In the mining era sporting activity was rather limited. With a six day working week, poor transport facilities and no recreation ground, the opportunities to get together for team sports were few. Most of the sport occurred on public holidays.
Athletic events figured largely, with a variety of foot races, both flat and hurdle, as well as jumping events.
Cornish wrestling was popular early and horse racing began in 1848.
The racecourse had a couple of locations west of the Mine, but for much of the time till 1879 was at Westbury, adjacent to Copperhouse. Later it was moved to part of the area now occupied by the golf course. Racing continued (with some breaks in continuity) until the 1960s.
Kangaroo hunts and bird-shooting were also popular through the early period, though they attracted condemnation when many enthusiasts took part in them on Sundays.
A cricket club was established in 1859, with the first contest between miners and shopkeepers.
Football did not appear till 20 years later and initially travel was so difficult that many matches were between club members and ‘Allcomers.’ A team nominally comprised 20 players, but it was common for 12 club members to take on 15 to 20 ‘Allcomers.’ In June 1879, the club took the train to Farrell Flat and then Hill and Co.’s coach to Clare, where they were beaten 4 goals to nil. In August 1880 they went by train to Tarlee and then by trap to Kapunda, played 5 men short and were beaten 3.23 to nil. In September 1885, Burra’s First 15 defeated Burra’s Second 25 by 4.8 to 1.6. In 1887, a trip to Auburn involved a train to Saddleworth, followed by an 11 km wagon ride, taking 1¼ hours over bad roads and a four hour return journey. At least that time they won. As a final indication of travel difficulties, a journey to Clare in 1890 took five hours with heavy rain from Farrell Flat and ‘enough Clare mud was brought home to start a small farm.’
Cricket and football have been the enduring team games, despite numerous changes in the names and numbers of town teams, as well as in the Associations or Leagues with which they were affiliated. A number of later arriving sports have continued to prosper, but many others had their time and faded out. There is not space enough to trace all of the town’s sports, but the following snippets may serve to indicate some of that ebb and flow of enthusiasm.
A Rifle Club ran from 1876-78, was reborn in 1887, failed, was reformed for 1897-1904 and was finally re-established in 1907. It lasted until the 1960s when it lost access to the rifle range. At about this time a Small Bore Rifle Club appeared in Burra. Tennis appeared in 1881 and has continued with fluctuating popularity ever since, with both lawn and hard court forms represented for much of the time.
Cycling appeared in 1883 and this began a long interest in both track and road events. For many years, cycle races were an integral part of any athletic meeting and there was a cycle track on the town oval. Road races continued to the present, and the Burra-Adelaide Road Race was an annual event for decades from 1907 (with various interruptions.)
Boxing came and went several times, with a local club founded in 1885, but each period was rather brief.
Polo had an intermittent presence from 1887.
A Coursing Club was established in 1891 and events were held for many years at Gum Creek.
Golf put in an appearance in 1899, with a club of 14 members and a course that started where the Caravan Park is now and ran into the old Smelts area. By 1904 it had faded out, but in 1911 players were active in the racecourse area and Dr Caw laid down a new links in 1912, when the present club was formed, immediately provoking indignant letters for allowing play on Sundays.
Table Tennis was ‘all the rage’ in 1901 and after that clubs and competitions ebbed and flowed over the years.
Swimming was a casual activity in tanks at the Mine and in pools in the Burra Creek, as well as at World’s End Gorge from early times. In 1910 the Burra Amateur Swimming Club was formed and lessons and races were planned for the Mine Pool. It rapidly failed. It was followed by a series of short-lived clubs at the Mine Pool. The 1915 effort had 72 members and made provision for ladies. The 1921 attempt was attached to the Burra Gymnasium Club and Burra Young Men’s Club had another go in 1925. The re-born Burra Amateur Swimming Club had a more extended period of activity there in the 1930s. The next bout of activity centred upon the Town Swimming Pool from 1960.
A move to introduce lawn bowls was made in 1912, but failed to attract sufficient interest. The present successful club was formed in 1919 with play beginning in 1920. With it came a Croquet Club, which in turn prompted another one at Aberdeen in 1928/29.
Motor racing appears to have started in 1914, with the Burra Automobile Club, but more seriously from 1926 for a few years with a race track on the lagoon at ‘Blink Bonnie,’ a few kilometres northwest of the town.
29 April 1914
Burra Automobile Club held a gymkhana last Saturday at Aberdeen followed by a banquet. It was very successful for a first attempt with gate takings of £7-18-5.
|Zig-zag Race||forward and reverse|
|Glass-of-Water Race||all passengers carry a glass of water with a stop in the course and the car with most water at the end wins|
|Glass-of-Water Race II||same for two-seater cars|
|Speed Judging||driver to proceed at 15 m.p.h. [24 km/h] for one mile with speedometer and watches covered.|
|Potato Race||task to drop potatoes into receptacles while passing them|
|Egg-and-Spoon Race||passengers and drivers carrying eggs on spoons in their mouths|
|Reverse Race||between parallel lines|
|Tortoise Race||car to be driven without stopping without use of the clutch or brakes ‘cars to be driven at top speed’[in top gear?]|
A banquet followed the events and I.J. Warnes, President, said in his speech that the club now had 150 members.
Other water sports were pursued at Porter Lagoon from 1926 when water levels permitted. Organised events in swimming, diving, rowing, motor boats, sailing and water skiing were run at different periods, sometimes in conjunction with athletic and novelty events.
Badminton appeared in 1940, with teams playing in the Town Hall.
Women had far fewer opportunities in sports for much of the time. Of course they were always a force in tennis, bowls, croquet and golf.
Hockey for women enjoyed a burst of enthusiasm about 1909 and reappeared later.
Netball appeared from 1924 (as Women’s Basketball.)
Men’s basketball has enjoyed fluctuating popularity from the 1920s.
Part of the problem for women’s participation in sport in earlier days can be gauged from the following quotation from the Burra Record.
10 October 1894
Female Exercise. A celebrated physician says re exercise for women that the best thing is walking. ‘Tennis he declared to be violent and too much of it is likely to lengthen the arms and make the height of the shoulders uneven. Cycling renders women awkward in their walk; they gradually come to move with a plunging kind of motion, the reverse of graceful. Riding is one-sided, and women who have habitually ridden for years usually have one hip higher than the other. Croquet really does not give exercise.’ ‘[Walking] ought to be preserved even in bad weather, and particularly in winter. It is the cheapest and safest exercise.’
30 March 1883
Not Cricket! Aberdeen played Manoora at Manoora on Good Friday. Manoora 53 and 144 defeated Aberdeen 66 and 31 for 6 when Aberdeen forfeited. The Aberdeen captain withdrew from the ground, following his brother, H. O’Brien’s dishonourable conduct in arguing with the umpire after being twice clean bowled and once stumped.
6 April 1883
[J. O’Brien writes to give the other side to the story of the Manoora match.]
Not Cricket? On arrival at Manoora not a person could be found that knew anything of the match. Play eventually commenced at noon instead of 10.30 a.m. At 1.30 p.m. we were told lunch was ordered at the hotel, but when we got there the landlord knew nothing of it and charged us 1/6 each for bread and jam. As for my brother being bowled twice, the wicket keeper put the stumps clean down every time with his foot. The continual cheating by Manoora and the foul language was disgusting. ‘In fact the swearing became so strong I called my team off the field, hence the uproar.’
In 1970 the Small Bore Rifle Club had to move from the south side of the War Memorial Oval because of new Housing Trust homes being erected adjacent to the site. After relocating, the club was dissolved in 1976 and its assets were transferred to the newly formed Burra Burra Pistol Club, which survives to the present.
Another long-lived and successful club in the town has been the Burra Pony Club, which was established in 1974.
1 March 1893
Polo. About 500 spectators went to the two matches against Mt Crawford. Many ladies attended and there were refreshment booths. The matches were of four 28 minute quarters.
10 May 1899
Bicycle Polo match at Aberdeen on Saturday in which the Married defeated the Singles.
7 February. 1900
Burra Races, in F. Dew’s Paddock last Wednesday.
This was the first race meeting since 1896. 400-500 would have been judged a satisfactory turnout, but in fact about 1,000 assembled. Unfortunately in the Flying Handicap a young jockey, J.H. Doherty, aged 12, was killed. In a cloud of dust at the finish Doherty collided with the finishing post, fracturing his skull and never regaining consciousness. He died in hospital that night.
7 February 1900
Inquest into the death of James H. Doherty, jockey.
[William Turner Thompson gave the most detailed account of the accident.] He saw the horse suddenly veer right, apparently trying to avoid the post, and the jockey, leaning to the left, collided with it. The rider was thrown back on to the hindquarters and fell off on the right hand side, some four yards past the post. He also considered the posts should have been painted and that the turn was unsafe. The jury decided that death was due to accidental collision with a post on the Burra Race Course and regretted having to add that the parents were somewhat to blame for allowing a lad of ‘tender years’ to ride in the race.
Hockey. The ladies’ hockey team, the Hiawathas, have this year become the Erubas and have opened their season on the flat on Wednesday with a scratch match. Sec. Miss A. Harris and Captain Miss O. Middleton.
29 September 1909
Hockey. There was a match on Brewery Flat on Saturday between the Ladies’ team and a ‘skirted’ Gentlemen’s team. The men won 6 to 5. A collection aided the Ladies’ Hockey Club.
6 May 1925
Archie Williams, who has been promoting the local boxing contests, was born in Redruth 53 years ago and educated at Burra. His parents kept the Bushman’s Home as a boarding house when bullock teams plied between Burra and Broken Hill. He has always been interested in boxing and took an active part when young. Later he trained and managed boxers and before enlisting in the AIF, he was manager of Cessnock Stadium in NSW and in 1922 was manager and referee at Shepparton Stadium in Victoria.
6 November 1929
Boxing Tournament on Thursday 31 October at the Institute was well publicised, but poorly attended.
Jack Honan (Peterborough) 60.5 kg defeated Harry Neill (Peterborough) 59 kg.
Alby Walker (Adelaide) 57 kg drew with Norman Woods (Peterborough) 63.5 kg.
Les Brooks (Peterborough) 63.5 kg defeated Jack Murray (Burra) 59.5 kg.
Norman Smith (Burra) defeated Fred Johns (Adelaide) in the 4th of 10 rounds when Jones had to retire with an injured wrist, having started the fight nursing an old injury there.
7 August 1907
Football. On Saturday Kooringa 16.18 (114) defeated Aberdeen 1.1 (7).
Aberdeen could muster only nine men and added two or three boys. Kooringa played with 15.
9 October 1907
Football. The Kooringa Football Club social at the Burra Hotel. W.H. Hardy took the chair. Speakers expressed their disappointment at the failure of players to turn up after being picked for a game. This resulted in teams sometimes starting with as few as 12 players. The second round had, as a result, not been finished as the Ramblers and Aberdeen were unable to finish the season.
12 July 1911
Football. Aberdeen last Saturday was the scene for a poor match with bad football played in bad spirit and including ‘a most disgraceful scene.’ An Aberdeen player struck a Kooringa player and in the following melee play was halted till one of the Kooringa players left the field (under protest.) In the last quarter another Kooringa player walked off in disgust at so many of his own players arguing with the umpire. Aberdeen 29 defeated Kooringa 15.
12 July 1922
Football. At Victoria Park on Saturday the Mt Bryan team was reduced to five players because of the untraffickable roads. They played for ten minutes in which time Kooringa kicked five goals. This avoided Mt Bryan having to forfeit and pay forfeit fees and for the umpires.
8 February 1928
Porter Lagoon Aquatic Sports – Porter Lagoon Boat Club
The third annual event was held on 30 January. The day was rather too hot, but that did not deter visitors. From early morning till 2 p.m. cars arrived in a steady stream and by then there were about 600 parked on the north side of the lake and over 3,000 people. Four years ago it was a useless strip of water, but for some time now it has acted like a magnet. Much credit is due to Mr Harold Atkins for his work in organising the event.
25 February 1920
Burra Bowls Club. The green was opened last Saturday by S.J. Jacobs, President of the SA Bowling Association. The Mayor, S.M. Lane, and acting Mayoress, Mrs E.F. Marston, and the President of the Club, Mr A.G. Gebhardt, attended, along with other dignitaries. Bowls has taken on, especially with businessmen in the town. On the western side are two beautiful croquet lawns and the Burra Ladies’ Croquet Club is as established as the bowls club. Mr Gebhardt said he and Mr C.D. Wilkinson had contemplated a bowling club six years ago, but the war had broken out and the whole matter had been shelved, but as soon as it was over they set to work. A site was procured – at the time covered with ruins. Five hundred loads of stuff had to be taken away.