My first experience of Broken Hill was a fleeting glance while driving from Brisbane to Perth in the late 70’s, settling in Perth for a while.
In late February 2010 Dad and I few from Sydney to Broken Hill on a small twin engine aircraft. What a change in the landscape from the lush coastal views around Sydney, the Australian bush of the Blue Mountains and the unfolding desert scenes below as we headed west.
The outback town of Broken Hill or Silver City is know for silver, lead and zinc mining and is broken by the significant and iconic landmark, the slag heap. It is a stark and ugly feature and we enjoyed our first meal atop it at the Broken Earth Cafe, 54 metres above the town. While there you cannot miss the big read seat and the Miner’s Memorial for a reminder of the human cost of mining.
In the afternoon we travelled to the outskirts to see the sunsetting from the Living Desert and Sculptures. A unique 2400 reserve dedicated to the protection of endemic flora and fauna, comprising of 12 sandstone artworks. The sculptures all tell a story and were completed in 1993 by artists from around the world.
Everything around was greener than expected as there had been heaver than usual rainfalls in the northern areas of Queensland and New South Wales and many of these areas feed into the inland river systems.
About 25 km out of the silver city is Silverton, the home of the movie and television commercial productions including Mad Max, A Town Like Alice, Razorback and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. With a few buildings still standing it gives an impression of what it might have been like, a bustling silver mine in the 1880s it boasted eleven pubs and home of three breweries.
Mundi Mundi Lookout @ Broken Hill-Silverton Road (NSW, 1 Oct 2013) orca maus
Driving further west to the look out for Mundi Mundi Plains the road stopped on the last hill before the plains. We could see for as far as the eye could see, to the edge of the world, into the flat desert landscape of the vast plains. On a clear day you can see beyond the Olary Rages to the Flinders Ranges and witness the curvature of the earth.
On returning to Silverton we stopped at the famous Silverton Hotel for lunch, only to find out that the storms was coming and floods were expected. The creeks and river systems were already full to overflowing and any more rain would see them coming over the roads, possible leaving us not being able to return to Broken Hill for several days. On this note the pub’s bar emptied with everyone heading out of town. I can remember the flat landscape and the dark black clouds filling the sky.
The next adventure was to Menindee about 110 km east of Broken Hill. The natural lake system, challenging the expectations of an arid western NSW, there is an almost thriving wetland due to the recent outback rains. It was about 11 years dry before the rains started to fill the lakes. Menindee Lakes are a series of nine natural, ephemeral lakes adjacent to the Darling River.
We spent the afternoon cruising the Darling River, the lifeblood of pastoralists, which feeds the Menindee on the River Lady. River Lady Tours on the Darling river, 0427 195 336 or 0428 268 483, 08 8091 4125, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and departs from Lake Wetherell weir. You cannot miss the drowned trees located on the old highway and the limits of the banks in drier years. As we cruised along the river areas it is pointed out where, during the dry years, the locals would be driving on the river beds. Also visiting Pamamaroo Lake and Lake Wetherall as part of this vast inland water system.
Menindee is also the last outpost of Burke, Wills and King, the civilised place they passed through before trekking north. We enjoyed a great dinner and evening with locals at the Menindee Hotel across from the Burke and Wills Motel where we stayed for the night.
During the afternoon we headed out of Menindee to Kinchega National Park. The park is a former sheep station and the giant sheep shed built in 1875, still stands, a quiet place once the home of six million sheep. Due to the previous heavy rains we were limited as the many of the dirt roads were closed or only open to 4W drives.
Wilcannia was Australia’s first inland port, carrying wool by bullock teams and camel trains. Then river boats and paddle steamers would carry the precious cargo via the Murray River and onto England.
After many, many days of checking the road reports finally the road was open to White Cliff and we headed out with a stop at Little Topar, an outback petrol station and cafe stop and a sandwich stop at Wilcannia. The earth is dotted with opal mines and living underground as temperatures can soar to 50 degrees above ground in the summer. The ‘dugout’ room is an ambient 21 degrees.
We did a day trip with Tri State Safari to Mutawintji National Park, place of green grass and waterholes, with our wonderful guide Smacka. A sacred aboriginal area, among the caves and rock formations are some of the best preserved examples of Aboriginal rock art and engravings which are only accessed by guided tours.
This exceptional 69,000 park lies in the Byngnano Range, the eroded and sculptured remains of a 400 million year old seabed. The Malyangapa and Bandjigali peoples have lived in the area for more than 8000 years and there are important rock engravings, stencils, paintings and scattered remains of their day-to-day life, most of these are only accessible via a guided tour.
One of my biggest disappointments was not being able to visit Mungo National Park due to the road being closed by the heavy rains.
Bells Milk Bar, a Broken Hill icon where you can explore our fascinating social history and experience a rare insight into Australia’s unique milk bar and cafe culture. The original 1950’s decor, old style malted milks and soda spiders along with the attached milk bar museum and nostalgic gift shop has seen Bells recognised with multiple tourism awards and people often travel hundreds of miles just to get their hands on a Bells drink.
A ‘spider’ is a combination of ice cream, locally brewed flavouring, plus a special ingredient or two.
Royal Flying Doctor Service, (RFDS) is essential to the health and wellbeing of Australians living in 80 percent of the country – an area the size of western Europe. This remarkable lifeline is every bit as essential and famous as the School of the Air. Experience the RFDS on a guided tour of its base. These tours run continuously so you won’t miss out. You can also watch RFDS activities showcased in film and in historic detail in the Mantle of Safety Museum.
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery and there are many local galleries and studios.
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery has won numerous heritage awards for the restoration and refurbishment of the former Sully’s Emporium. These include the 2005 Energy Australia National/Trust Award for Conservation of the Built Heritage for Projects over $500,000 in the Corporate/Government section.
Pro Hart from drawing and sketching to the famed landscapes and narrative paintings of his heyday, Pro was energised by all forms of creativity. He was a performance artist who experimented endlessly with new forms of expression, a sculptor who loved metal and stone and an inventor extraordinaire who loved tinkering in his back shed.
© Thérèse O’Leary 2012 – 2016 All Rights Reserved
OUTBACK ASTRONOMY has a new, permanent home at 18817 Barrier Highway, on the road to Wilcannia, Cobar, Sydney. Locals know it as “the old RFDS Base”, now our “Space Base”.