Tag Archives: Burra

Burra and the Breaker

Burra has a more recent history that was of almost as much interest to me as its mining past. This is where the film “Breaker Morant,” one of my all-time favorites, was shot. “Breaker Morant” is an amazingly good movie (incredible writing, acting, and cinematography) about a bit of Australian history that is still something of a sore point.

Harry Morant was among the well-known Australian poets who got his start in the Sydney magazine The Bulletin (which is described in more detail in the post on the Archibald Fountain.) A horse breaker, Morant published poetry under the pen name “The Breaker.” Morant was among a fair number of Australian soldiers to volunteer to help the British during the Boer War (1899–1902).

The British would not think particularly highly of Australians (colonials, ugh) until well after World War I, so when the British needed someone to execute to show the Boers how fair they were, they picked Australians. Without arguing issues of relative guilt (are you innocent if you were ordered to kill your prisoners), suffice it to say there are still hard feelings in some quarters about making the Aussies take the fall for British behavior in the war. In fact, last year, with new evidence establishing that there were, in fact, orders to shoot prisoners, Australia petitioned Britain to pardon Morant and his co-combatant, Lieutenant Peter Handcock back in December. According to a January 2011 article in The Age (and other sources), additional new evidence has been sent to Britain. Whatever the outcome, it is interesting that the issue is still being discussed.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue of whether or not Morant and Handcock should be pardoned, the movie is worth seeing. It is remarkably close to being a perfect film. If you do see (or have seen) “Breaker Morant,” you will likely recognize the two scenes below, from Burra. On the left is the Burra town square, where, in the movie, a British band is shown playing in the gazebo. On the right is the Redruth Gaol (jail), the local lock-up, built in 1856, which was used as the barracks and court room in the movie.



Filed under Australia, Book, History, Literature, Lore, Travel

Digging Burra

Back in the 1840s, copper was discovered in South Australia. The town of Burra, founded in 1845, became the site of a massive copper mine that, for a few decades, was the most important source of income for the state. Miners, especially from Wales and Cornall in the UK, flocked to Burra. Housing soon became an issue.

On the Great Plains in the United States, when there were limited housing materials, people cut pieces of sod and stacked them up to build houses. In Burra, there was no sod. However, there was erosion. Burra Creek had cut down far enough that the banks were steep—and “homes” were simply dug into the steep banks. Some needed the addition of a roof or a few bits of wood to prevent a landslide, but these homes had the advantage of being comparatively cool in a toasty locale, as well as rent free. Records of the day showed that nearly 2,000 miners lived in these “dugouts.” Of course, having a couple thousand guys all living in damp quarters and using the creek as their primary source of water meant disease and death were frequent visitors.

The dugouts were not the only homes in Burra. There are many charming buildings from the era of mining, including a lot of sturdy, stone cottages that would look familiar to anyone who knows Cornwall. It’s actually a really charming town, with lovely antique shops and many remnants of the past, along with all the necessities of modern life.

Today, about 1,200 people live in Burra—none of them in the dugouts, which are simply preserved to remind people of the town’s history. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area—and while you’re there, definitely check out the dugouts. (Three “homes” are shown below.)


Filed under Australia, Book, History, Travel