To The Outback Mining City of Broken Hill

Saturday November 3 saw us taking advantage of the forthcoming Melbourne Cup Week to travel north to Broken Hill for a few days, followed by a plan to return via Adelaide.

It was raining as we left home – which we didn’t mind as this weekend was only the occasion of the second major downpour that we have received this year. Like one that we had  in June, it dumped about 35 mm of rain on Melbourne and over 120 mm on the water catchment areas and East Gippsland. We missed most of the rain which was to our south, but we are wondering how much we had at home and whether it finished filling up our water tanks. We’d like to have some flexibility for watering the garden over the approaching summer.

We began by travelling through Beechworth to visit a friend who is in the prison there and then on to Albury where we stayed overnight. Our first day of traveling deserves no great comment other than the fact that it was quite cool. Near to Albury, many of the hills along the highway from Beechworth were covered in Patterson’s curse (or Salvation Jane) depending on your state of origin. It looked as though someone had waved a can of purple spray paint over tome of the hills and left a touch of purple across the landscape.

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From Albury, we had a six hour drive to Mildura. Most of this trip was over very flat country, especially between the towns of Finley and Moulemein. For kilometre after kilometre there was nothing to be seen – no houses, no livestock – just the occasional emu. Providing it isn’t windy, this area would be a great place for riding a bicycle. There  is not much else going for it! It’s actually less interesting the land that I saw in Siberia!

We spent a day in Mildura looking at the usual sights – the Murray River, Chaffey House and art gallery, wineries and the lock and weir on the river. I can remember seeing the lock as a kid and being fascinated by it. It now seems a little less exciting. On the last occasion I was at the weir, I was repeatedly dive bombed by an angry magpie. I don’t know why it decided to attack me and not other people who walked by, but I was certainly its target for the day. This time it was busy doing something else so I could walk around without any threat.

The trip from Mildura to Adelaide took us a bit over three hours. Apart from a road house at Coombah, there was absolutely nothing along the way except scrub and a few more emu. One politely stopped in the middle of the road and allow me to photograph it from the car. They don’t seem to be to worried about the road traffic although there was no sign of any extensive road kill.

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We sat on the verandah of the Coombah road house enjoying a cup of coffee (instant, of course) and watching the world go by for half an hour or so. We felt as though we were on the set of one of those outback movies. Not much traffic went past – only a police car and a road train carrying some sort of ore. A very slow talking bloke pulled up in a 4WD with caravan and quizzed everyone on the veranda to check the correct time. Actually it is a bit confusing because even though Broken Hill is in the state of New South Wales, it chooses to adopt South Australian Time (1/2 hour behind all other eastern states). Anyway, after half an hour of sitting and watching the world, the essence of toilet from the nearby full septic tank became a bit overpowering and we decided to move on.

We arrived in Broken Hill for lunch and then had the obligatory pause to listen to the Melbourne Cup before visiting the Flying Doctor Base. The volunteer guide did a good job, although I upset her rhythm at one stage by asking a question. She politely told me that she would get to the answer a little later, thought for a moment and then picked up her place and continued. Actually she did provide me with the answer that I wanted, but she didn’t want to be distracted from her planned patter.

After a quick drive around town, we checked in to our hotel – a nicely renovated grand hotel in the main street. We set off for a walk and while Jill thought that the town was a bit run down, I was quite impressed by the grandeur of many of the buildings. The town hall, union trades hall building and the post office for example are all ‘turn of the century’ buildings and constructed when Broken Hill was a boom city and 100% unionised. We read of one report of a Muslim man who was bought before the court because he killed a steer following his religious custom but was not a member of the licensed butchers union! By coincidence, he also took the first (and only) enemy action on Australian soil in WW1 when he declared his allegiance to the Sultan and shot up a train full of passengers going to a union picnic.

There have been many famous artists in the area of Broken Hill – Pro Hart and Jack Absalom, for example. There are at least ten art galleries around town. Maybe there is something in the water that engenders creativity here but whatever it is, there are more painters here than most other similar sized places that we have visited. One of the interesting art locations is a nature park just out if town that has a sculpture park on a hill overlooking the dry surrounding landscape.

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The nearby town of Silverton is a ‘must visit’ place. It was established after the discovery of zinc in the area and in its heyday it had 3000 inhabitants, 11 pubs and three breweries. The locals of the time obviously didn’t expect them to all survive as the land set aside for the town cemetery consisted of 47 acres, I don’t really know how many graves one can squeeze into an acre, but it would seem to be a considerable number. There are only a few old stone buildings left and the old gaol has a superb museum showing everything from mining equipment to photos of everyday life throughout the last century.

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Tomorrow, we are off to Adelaide.

One comment

  1. Marcie · ·

    Love reading about your adventures Bruce.
    By the way, I very much enjoyed the CD with the delightful photos you took in Vietnam.
    Except for the one of the doggy in a cage on back of bike and
    especially when Rob showed me that super book of photos with more of the same – very worrying!!
    Marcie X