Researching and uncovering one’s family history can be quite an academic exercise. However, it dawned on me that I could make it more tangible. So with my newfound information and curiosity, I managed to convince hubby that a road trip to the stomping ground of my ancestors was a brilliant idea. We were still childless and relatively fancy-free, and it would be a lovely little holiday for the both of us. So in the summer of 2007, we set off to the two key towns strongly linked to my personal history; Burra, SA and Cobden, Victoria.
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The trip took us along much of the NSW/VIC border heading west to South Australia. The countryside was amazing but so was the breadth of drought affected land. Creek bed after creek bed was cracked and dry. Even the river had shrunk and narrowed. The landscape was brown and in some areas, very dusty. We were often on roads where there were no other cars for miles. We saw emus running alongside us. It was a truly fascinating experience to feel so alone in our vast outback.
Our targeted destination was Burra, South Australia. You may have never heard of Burra, but you may have seen this famous photo of one of the stone houses from its glory days, now derelict and abandoned.
My mother’s ancestors on her father’s side (my grandfather) migrated to this town not long after it was established. In its heyday 150 years ago, it was a bustling town of almost 5,000, Australia’s 7th largest town, with migrants from many parts of the world, most notably Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Germany. The Burra Burra Monster Mine was recognised as one of the world’s major copper mines. This accolade lasted a mere 30 years but its history and legacy live on today in this picturesque town of 1,000.
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We used the Burra Heritage Passport which gave us a literal key to the town. Using the key and passport, we were able to open doors and gates on a self-guided tour to the town’s main attractions. These included the Monster Mine area, Redruth Gaol, the underground Unicorn Brewery cellars, the mud dugout caves along the dry riverbed where my ancestors made their home for a period, a nearby deserted town and Burra’s three museums. Our final priority stop was to Burra Cemetery where many of my ancestors are interred.
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After exploring for a few days, we continued our journey south to Adelaide. After spending the New Year in Adelaide and visiting the picturesque town of Hahndorf, we set off towards Melbourne, Victoria.
On our way out of South Australia, we passed the stunning Blue Lake and the Umpherston Sinkhole at Mount Gambier. Further along into Victoria, we enjoyed a stopover at the Great Ocean Road National Park. We then passed through Western Victoria, where I was surprised and fascinated to learn about the region’s volcanic origins.
All of these little highlights were just a prelude to our second major stop; Cobden, Victoria. My mother’s ancestors on her mother’s side (my grandmother) settled in the little town of Cobden, Victoria. In fact, my Nanna was born in this town. I managed to visit the local library just before it closed and copied some pages of a history book mentioning my relatives. As with Burra, our final priority stop was to Cobden cemetery.
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It’s a funny thing, tracking one’s family history. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this mini-series, some people don’t want to know the past. It’s too emotional, especially the recent past. But when you look back a couple of generations, it can become more clinical. I was able to look at the tombstones with an academic interest, like a researcher recording the names of those who had passed on.
However, as I pondered the connections and reflected on my journey, it was hard to ignore that the fact that the bloodlines of these people led back to me. I inevitably came face-to-face with a sense of my own mortality. It’s not something I like to think about too much but it’s something none of us can escape. Putting together a family tree, a stash of heirlooms or stories from our past, is just one way to keep our heritage alive even long after all of us are gone.
I am so glad we ventured on that road-trip. I hope to one day continue my journey further afield in the UK. Cornwall, England, watch out!
Have you had the chance to visit places sacred to your ancestors?
This is part four of my series to uncover my family tree. In Part 1: Bloodlines, I wrote about the idea of looking at our personal history. In Part 2: Uncovering the Past, I wrote about how I uncovered much of this information through genealogical resources. In Part 3: Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 1, I shared some of my road trip pictures as we headed to the place in South Australia where some of my ancestors migrated to 5 generations ago. Tomorrow’s final post will be Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 2 showcasing many of the places mentioned above.
I’m linking with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBOT.