Having seen many of the sights in the city of Broken Hill on our first day here, we set our second day aside to visit a couple of interesting remote locations.
We began by driving to the (almost) ghost town of Silverton. Driving there is something of an outback experience. The road is made but you travel across forty-nine ‘dips’ where the road crosses a floodway a dry creek or a natural hollow.
Silverton is unique as an outback town. It has been the site for numerous films (mostly the Mad Max series). It has a large number of interesting historic buildings spread sparsely across the desert and for decades it has been the home to a number of desert artists.
In the 1880s, this area was alive with activity. Mining claims sprung up as pioneers arrived to seek their fortune in this outback area. Established in 1880, Silverton was the area’s largest township as it offered a central, flat position and a water supply. Silverton was became a town in 1883 when its name was proclaimed. A post office was established in 1883.
At that time, Silverton boasted a population of 250, but in a matter of months that number had doubled. Within two years, 3,000 people had set up shop in Silverton – the peak of the township’s population. Once Silverton was established, it quickly began to flourish, with businesses, medical practitioners, solicitors, and entrepreneurs of every type springing up to line the streets. It was around this time that we saw death dates on the graves in the historic pioneer cemetery. Some died because of accidents, others because of typhoid and some just naturally.
As the town grew, the traditional methods of transport – wagons drawn by animals – had been all but exhausted. It became apparent that a railway line would be needed. The Silverton Tramway Company – locally and privately owned was formed to build and operate a railway line. It was opened in 1888 and ran from Cockburn in SA, through Silverton and on to the newly discovered Broken Hill. The line functioned up until 1970, having transported 57 million tonnes of freight and 2,881,000 passengers, when trains were re-routed at Cockburn to bypass Silverton.
In its heyday Silverton boasted every convenience, including a newspaper, Masonic Lodge, goal, gymnasium, hospital, jockey club, football team and Methodist Church. The trade union movement, popularised by its successes in Broken Hill, originated in Silverton in 1884.
There are a couple of dozen buildings left in Silverton and, with the obvious exceptions of the churches and halls, most of the buildings are occupied by art galleries and cafes. But nothing quite matches the Silverton Pub. It was built in 1885 as the town’s post office and has long given the entire town a sense of fun. At various times it has had horses and camels parked outside and these days it boasts the car from Mad Max Movie. Inside, it is crowded on weekends and during school holidays. The walls have a rich photographic collection recalling the films that have been made in and around the town.
Five kilometres further on into the desert is the Mundi Mundi Lookout. The view from there is impressive art any time of the day. You feel as though you are standing on the edge of the world because beyond the lookout the desert seems to stretch, low and flat and barren, to a distant, blurry horizon. There is nowhere else around Broken Hill that is so easily accessible and yet so totally barren and harsh.
We noticed a turnoff on the road back to Broken Hill that went to the Daydream Mine and we decided to investigate. This mine was discovered in 1882, opened in 1883 and by 1884 there were some 500 people living in the area. Today it is nothing more than a café and a hole in the ground. What is remarkable about the mine is that, because it was worked by hand, it is meant to reminds you of the extraordinary hardships the early miners had to endure. The tourist information says that you can either make a booking at the Broken Hill visitor’s centre or just turn up any time between 10.00 am and 3.30 pm seven days a week.
We drove 20 kilometres along a dirt road (before 3.30 pm), through a gate, over a cattle grid and then on for a few more kilometres only to find that the entry gate was closed and padlocked.