Australia trip, week 3 part 2

After we left Renmark, we followed the Murray on a plateau and stopped for a time in Morgan, a little town with a big history. Back in the day it was pretty much the last navigable stop on the river between Burra and Adelaide, and that made it a busy port indeed. Life had slowed down considerably since then, and now it didn’t even have the minimum constituents of a village in Australia, only having a pub. It didn’t even have a football oval, nor did I see a war memorial. That being said, the women managed to spend over an hour in the single antique shop that was open. How I love spending my holidays shopping. Instead I walked around the “town” a bit. I went into a convenience store up the hill that was convenient only in that it was the only store in town. One third of the store was devoted to groceries, one third was devoted to hardware, and the remaining third was given over to varieties of dog food. Either people were real poor around there or they loved their dogs. In any case, I bought a Vanilla Milk (which had passed its pull by date the previous month) and continued my walking. I did discover an ant trail that probably extended a half mile or so. I never did find the nest or the source of food at the end, but there were a lot of ants involved in moving stuff from hither to yon.

From there the road mostly followed the river, but was never along side it. Except for the occasional glimpses of greenery, one would never know that there was a river there at all. We proceeded along the Goyder highway to Burra.

The original Goyder Line was decreed by a government survey back in the day. North (and inland) of this line was declared country too dry to farm in. Land south of this line was declared prime farm and sheep herding land, and prices for acreage were set accordingly. Somewhere in this area was founded several little towns that would later merge into a single little town called Burra.

Adelaide was founded and settled in 1836, and a few years later a concentration of copper ore was discovered many miles inland. There were differences between towns founded on government land and private land, but eventually all of these little townships merged into an area called “The Burra”, then later just “Burra”. The copper was near the surface, but hard to get to, as it existed below the local water table. This water had to be pumped away night and day in order to get to the ore. Miners and their expertise were brought in, mostly from Cornwall, and giant pumps and ore extractors, also from Cornwall, were brought in. The pumps were driven by steam, the heat being produced by clearing the countryside for many miles around of all of its trees and burning them. The horses, ponies, and mules ate all the fodder in a similar radius. Back at the little town of Morgan, there were 6 trains a day bringing wood and fodder in and taking high grade ore out. At one time the mine at Burra was producing 5% of all copper in the world, and made some people very wealthy. Among these was one Henry Ayers, whose name was later given to Ayers Rock, also known to the aboriginals as Uluru. The people who were not made wealthy were the actual miners who dug the ore out of the ground. Because there was such a demand for labor and the commensurate increase in population of the area, many of the miners dug into the banks of Burra creek for a protected place to live. Sanitation, being primitive under the best of conditions, was seriously lacking, what with the human elimination taking place in the same trickle of water that formed the drinking water of the people who huddled underground in the heat of day and during the night. Many died of disease, especially the young boys that worked the mine. They are not buried in the cemetery, as it was reserved for the more well to do, but were buried instead pretty much where they died.

Eventually the high grade ore was exhausted, and the price of copper could not support the expense of the pumping. The Burra mine then became one of the first open pit mines in the world, but even this process wouldn't be profitable, and the mine closed down a few years later. Now it exists as a picturesque pond of a strange color, and an artifact of how mining was done almost 200 years ago. Most of the old buildings are now ruins, but the structure that supported the giant steam pump and its swing arm have been restored and turned into an interpretative center. We wouldn't see this for a few more days, as there were other things going on.

Stuart and Carys stayed in the hobbit house that we had rented for the few days that we were going to be in Burra. The women went shopping. I set off to do the interpretative thing, now by myself. The local chamber of tourism had a handy map and booklet, and many of the sites were accessed by a key that worked to many doors. One of these doors led to the brewery that existed back in the day.

Now I've made a bit of beer in my time. Even in my temperate climate, it's hot and sweaty work. This problem in Burra was solved by taking the malting and brewing operations underground. The key opened a door in what looked like a shed, and stairs led to the underground operations. It was cool and quiet until I tripped some sort of motion detector. The sudden appearance of a apparitional voice scared the shit out of me! But it was neat seeing as how brewery operations could be conducted in a harsh and unforgiving climate.

I was sitting at the sidewalk table of a pub having a bitter when the women walked by. I bought them coffee and followed them on their wanderings. And purchasing. We quickly became separated because they shopped too slow for an action craving kind of guy like me.

I returned to the hobbit house that we were living in. Apparently miners and citizens of this community were not very tall. The doors were of a minimal height, and I saw stars the first time I hit my head. Pain is a very good motivator, and I only hit my head two more times that first day, and only once the second. I don't think that I hit my head on the final day, but by then I was walking about the house in a crouch.

Liz and I checked out the miner's dug-outs along the creek which were across the street from where we were staying. The few that remained had been reinforced over the years, so in no way could these be original dwellings. Nevertheless it was instructive to see how people had to live. Later, Liz, C, and I went to the cemetery to check out the headstones and the colonies of flesh eating ants.

C and I went to dinner at the Burra Hotel, and listened to the band “Nobody Famous”, described that way for an obvious reason. It's not like you're going to get a talented big name band to play for 8 drunken country folk 50 miles from any real population center, so what you're left with is one guy who plays guitar and keyboards, and another guy who played something else. I have to say it that way because we only listened to them play and sing, the bar room being too small to allow us to watch them play.

The next day was more driving, shopping, and house hunting. We stopped and had lunch at a pub attached to a hotel in the middle of nowhere. As I look at the map, it must have been in a “town” called Mintero, as we were on our way to a local historical site. I don't know what Stuart and Carys did while the women went antiquing again, but I checked off another item on my list of things that I wanted to do by sitting in a pub and watching Australian Rules Football, also known as “footy”. In my planning of this event, I had imagined that the bar would have been a bit rowdier, but there was just me, the woman behind the bar, and one other guy. Another guy kept popping in to check on the score, but the Port Adelaide Power were getting killed by the Collingwood Magpies. I don't know how the Port Adelaide team didn't get named for a bird, as the Adelaide Crows or the Sydney Swans are, but it turns out that they used to be Magpies too, and couldn't have that name when they joined the league. Carys opened the door and told me that the others were getting ready to leave. I was in the middle of my beer, and one of the guys on the patio said, “but that's not Australian!”. Oh well. I heard later that they wanted Carys to say something like, “daddy, please come home now!”, but she wouldn't do it. That would have been too funny.

We were passing through Mintaro because we were on our way to Martindale Hall, a storied old house in the proverbial middle of nowhere. A young man had immigrated from England with a bit of money, and had built this fantastic house in the fashion of an English manor house in order to persuade a woman from his home to come to Australia and join him. She never came, and he died of a broken heart. It was later sold to a man who passed it on to his sons, and when they died the property was deeded to the state or something, and now serves as a very expensive bed and breakfast, as well as a museum of artifacts from the previous occupants. The house had also been used for filming some of the scenes from the movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, or so I'm told. I'll be looking for that movie to be sure to see the house. The book with pictures from the movie was on sale in the entryway of the house, as well as postcards of the building. I mailed C one of the cards showing the house, with the writing on the back stating the following: “If I built you such a house would you travel to the other side of the world to be with me?” I'm such a romantic.

We were heading back to our last night in Burra when we passed a house having a garage sale. Of course we had to stop. How I love spending my holidays shopping until I become dropping. At first it was just the women looking at stuff, with Stuart, Carys, and I remaining in the ute, but then Stuart noticed that there was an actual garage associated with the garage sale. “I like old sheds” he exclaimed, and we hopped out of the car. I guess he likes antiquing too, just not as much as those with only X chromosomes.

Afterwords we passed through Claire, which was having a rodeo that night. That would have been cool to see, but we kept going. A truly wasted opportunity.

We left Burra the next day, but not before completing the touristy things to do, including the aforementioned mine tour. We also stopped at the old jail and girls reformatory building, which was pretty neat. One display showed the physician's descriptions of what some of the inmates were suffering from and when they were doing the suffering. One thing listed under the “illnesses” was “being unable to walk to Adelaide”. I don't know if that was an illness as much as a fact, because we were a long ways away from Adelaide to be walking. Another display showed that during the time when the grounds were part of the girls reformatory, one girl had gotten in trouble for flaunting her bloomers at passersby. Several of the girls had escaped and had gotten pretty far, the most successful were a pair of girls who cut their hair and donned boys clothes. You can now see these buildings in the movie “Breaker Morant” which was filmed nearby, the hills around Burra standing in for the terrain of South Africa during the Boer War.

Our arrival in Adelaide was fairly uneventful, so you'll just have to look at the next missive to find out what happens next.

Continue to The Great Australian Adventure, part 5

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