Guidebook in hand and still engrossed in the history of Burra we stop outside Smelter’s Home Hotel which for a time was operated by Woody’s ancestors in the nineteenth century. A tradesman pops out and suggests that we should meet the owner. Val is a charming lady who knows the history of the pub and of all its publicans. It is Australia’s oldest unrenovated hotel. In the early days when there was a death in the district the pub was used as a mortuary, which has to be better than using the butcher shop. Back when the miner’s dugouts in the creek were flooded the miners and their families were temporarily housed in the hotel stables. For a time, the hotel had the largest room in Burra town and the ‘Parlour’ sign is still above the door. It had a room for commercial travellers to display their wares and to conduct their business.
Val is working slowly to restore parts of the building and while we talk she vigorously sands back window frames. I don’t envy her of the task she has ahead of her, yet as I stand there on the large old worn smooth flagstones that lead to the back garden, I can’t help but think of the people that once walked across them. People going about their daily chores, carrying washing to the clothesline, feeding chooks, picking lemons and children playing. Their dreams, their heartaches and a row of lichen dappled headstones in the Burra cemetery.