to be of tremendous importance to the young and still struggling colony. It resulted in a major investment drive to come up with the money needed for a special survey before mining could get started. Two rival syndicates, the Nobs and the Snobs, had to join together in the end to pay for it. After the survey they drew lots. The Nobs, which included the owners of the Kapanda mine, drew the section without the copper. The Snobs, who drew the northern section of the survey, were rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.
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.
Mining, which had started in earnest after a three month strike by the miners over the company's assay procedures in 1848, and a two year interuption by the Victorian goldrushes, came to an end during the late 1870s when it became uneconomic to mine the poorer grades of copper. However, before that occured, the town had become the centre of a rich and colourful society, made up of the many small townships. The most important of these was Kooringa. Later, on 19 September 1940, the whole area was officially named Burra, Hindoostanee for 'great-great'. There is another explanation though. One of the earliest pastoralists, James Stein, who came from Scotland, would have known the word burra which was a fortified place. His hut would have had a few loopholes to protect himself from possible attacks from local Aborigines. Fortunately, Burra had established a profitable agricultural and pastoral industry which meant that Burra did not become just another ghost town, as was often the case after the closure of a mine.
Naturally, many of the miners and other workers who had depended on the mine left in search of other mines for employment. Many went to the Broken Hill or Moonta and Wallaroo mines or to some of the mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges such as Blinman or Sliding Rock. Among these were the Doig and Helling families.
Not all remained miners or working for mining companies. Cornishman Thomas Ellery, after having worked at Burra and Moonta, finally took up land in 1882 at Richman's Creek, Quorn. He conducted the first Wesleyan Church service under a gum tree and was later instrumental in the building of the Richman's Creek Methodist Church. William Chace went north to the Flinders Ranges working for the Browne Brothers.