Silverton is about 30kms from Broken Hill. Without a car, I join Milton Hawke of Broken Hill City Sights Tours and a small group on his half day Silverton Tour. It’s been raining and Milton warns “I’m not sure how far we’ll get”. The roads are open for now, but that can change in an instant.
Taking a Tour of Silverton
There are thirty-nine dips in the long straight sealed road between Broken Hill and Silverton. Milton calls them spoon drains, saying that they follow the “cavity of the bush. They can flood within minutes.
Silverton doesn’t wake early. This allows us time to visit two places of interest before driving into the town.
Mundi Mundi Lookout
A cool fresh breeze blows across Mundi Mundi Lookout. I zip up my wind jacket, rubbing my arms to warm up. Looking out across the plains it’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago thousands of vehicles packed in here for the Mundi Mundi Bash.
Now, the flat outback expanse is deserted apart from the occasional sheep and a white Homestead faintly visible in the distance. Thousands of years ago, the area was an inland sea and fossil sea shells have been found here.
Our next stop is a controversial one. The Umberumberka Reservoir is full. Yet it was decommissioned in 2021. Instead of getting its water from this reservoir, Broken Hill now gets water from the Murray River. Locals like Milton aren’t happy.
As we drive to Silverton, Milton provides a bit of background. He hails from Silverton, describing his life growing up there as a “great life. These creeks were our backyard”. He and the local Aboriginal kids would ride around on their pushbikes and horses. As older teenagers, they helped with the mustering, getting paid in cheap meat off cuts.
Silverton: Now and Then
Over 3000 fortune hunters flocked to Silverton in the early 1880s. People mining 13-15km away came into town on weekends to sell the silver they’d dug up. But by 1899 most people had left, taking all their belongings including their houses with them. They had gone up the road to the richer deposits in Broken Hill. Silverton became a ghost town.
Fewer than 40 people, mostly retirees live permanently in Silverton today. Just last week I read in the paper about the sudden death of artist Albert Woodroffe whose Horizon Gallery was on our itinerary. The population is getting even smaller.
My image of Silverton was formed by photos I’ve seen of vehicles from Mad Max movies parked outside the pub and other buildings. I naively expected the town to be a sort of outdoor museum of Mad Max memorabilia. It wasn’t.
In that respect I was disappointed. Although I’m not a Mad Max fan, I was looking forward to seeing evidence of Mad Max throughout the town. It’s there, but not to the extent I’d hoped for.
Milton tells us that the Film Industry put Silverton on the map. A list pinned to a gallery wall lists the movies made in Silverton. From 1936, when the silent movie “Uncivilised” was made, to 2019, sixty-eight movies or television series were filmed here. The lists’ author recognizes that they may have missed some. They have. The Mad Max movie “Furiosa” filmed in 2022 hasn’t made it to the list yet.
Our first stop in Silverton is the Gaol. Run by the Broken Hill Historical society, this museum is jam packed with memorabilia. Historic family photographs fill every inch of wall space.
The three elderly women on our tour exclaim and reminisce as they peer into glass topped display cabinets. “My mum used to make them milk jug covers” says one. “We had one of those says another”. The third chips in with “I had those cups and saucers in my glory box”.
The wooden floor creaks beneath my feet as I walk from one small room to the next. Each room is a repurposed cell, the a heavy metal door has a peep hole for guards to check on their prisoners. Sport, music, mining and everyday life all feature in the display.
Broken Hill Historical society also manages the School House in Silverton. Unfortunately, it isn’t open today. The author Mary Jean Gilmore taught here for a short time. She features on our $10 note.
Camels and Galleries
A camel train, bearing helmeted tourists seated in leather saddles, passes me in the street. The temperature has risen and with the heat has come the files. I swat them away as I walk past the old Catholic Church from one gallery to the next.
Artists are drawn to Silverton, and a few have made it their home. Their styles differ, ranging from brightly coloured interpretations of the outback to more realistic scenes and everything in-between.
Mad Max Museum
I do visit the Mad Max 2 Museum. After all, that is what I’ve come for. Once inside, I follow a black bitumen path down the length of a long narrow enclosure.
On either side of the path, a wire fence, stretching almost from floor to ceiling separates me from the display which is crammed full of Mad Max 2 memorabilia. The soundtrack from one of the movies accompanies me, the vehicles roaring as they race across the barren landscape.
Mannequins sit in dusty buggies with thick muddy tyres. There’s a gleaming cream souped up sedan with a red flashing light and horn attachment on the roof. A helmet and skull sit on the dashboard. A movie scene plays on a loop on an elevated television set.
The collection of memorabilia is vast. As I’m the only person on our tour visiting the museum, I don’t have much time. I probably don’t do it justice. One thing it has done is prompt me to at least see a Mad Max movie.
Silverton seems to survive on tourism. Like everywhere, it struggled during the pandemic, but things are improving. Outside the pub, dusty cars park beside campervans, caravans and 4x4s loaded with tents on their rooftops and jerry cans filled with water strapped onto the back.
The pub is busy. I sit outside with a cool beer. A mobile phone rings near me. The woman sitting at the next table answers. “Hello Darling!” She adds “I’m at the Silverton Hotel Pub”, she says. It sounds rather exotic.
Why Join a Silverton Tour
The rain has held off and we return to Broken Hill without incident. By joining a Silverton tour, especially one run by someone who grew up there, I got a better understanding of the place than I would have if I’d gone independently.
- You can find Broken Hill City Sites Tours – which includes tours to Silverton here
- There is a small fee payable at the Silverton Gaol. Read more here
- Get opening times from the Mad Max museum Facebook page. There isn’t a website.
- The galleries include the John Dynon Gallery, the Horizon Gallery, and Cowz Art Gallery,