Blog #9 – Broken Hill – Living Desert – Days 45 to 50 of 180
Arrived in Broken Hill on a cold blustery day and following our Fuel Map app ended up driving from one end of the city to the other to save a cent per litre on diesel. It does pay to take the results from these apps with a grain of salt. Next on to our accommodation for the next four nights, and you guessed it, all the way back over the other side of town. We had booked into the Living Deserts State Park run by Broken Hill City Council. Another good thing was that Greg’s girlfriend Anne had been ringing around to see if she could get us booked in for a COVID jab. We were very pleased she was successful and we were booked into the Royal Fly Doctor clinic out near the airport for our first Astra-Zeneca jab the following day. Thank you very much Anne for looking after us first by organizing our winter flu jabs in Mildura and now our first COVID jab in Broken Hill.
This park is about 8 klms from town and is nestled in the hills. The Starview Primitive Campsite only has 15 unpowered sites for $10 a night each. We had sites 2 & 3 after we had quite a lot of initial difficulty trying to book sites 12 & 13 – the system had accidentally double booked two groups into the same place. Two phone calls to the very helpful staff at the council sorted this out and the deal was done. There is also a one off $6 fee to stay in the park so we could visit the Living Desert Sculptures. This was a very clean facility with excellent showers & toilets (council staff cleaned every day) and would stay here again. If you plan to visit, I suggest that you book Site 15 or the higher numbers as they are closest to the shower & toilet block. Also try and use the first shower as it has a baby changing table (very handy to put your clothes & toiletries off the floor). It was very peaceful out there with no traffic noises at night at all as the sculpture section on the hilltop above us was closed at 6.30pm. We had a key pin to get in and out of the park whenever we wished and it was only 10 minutes to town if we needed anything. Birding was a bit tough out there with only Painted Honeyeaters coming to visit each day along with the ubiquitous magpies (another Aussie icon) but no decent bird shots worth publishing.
Above us on a hill were 12 imposing sandstone sculptures carved by artists from all over the world in a 2400-hectare site donated by the Broken Hill City Council as a reserve to preserve flora and fauna unique to the region. It was setup in 1992. A Gosford based sculptor Lawrence Beck proposed holding a symposium to add sculpture to Broken hill’s art culture. The council agreed and had 53 tonnes of sandstone blocks be transported in from Wilcannia. Work began in April 1993 and was completed within 2 months. Artists from Georgia, Mexico, Syria and Australia have created a unique collection to add to Australia’s and especially Broken Hill’s art collection. The two art works I enjoyed the most were Bajo El Sol Jaguar (under the Jaguar Sun) by Antonia Nava Tirado from Mexico & Horse by Jumber Jikaya from Rustavi in Georgia. The view from the top of the hill is grandiose as you look towards the sunset but it was nothing compared to what we had already seen at Lake Paramaroo near Menindee.
Another reason to come to Broken Hill is to visit the galleries of two of Australia’s finest artists – Pro Hart & Jack Absalom.
Jack Absalom has been a legend in Australia as not only a painter but a survivalist and had his own TV Show back in the 70’s. He has also written a number of books on surviving in the Outback. His gallery has some of his larger-than-life depictions of our outback landscape. I especially liked his “Captain Starlight and the White Bull” plus “The Breakaways”. I bought some smaller prints to get montaged and framed for my office at home. Very enjoyable experience.
Kevin Charles Hart was given the nickname Professor when he was very young as his peers thought he was a bit of a know it all. Over the years this was shortened (another Aussie custom) down to Pro and this was how he became Pro Hart – a legend in our lifetimes. Pro spent twenty years working in the mines as a young man and painted and drew what life was like living in a mining town. He used to say that people had three faces: their pub face, their work face and their wife & kids face. Many of his works depict life as he saw it around broken hill and the district. His work was discovered by an Adelaide gallery in 1962 and his work steadily evolved over the years following. He did all sorts of weird and wonderful things to create his artwork including dropping paint from hot air balloons, fired paint from a cannon, blew up sheet metal with black powder and turned those results into sculpture. Many of his painting and artworks are quite quirky which suited me. I especially like his portrait of the Yabbie Eaters (I am known for enjoying the odd yabby myself!!!). Again, I purchased a couple of prints to be framed for home on my return from this trip. He also loved flash cars and some of his collection of Rolls Royce’s & a Bentley are on display at the gallery. This includes one hand painted by Pro with an Outback theme. We met his wife Raylee as we were on our way out and she told us that Pro had painted two Rolls Royce’s with an Outback theme but could not remember who now owns it. She was a very charming lady and kept apologizing that she was not there to meet us when we arrived. I felt most humble as she was such a lovely person.
Overlooking the small city was the Line of Lode Miners Memorial which sits atop a huge mullock heap towering over the city. It is a reminder of the 800 miners who had lost their lives due to mining since the late 1880’s. Alongside the memorial is a lookout where the plan was to have a restaurant up there but there is only a small café which served coffee & cakes (coffee was not that special) but the view was spectacular.
On our second last day we took a trip out to Silverton some 25 klms from Broken Hill. Strange as it may seem the iconic Australian Company BHP was founded here as the Broken Hill Mining Company in 1884. One of the company founders was Charles Rasp, who was a boundary rider on a sheep property, and he had named the number of hills on his rounds that had a break in them. Here he later discovered silver on top that hill. The original hill has now been completely mined away. When the silver started to peter out in Silverton the mining operation moved to the current location of Broken Hill. Today, more than 50 million tons of lead and zinc plus 20 thousand tons of silver have been extracted from more than 200 million tons of ore. Organised labour and unionism have also been an important part of the social and economic fabric of this town. The longest strike known as the ‘Great Strike’ lasted 18 months from May 1919 to November 1920. The win for the workers here was recognition of the proper rights and conditions of working in the mining industry and is the foundation of many of the rights we have enjoyed in our working lives including a 35-hour week, workplace safety and compensation.
The town is dwarfed by the huge mullock heaps from 150 years of mining and perched on top of the Line of Lode is a beautiful building & a memorial to the 800 miners who lost their lives in pursuit of the underground wealth.
The day that World War I came to Australia & Broken Hill! It was on New Year’s Day 1st January 1915 and the mine company was hosting a picnic for the 1200 staff, miners and their families out into the countryside to Silverton on modified mining carriages with bench seats. It was supposed to be a joyous event but when they passed an ice cream cart operated by two Pakistani immigrants flying a Turkish flag, shots rang out. Gool Mahomed was the owner of the cart and was well known in the district and supported the Turkish cause against the Australian Government. His accomplice on this day was an older man called Mullah Abdullah. They were referred to as Turks but in actual fact were from North West Pakistan and not Turkish nationals at all. Remember this is a month and half before the allied troops landed at Gallipoli on the 17th February 1915. Four people were killed immediately and seven others wounded when the Turkish loyalist fired into the packed rail cars. The casualties were – Alma Cowie, James Craig, Alfred Millard & William Shaw (deceased) & Mary Kavanagh, George Stokes, Thomas Campbell, Lucy Shaw, Rose Crabb, Robert Mills & Alma Crocker (wounded). The train was quickly shunted back to the main railway station to take of the wounded and get the people out of the firing line. The local police & the Volunteer Rifles were alerted and chased the two men to a rise some three kilometres away where the gun battle lasted three hours before both of them were killed at a reserve now known as White Rock reserve. Another casualty on this day was the burning of the German Club in town but with no further casualties. These were the only shots fired in anger on Australian soil during that war.
The road out to Silverton has many floodway dips in it so I do not recommend trying to set a land speed record on your way out otherwise you will be airborne most of the time. It is a very quaint little town whose other claim to fame was that the Mad Max II movie was made out here back in the ‘70s. For the kids of my generation Mad Max was an icon and we loved these movies. There is a museum that has lots of artefacts from that time but sadly it looked very dated and full of tatty souvenirs. We had planned on having lunch at the pub but it was totally packed out for Mother’s Day and the bakery was closed. If they had opened they would have made a killing!!! luckily for us we had leftover pizza in the car fridge and some beer plus I have a Travel Buddy Oven in the back. Cranked the oven up to 150 degC popped the pizza in and drove around the sites for 1/2 hour – lunch sorted. very nice and hot washed down with a cold beer – lunch sorted.
Next stop was the Mundi Mundi lookout a further 5 klms down the road. The view out over the huge flat plain was stupendous and I had come out here with a view to doing a photography shoot at sunset. Imagine my disappointment when I whipped out my compass app on my iPhone to discover that the sun set off to my left into some low hills and not out over the plains. O well, I will find that endless vista with the right conditions somewhere out in the deserts of South Australia, Northern Territory or Western Queensland, I hope. We were also surprised to find a real oasis in the form of Umberumberka Reservoir, 5 klms further down the road, which was built back in 1911 and remained critical to the supply of water to the Broken Hill and Silverton communities until the development and commissioning of the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline in 2018.
We had a very interesting time in Broken Hill which had to be extended as it started to rain early in the morning around 4am in the morning. I woke up to the pattering of rain on canvas and it is not a good experience to pack up wet canvas. So I grabbed my laptop from under the doona (I keep it there so the battery does not get too cold) and logged into the council’s website to see if I could book the same sites for two more days. O joy of joys we were in luck so quickly booked the sites and went back to sleep. When I finally got up for breakfast the rain was heavier and Greg was pleased I had managed to extend our stay which would allow our gear to dry out. So we didn’t waste a day we went into town to wash our clothes and get them dry for the next part of the adventure and packed as much as we could except for the walls of our tent, the 270 degree awning and the ground mat.
The following day the sun was shining with a light breeze which finally dried out the canvas so we began packing. An early arriver into the site showed up when I was halfway through packing up and was gracious, and patient, enough to not rush me getting packed up.
Next stop was Peterborough in South Australia before we turned north towards Wilpena Pound & the Oodnadatta Track. The next day we would be sleeping in another state………