Town History

The huge ore depoits discovered in Silverton promoted the South Australian Government in 1884 to offer to the NSW Government the building of a narrow gauge railway line from the NSW ~ SA border to Silverton. This was seen necessary since horse drawn transport could not cope with the transport of the ore through South Australia. This offer was rejected by the NSW Government.

Local business people formed the Silverton Tramway Company in 1885 to build the railway line from Silverton to the SA border. COCKBURN as a town came into existence in 1886 (on the SA Side of the border) as a location where trains would exchange locomotives and crews. On the NSW side of the border the Silverton Tramway Company built a station and siding called BURNS.

The pressure for the expansion of Cockburn was increased with mineral discoveries at Thackaringa and Umberumberka from 1883 onwards. The silver-lead-zinc discovery at Broken Hill lead to the railway line being extended from Silverton to Broken Hill in 1887. The route was extremely important as it provided balanced trading for locomotives with a momentum grade 'up' from Broken Hill to Cockburn and a rising grade 'down' from Cockburn to Broken Hill. This was the main advantage of the route to and from Cockburn.

By 1892 the town of Cockburn had become sizable. The population was 200 people. Cockburn boasted 2 hotels, 2 general stores, 3 boarding houses, schools and churches. It contained within its business sector a blacksmith, butcher, baker, produce merchant and carrier. Stationed at Cockburn included 2 engineers, a stationmaster, customs officer, locomotive superintendent and a miner. Locomotive shed and related work facilities were recorded as existing in 1892.Seven trains regularly ran between Petersburg (Peterborough), Cockburn and Broken Hill. These included passenger trains. In 1892 83,194 passengers traveled through Cockburn.

Cockburn also has a role in industrial relations history in Broken Hill. Tom Mann, a political "disruptionist" was barred from speaking publicly in NSW. In 1908 3,000 passengers came from Broken Hill to Cockburn to hear Tom Mann speak. From the front of the hall next to the Cockburn Hotel he addressed the crowd, which was the beginning of a dispute known as the 1909 Lockout.

In 1969 the new standard gauge line by-passed Cockburn station and the town went into decline.

In the early 1990's the South Australian Government proposed to close down the small communities along the Barrier Highway leading to a strong and unified resistance from the local communities. At the forefront was the Cockburn community. It is this strong, independent but socially reponsible spirit that has enabled the community to re-invent it's future.