It’s a NSW mining town on SA time where the closest city, Mildura, is more than 300 kilometres away in Victoria. Every year Sydney ships out nurses and teachers who find it’s impossible to find a game of rugby on the telly. Even the AFL coverage only follows the Crows.
It’s an odd place to live, but when the Line of Lode was found in the 1880s, an enormous, boomerang-shaped mineral deposit that’s one of the world’s richest of its type, it drew miners from far and wide, built a city and created BHP Billiton.
To hear the locals tell it at one of the plentiful corner pubs, the money pulled out of Broken Hill dirt built NSW and the miners there invented the eight hour work day. It’s the sort of colourful boast they’re best at – basically correct with a bit of colour added.
Broken Hill’s CBD is now dominated by an enormous slag heap – a black pile of leftover earth innards dug out of the ground over the years. As the mining winds down a bit, though, Broken Hill has turned to heritage, art and tourism. The streets still have names like ‘Chloride’ and ‘Bromide’, though, so mining will always cast a long shadow.
The St Patrick’s Race Day, the city’s annual blow-out social extravaganza, is coming up in March and is a great excuse for a visit. The race meeting has expanded into a long weekend of events and sees the city swell with visitors. Warm up on Friday with the old style casino games night, spend Saturday on the racecourse and pull yourself together with a barbecue at Sunday’s Silverton Recovery Day.
If you want a look at the place before making the trip you’re in luck, as Broken Hill and the surrounding outback have been starring on the silver screen since the 1960s. Film crews are drawn in by the city’s unique surrounds, as well as that you only have to drive ten minutes out of town to be surrounded by absolutely nothing.
Notable films shot out there include the seminal Wake in Fright (pictured, 1970), Mad Max II (1981), Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1993), parts of Mission Impossible II (1999) and, of course, Broken Hill The Movie (2009).
What not to miss
An almost-Ghost Town 28 kilometres out of town that stood in for the apocalyptic wasteland of Mad Max II. The Silverton Pub is a highlight – look up under the veranda to see signs it’s borne in countless beer commercials. Visit the Mad Max Museum and the Old Silverton Gaol. Have lunch at the Silverton Café and try the Saltbush Mutton with Damper. On the way there stop at the Camel Farm for a ride through the outback.
Just past Silverton is this patch of earth from which you can gaze out upon the endless outback plains. Soak in the enormous sky, kick the vivid red soil and realise your place in the world.
Another out-of-town prize, the sculptures were built by a group of international artists in 1993 and now adorn a hilltop with spectacular views. This is the perfect ‘watching the sunset with a cheeseboard’ spot, and Broken Hill is known for spectacular sunsets.
Stay a few nights or have a drink out on the wrap-around veranda. Featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, its famous murals show everything from a recreation of Botticelli’s Venus to outback vistas. Between those, the century-old architecture, the taxidermy and the regulars propping up the bar, you’ll be hard pressed to find more character per square metre. They also host legal two-up every Friday.
Ripped right out of the ‘50s and lovingly restored, this place does the best milkshakes you’ll ever meet and has a good range of memorabilia. Try the ‘Bodgie’s Blood’ spider.
Head underground and tour this historic mine to get a real sense of a miner’s life circa-1880. (Hint: it was cramped, dark and worth a look).
Perched above the city centre slag heap, this beautiful building records the names of everyone to die underground in Broken Hill. This long list galvanised the city’s strong union tradition.
This may look like a humble takeaway chicken shop, and it is, but it houses the best chips with chicken salt you’ll ever taste. A local legend.
Also: If you have more time, visit the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, Pro Hart’s former home and art collection, hit the grassed golf course (making sure to avoid the emus), take a guided walking tour of the heritage buildings, visit the home of the Flying Doctor and visit the main street op shops – they’re amazingly unpicked over.
Where to Eat
While enormous scnitzels are the order of the day in the city’s many pubs, there is a surprising variety of food to be had.
Alfresco’s Café: Great for a bacon and egg brunch or a long, lazy dinner. Make sure you try the Al’s Special Pizza for the fluffy, thick crust.
Mulga Hill Tavern: Of course, you really shouldn’t leave town without sampling at least one enormous schnitzel, and the Mulga makes them as tasty as they are gigantic.
Thom, Dick and Harry’s: A great lunch spot in the main street. They have a set menu of baguettes and a rotating specials board of fresh salads and treats. This cafe is enmeshed in a homewares store, so don’t be surprised if you duck in for a coffee and come out with a new set of pots.
The Facebook group ‘A Guide to Dining Out in Broken Hill’ is frequented by foodies as well as food purveyors and is a good place to find the latest and greatest menu items around town.
Where to stay
There’s somewhere to rest your head no matter your speed, whether you’re bringing a caravan, want some room service or prefer a modern holiday home. You can even head out of town a ways and camp on a working sheep station.
When to go
Summer can be unforgiving so avoid December-February if you’re not a fan of the heat. Beyond that the weather is stable and usually dry, with autumn and spring months giving reliable warmth and sunshine.
How to get there
Regional Express flies daily from Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, but drive if you can. It’s a long way – a bit over ten hours from Melbourne, for example – but seeing civilisation thin out as you head inland gives your journey a perspective that’s hard to come by otherwise. (Tip: Make sure to wave at drivers coming the other way once you hit the country, or at least raise a respectful finger from the wheel.)
Stefan Delatovic is a journalist and former Broken Hill resident.