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Beltana's History


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Beltana State Heritage Area

View of Beltana from a back road

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The historic settlement of Beltana is located near the Warioota Creek in the western fringe of the Flinders Ranges, approximately 540 kilometres north of Adelaide. The boundary of the designated State Heritage Area encompasses the surveyed township, as well as the adjacent cemetery and railway structures.

View Public Notice (300Kb PDF).


The declaration of the Beltana State Heritage Area, on 16 July 1987, recognised the town's significant links with many important episodes in the history and development of South Australia's inland regions. People of Aboriginal, Afghan and European descents all regard Beltana as an important place in their cultural heritage.

Martin's Eating House
Martin's Eating House

The township of Beltana is historically important for its links with pastoralism, the Overland Telegraph, the Transcontinental Railway, mining, outback services and the Australian Inland Mission. Of added significance are the Afghan sites that reflect another phase in Beltana's past as an important camel-based transport centre of the nineteenth century.

A Brief History

The land around Warioota Creek was first taken up by John Haines in 1855, and later (1867) amalgamated into the substantial holdings of the Beltana Pastoral Company of Thomas Elder and Samuel Stuckey. During 1866 Elder and Stuckey imported over 100 camels with Afghan drivers, which formed the basis of transport in the district and further north for decades.

Railway engineer's camp at Beltana
Railway engineer's camp at Beltana 1885
Photo B 62389: State Library of SA

The discovery of copper at Sliding Rock in 1870 prompted the construction of Martin's Eating House, later to be replaced by the Beltana Hotel, on the road to the mine at Warioota Creek. This location at the creek crossing had already been chosen as a site for a repeater station for the Overland Telegraph, which reached Beltana by 1871. The Beltana township was surveyed in 1873, and a purpose-built repeater station erected by 1875.

Beltana boomed with the arrival of the railway in 1881, and with an influx of mining families following the failure of the nearby Sliding Rock copper mine. By the mid-1880s the town had its own brewery, general store and a school. In the 1890s the Presbyterians established a mission at Beltana, with the Reverend John Flynn acting as the minister for a time in 1911. In 1919 the Australian Inland Mission opened a nursing home at Beltana. The town's population stabilised at about 150 and remained fairly constant until the 1920s. By the 1940s, 64 trains per week were passing through Beltana along the Marree-Oodnadatta-Alice Springs line.

General view of Beltana looking West 1897
General view of Beltana looking West 1897
Photo B 47476: State Library of SA

The development of the coal-mining town of Leigh Creek during the 1940s and 50s and the realignment of first the railway (1956) and later the main road (1983) led to Beltana's decline as a major service, transport and communication centre for the region.

Read a more detailed version of Beltana's history (50Kb PDF).

A number of websites also present brief histories of Beltana, for example:

Interpreting Beltana's History

During the 1990s a Beltana State Heritage Area walking brochure was produced and a total of 14 interpretive panels were erected at significant locations around the town. These markers tell the stories of Aboriginal, Afghan and European connections and provide specific information about the historical significance of many individual buildings. Titles within this series (available as pdf versions) include:

Features of Beltana State Heritage Area

Important to the charm and distinguishing features of Beltana is the overall 'townscape'. While individual buildings and places have historic merit and their own appreciable characteristics, it is the town's layout and the location and type of buildings that contribute to its outback character.

The rugged visual setting and the small and simply designed buildings are reflective of the early settlement of South Australia's inland, and reveal the hardships faced by early pastoralists, miners, developers and settlers.

Railway Station and Ghan Interpretation
Beltana Cemetery
Railway Station and Ghan Interpretation   Beltana Cemetery

Surviving within the Beltana State Heritage Area are many buildings and places that illustrate the historical themes that dominate the town's past and contribute to its heritage significance. These include:

  • telegraph repeater station (1875)
  • railway station complex (1881)
  • Beltana Hotel (1874)
  • Royal Victoria Hotel (1878)
  • police station and cells (1881)
  • ruins of Buttfield's store (1887)
  • Mitchell's manse (1894) - subsequently the A.I.M. nursing home
  • Smith of Dunesk mission, formerly Doig's coach works
  • school (1893)
  • cemetery

There are also about six cottages and some substantial ruins, such as fireplaces, wells and a baker's oven, scattered over the area. Significant water supply structures include the railway dam and a government well and concrete trough dating from 1917.



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  This page was last modified 2006-01-20  
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