ARTISTS, MOVIES AND MINING
Movie stars love it, artists paint it and mining made it: take your time and visit Silverton and Broken Hill in outback NSW
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY GLENN MARSHALL
The Silver City Highway was once a well-trodden path used by miners heading to the gold fields around Milparinka and Tibooburra. Now, each year, the bitumen is extended and the gravel sections are well maintained. The drive that once took weeks now takes hours, as we make our way in air-conditioned comfort from Tibooburra to Broken Hill.
Photographer Robert and I were excited as Broken Hill and Silverton were the last destinations on the final leg of our journey. With so much to see and do our timetable was chock full of ideas.
Although the landscape is arid it is still amazingly beautiful. First traversed by Charles Sturt as he searched for the legendary inland sea, the land was opened up to graziers when they heard what he had seen.
Rounding a bend, we spied Salt Lake on our left. We found a sandy track that wound its way towards the lake at its closest point to the highway. A note of caution: there is only one turnaround point and the track isn’t suitable for towing a caravan.
With photographs taken, including some salt lake selfies, we took care as we backed the Avida to the turnaround spot and continued on our way. Small shrubs interspersed with wild flowers dominated the roadside as recent rains had caused dormant seeds to germinate.
Packsaddle Roadhouse is the halfway point between Tibooburra and Broken Hill, and is a popular stop for one of the best outback hamburgers you could want, and a refreshing cold drink. If you’ve had enough for the day, you can end your day here: there are powered and non-powered sites available for caravans and motorhomes.
As we closed in on the ‘Silver City’, Broken Hill, the creek beds became wider, the river gums bigger and the sand redder. When the Line of Lode came into view, we knew that our first stop would have to be the Information Centre to get the best advice.
At the Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre, I was enthusiastically assisted by David, who couldn’t wait to tell me how enthralling Broken Hill and Silverton are as a travel destination, “ideally suited to RVers” with the services, attractions and camping options on offer.
If you feel like a good old-fashioned malted milk or lime spider, Bells Milk Bar is the place to go – a place the kids will love! Think “Happy Days” and you will be on the right track, with décor straight out of the 1950s and milkshakes of every conceivable flavour, soda spiders and desserts.
It was getting late in the day, and since we were keen to get to the Mundi Mundi Plains lookout in time to capture a remarkable sunset across the sprawling plains, we headed straight to historic Silverton, easily traversing the 39 dips in the road in the Avida Esperance (but who’s counting!).
We were the first vehicle to arrive at the lookout, a 2 minute drive from Silverton, so we parked the Avida Esperance front and centre. By the time the sun was really beginning to dip, there must have been 50 people enjoying the experience with us. Some set up for a sunset happy hour, some set up their tripods and adjusted their cameras. It was a surreal experience sharing this moment with so many likeminded people, watching the changing sky in hues of scarlet and orange from the setting sun.
The township of Silverton began in 1883 when deposits of silver and lead were discovered. The population peaked at 3000 towards the end of 1885 and included many undesirables, including horse thieves, cattle duffers and fraudsters. Housing was a collection of shanties constructed with canvas and iron. Times were tough and the men and women were tougher.
Whilst the first school in Silverton was held in a canvas tent, the nearby Silverton Public School was built in 1888 and was used as a school up until 1970. In 2009 the school was reborn as a museum dedicated to education in Silverton and includes school work from previous students.
The best way to see Silverton is to take the Silverton Heritage Walking Trail, departing from Pembrose Park. Allow a good two hours to complete the loop and take plenty of water to keep hydrated. Unfortunately dogs are prohibited on the trail – I couldn’t work that one out. The walking trail takes you past all the restored heritage buildings, art galleries, a couple of lookouts and the famous Silverton Hotel.
Not to be missed, the Silverton Hotel has been used for hundreds of TV commercials and starred in movies such as Mad Max 2, A Town Like Alice, Razorback and Dirty Deeds. Publicans Peter and Patsy Price will look after you well, their country hospitality helping to keep the hotel as the heart and soul of the community.
Another must see is the Mad Max Museum, chock full of memorabilia from the Mad Max 2 movie. Owner Adrian Bennett is passionate about his museum and is excited to show people around. You will be amazed by the life-size mannequins dressed in the same clothes that the actors wore, a couple of Interceptors, loads of photos plus original and replica items from the movie – and if you’re keen, you can even pick up Mad Max souvenirs!
One thing I enjoyed most about visiting Silverton again, was being able to view the latest works of one of my favourite Aussie artists, John Dynon, whose artistic style is colourful and is full of bush humour. My other favourite, Peter Browne, no longer lives in Silverton but his painted VW Bugs are still displayed on the hill. Peter’s way of painting emus is certainly unique.
Other galleries in town include Justin Cowley’s “Cowz” Art Gallery, the Silverton Café and Gallery, Beyond 39 Dips Studio and Information Centre and Albert Woodroffe’s Horizon Gallery. Silverton and its surrounds, with its colours, flora and fauna certainly make it a favourite destination for artists and photographers from all over the world.
The place to stay when in Silverton is Penrose Park. First established in 1937 as a recreation area for the townsfolk, it is now available for you to set up a base camp in a powered or non-powered site for next to nothing, and explore the region easily.
Penrose Park is also home to a menagerie of birds and animals that have been donated to the safe haven. You can meet horses, goats, sheep and peacocks as you wander around the park and aviaries near the caretaker’s cottage are home to a variety of birds.
As we departed Silverton, we were farewelled by the famed Silverton donkeys. Free to roam Silverton and its surrounds, these four donkeys are extremely photogenic and love being the centre of attention. Once they had had their fill of Rob and me, they wandered off and we continued on our way.
If you are going to participate in a mine tour, the historic Day Dream Mine is the one I highly recommend. Upon arrival you are given a run down on safety procedures as you strap on a battery pack and helmet with light attached.
Our tour guide, Jeremy, explained to us that this silver mine was established in 1882. The Cornish miners whilst earning a good wage for the times of í2ó a week, were dying from emphysema from the dust and lead poisoning from the tinned food. Until 1915, it was legal to smoke opium in the mines as it reduced the amount of blood that the miners would cough up from their lungs.
The Day Dream pulled 97000t of rock and ore out and put 72000t rock back in. Children between the ages of eight and fifteen were used to spot the good ore as they had better eyesight! Light was also poor and the candles used were only half as bright as the wax candles we have today. It was daunting holding the spike as Jeremy smacked it with a sledge hammer by candle light.
White’s Mineral Art and Living Mining Museum is another fascinating place to explore. Kevin “Bushy” White spent 26 years working in the Broken Hill mines, and has used his experiences and minerals sourced locally to produce to his mineral art. Using over 40 unique minerals, Kevin crushes them then glues them to a board, creating beautiful works of art that depict a lot of the local historic buildings and landscape.
Established as a mining town just after Silverton, Broken Hill went on to become one of the most important places in Australia’s mining history. It was here in 1883 that the Broken Hill Mining was first floated by the Syndicate of Seven and by 1885 BHP was launched on its journey to become Australia’s richest company.
These days, tourism is a major draw card, and it is an ideal place for RVers to come and stay for days at a time. Perfect weather and low rainfall means Broken Hill is suitable to visit anytime of year.
One of the most fascinating places to visit is the Sculptures and Living Desert Sanctuary. Nine kilometres from Broken Hill via the Nine Mile road, this 2400ha sanctuary is waiting for you to explore. A self-registration station is on the road in, and once you have paid you can either head to the sculpture site or to the reserve.
The Living Desert Sanctuary has numerous walking trails that provide you with an opportunity to get up close and personal with outback flora and fauna. You will also be able to learn about the heritage of the local Aborigines. This sanctuary is surrounded by a predator-proof electric fence providing protection to the local inhabitants.
The Desert Sculpture site was created in 1993 when sculptors from around the world were invited to create works of art from local sandstone. Twelve sculptures were created atop a majestic hill that provides 360-degree views across Broken Hill, the Barrier Ranges and open plains.
Broken Hill is so full of things to see and do, we just couldn’t see them all in the time we had. David from the Information Centre was most assuredly correct when he said, “you need more time”. So how much time did he actually recommend? Well… why don’t you go along to Broken Hill and ask him? You won’t be in a hurry to leave!