Bell’s Milk Bar is three kilometres from our accommodation on the other side of Broken Hill. Having arrived by train from Sydney – a long but fascinating journey – we don’t have a car and walk to the 1950s milk bar.
Walking to the Other Side of Broken Hill
Our route takes us past huge rusted buckets suspended from cables which stretch from the southern part of the mine up to what is now Block 10 Lookout. They used to carry ore to the mill at Block 10.
I notice little things. Like how the facades of original long narrow corrugated iron homes differ from the side walls. And a front gate with a redback spider and web in the design.
Patton Street Broken Hill
The shops in Patton Street are tired. Some are closed, their windows filled oversized historic photographs depicting times long gone. A local man stops to chat. He suggests that when the new Cobalt Blue Mine opens, there will be an influx of workers. That can only be good for the area, but he worries that the workers “will have nowhere to live”.
We browse in Jonnie loves Noreen, a vintage homewares and clothing shop. The owner chats while ironing a vintage dress. Young women have told her “It’s a lot cheaper here than in the vintage shops in Sydney”.
A Chance Encounter In Bell’s Milk Bar
It’s breakfast time. We’re on holiday and order waffles and ice cream at Bell’s. Sitting at a Formica table on a metal framed chair, I tap my foot and sing along in my head to the familiar tunes playing on the juke box. Good Vibrations…With a little help from my friends…Stop in the name of love. Bell’s is a happy place. Visitors smile and reminisce.
A man sitting at a nearby table looks very familiar. I hold off for a while, but in the end can’t help myself and walk over to ask if he’s from Sydney and more specifically Brooklyn, the suburb across the river from where we live. He is.
We laugh when as he leaves, he quips “It’s a long way to come to park your car!” He’s referencing the current divisive issue in our local community about parking in Brooklyn.
Rudolph Alagich Menswear Shop
Breakfast over, we explore further. A thin casually dressed young man waits outside the menswear shop. The sign on the door indicates the shop should be open but there’s no movement inside. My partner is in need of a couple of new shirts and wants to check it out.
On Local Time
We walk around the block. When we return, a woman is unlocking the door. The young man follows her in. We’re close behind. The woman greets the young man and asks “Cody, when do you need it by?” He replies “Tomorrow”.
Cody is looking for a suit, or at least black pants and a white shirt. He’s getting married tomorrow. The shop owner, whose name I later learn is Nancy, looks Cody up and down and accurately guesses his size. While Cody is being looked after we look around.
Step Back in Time
The shop is divided into two sections. In the menswear section, trousers, shirts and suits hang in sizes from rails along the walls, hat boxes sit on shelving above. The counter is an old wooden framed glass display cabinet. An original Singer sewing machine rests on a nearby shelf. Entering Rudolph Alagich’s Menswear shop is like stepping back in time.
Cody has been working on the mine all week and “could only come in now”. A mill operator, he describes to me how the mill consists of balls inside big turning drums. As the drums rotate, the balls drop and crush the rock. He is from Tibooburra and likes his job but “would rather be out bush, but me missus is here” he tells me. I wish him all the best for his wedding tomorrow. He’s a little nervous.
The fitting rooms are through an open doorway in the half of the shop. In the centre of this maroon carpeted room, is a wooden platform. Women would stand on this platform to enable the seamstress to more easily adjust a hemline or bodice. Two female mannequins dressed in day wear from the 1950s stand side by side in the window. Racks of brightly coloured vintage dresses line the walls. An art deco couch and coffee table add a finishing touch.
Six Degrees of Separation (or less!)
We chat with Nancy as she folds and wraps my partner’s shirts. There’s the usual to and fro about where we’re from and what we’re doing in Broken Hill. It turns out that we know Nancy’s daughter, Nadia. She lived on our little island in the Hawkesbury River, and returned to Broken Hill when her father died in 2015.
Nancy tells us that her father was a tailor and opened the shop in 1958. Her daughter runs the vintage dress part of the shop. When we leave, she gives us a farewell hug.
A Migrant Story in Broken Hill
Later in the week, I visit the train museum. One room is dedicated to migrants who made their home in Broken Hill. I recognise the name of one of the migrants. Rudolph Alagich. His name was painted on the window of the menswear shop in Patton Street.
Rudolph Alagich was Nancy’s father, the tailor. I read a quote from him “We came from a country of magnificent mountains and the sea and came to a place of heat, dust, tin houses and toilets. It was a big shock for us”.
Another quote “My two brothers … and I left … the beautiful Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia in 1932 to join our father Joe in Broken Hill. He had migrated to Australia in 1924 and was working on the Line of Lode [in Broken Hill]”.
There are several photos of Nancy’s father. One as a young man with his wife. Another posing outside his shop and another of him behind a sewing machine – perhaps the same machine on display in the shop. The caption of the photograph of him playing football reads “In 1966, I was the first recipient of a meritorious award for soccer from the South Australian Government” Rudolph Alagich OAM.
Discover the Other Side of Broken Hill
There’s more to the little strip of shops in Patton Street than Bell’s Milk Bar. Discovering Rudolph Alagich’s shop and meeting Nancy was a highlight of my time in Broken Hill.
If you enjoyed reading this you’ll enjoy reading about Ammin (Bobby) from the Broken Hill Mosque. Here’s the link.