Australia For Visitors > Broken Hill, NSW

Broken Hill
New South Wales

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Broken Hill is a city located in the far west of New South Wales (1,160 km west of Sydney). Surrounded by wind breaks against the desert winds, Broken Hill is a veritable oasis in the middle of the Australian outback.

Post Office, Broken Hill image

The Post Office and other historic buildings in Chloride Street, Broken Hill

Founded in 1898, it sits on one of the world's great ore bodies of lead, silver and zinc. The minerals were mined by BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd.), which for a long time was Australia's largest company. The city is known as the "Silver City" because of its mineral wealth. There are still two working mines in the city.

Some of the interesting sites in Broken Hill are:

Delprat's Mine (currently closed)

Delprat's Mine, located right in the city of Broken Hill, was the city's first mine. It is no longer a working mine but now offers underground tours. When you are arrive for your tour, you put on a full miner's outfit (boots, belt, helmet with light) and then enter the miners' cage (or lift) for a 130 meter descent into the bowels of the mine. Guides will then escort you around you around the tunnels and minefaces. At the tour's end you will have some understanding of mining and of the tough conditions endured by miners. Your tour will last two hours.

Note: According to the Broken Hill Visitors Centre (January 2012), Deprat's Mine has recently closed for redevelopment.

Daydream Mine

The Daydream Mine, located on the Silverton Road half an hour's drive out of Broken Hill, was a mine which used to operate in the 1880s. Now, like Delprat's Mine, this mine is disused but you can visit it and take an underground tour of the mine workings. The tour lasts one hour.

White's Mineral Art and Mining Museum

This museum has two sections: the art section which displays crushed mineral collages (depicting scenes from life in Broken Hill) and the mining section with mining memorabilia (along with models and videos) and the recreation of a walk-in underground mine.

Albert Kersten's Mining and Minerals Museum

Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum (previously known as the Geocentre and as Albert Kersten's Geocentre) is a museum of the geology and metallurgy of the Broken Hill area. It is located in an historic bond store. It includes models and interactive displays and even an old tin miner's hut. You can also see The Silver Tree, an ornate pure silver sculpture commissioned by Broken Hill's founder, Charles Rasp.

Railway, Mineral and Train Museum

This museum (previously known as the Railway Museum and located opposite the Visitor Information Centre) offers an extensive mineralogy display (the Triple Chance Mineral Collection) and also has railway rolling stock (engines, carriages, etc. including of the famous old Silver Comet train), machinery and other memorabilia. You can also see the contents of the bedroom a the Maidens Hotel in Menindee where the Burke and Wills stayed before setting out on their ill-fated expedition north in 1860.

This museum is built in the old sandstone building of the Sulphide Street Railway Station, the station where passengers would take the train to Adelaide. Trains to Sydney would depart from the Crystal Street Railway Station a few blocks away. The Indian Pacific train [Sydney-Perth] and the Outback Explorer [Sydney-Broken Hill] now use the Crystal Street Railway Station.

At this same location are three other museums: the Broken Hill Mining Heritage Museum, the Hospital Museum, the Migrants Heritage Museum, and the Ron Carter Transport Pavillion.

Broken Hill Regional Gallery

This gallery (previously known as the Broken Hill City and Art Gallery) is the second oldest art gallery in New South Wales. You can see a room full of paintings from Broken Hill's local "Brushmen of the Bush" school (Jack Absalom, Pro Hart, Eric Minchin, John Pickup and Hugo Schulz) as well as paintings by John Olsen, by Sidney Nolan and others from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Note: The Silver Tree, previously located in this art gallery, is now in the Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum (see above).

Pro Hart Art Gallery (image)

Pro Hart's art gallery, Broken Hill

Pro Hart Gallery

This gallery houses the largest private art collection in Australia. The collection includes Pro Hart's own work (paintings, sculptures, etc.) as well as works by other Australian artists (such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Namatjira and Tom Roberts) and works by overseas artists (such as Dali, Picasso and Rouault).

Previously owned and operated by Pro Hart, a former miner and larger than life character who became a famous artist, the gallery is now operated by his son.

Jack Absalom's Gallery

Another gallery owned and operated by a famous local artist (one of the "Brushmen of the Bush" school).

Silver City Art Centre and Mint

This popular attraction includes an art gallery, a silver mint (where you can buy silver jewelry), a chocolate factory, and the largest acrylic painting in the world done by a single artist.

Sculpture Symposium in The Living Desert Reserve

The Sculpture Symposium is a group of stunning sculptures located on a rocky outcrop in the Living Desert Reserve in the Barrier Ranges about 8 km out of Broken Hill. These sculptures were created from large blocks of Wilcannia sandstone in 1993 by twelve international sculptors. The work took them 14 hours a day, every day for eight weeks. No power tools were used. The scuptors were inspired by the desert and by the work of Broken Hill's local artists (the "Brushmen of the Bush").

The Living Desert Reserve covers 2,400 hectares and also contains aboriginal sites, a permaculture area and many different types of flora and fauna.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

You can take a tour to see this famous Australian institution which offers medical assistance to the residents of the remote Outback. The tour includes a talk and a video, a visit to the radio room (that takes calls for assistance from remote stations [ranches] and homesteads) and a visit to the hangar (where you can see the planes that take doctors and nurses around the Outback and pick up emergency cases to bring them to hospital).

Recently refurbished, the RFDS also now includes a large museum and a souvenir shop. The museum has interactive displays that show the huge geographical extent of the service and that show a typical emergency situation (a model of a station owner's wife contacting the Flying Doctor regarding her husband's sudden illness). There are historical displays of the items too, such as an old medicine chest.

School of the Air

This is another great Australian institution that you can visit. The School of the Air, which opened in 1956, used to use two way radio to broadcast school lessons to children living on stations and homesteads across a huge area (1.8 million square kilometers) of the Outback. These days the Internet (email, webcams and social media) are used instead. You are able to visit and listen in to the first hour's radio transmissions of the day, including the roll call first thing in the morning.

Joe Keenan's Lookout 

An excellent view of the city and the mining areas (such as the mine dumps). Also large signs with summary of the history of Broken Hill.

Afghani Mosque, Broken Hill, NSW (image)

Afghani Mosque, Broken Hill

Afghan Mosque

The Afghan Mosque (corner of William and Buck Streets) is a mosque, constructed in 1891 on the site of a camel camp. It is a simple building built in corrugated iron and provided for the spiritual needs of the Muslim Afghan and Indian camel drivers who provided transportation and helped open up the Outback in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Afghan Mosque (sometimes known as the Afghani Mosque) also includes a small museum.

Other Historic Buildings

Broken Hill has numerous magnficent buildings dating from the 1880s and onwards and paid for by profits from mining. These include the Town Hall (constructed 1890), the Post Office (1891), the Techical College (1901), the Arts and Sciences Museum, and Broken Hill Trades Hall (1898; extended 1904).

There are also many hotels such as the Palace Hotel (1889), a three storey edifice with long verandahs and cast-iron balustrades. The Palace Hotel was formerly known as Mario's Palace and appeared in the film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Trades Hall, Broken Hill image

Broken Hill Trades Hall, Sulphide Street, Broken Hill (the "1921" on the sign refers to the photo taken in 1921) (Photo: 17177)

Sturt Park

This spacious park, originally named Central Reserve, was named Sturt Park in 1944, in honor of the inland explorer, Captain Charles Sturt. The park contains the Riddiford Arboretum, with specimens of Sturt's Desert Pea (the emblem of Broken Hill and also of the state of South Australia), samples of which Stuart collected in the Broken Hill area in 1844.

The park also contains a monument to the bandsmen of the RMS Titanic, who continued playing as that steamship sank on 15 April 1912.

A Little History

In 1887 a German-born boundary rider was mustering sheep when he stumbled across what he thought was a deposit of tin. With a capital of just 70 pounds, he pegged out a mining lease of 40 acres covering the "broken hill" where he had found the mineral. He formed a syndicate of seven people to help finance the prospecting of the lease.

The substance he had found turned out to be silver, lead and zinc, not tin, and the syndicate became the company Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP), which quickly grew to become the a huge mining company and later Australia's largest company. The deposit they controlled was a lode 8 km long, 16 km deep, and up to 250 meters wide (this was called the "Line of Lode").

Working conditions in the BHP's mines in the early years were harsh, dangerous and bad for the miners' health, with diseases such as lung disease and lead poisoning a common occurence. Safety precautions were minimal or non-existent and mining accidents were frequent. Hundreds of miners died.

This situation led to the rise of labor union militancy in Broken Hill. Many bitter battles were fought by the miners' unions with the BHP management over living and working conditions. This included the 18 month long strike in 1919-20 known as The Big Strike. Miners' conditions finally improved. To strengthen their hand, Broken Hill's unions all combined into one big union, the Barrier Industrial Council, which still operates today.

Arthur Harold Jones in his book Round Australia the Hard Way in 1938 wrote of the death of miner in Broken Hill caused by lack of wooden lining of the tunnels in the mines. The mining company gave his family a laughably small sum as compensation. So the union collected the sum of fifty pounds for the miner's widow and insisted the whole city be closed down for the miner's funeral (not even a single shop remained unshuttered while the funeral cortege proceeded down the main street).

These days the deposits of silver, lead and zinc are almost running out. Modern mining technology means that few miners are employed. Broken Hill's population is declining as workers move away to get jobs.

In the 1930s, in order to reduce the problem of the ever present, all pervasive red dust and sand in the city (brought in by choking sand storms), Broken Hill ringed the city with a regeneration zone of trees. The city is now an oasis of green in the middle of the surrounding red desert.

Water supply, originally came from a small reservoir at Umberumberka near the town of Silverton outside Broken Hill. Since 1960 water has come by pipeline from the Menindee Lakes located on the Darling River about 100 km southeast off Broken Hill. The Menindee Lakes are a huge reservoir about eight times as big as Sydney Harbour and so the problem of water shortage in Broken Hill has now been solved.

Further Reading

Silver, sin and sixpenny ale: a social history of Broken Hill, 1883-1921.
Brian Kennedy. Melbourne University Press, 1978.

The rise of Broken Hill.
Geoffrey Blainey. Macmillan, 1968.

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Author: David Paul Wagner
(David Paul Wagner on Google+)

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