Malowen Lowarth - Burra: Ron takes a stroll on Paxton Square in historic Burra - Mid North region of South Australia

There's something impressive and substantial about Burra's architectural heritage. It speaks of a time when this was one of the wealthiest regional centres in Australia. Much of that wealth came from copper - and the sweat of those who risked their lives to mine the precious metal. Many of the Cornish miners lived on the other side of the now picturesque Burra Creek in what was called Paxton Square.

Neil Nicholson, Burra National Trust: "There are 33 cottages here. They were built between 1849 and 1852 for the workers because there was a mad rush of people coming here. There were 5,000 people here by 1851."

At the time, the town of Burra was bigger than Brisbane and certainly bigger than the largest regional centres on the east coast. The toffs might have had an easy life but the miners certainly didn't. Inside Malowen Lowarth cottage, a museum now dedicated to the Cornish miners' story, you get a sense of just how crammed life must have been for a large family in a standard cottage with its kitchen, parlour, single bedroom and long-drop toilet out the back. But compared to the earlier dugouts - this was palatial.

Neil Nicholson, Burra National Trust: "Most of the people used to live in the creek. There were nearly 2,000 people living in the creek."

But even though this was a step up life was still very, very basic complete with its rammed earth floor. Paxton Square was the mining bosses response to a drastic housing shortage as miners swamped the town following word of the huge copper find here at Burra but these employers were hard men.

Neil Nicholson, Burra National Trust: "It was the world's richest mine. A miner and his family would pay about a third of his wage to live here. The average wage was about 24 shillings a week so it would have been about 8 shillings a week to rent a cottage.

"You also had to buy candles so the company made money in the end by selling you the candles. If they bought candles for 2 shillings they sold them to you for about 10. They weren't the most magnanimous of employers - they wanted to make money like all companies do."

The Cornish miners and their families were mainly Wesleyan Methodists and their assisted passage brought them to a new land but throughout it all they clung to their old beliefs.

When you come to Malowen Lowarth you get a sense of just how God fearing these folk were. The plaque on the kitchen wall says 'Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal. The silent listener to every conversation'. Clearly, religion played a fundamental part in day to day life.

For those who lived at Paxton Square though, life was tough with family and religion the cornerstones of a miner's life as they raised their children in cottages like this one called Malowen Lowarth.

The name Malowen Lowarth means hollyhock garden in Cornish and their gardens were fundamental for the miners and their families because they provided not only fruit and vegetables but also some colour in what must have been an often drab and harsh existence.

The Museum is open daily. It's just one of many museums made accessible buy purchasing a Burra Passport Key from the Visitor Information Centre. Other miners' cottages at Paxton Square are available to the public. To book accommodation contact 0429 694 169. Any questions ? please email info@postcards-sa.com.au

Malowen Lowarth
Paxton Square
Burra Burra Passport Key
Burra Visitor Centre
Accommodation bookings 0429 694 169

Published 15th May 2011

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