We drove to Broken Hill today along the Barrier Highway that follows the route of the standard gauge railway line that starts in Sydney and goes to Perth via Port Augusta.
In the morning, we made a detour to the ghost town of Terowie, just 20 kms from Peterborough. My friend Max called me last night and insisted that we go to see Magnetic Hill near Peterborough but it was in the opposite direction and my travel companions wanted to maximise our time in Broken Hill. Magnetic Hill is basically an optical illusion. If you put your car in neutral, it appears to roll uphill on its own. It’s actually going down a slight downhill slope and apparently, this phenomena has confused people for decades.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Terowie is where the narrow gauge railway ended. It serviced the copper mines there and around Burra. Oh, the joy of different colonial governments in the early days before federation, each with their own gauge of railway line! The old platform is still intact and some of the buildings are still standing. A rail line came down from Alice Springs and passengers had to change there for the remainder of the journey to Adelaide. One of these was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It seems that when the Phillipines fell to the Japanese in WW2 he escaped to Australia and travelled somehow from Darwin to Alice Springs. He apparently missed the weekly Ghan train service, so he came in a special train of three carriages and had to change trains in Terowie to go further on to Adelaide and then to Melbourne and Sydney.
Terowie is full of abandoned shops and houses. At its peak, the town had population of 2000 people but after the railway stopped running in the 1960’s the population dropped to just 160 residents. The 1960’s only seems like a little while ago bt man of the names of the shops suggest that they had operated for many decades. We drive around for about half an hour looking at the street scape and thinking that the entire town was just like a museum in its own right.
The road to Broken Hill was flat and uninteresting. The landscape consisted mostly of saltbush through which a few sheep picked out some form of food. We saw lots of Emus, a few kangaroos and a number of feral goats. As we travelled, we passed (coming the other way) around twenty semi-trailers carrying armoured personnel carriers, and other military vehicles. We are reasonably confident that these trucks would have been from 85 Troop( my old army unit). I know that their work is now line-haul transport of military equipment for exercises and I know that some of these exercises take place north of Adelaide.
We stopped for a coffee in the tiny settlement of Yunta. Like many outback towns, this place has a declining population and a few years ago the government threatened to close the primary school because of a lack of students. The townspeople (fifty, or so) advertised nationally offering families who might move into the area a firm job and subsidised housing. I have no idea what type of housing would have been available! Ultimately, the government reversed its decision and the school stayed open.
There are a number of locations along the highway that are old communities that now look little sad. We arrived in Broken Hill in time for a late lunch and then had a look at a few of the major tourist sights in town. The first on these was to a visit to ‘Pro’ Hart’s studio. He was an artist who painted a prolific number of works about life in the bush. His paintings had a certain amount of naetvity about them but the were very descriptive. We actually own one his original works that depicts a bush horse race meeting. Pro Hart died about 11 years go. He was one of the ‘Brushmnen of the Bush’ – a group of five artists who spent a lot of time in the bush painting scenes together that they saw as they travelled. Pro did it in style in a Rolls Royce.
From there, we went out to the Desert Sculpture park where about twelve sculptures carved into local rock sit tin the top off a hill. When Jill and I were here a few years ago, we just drove to them, but now there is an entrance gate into the park and a requirement to pay a fee. Modern technology allows for credit card payment even though the park is in the middle of nowhere.
Finally, before checking in to our hotel we popped up to the miner’s memorial overlooking the town and the station. Along a wall are the names of every miner killed in some form of mining accident over the last 100 years. from there, we could see right across the town and over the railway station. A long freight train trundled into the station at the same time as we were there. It was over 1 km long and on the way to Perth from Sydney. It blocked the road crossing for the time that it took the crew to change and then headed off towards the south on the next part of its transcontinental haul.