We have reached our outback destination! And I have to tell you, Broken Hill is simply superb.
I fell for Broken Hill in a big way – fell for its vibrant colours of red desert dirt, deep blue sky, its grittiness borne from years of miners battling isolation, difficult and dangerous work, its ballsy film locations – think Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mad Max 2, its turn of the century heritage architecture, its thriving arts scene, its incredible lake system and its space. There’s land, lots of land out here.
This bustling town that rides on the coat tails of its silver, lead and zinc past and whose future is secured with new mineral deposits, boasts a population of 17,700.
The BH mining industry is buoyant, real buoyant thanks to a 2004 geo study which detected decent reserves of copper and gold. Better still was the news that there were large reserves of cobalt (Twiggy’s happy), as well as 50 years worth of high grade iron ore. And to top it off, zinc is enjoying its best prices in 15 years.
From little things big things have certainly grown. It was 1885 when 7 men sat down at nearby Gipps River to map out a plan to extract the silver, lead and zinc that lay buried in this far flung and oft forgot corner of Australia. Their company- BHP Broken Hill Proprietary – the quiet Australian – went on to become one of Australia’s success stories. BHP departed Broken Hill in 1939 for far greener pastures and since then, 14 mining companies have set up shop here.
Long a place for artists attracted by its light and wealth of colours, BH has a number of art galleries. We checked out the galleries of Pro Hart and Jack Absalam.
Bought a painting by Amanda Johnson at her studio, Willy Nilly Art. A fourth generation Broken Hill (ite), her works capture the outback colours I was seeking. Amanda invited me to view her current works – she does fabulous commission work and in between art talk, we talked BH. Jobs are aplenty, housing is extremely affordable, health and education infrastructure is solid and any concerns about isolation are whisked away with Rex Air flights to Adelaide/ Melbourne or Qantas to Sydney.
Anyway, I have just the wall in my pint sized place for this crisp white windmill painting set against the bluest of outback skies, mounted on the reddest of red dirt at Gipps River.
Long time fans of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’, we spent time at the iconic Palace Hotel enjoying some afternoon gins (Fosseys Broken Hill). Dinner and a good pinot didn’t disappoint.
Silverton, 20 kms from BH is surreal. Raw and stark, it’s easy to imagine life on the Silverton mining claims back in 1883 when the population heaved with 3,000 people. Today there’s just a few dozen permanent residents, wide red dirt streets, a few stone buildings and a classic outback pub.
Silverton would have quietly exited into ghost town mode if film makers hadn’t discovered it. Films like Razorback, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Dirty Deeds, The Flying Doctor and Mad Max 2 were shot here. Rumours were rife during our stay that the next Mad Max film (5?) is to be filmed here. Certainly, we saw film crews in BH.
Just before sunset one evening, we set off, bottle of good red in hand to Living Desert Sculpture Park. Created by a group of artists in 1993, the 12 sandstone sculptures high on a hill make the perfect place to soak up culture and panoramic views.
Menindee Lakes, 100 kms from BH are full. So full in fact that their waters are being diverted to the Murray River. We can thank the swollen Queensland rivers for this drought breaking water. Rivers, dams and billabongs are full and wildlife is teeming. A glorious sight to witness.
Kinchega Woolshed at Menindee tells a pastoral story that can’t go unsung. Constructed in 1875 from red river gum and corrugated iron, 64 shearers could click away at one time. Six million sheep were shorn here over 97 years.
Through the late 1800s to early 1900s, Australia rode affluent times on the sheep’s back, but long droughts and rabbit plagues combined to kill off the wool industry in this part of the country.
We’re now heading home via Bourke, Walgett, Moree and maybe Goondiwindi if the road is not flooded. Next blog will come from Bourke.
Blogging companions – red wine, chocolate and good music!