I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published February 7th 2020
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You'll find Broken Hill in the far southwest of New South Wales. 1,145-kilometres from Sydney, 840 from Melbourne and 517 from Adelaide. Despite being part of NSW, the city actually runs on South Australian time.
Broken Hill is deep in the New South Wales remote and arid outback. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Charles Sturt was the first European to see the Barrier Range in 1844 and he unknowingly gave the future settlement its name with a reference in his diary to a 'broken hill' in the range.
The development of Broken Hill's riches really is the stuff that dreams are made of, discovered by a stockman on Mount Gipps station who happened upon an outcrop of exposed ore. Charles Rasp talked several of his co-workers into joining him in staking a claim on what was thought to be a huge tin deposit. The famed 'Syndicate of Seven' was formed and their claim turned out to be the largest deposit of lead, zinc and silver ore found anywhere in the world – a load more than 7-kilometres long and 1.6-kilometres deep.
Often referred to as the Capital of the Outback or the Silver City, Broken Hill was the birthplace of the Big Australian, BHP, in 1885.
Theatre Royal Hotel. Built in 1886 as the Exchange Hotel, it was renamed the Theatre Royal in 1890 and again the Hotel Argent in 1971. Despite the name on the facade, it's now known as the Broken Hill Hotel. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
It was also a hotbed of industrial activity with poor working conditions and low pay creating conflict between workers and management. Strikes were frequent and led to the formation of one of Australia's earliest unions, the Barrier Miners' Association, in September 1884.
Broken Hill's famous Trades Hall. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In another Australian first, on 1st January 1915 Broken Hill was the scene of a terrorist attack. Traditionally on New Years Day the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows hosted a picnic at nearby Silverton and on this occasion as many as 1200 people were being transported there by rail, travelling in open ore trucks.
About 3-Kilometers from Broken Hill two gunmen opened fire on the train killing two people and wounding seven others. After firing an estimated 20 to 30 shots, the gunmen made their escape, killing two more people as they went.
The attackers were former Afghan camel drivers, Badsha Mahommed Gool now an ice-cream vendor and Mullah Abdullah, an imam and halal butcher. Both were later killed in a gunfight with police.
Neither man was a member of any armed group but the shootings were deemed politically and religiously motivated following the declaration of Jihad by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire against Great Britain and her allies. The next day Austrian, German and Turkish miners were run out of town.
Erected as a Coffee Palace in 1889 the Palace Hotel is now much better known as the spiritual home of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
And you can still get a game of two-up there on a Friday night. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In more recent times, Broken Hill has become a tourism mecca and a centre for the arts, home to the renowned Brushmen of the Bush Pro Hart, Eric Minchin, Hugh Schultz, John Pickup and Jack Absalom.
Other artistic attractions include the Silver City Mint & Art Centre and the Living Desert Sculpture Symposium.
Then there's the omnipresent BHP slagheap, covering a section of the line of lode and splitting the town in two, and Argent Street with its 19th Century streetscape including icons like the Palace Hotel.
For me, the best time to visit Broken Hill is March to October when temperatures are generally milder, even cool from June to August. Generally the area experiences temperatures in the high 30's and above from November to February.
Broken Hill Town Hall circa 1890. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Clearly, Broken Hill is still an outback frontier mining town, rich in history and natural attractions. Not surprisingly modern-day travellers are drawn to it and the surrounding attractions like moths to a flame.
The Top-10 Things to Do In and Around Broken Hill
1 Don't miss a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum at Broken Hill Airport. This is a fabulous eye-opener into the work of Australia's iconic aerial medical service.
The museum is open 9 AM to 5PM Monday to Friday and 10 Am to 3 PM Saturday and Sunday. Entry costs adults $10 can Children $5.
The RFDS Museum is located at Broken Hill Airport .....
.... where an excellent guided tour includes the maintenance hangar. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
2 Take a break in the Palace Hotel circa 1889, made famous in the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert. A great place for snacks or a light meal but if you get the opportunity make sure you enjoy a cold one on the upstairs balcony. The Palace Hotel is at 227 Argent Street.
3 See the Living Desert Sculptures, an art site created in 1993 by 12 international artists who camped on-site as they used old miners tools to turn 52-tonnes of Wilcannia sandstone into the 12 striking works that now overlook Broken Hill.
Off the Nine Mile Road and just 9-kilometres from Broken Hill entry to the Living Desert Sculptures costs $6 per person.
The Living Desert Sculpture Site is just a short drive from Broken Hill .....
..... and features the work of 12 individual artists. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
4 Visit Mundi Mundi Lookout 30 kilometres west of Broken Hill and 5-kilometres west of Silverton. The lookout provides expansive panoramas over the Mundi Mundi Plains with sunsets that have to be seen to be believed.
5 Daydream Mine is about just under 30-kilometres west of Broken Hill. Take the Silverton Road and turn off onto the signposted dirt road at about the 20-kilometre mark, the mine is a further 13-kilometres on the dirt. The history of the mine is both amazing and heartbreaking, given the working conditions and the use of child labour. Don't miss the underground tour, undoubtedly one of the best in the country. The mine is open daily between 9.30 AM and 1 PM. The underground tour lasts about 90-minutes and costs Adults $32, Senior & Pensioners $30, Students 16 and over $28 and Children $12.
Daydream Mine is a not to be missed attraction ....
..... and includes an outstanding underground tour. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
6 Just 24-kilometres west of Broken Hill Silverton is a former 'ghost town' now enjoying its renewed popularity with tourists keen to explore its early mining history, resident artists & characters and its prominence as a location for movie and television shoots.
Silverton is home to a number of art galleries displaying some very unusual works .....
..... and is enjoying newfound popularity with its early mining history, arts & craft and frequent movie making. Photos: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Today less than 60 people live in Silverton but, in its heyday in the late 1880's it boasted a population of more than 3000. Little more than a collection of a few historic buildings, several art galleries, a couple of very interesting museums, including the fabulous Silverton Gaol Museum, and a pub Silverton's vibrant history continues to draw tourists in significant numbers. It is a must-see attraction for anyone who finds themselves in this remote corner of New South Wales.
7 The Silver City Mint and Art Centre is best known as home to The Big Picture, the world's largest acrylic painting on canvas by a single artist, almost 100 metres long and 12-metres high at the highest point. The Big Picture will blow your mind with its 100,000 saltbush, 20,000 trees, 20,000 small stones, 1000 large stones, 3000 clouds, 1500 hills and 12 sculptures. The centre sells souvenirs, artworks, jewellery and chocolate from its premises at 66 Chloride Street. Open 7-days from 10 AM to 4 PM admission costs $7.50.
8 The Sulphide Street Railway & Historical Museum has a lot to see including the Silverton Tramway Company locomotives and memorabilia in the original 1905 station building. The museum, located at 230 Blende Street is open daily from 9 AM to 1 PM throughout January and February and between 10 AM and 3 PM for the remainder of the year. Entry costs Adults $7, Family $17 and Children and Concession holders $5.
9 The Line of Lode Miners Memorial and lookout, dedicated to the almost 900 miners lost here, is a futuristic style of structure on Federation Way, the edge of the enormous mullock heap that overshadows Broken Hill. Entry is FREE.
The Line of Lode Miners Memorial and Lookout sits atop the infamous BHP slag heap overlooking broken Hill. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
10 Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is at 404 – 408 Argent Street and is home to more than 1800 colonial, modern and contemporary Australian artworks, mainly paintings and works on paper, including an extensive selection of indigenous works.
The Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery was founded in 1904 after three major artworks were bequeathed by George McCulloch, one of the founders of Broken Hill Propriety Limited (BHP).
The oldest gallery in NSW the BHRAG is housed in the historic Sully's Emporium which operated from 1885 to 1985 making it the longest surviving commercial business in Broken Hill.
The Gallery is open Monday to Friday between 8.30 AM and 5 PM. Entry is via a gold coin donation.
Getting There …..
Broken Hill is in the far southwest of New South Wales, 1,145-kilometres from Sydney, 840 from Melbourne and 517 from Adelaide.
Why? It's difficult to imagine a more iconic outback Australian town than Broken Hill. Experience the outback and the mining boom that's created billions of dollars in income and created thousands of jobs in this remote corner of Australia.
When:Anytime is a great time to visit Broken Hill although it's probably best to miss the height of summer when it can be extremely hot.
Phone:Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre (08) 8080 3560