history burra graphic
A History of Burra Schools

Before the Burra Model School (now the Community School) was opened in 1878 the town was served by a mixture of private and ‘public’ schools, the latter being schools subsidised by the government. These were the most numerous type of school. Many of them were small and operated from private homes. The larger subsidised schools were generally located in church buildings. The first school was started in 1847.

When construction of the Model School started in 1877 there were about a dozen other schools in Burra. About 60 students attended St Joseph’s Convent School, 185 went to F.W. Holder’s subsidised school in Chapel Street, 100 were at the Church of England Grammar School on the site of the present Kooringa Hotel and 79 were enrolled at George Lowe’s School in Redruth. The other schools were small. Only the Convent School survived the opening of the Model School and it closed in 1970. The Model School was inadequately staffed and other aspects of its operation soon led to a severe loss of students. Between 1878 and the abolition of school fees in public education in 1892, a host of small schools emerged, although by 1892 only three of them were still open.

Except for four small private schools, in Burra secondary education was available only to students whose parents were able to send them to Adelaide schools until the government opened Burra High School in 1913. In each of these private schools younger pupils dominated and secondary students were a small group.

Burra Grammar School claimed to be run on similar lines to St Peter’s College in Adelaide and operated in a building on the site of the Kooringa Hotel from 1864 to 1873.

F.R. White’s Commercial School operated from 1863 and was continued by R.W. Mathews for a while when the founder had to give up the job after an accident in 1882.

Burra High School was opened by Mrs Frances McLagan in 1891. It was run in ‘Bleak House’, the former Mine Hospital. After her death in 1898 it was continued by her sister, Miss Annie Millar. It later transferred to the old Mine Store building and closed in 1912. In 1891-92 there was a short-lived branch of Hardwicke College in the town.

A final attempt at a private school in Burra was the Church of England Day School which started at St Mary’s Parish Hall in 1928 with 17 students and struggled on until 1940, having to contend with the effects of the Great Depression.

James Cater, first headmaster of Burra Model School

James Cater, first headmaster of Burra Model School, 1878 to 1885. He was appointed at the age of 34 at an annual salary of £365.

Ian Auhl (1914-1996)

Ian Auhl (1914-1996)

Ian Auhl was headmaster of the Primary School from 1964 to 1967 and is remembered for his great contribution towards preserving Burra’s history in publishing a series of books on the subject, including the definitive The Story of the ‘Monster Mine’ the Burra Burra Mine and its Townships 1845-1877.

The Burra Model School, usually referred to as the Primary School started with 248 enrolments in 1878 and peaked with 372 in 1886. Its lowest ebb was 148 in 1943. The Burra High School opened in 1913 with 30 on the roll and struggled for many years. It slumped to just 17 in 1920 and closure was threatened on several occasions.

There was a peak enrolment of 177 in 1969. In 1976 the Primary and High Schools were merged to form the Burra Community School and a remodelling of the old building was combined with the construction of a new building complex. The remodelled old building was also designed to house the Community Library to serve the needs of both the school and the community.

Burra Record
17 January 1879

Miss L.E. Goss will open a school for young ladies on 20 Jan. in the German Chapel, Redruth.

Burra Record
14 February 1879

Burra School. When are the new Public School Regulations coming out? Something new is wanted for the Model School is but one third full while private schools are increasing and new ones appearing in various parts of the town.

Burra Record
28 February 1879

Letter to Editor.

A writer complains of children being kept in at school for long periods - sometimes a whole class for the offence of one or two of its members. Of course some punishments are needed, but something else is needed. It is almost impossible to get home and to have dinner if the time is deducted from dinner period and if it is after school it is hard to get home before dark in the short evenings ahead. Many parents, especially those without servants, depend on children to assist after school. The school is very unpopular and I believe this is one of the objections to it.

Burra Record
16 June 1909

Advertisement Mine Bridge House High School: entrance from the main road. Half Term begins June 8. Special Subjects: Latin, Algebra, French. Drawing and Painting in afternoon classes.

Miss Wilson, Principal.


Burra Record
30 January 1880

[Letter from ‘A Parent’ complaining of the arbitrary discipline at the Model School.]

The gates are locked to exclude children even if they are only 30 seconds late. Children are deprived of their lunch by detention. Some parents are keeping their children home after lunch rather than tolerate such unjust treatment. Are children given detention ‘all the evening’ if they ‘ask to go out for private purposes’? Many students would go to a private school for 6d or 1/- a week if such classes were offered.

Burra Record
9 August 1899

[Editorial expressing surprise at finding that the funds raised by the Public School concert were not entirely going towards prizes for students, but were in fact used for furnishing the school and some went for prizes.]

The public has been misled about this. The necessary appliances and furnishings are not provided by the Government, but from the concert proceeds. ‘Free education seems to have entirely lost the object for which it was passed by Parliament, and it has drifted on to a very peculiar condition.’

None of the schools are furnished adequately to meet the requirements of teachers who are compelled to buy various essential articles. Children have to buy every book etc. required for schoolwork and to this we do not object, but it is not fair when money raised for their own benefit is expended on school furniture.

Burra Record
3 January 1935

Burra High School Annual Break-up Celebration of 19 December 1934 at the Burra Institute.

Electric light has recently been installed through the efforts of the High School Council. Average attendances had been: 1931, 52.8; 1932, 46.3; 1933, 43.7 and 1934, 44.

Burra Record
1 March 1938

Burra Primary School. Children should call in at the school in normal hours to have work corrected and to get assistance. Schools [which had closed on 17 December 1937 on account of a polio outbreak] will reopen on 15 March.

Burra Record
18 April 1950

Burra schoolyard remains dangerous despite pretty plans to improve it and even despite a tender for work having been let. 15 accidents have been recorded in it so far. Most of these have been skinned knees or abrasions to other parts of the body, but Richard Tiver sustained a broken arm, Russell Harris got a dislocated shoulder and Allen Day suffered a slight concussion.

Burra Record
20 June 1950

The Medical Officer of the SA Education Department has reported that 30 pupils at the Burra Primary School (17% of the students) are under-nourished. With high wages and plenty of employment, under-nourishment is probably brought about by parental laziness: giving the child 6d to buy food instead of cutting a nourishing lunch and the child spending the money on lollies and ice cream.

Burra Record
26 February 1952

The drinking water in the school tanks is polluted by dead rats and pigeon manure. Much of this comes from the problems of broken ventilators on the roof and the type of guttering which provides excellent breeding grounds for rats and pigeons. Recently it is said that when the tanks were emptied six rats were removed and 61 buckets of pigeon manure taken from one section of guttering.

Burra Record
14 December 1921

Burra High School Speech Night was held at the Institute on Thursday for the first time since the school was started in 1913. Previous break-up celebrations had taken place at the school. Mr E.W. Crewes presided in the absence of the chairman of the School Board Mr J.E.H. Winnall who was ill. The headmaster Mr Biddle addressed the meeting. He traced the history of the school, which opened 30 January 1913, headed by Mr J.W. Statton who 2½ years later enlisted for active service. The average attendance for the nine years was 24 and it was the smallest High School in SA with but one teacher. The small size is partly due to the difficulty of getting into town from the district, but there were enough young people for 40-60 if people valued education. Mr Biddle complained that many students left before completing the course and for that he believed the blame rested with the parents. A laboratory and library have now been established. If the school does not receive better support it is the intention of the Director of Education to close it and add one grade to the Primary School.

Burra Record
3 May 1949

Burra High School trip to Port Adelaide.

The students left Burra on the 6.55 a.m. railcar last Friday. Three students, Dawn Nourse, Colin Broad and Donald Edwards, had not previously been to the city. Three buses at the City Baths took the group to Pt Adelaide. They visited the Shell Co. Depot at Birkenhead and then went on to Semaphore. At 1 p.m. they visited Elder, Smith & Co.’s Wool Stores and at 2 p.m. visited the Esk Bank at the wharves where it was unloading phosphate rock from Ocean Island and also the Kelvin Bank which was unloading sulphur from the Gulf of Mexico. They were shown over the ships before going on to the Sugar Refinery. Back in Adelaide they got a view over the city from the top of the Shell Building, had tea at the Station and took a look at neon lights in Hindley Street before catching the express home at 6.15 p.m.

Burra Record
28 January 1881 page 3

Burra Model School.

The Burra Model School was examined for results on the following days, viz., October 25th to 29th and November 1st to 2nd. 1880. The following is a summary of the work gone through ; —

V. Class— Arithmetic.

  1. Multiply 3,00704 by 4,0205.
  2. How much will it cost to carpet a room 26 ft. by 35 ft. with carpet 2 ft. 4 in. wide @ 6s. 3d. per yard.
  3. Find the interest on £554 10s. for 3 months at 8% per annum.
  4. What is the yearly value of a property which pays a tax of £13 2s. 6d. when   this is at the rate of 7d. in the £.

N.B. — Time allowed 45 minutes. One error allowed.

V. Class — Grammar. &c

Analyse: — 'And yet her former self lay there unaltered in this change.'

Parse: — 'She had been dead two days. They were all about at the time, knowing that the end was drawing on.'

V. Class — Physical Geography.

Connection between the air and the earth.

Action of Water. Glaciers. Explanation of Dew point. Watershed. Dredger. Sounding line. Snow line. Volcanoes.

V. Class— Writing.

Make out the following bill 12 doz. yards of silk @ 4s. 6d. ; 12 boxes assorted ribbons @ £1 10s. a box ; 13 dozen pairs of boots @ £4 10s. per dozen pair ; 15 doz. boxes of sardines @ 9d. each.

V. Class — Composition.

Write an essay on the climate and productions of the South-East of Europe.

V. Class — Dictation.

Fourteen lines. One error allowed.

IV. Class — Arithmetic

  1. What change shall I get out of a £5 note after paying for 1 cwt. 3 qrs. and 16 lbs. of sugar @ 2 guineas per cwt ?
  2. I bought 54 horses for £2079, at what price most I sell each to gain £60 after paying the auctioneer £25 1s. for commission ?
  3. By practice, cost of 4204 yards of road metal @ 4s. 7½d. per yard.
  4. Mr. Thomas paid £32 12s. 6d. for 58 yds. of cloth, what should he receive for 29 yards if he sells it at 6d. per yard profit?
  5. How many horses @ £53 each are equal in value to 1060 head of store cattle @ £2 4s. each?

N.B. — Time allowed 1 hour. One error allowed.

IV. Class — Grammar.

Parse — 'Thereupon he stretched out his hand for his treasure, but no bag was to be found. '

Define parts of speech.

Give the rules for the formation of the plural of nouns.

IV. Class—Geography.

Minute questions upon the geography of the whole world, upon the blank maps brought by the Inspector.

V. Class — History.

Viva voce questions upon the history of England from the beginning of George III, reign.

IV. Class— History.

Ditto on the history of the 19th century.

III Class — Arithmetic.

  1. An addition sum in avoirdupois weight, dictated.
  2. 7¼d. x 4572.
  3. £826 6s. 3d. ÷ £10 11s. 10½d.
  4. If Mr. A buys 100 lbs. of tea for £12 10s. and sells it at 3s. 4d. a lb, what does he gain a lb and what does he gain on the whole ?
  5. If I buy a farm for £1845 10s. 8d. and sell it again for £2155 12s., after making a dam which cost £120, how much do I gain?

III. Class— Grammar.

To pick out the parts of speech from a given page.

III. Class— Geography.

Minute examination (vive voce) on the geography of Australia and New Zealand.

II. Class — Arithmetic.

At dictation

77 x 218 ÷ 4 ÷ 100 + 2900 x 50001  

697128 x 136.

24470676 ÷ 9.  

A drover left the Barrier Ranges with 3,550 sheep ; at Paratoo he got 2,300 more and at Mount Bryan 2050 more, how many did he require to make 10,000 ?

II. Class — Grammar.

To pick out 6 nouns, 6 verbs, 6 adjectives, and 6 pronouns.

II. Class— Geography.

An examination on South Australia including the railway lines and productions.  

All the school with the exception of the lowest class in the Infant school have to repeat some poetry learnt during the year. All the classes are examined on the object lessons given during the year.

The boys' and girls' department obtained 68.06%.

The infant department 8O. 21%.

Some of the gentlemen on the Board of Advice attended at the school every day during the examination. The Inspector, in accordance with the regulations, made 182 promotions and granted 12 compulsory certificates.

The following is an extract from the inspector's report:

'Taken as a whole the present results in standard subjects show considerable improvement over those obtained last year, and it is with much pleasure that I note, that the school as a whole has never been in a healthier or more efficient state than it is at the present time.'

The Auhl Local History Room at the Burra Community Library

The Auhl Local History Room at the Burra Community Library was established in 1985 and houses the Ian Auhl Collection of indexes, books and photos, as well as much other material gathered from various sources. It contains a wide variety of resources of value to people undertaking local and family history research.

The Burra Community Library

The Community Library was formed when the old Burra Institute Library was closed and combined with the school libraries in September 1978. It offers a full range of library services to both the school and the community. Miss M. Woollacott is shown at the circulation desk in 2009.