When you start your day surveying city streets from atop a giant bench at the summit of the Line of Lode mullock heap, you know it’s going to be an interesting one. Billing itself as the ‘accessible Outback’, Broken Hill is a welcome taste of civilisation if you’ve come along the Barrier Highway from Sydney, or a tempting Outback experience if coming from Adelaide – you can even get a bus.
The rocky outcrop from which Broken Hill took its name is no longer, and the Line of Lode is now the city’s dominant landmark. This huge waste heap from generations of mining is home to a restaurant and miners memorial, and a trip tothe top not only rewards visitors with great views, but coughing up a few dollars to enter the memorial is also a worthwhile experience.
It drives home the dangers and claustrophobia of mining life as no descriptions could. The memorial comprises two structures, and inside
the main one are the engraved names of miners who have lost their lives. In chronological order, it is a list of harrowing deaths such as cave-ins, falls and explosive accidents. These, thankfully, become fewer asthe dates approach the present.
Broken Hill’s mining history has also influenced some of the numerous artists who have taken up residence here, perhaps drawn by the relative isolation and the quality of the light which so many have sought to replicate in their work. The most famous is, perhaps, the self-taught Pro Hart, whose gallery can be found on Wyman Street. If you don’t like his distinctive style with its rudimentary figures and use of primary colours, there are paintings by a number of other artists on display as well.The Art Gallery is on the main street, Argent Street, and is the oldest regional art gallery in NSW. It often has some interesting temporary exhibitions as well as the permanent collection upstairs.
However, the most famous tourist attraction in Broken Hill is the Living Desert sculptures. The Living Desert is split into two parts, a cultural walk through the flora and fauna park, and the sculpture symposium. It’s a little way out of town and there’s not much shade, so head out early or in the evening. They are beautiful against the colours of the desert, and the styles of the different artists are apparent in the way they tackled the sandstone boulders.
I challenge you not to find one you like.
If you’ve been taking the train around Sydney over the last few months you will have seen one of them before, the iconic image of Bajo El Sol Jaguar by Antonio Nava Tirado, which has been used on
the NSW tourist posters.
If art galleries and mining memorials seem a bit tame and you’re after more of a Crocodile Dundee or Mad Max experience of the Outback, then either take a trip on the Mail Run, which leaves every Wednesday and Saturday and allows you to meet the locals, or drive the 25km north to Silverton. This was the original mining town until Broken Hill was formed in the late 1800s and the residents picked up their houses and moved on.
Now home to 50 people instead of 3,000, it is a great place to enjoy those big empty spaces you’ve been hearing about. It is also where Mad Max II and Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were filmed, as well as countless adverts and fashion shoots. There’s even an English bloke working at setting up a museum dedicated to Mad Max, complete with props, the car and testimonies from locals who worked on the production. If you want to go and have a chat you can find him next to the café.
There are yet more galleries to explore here, look out for the VW Beetle painted with emus, and campers can head to the Penrose Park Campground, which used to be for holidaying miners in Broken Hill’s heyday. It’s looking a little post-apocalyptic with a dejected air because of its size, but get past that, pitch a tent, light a fire in the pit and admire the stars. If the peace and quiet gets too much, wander into town and join the locals in the pub and find out more about Silverton’s screen time, or go on a sunset camel ride.
If you still don’t feel like this is Outback enough for you,
drive out to the Mundi Mundi Plains and look out over the
vast expanse of arid terrain. It’s flat and extends forever,
and locals claim that on some days the curvature of the
earth is visible from here.
For a taste of what silver mining used to be like, take a trip
to Day Dream Mine on the way back from Silverton (13km
on an unsealed road). It’s a family-run, walk-in mine and although no longer a working one the owner will show
you a seam of silver and still does some digging when he has the time. The tours take visitors down three levels and the
hard hat, head-torch and battery pack will make you look ridiculous but also feel the part. It’s a comfortable enough experience and even people like me who aren’t keen on
small spaces should be okay.
It definitely gives a sense of what it would be like working down there hour after hour, day after day. And when the
lights get turned out, it’s very, very dark. If anyone you’re
with starts talking about The Descent, kick them in the
shins to shut them up so you can enjoy your tour in peace rather than running screaming for the exit.
If you do make it to Broken Hill don’t forget to change
your watch, as even though it’s part of NSW it uses
Central Standard Time (think South Australia). This should
give you a hint about the city you’re about to visit. It likes
to do its own thing and from the way the main streets wind their way around the Line of Lode, to the vibrant nightlife
and the number of galleries open to the public, this is not
the Outback as you know it. Plan to stay longer than you
think you’ll want to and kick back and immerse yourself
in Australia’s past.