At a distance of 160 km from Port Adelaide, the owners of the Burra Mine were confronted with huge transport costs from the start.

Initially, there were no roads, and small bullock wagons were the costly solution. The opening of the Copper Road to Port Wakefield in 1848 brought only a little relief. Later, mules were imported from South America.

Throughout the operations of the underground workings, the transport costs were very high, even when the extension of the railway to Gawler, and later to Kapunda, allowed for some savings.

Perhaps the most famous journeys between Adelaide and Burra in the mining era, were those made to get huge pumping engines from Port Adelaide to the Mine.

The company jinker transported the largest pieces, weighing 15 tonnes and requiring up to 40 bullocks to move the load. As many as 40 other drays bearing the rest of the associated equipment accompanied such a load. These were some of the most challenging transport operations in colonial times.

People wishing to get to the Burra Mine could get there by coach, but this was very expensive and most new settlers arrived by bullock cart or on foot. The arrival of the railway in 1870 brought a much welcomed reduction in the cost of transport, as well as time, although modern travellers would fail to be impressed by the five hours it took to get to or from Adelaide. Burra then had a daily goods train and a passenger train. For much of the following century, it would have two passenger services to and from Adelaide each day.

From 1870, until the line was extended to Hallett in 1878, Burra was the terminus for the railway. This made it the focus of transport for a huge area to the north and northeast.

Stage coaches left for northern destinations, like Melrose and to the northeast for the area of the Barrier Ranges. Wool came in from the east and supplies and workers went the other way.

Even after the extended railway took away some of this trade, Burra remained a significant centre for wool transhipment and as the town’s saleyards grew in the 1880s and 1890s to be the largest outside of Adelaide, the ability to transport live sheep by rail from Burra also grew.

Indeed, both for passengers and goods services, the line was very busy. Not only did it serve Broken Hill, but until an alternative route was opened in 1937, all rail traffic for Central Australia and for Perth had to pass through Burra.

Locally, of course, in the days before motor cars, people walked, rode horses or had horse-drawn vehicles, of which the light four-wheeled trap was the most popular. Flat-topped wagons were the predecessors of motor trucks. Some were drawn by bullocks, but pleuropneumonia saw horses become more common in the later nineteenth century.

Motor cars and motorcycles appeared in Burra in 1905, but prior to WWI were confined to the affluent. Mass production and the Ford T, in particular, saw their use expand after that, but it was not till after WWII that they became virtually universal.

Bicycles appeared first in 1883 (as penny-farthings) and with the safety bike in the next decade, became very popular. Cycling was taken up with enthusiasm by young women as well, but not without adverse comment from the more conservative members of society.

In the mining era, a horse-drawn bus service linked the two ends of the town and later, horse-drawn cabs operated till the 1920s. They made much of their money conveying passengers and mail to and from the railway station and had cab ranks in Market Square and in Young Street at Aberdeen. They were replaced by motor buses.

Shearers leaving Burra in 1924 for a bumpy ride on solid tyres to 'Sturtville' Station.
Courtesy of Ian Auhl

Motor trucks put in an appearance from 1912, when T.F. Robertson, the railway carrier, acquired a solid-tyred chain-driven truck, capable of a dazzling average 22 k.p.h. (if the road permitted.) I.J. Warnes was carting his wool in an equally modern style and soon both vehicles were in demand to carry Sunday school scholars to picnics and other groups to dances and other outings. By 1915 Streicher Bros had a motor charabanc for passenger services and by 1917 were taking excursions to Morgan.

Lest you should imagine that road accidents came with motor vehicles, the Burra Record has a long history of reporting upset traps and damage to people and vehicles from bolting horses. Deaths were known, but not common, but broken bones, abrasions, lacerations and severe bruising were commonplace. Bolting horses, often with a vehicle still attached, sometimes traversed the town from one end to the other, not infrequently ending up at their home stable. Drivers could be fined for not chaining the wheel of their vehicle when stationary to make such adventures less likely. They could also be fined for not obeying the injunctions on signs at a number of the town’s intersections to ‘Walk around the corner’. The intersection at the Royal Exchange Hotel was notorious for infringements of this by-law.

Following discussion in 1913, tarring of the town’s roads began experimentally in 1914, with the road from St Joseph’s to the National Bank. Of course, the northern end of town had to have its strip too: 60 m south from the Royal Exchange Hotel. The trial was successful, but the roll-out was slow and 50 years later, sealed surfaces were still being extended in the town.

In the 1860s, townspeople were anxiously watching as other towns and areas lobbied to get railways. Survival depended in no small way on where the railways went. Had the railway been delayed until after the Mine closed, it might well have arrived at Clare first or have been laid down the Booborowie Valley and bypassed Burra altogether. In a similar way, from the late 1930s, Burra agitated for a sealed road so it could keep Broken Hill traffic passing through and grew increasingly anxious as it was delayed again and again. A sealed road via Jamestown and Peterborough posed a real threat to trade, and the arrival of the bitumen in 1960 was a relief, especially as work to extend it north continued.

The railway continued to serve the town and the 1970s even saw an increase in passenger services, with the provision of a link to the Indian-Pacific service. The grain silos added to the freight handled from 1963 but few could then have foreseen that, by the end of the century, both passenger and freight services would be terminated and the line north from Burra torn up.

The last linking of Burra with other areas by sealed road occurred in 1998 when the bitumen link with Morgan was completed. This has increased interstate heavy haulage and encouraged tourist movements as well. It gives Burra sealed road access from all directions.

Burra Record
20 July 1883

Advertisement 300 teams are wanted to cart wool from the N-E of SA and from NSW to Terowie and Burra Stations. S. Drew & Co.

Burra Record
30 July 1886

Silverton Railway. The extension of the railway to the Barrier Ranges [It was then operating to Manna Hill] will prejudicially affect the Burra District. Wool etc. from the north-east will now travel north to this line. Teamsters will be deprived of their living and many small farmers will find a portion of their income ended. Those maintaining teams will also suffer with fewer hands needed in machinists’ establishment.

Burra Record 2 August. 1949

Burra Wood Merchants are on strike and will not deliver wood till the Prices Commission allows an increase for the price of delivered wood from 47/6 to 50/- per ton.

Burra Record
13 September 1949

Wood Merchants in Burra have resumed deliveries. They sought a price of 50/- a ton and got an increase to 49/4 with 25/8 for a half-ton and 13/4 for a quarter-ton.

Burra Record
6 September 1893

Court. Wednesday 30 August.

W. Murphy v. C. Grow for £19-19-0 for injuries to his horse. Both are cab drivers.

On 11 August both cabs left the standpipe in Market Square. Murphy was ahead and Grow was racing him. Both were exceeding reasonable speeds, though the court seemed to express some amazement when Murphy claimed Grow was doing c. 26 km/h.

Rounsevell: (for Murphy) ‘My word I didn’t know there were such rapid animals in Burra.’

Plaintiff: ‘Well, his horses were cantering.’

Rounsevell: ‘Oh, well, there is no doubt about their pace after that.’

Murphy would not allow Grow to pass and when another vehicle approached Grow pulled over and the wheels of his cab ran over the foot of Murphy’s off side horse, splitting his hoof and causing him to have to hire a replacement. Grow offered to buy the horse – Murphy said for £4. Grow said Murphy wanted an outrageous £12 and later £10. Thomas Hastie valued the horse at £5.

Rounsevell asked for £7 for the horse’s value, plus 7/6 per day for the hire of the replacement. The bench awarded the plaintiff £5 with each to pay his own costs.

Burra Record
27 March 1907

‘A Lady Passenger’ writes that some ladies took the ‘Popular Cab’ to the races on Wednesday and were charged 2/-. Halfway there the horses got knocked up and on looking at them she wonders how they got that far! The ‘popular driver’ did not offer, however, to refund half the money when they had to walk from there, though she believes some of the ladies got away without paying at all!

Burra Record 13 May 1903

A Bolt. Two horses attached to a buggy bolted from Hon. J. Lewis’s on Tuesday, going down Commercial Street to the Burra Hotel and when almost there they turned, pulled away a tree guard and rushed between the hotel and a verandah post. It was torn away and a bridle post demolished. The pole and swing bar then broke. One horse was caught, but the other went on. Just then the mail-cart horse bolted, but it was slow as the wheel was chained.

Burra Record
14 June 1905

A Bolt. W.T. Truscott’s horse bolted as it was being taken out of the butcher’s cart on Wednesday. It careered down the lane at the back of the shop and into Chapel Street, then round Kangaroo Street and Stock Street to Thames Street. There, opposite Frederick’s eating-house, the traces still attached to it twisted round a tree and the animal was brought up against it with great force. A near side rib punctured its hide, stripped about three feet of bark, and was embedded in the trunk. Despite this and grave internal injuries, it made off again between the road roller and a fence, but was stopped and led back to the stable, where it had to be put down.

Burra Record
21 November 1928

Accident. On Saturday night Mr C. Attrill of Kooringa drove his charabanc into the wall of the home of the keeper of the refreshment rooms at the Burra Station when he went to meet the 10.50 p.m. train. The building was considerably damaged and the vehicle completely wrecked. Two passengers, Messrs M. Dobson and C. Waddy of the Bank of Australasia and the National Bank respectively, were thrown out and required stitches to head wounds. Mr Attrill fractured his skull and sustained severe lacerations to his head, but there are hopes he will recover.

Burra Record
17 January 1906

A Bolt. Mr Duldig’s team of four horses took exception to motor cars and cycles at the Burra Station after unloading wheat there last week. They bolted for home, but in crossing the line, the leaders fell down a culvert and brought everything to a halt. Fortunately they were not damaged.

Burra Record
19 May 1909

A Bolt. One afternoon last week Miss J. Fairchild was driving a buggy from the railway station when the horse bolted near Fuss Bros and the buggy ran into the kerbing at Sara’s Store. Miss Fairchild was deposited under the verandah and Mrs R. Fairchild was thrown from the trap. The escape of both ladies from serious harm is almost miraculous. The trap was smashed, the harness partly broken and the horse scratched.

Burra Record
11 December 1883

Bicycling. We note that the bicycle is coming greatly into use here. Only a few months ago there was but one machine here and now ‘no less than seven or eight may be seen whirling along the roads.’

Burra Record
13 February 1885

Bicycling. A fine display of riding was given on Wednesday afternoon by a visitor, Mr Garden, of Adelaide. ‘He rode fast and slow and even came to a standstill and folded his arms, then after a time gradually moved on again; he got on and off the machine while in motion with the greatest of ease without altering its pace, he rode side saddle fashion, sitting on the step instead of in the saddle and standing on one foot on it, and finally lying down at full length, his feet away in the front and his head over the small wheel. Then he took another machine alongside, and turned short and made the figure 8, and did other feats; and then to crown all took a third bicycle on the other side of him and manoeuvred the three with wonderful facility riding with arms folded; and then coming to a dead stop and slowly starting off again, with three, more easily than most would have done with one machine.’ [All on a penny–farthing]

Burra Record
7 February 1888

Advertisement For Sale: a Kangaroo Safety Bicycle. Apply W. Davey at the Burra Institute. [This was a modern style cycle.]

Advertisement For Sale: a 54” [1372 mm] ‘Matchless’ Bicycle.

[This was a penny-farthing.]

Burra Record
15 Mar. 1905

Burra to Broken Hill and Back by Motorbike

Mr P. Baynes left Burra on a Richards Motor Bicycle powered by a Minerva engine on 1 March at 6 a.m. He had breakfast at Nackra [sic: presumably Nackara] and dinner at Mannahill and reached Broken Hill at 6.30 p.m. having covered the 275 km in 12½ hours including breaks. The road beyond Nackra was in a terrible state, being full of rabbit burrows. The return trip beginning at midday on Saturday also took 12½ hours. Mr Baynes says he is unlikely to repeat the experience. The running cost for the return trip was 3/-.

Burra Record
11 November 1925

Aeroplane Crash. Pilot Smith who had been taking passengers for flights had taken on Miss E. Simms and Mr W. Harold Tiver on Tuesday afternoon 3 November and when about half a mile from take-off at the Aberdeen racecourse the engine cut out. They crashed into Mrs H. Thomas’s paddock. The impact threw passengers and pilot out, but none was seriously hurt, though the plane was irreparable.

Burra Record
8 November 1905

The Motor Car and the Horse.

A local storekeeper’s horse saw something very rare in Burra on Saturday, but it didn’t strike him as being very acceptable to the eye, so he decided to ‘do a get,’ taking the hospital road for it. The introduction of Dr Sangster’s motor car was the cause of the trouble, though nothing serious happened; this was owing to the smartness of Billy Barkley jumping on a sort of offspring of a motor, and overtaking the animal just as it was meditating about seeking admission to the hospital for treatment for nervous debility. The quadruped was taken back to the shop and cautioned. No damage was done; therefore, Billy has no need to raise the price of groceries.

[Billy Barkley was a grocer in Kooringa]

In many cases road transport took over from rail transport and as early as 1935, long distance transport was more economical by road, as illustrated in the following statement by Mr I.J. Warnes, speaking at Sturt Vale Station.

Burra Record
24 April 1935

They were greatly disadvantaged by rail freight charges and as a consequence had obtained trucks and were now taking their wool directly to Port Adelaide. There was also a considerable amount of back loading for the trucks. He estimated they saved £200 per year: sufficient to pay for a new lorry in five years. The railways would need to offer considerably more in concessions before he would return to them.