When copper was discovered at Burra in 1845 the main population centre that grew up 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.
Despite having a population in excess of 4,000 while the mine prospered, Burra did not have any form of local government for many years after far less populous centres and districts obtained either a District Council or a Town Council. The lengthy delay was due to a number of reasons. Sammie (as the Mining Association came to be known) discouraged any group or organisation which might have challenged its absolute control over its town. The fact that all businesses and houses in Kooringa were on relatively short term leases also discouraged local pride and capital investment in both real estate and infrastructure. The proliferation of ‘towns’ was a source of disunity, particularly because the majority of the population was divided into a southern centre at Kooringa and a northern concentration at Aberdeen-Redruth with a significant central gap occupied by the Burra Burra Mine and the lease of the English and Australian Copper Company which operated the smelting works. In addition the surrounding land was mainly held in large pastoral runs with few small farms and consequently not very many people living in the district.
Eventually in 1872 a District Council was formed which had some effect in bringing the disparate settlements together. As the mine declined the interests of Sammie also began to change and slowly through the 1870s some freehold properties were bought in Kooringa. The 1860s saw the beginning of the break-up of some of the old runs while the following decade also saw the spread of smaller farms in the newly proclaimed hundreds to the east.
In 1875 ratepayers from the towns other than Kooringa petitioned for a Corporation (i.e. a Town Council) of Aberdeen and Redruth. Since Kooringa was the largest population centre in the district this was unlikely to impress the government in Adelaide and the counter petition from ratepayers in Kooringa saw the move fail. After some twenty years of intermittent struggle the time had finally arrived when the question would not be shelved again and on 29 December 1875 a meeting in the Burra Institute drew more than 150 ratepayers who were determined to see a Town Council established. A memorial to the government attracted almost 400 signatures and this time they were successful.
The Corporation of the Town of Burra was proclaimed on 28 June 1876 and the first appointed mayor and town councillors were sworn in on 12 July 1876.
With the neglect of thirty years to rectify, the Council was faced with an immense task of road, footpath, and bridge construction as well as drainage and sanitation problems. A little over a year later the closure of the mine added the lack of a town water supply to their problems and resulted in a falling population and declining real estate values to add to their difficulties.
A serious economic depression that occurred in the late 1880s and 1890s makes the achievements of the Councils of the nineteenth century all the more remarkable. There is a fascinating book waiting to be written about the Councils, councillors and their employees, especially in the period before World War I. This was the time that saw so much infrastructure built. It was also the period when the Council was running the town water supply which resulted in much difficulty, a great deal of heartache, and sometimes episodes of high farce. The local paper reports some wonderful Council meetings where serious matters were in dispute, but where the script would not be out of place in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.
If you are interested in finding out more, click here to read a booklet prepared by Eric Fuss, which lists the elections and Councils for the 93 years of the Burra Town Council before it amalgamated with the District Council of Burra Burra in 1969. It also gives some information, where it was available, about those mayors councillors and municipal candidates.