The ghosts of mining towns that died when the precious minerals ran out are scattered all over Australia. BROKEN HILL, on the other hand, has been riding the minerals market roller-coaster continuously since 1888. Its famous “Line of Lode”, one of the world’s major lead-silver-zinc ore bodies and the city’s raison d’être, still has a little life left in it yet.
Almost 1200km west of Sydney and about 500km east of Adelaide, this surprisingly gracious Outback mining town – with a population of around 20,000 and a feel and architecture reminiscent of the South Australian capital – manages to create a welcome splash of green in the harsh desert landscape that surrounds it. Extensive revegetation schemes around Broken Hill have created grasslands that, apart from being visually pleasing, help contain the dust that used to make the residents’ lives a misery. It’s aided by a reliable water supply – secured for the first time only in 1953 – via a 100km pipeline from the Darling River at Menindee.
Inevitably, Broken Hill revolves around the mines, and the slag heap towering over the city centre leaves you in no doubt that, above all, this is still a mining town. Since the 1970s, however, it has also evolved into a thriving arts centre, thanks to the initiative of the Brushmen of the Bush, a painting school comprising local artists Hugh Schulz, Jack Absalom, John Pickup, Eric Minchin and Pro Hart. Diverse talents have been attracted to Broken Hill, and their works are displayed in galleries scattered all over town. Some may be a bit on the tacky side, but others are excellent, and it’s well worth devoting some time to gallery browsing.
The CBD and the bulk of town lies to the northwest while the mostly residential South Broken Hill lies southeast and feels quite separate. The streets – laid out in a grid – are mostly named after chemicals; Argent Street (Latin for silver) is the main thoroughfare, with the highest concentration of historic buildings and a really good art gallery.
The city is also a convenient base for touring far-northwest New South Wales and nearby areas in South Australia.