A week in Broken Hill might seem too long, but there’s plenty to do and to see. We spent eight nights in Broken Hill, arriving by train from Sydney on the Outback Explorer and returning by train the following Tuesday.
Day tours to Silverton and Menindee and a free tour of Broken Hill by the Visitors Information Centre broke up the week.
Every morning I went for a walk. Walking everywhere meant I saw so much more and learnt some fun facts about Broken Hill during my week in Broken Hill.
Radio Stations in Broken Hill
One morning, while doing a pre-breakfast walk, an unusual building piques my curiosity. The dark tan brick façade has a rounded top. Four round windows, two on either side of a glass door each have words beneath them. They read “On-Off”, “Tone”, “Tuning” and “Volume”.
The building is designed to look like an old radio station. A “tuning dial” in the top of the curved façade is tuned to 2BH which broadcasts from this building.
At the other end of Argent Street there’s a low rise building with a black and white mural on one wall depicting people at work. Some wear head phones. This is the home of the ABC. My take away from this?
Broken Hill is bookended by two Radio Stations.
A Lookout and a Kangaroo Encounter
The road to Block 10 Lookout runs up a steep hill. The early morning sun bounces off two rusted out old car bodies, abandoned and unloved in an overgrown vacant lot.
Block 10 Lookout
The lookout parking area is closed off. I step over the chain and follow a rough path alongside a wire fence. Mining paraphernalia lies abandoned. An old shaft is roughly cordoned off. There’s a sign with an old photograph depicting the view to Block 10. The “Broken Hill” after which the city was named is clearly visible.
The hill is no longer, having been long since mined. Block 10 was the first of seven (to Block 16) pegged mining leases on the Line of Lode, the exposed ore body. The richest deposits of silver, lead and zinc in the world were found here.
A Startled Kangaroo
Walking back through the car park, I disturb a kangaroo as my footsteps crunch on the rough gravel. It hops away, and turns left down the street into a suburban area. My route follows the path it has taken. There it is, hopping back and forth in front of a closed chain metal gate, desperately trying to get through.
Setting off to investigate, I hear a group of workmen talking loudly during their smoke break. One is relating a story using colourful language. Seeing me, his mate warns “There’s a lady”. He apologises with an “scuse me love”.
They saw the kangaroo and tell me “They’re here all the time. He’ll find its way out”. And “We’re going to open the gate in a minute”. The kangaroo is getting more and more distressed and is frantically bashing against the gate. Watching on, I feel helpless, more so when I notice a joey peering from her pouch.
She suddenly gives up, turns and races towards me with her joey now tucked safely away. Sprinting past the men, she bounds past me at speed with obvious fear in her eyes. I stand stock still so as not to scare her further. At the intersection she turns right and hops back up the hill, her body a dark silhouette against the morning sky.
Broken Hill Town Hall
Broken Hill Town Hall is an impressive building. I stand in Argent Street admiring its frontage. Arches frame the doors and windows of the two storey Italianate style building constructed in 1891, using stone from Block 14 mine. A tall tower topped with a metal cupola dominates the right-hand side.
But there’s something missing. I walk around the structure looking for the offices and hall. They are missing. The main hall and offices were demolished in 1974. For a car park. It reminds me of a song by Joni Mitchell.
Street Names in Broken Hill
Many of the wide Broken Hill Streets have links to mining. There’s Bromide, Chloride, Cobalt Gypsum, Koalin, Mica, Sulphide and Zinc to name a few. “What about Argent Street?” I ask my partner, a mining engineer in another life. Argent is an old-fashioned word for the metal silver. And why Beryl Street? Isn’t it a girl’s name? It is, but it’s also a gemstone.
As a young man, Pro Hart worked underground as a miner, painting when not at work. He left mining to focus on his art full time in 1967 when he was 39. Pro Hart was one of the so-called “Brushmen of the Bush”.
You can visit his gallery in Broken Hill, but you can also see two of his sculptures right in the centre of town. In Kintore Reserve in Blende Street, they reflect on his feelings about miners.
Sculptures by Pro Hart
In 1980, Pro Hart dedicated The Ant to “the workers of Broken Hill and their struggles to extract the wealth we all live from”. The Workers is quite different. Look carefully at the different expressions on the faces depicted in the sculpture. They represent the emotions experienced by mine workers.
The Line of Lode Miner’s Memorial
The road to the Line of Lode memorial winds around and up what’s left of the hill that gave Broken Hill its name. It’s mostly loose sand and rubble. There’s an abandoned mine site, the windows in the rusted corrugated iron buildings smashed.
Walking along the path between the rusty metal wall of the memorial is a sobering experience. Faded red fabric roses poke out from holes next to the name of every miner who died while mining in Broken Hill. Some died in a rock fall, others from lead poisoning or dust on the lungs. One fell down a shaft. The youngest was 12, a Master John George Armitt who was asphyxiated by dynamite fumes in 1890.
More people died in the 1890s than in any other decade, 22 in 1895. As recently as 2019, 47-year-old Andrew Stanley Bray was crushed to death by machinery.
Active Mine Site
Walking back to town from the Line of Lode, I hear the hum of machinery and look around. A sign on the fence alongside the road reads ‘Active Mine Site. Keep Out’. Behind the fence machines pump air down into the mine below. Having just come from the miners’ memorial, I can’t help but feel empathy for the men (and possibly women) down below me right now, sweating in hot uncomfortable conditions, working by the light of their headlamps.
Roses and House Signs
Roses are everywhere in Broken Hill. They brighten small gardens and line paths in public parks. The climate in Broken Hill seems to suit them, and this year, they are particularly good.
Two House Signs
TRESSPASSING VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN
WARNING Due to the rising cost of ammunition, I will no longer be able to provide a warning shot. Thank you for your patience and understanding These are hard times.
Houses in Broken Hill
Many – if not most – houses and cottages in Broken Hill are made from corrugated iron supported by a wooden frame. Dating back to the 1890s, they were quick and easy to construct with materials readily transported from Adelaide.
Our Silverton guide, Milton, mentioned that when goldmining in Silverton dried up, around 80 long narrow houses were transported by camel train on a two-wheeled jinka to Broken Hill. He calls them bullet houses as “you can shoot a bullet right through the front door to the back”.
There’s another thing I noticed. Incongruously, Doric columns support the awnings over the front verandah of many houses. It seems a Doric column salesman was good at their job.
Who Was Insured?
“You can tell who was insured” a man in the street tells me. He’s referring to the many new corrugated iron roofs. During a recent major hail storm, the stones were bigger than golf balls causing untold damage the metal roofs.
He explains that “the dents fill with dust” the man tells me adding “when it gets wet, the roof rusts”.
Apparently, insurance companies required home owners to prove that the guttering and fascia were affected by the hail. I notice many homes with new roofs and old dilapidated guttering.
Many original buildings in Broken Hill remain, boarded up, their businesses closed. Look out for the Peter’s Ice Cream factory, and the Rosella’s distributor. Have an ice cream or cool drink from Deebees, possibly the most photographed shop in Broken Hill. Heed the warning of swooping magpies in the upholsterer’s window.
A mural depicting an Aboriginal man holding a spear and an Afghan cameleer decorates the wall alongside the Sufi Bakery.
In fact, not all the cameleers were Afghan. They mostly came from the far west of British India and what is now Pakistan. A few were from Afghanistan.
The Sufi bakery and around the corner, the Sufi Bookshop and Islamic Study Centre has no connection with the original cameleers or the Broken Hill Mosque. They only arrived in Broken Hill a few years ago.
Spend a Week in Broken Hill
Not many people spend more than a night or two in Broken Hill. They don’t know what they are missing.
An interesting read and photos Joanne. Thanks for sharing your journey in Broken Hill.
I would never have considered visiting. I love the little cottage with the picket fence and “new roof”.
I’m glad you enjoyed the read, Kerrie. There are so many cute cottages in Broken Hill.
Thanks Joanne ,
Great facts and things to look out for. I plan to visit this interesting town again. We stopped there for a few hours while travelling on The Indian Pacific.
I’m pleased you found it useful, June. A few hours in Broken Hill is definitely not enough!
Great way to remember mining minerals by memorizing the street names.
Must have been tough to work there but I’m glad that sad stories of people’s lives are remembered at the Miner’s Memorial site.
Yes, Bernadette, the memorial is a sobering reminder of the horrible conditions miners faced. Safety has improved, but people are still dying.