Johnny's Pages
Old S.A.R. Shunter's Memories


South Australia

By Cliff Olds.

The tramway which ran east from Port Wakefield was originally intended to serve the already established agricultural region, with Auburn as the tentative terminus. The high cost of construction into the Clare hills prompted a change in plans and the decision was made to terminate on the plains just short of the hills. After a long delay, twenty-eight miles of nearly level line were opened as a horse tramway on 1st January 1870. The harvest was light, the facilities crude and unsubstantial and two successive private lessees gave up after a few months trial. The government took over operation in December and made extensive renovations so as to be ready for the next harvest. With seventeen horses, about 100 tons daily were brought down during January-March 1871, insufficient to keep ahead of demand, but enough to prove the general usefulness of the line. The town of Hoyleton was laid out at the terminus and eight months later had a retail shop, a butcher, a saddler-bootmaker-blacksmith and a wine shanty. The 1871 census figures showed that Port Wakefield had a population of 282, Hoyleton had 79 and Balaklava, midway along the tramway had 6 houses and 24 persons.

In March 1875, the tramway was extended ten miles northward from Hoyleton, to the heart of the Blyth Plains and the press for traffic was enough to warrant upgrading the line for locomotives which were placed in operation in August. The extension to Blyth was opened on 1st March 1876 and that line eventually reached Gladstone via Brinkworth, Yacka, Gulnare and Georgetown on 2nd July 1894. A line from Port Wakefield was built to Kadina and Moonta, opening on 9th October 1878. Those railways were connected to the broad gauge and Adelaide when, on 15th January 1880, the line from Balaklava to Hamley Bridge opened. All the aforementioned tracks were of the 3 ft. 6 inch or narrow gauge. Known as the S.A.R. Western System (which also included the Kadina – Snowtown – Brinkworth line), they were later converted to the 5 ft. 3 inch or broad gauge, that conversion being completed on 1st August 1927.


The Burra Burra copper mine was established by the South Australian Mining Association in 1845. Burra ore was originally transported for shipment by bullock drays from Burra to the S.A.M.A. port of Port Wakefield with up to 1000 drays in operation in the heady early days.

When the Gawler – Adelaide railway line was completed on 5th October 1857, the S.A.M.A. mine management issued instructions to teamsters that all ore was then to be carted to Gawler. Kapunda became the railing point after that line was opened on 13th August 1860.

From 1859 the mines output steadily fell and by early 1868, the Burra mine itself had ceased production. The last of the other mines closed down in 1877. The Burra railway was opened on 29th August 1870 but ore traffic was not its staple.

It can now be seen that the Hoyleton tramway never conveyed Burra ore. Gawler became the railhead from 1857, thirteen years before the tramway began operation. The Burra railway was completed the same year that the tramway commenced operation (1870), so Burra was never part of the Hoyleton tramway equation.

Of further general interest is that in 1849 an English syndicate proposed to build a railway from Port Adelaide to Burra. Its driving force, engineer William Snell Chauncy, conducted a survey requiring minimal earthworks which was completed in 1850 however, the line was to terminate four miles west of Watervale, half-way along the road from Kooringa (Burra) and Port Wakefield, and thirty miles from Burra! Not surprisingly, that plan was abandoned.


“On the Margins of the Good Earth” D.W. Meinig Rigby Ltd. (Seal Books) 1970
“Rails to the Burra” John Wilson. Australian Railway Historical Society. 1970.
“Steam Locomotives and Railcars of the South Australian Railways” R.E. Fluck, R. Sampson, K.J. Bird.
  Mile End Railway Museum. 1986.


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