Beltana had its beginnings in 1870 when the route for the Overland Telegraph was surveyed from Port Augusta to Darwin and almost simultaneously copper ore was discovered at Sliding Rock, 20 km east of the settlement. The township was surveyed in 1873 and its population peaked after 1881 when the Great Northern railway terminated there for a time before it was pushed on to Marree and further north.
Besides providing support and sustenance to the railway construction crews and gangers, and the miners at Sliding Rock, the township catered also to their spiritual needs. In 1894 a Presbyterian manse was built there and this became the base for the Smith of Dunesk Mission supported by the Church of Scotland. The Reverend John Flynn (Flynn of the Inland), widely recognised for his role in the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, was based in Beltana for a time in 1911.
The township is adjacent to the historic Beltana pastoral run which was for many years the head station of one of the State’s major pastoral groups the Beltana Pastoral Co. In addition to the other livestock it carried, Beltana run was a camel depot, breeding and supplying camels for work on the Overland Telegraph line, for exploration and for its own stations.
Today the old township, on the Warrioota Creek, is a heritage icon sitting 10 km to the east of the re-aligned standard gauge railway that now terminates at Leigh Creek. Following the re-alignment of the main road in 1983 there are no services in the old township itself but however there is a permanent resident population of 35 and an active community of 50 people. Many are actively engaged in restoring the old stone structures including the two hotels, the police station, the school and the church.
The service centre to the small local and pastoral community is a roadhouse on the main sealed road to the west of the old town. Further west is the racecourse and gymkhana ground, which is used annually.