The story of the town of Burra began in 1845 with the chance discovery of copper ore by a shepherd near Burra Creek. Soon after, a similar find was made by another shepherd further to the north. News of the discovery reached Adelaide, a town already infected with mining mania because of the success of the recently opened Kapunda mine. The struggle for possession of this new copper bearing land quickly followed.
The interested parties resolved into two groups: the "Nobs" and the "Snobs". The Nobs were capitalists and included the owners of Kapunda mine. The Snobs were shopkeepers and merchants from Rundle and Hindley Streets in Adelaide.
The government insisted that mineral rights to the two deposits could only be obtained by purchasing the ore bearing ground and land between. A special survey named the 'Burra Creek Special Survey' was carried out. It is 8 by 4 miles (12.9 by 6.4 km), divided into two squares, 4 miles to a side. The rival groups bought the land jointly and agreed for it to be divided equally with each half containing one of the copper deposits.
Lots were drawn and the Nobs drew the southern half, naming their mine the Princess Royal; unfortunately the amount of mineable ore proved small and the mine closed in 1851. The northern half, drawn by the Snobs, became the Burra Mine; this developed rapidly into one of the great copper mines of the world.
In 1846, 347 acres (140 ha) just north of the division was sold to the Scottish Australian Investment Company for £5,550 where they established the Bon Accord Mine.
From 1845 the main population centre that grew around the mine was the town of Kooringa, to the south of the mine, on the land of the South Australian Mining Association (SAMA). Their tight control of the town and their refusal to grant freehold title until the 1870s encouraged the growth of other towns or subdivisions beyond the border of their Special Survey. Most notably to the north there was the Government town of Redruth, but also the private subdivisions of Aberdeen, Llwchwr, Millerton and Hampton (and others that did not develop.) To the west and south-west of SAMA’s land about nine subdivisions were made, but only Copperhouse and Lostwithiel had numbers of houses that persisted into the twentieth century. In 1845, near the Burra Burra Creek, Kooringa became the first company owned mining town in Australia, and rapidly grew to be Australia’s largest inland town by 1851.
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Burra mine, the ‘Monster Mine,’ as this mine became known, was world famous for the richness of its copper ores and for the first ten years of its life, up until 1860, was the largest metal producing mine in Australia. Wealth from the mine made fortunes for many of its original shareholders and its discovery marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity for the struggling colony of South Australia, producing about 50,000 tonnes of copper metal between 1845 and 1877. At first, all mining took place underground. Open cut operation began in 1870 in an attempt to extract lower grade ore profitably; however low copper prices forced the Burra mine to close in 1877 when the South Australian Mining Association’s operations ceased.
The mine remained abandoned for nearly a century until open cut mining started again in 1971 and continued until exhaustion of ore in 1981.