Saturday, 16 March 2013

Broken Hill NSW

16-20 March 2013  

Before arriving, I knew very little about Broken Hill apart from a few vague memories from about Year 5 Geography that it was a mining town.  It is in fact the birthplace of BHP - Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd. It began in 1885, after the discovery of a huge ore body of lead and silver.

Many of the streets are named with mining terms, such as Zinc, Silica, Silver, Chloride and Bromide, Zinc, Silver and Silica streets.  Yuk!  On the upside, you can still buy renovated workers cottages (3 bed) for about $145,000.

These days Broken Hill is also known for its tourism, movie making and, surprisingly, its art galleries, including NSW oldest regional art gallery and many private artist galleries.  We visited the Pro Hart gallery and loved it.  It was welcoming, inexpensive and both camera and child friendly.  We also appreciated the comfy lounge to watch the 55 minute video of all things Pro Hart.  He certainly was a complex man and artist, born and bred in Broken Hill. He worked underground in the mine for a number of years before his art was able to financially maintain his family.  He certainly didn't live like a rich man, apart from his collection of Rolls Royces', all of which he hand painted, you'd never even guess he was as successful as he was.  His form of art was considered quite controversial in its time and you either seemed to love it or hate it.  Either way, I wouldn't mind owning a few right now, whether I liked them or not!!

One of many hand painted Rolls Royce at the gallery.

The interior of the Pro Hart Gallery, constructed at the front of his home.

One of the 'Masked' series of paintings
Painted on carpet for the Dupont paint series of TV commercials


Pro Hart's studio, just as he left it.

 You can still view his studio, which looks like he has just been working in there, including his jumper hanging over the back of his chair. I had a lovely chat to an older woman working in the gallery about a cabinet full of antique baby rattles and it turned out she was the collector and was also Pro Hart’s wife!   

About 10km out of Broken Hill is The Living Desert Sculptures, each of which tells a different story.  One sculpture was in a direct line to Fred Hollows grave site at Bourke.  Clearly the artist was a friend (or a stalker!).

Looking directly towards Bourke where Fred Hollows is buried.

We did a day trip to Silverton about 25km from Broken Hill. This was once a thriving place with a mine in operation before the ore body at Broken Hill was discovered.  It’s now a ghost town but with the remaining stone buildings still standing and scattered about, it was easy to see how the town would have been laid out.  We didn’t go into the pub as the Recovery after the Broken Hill Cup (horse race) was on and many patrons looked worse for wear, but the pub has a long and interesting history and has regularly played host to movie productions and their  crews, including Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.   There is even a Mad Max museum to visit if you are a fan and outside the Silverton Hotel is a replica of The Interceptor - the car Mel Gibson drove in Mad Max. Other movies include Razorback, A Town Like Alice and heaps of commercials, especially beer ads.

Of course I couldn’t pass up a visit to the pioneer cemetery.  It must have been vast in its day, as now only a few scattered headstones still exist, but they are spaced quite a distance from each other.
Just a few lonely headstones remaining in a what must have been a very large cemetery.
We drove out to Mundi Mundi Plains which is a huge, flat expanse of land where you can apparently see the curvature of the earth on a clear day.  If you think back to the Mad Max movies, you’ll remember the environment – desolate, hot, just a whole lot of nothing.
Back in Broken Hill, we visited the Miners Memorial on top of the old mine workings.  The shape of the memorial reminded us of a ship, but it was very moving, as it lists the name, age and cause of death of every miner killed in a mining accident in Broken Hill’s history.  Quite chilling really, especially the age of some of the miners and the description of the way they died, which included rock fall, lead poisoning, fell into pit, fell down shaft, suffocated on fumes, crushed by wagon.

We thought the memorial looked like a ship side-on.

The memorial listed every man ever killed in the Broken Hill mine,
including a 12 year old who suffocated on dynamite fumes

After warming up with coffee in the visitors centre, we went outside to goof around on the big chair.  It was quite a way off the ground so required a bit of clambering to get onto.  Someone had started to knit a scarf for it.

Enjoying a cuppa in the coffee shop which overlooks all of Broken Hill

We didn't expect to find this unusual but fun public art at such
a sombre location.
The main street of Broken Hill is full of character buildings, and runs directly below the now closed mine.  In this respect, it reminded us of Mount Isa where the main business district is not far from the original mine, however in the case of Broken Hill, the main street is even closer.  In the winter, volunteers take tourists on walking tours and this would have been great to do, but our timing was out so we had to settle for a wander around instead.

The main street was full of these two leg seats.

Another attraction was the 100m wide landscape painting.  We hesitated at the entrance fee but decided to have a look.  I'm glad we did, as this painting was amazing.  The 100m long wall of canvas include paintings of all the main geographic features in the area and on the ground were tons and tons of red earth, flora and stuffed animals of the desert that looked so real.  This was truly impressive, not only from an artistic point of view, but the sheer size of the artwork and then how it had been presented to the public.

Notice the bottom edge of the painting and the real soil starts.
We had read that there was an original milk bar still operating in Broken Hill so set out to discover it.  Bell’s Milk bar was last renovated in the 1960’s and still predominately sells milkshakes, sundaes and hot dogs.  It also included a small museum about milk bars and how milk bars rose to prominence in the 1950’s and were predominately worked by Greek immigrants.  We’ve been to plenty of 50’s themed cafes and diners, but this one felt authentic, right down to the worn lino, laminate tables and paintings of dancing fruit on the walls.
Bell's still has the original façade from the 1960's.

We managed to fill in 5 days in Broken Hill and think we covered most of the main sights.  There was quite a bit of public art by Pro Hart.

The Workers

The Ant
Of course, a visit to a mining town wouldn't be complete without seeing headframes, mineshafts and lots of rusting mine equipment!
The 1890 original mine headframe

Discarded mainframe components.

Now that's what you call coils of rope!  Headframe in the background, the coil
was used to operate the mine lift
Workers lift
I would like to have seen a few more art galleries but that can be pretty dull for the girls, so again, it's somewhere I look forward to returning to during our grey nomad travels!
Loved this building we found!
Farewell to Broken Hill.  Trying to capture the sunset as we left town.

Tips for travellers:   There is a free camp about 10 km north of Broken Hill in a rest area.  Not overly pleasant, but OK.  There are some great parks in Broken Hill for littlies and a miniature railway operates opposite the Visitor Information Centre.  During the main tourist season (May-Sept) free volunteer walking tours are available and I’d heard they are worth doing.

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