Broken Hill.
Broken Hill.

Broken Hill - isolation gives sense of mystery

BROKEN Hill. "Why would you want to go there?" a mate had asked. "There's nothing to see."

Exactly. That's why I am driving along a straight road into the morning sunshine, the salt flats and patchy grasses.

Broken Hill had always held intrigue but somehow was always that little bit out of reach.

Isolated yet at the heart of much of Australia's social and economic development. It is on the way from Brisbane to Adelaide, which is more than 500km to the south-west. Yet going from Sydney, just over 1000km away to the east, you are more likely to go through Balranald and Mildura. Melbourne is 725km to the south.

A sense of mystery surrounds the place, having been featured in a swag of movies, from the confronting 1971 drama Wake In Fright to the 1994 hit Priscilla Queen of the Desert, from the series of Mad Max movies to the recent Last Cab To Darwin with Michael Caton.

Actor Chips Rafferty was born there. He starred in such films as Rats of Tobruk and in what was to be his last film, Wake In Fright.

Then again, the Brushmen of the Bush rose to fame with the art work while based at Broken Hill, so it must have something going for it.

Recognition of the historic value of early development
Recognition of the historic value of early development

The Indian Pacific stops there on its journey across Australia.

And there is all that mining.

Broken Hill is the "BH" in one of the world's largest mining companies, BHP Billiton, which started in the city.

Driving through the shimmering heat, the road sign indicates to watch for kangaroos for the next 150km.

The thing about having "nothing to see" is that there is so much to see. Rock formations, red soil, the way the sunlight catches in the grasses, the different shades of green in the gum trees.

You think of stopping to capture the moment on camera but then say to yourself, "Oh, I will do it down the road a bit."

That's just it. The moment has passed.

The country changes.

You become so aware of the slightest variations and realise how important it can be to life out here.

Way off to the north-west, you notice some ranges ... long, low, blue. Is that it? Is that why it's called Broken

Hill? Two mountain ranges broken in the middle?

Watching Last Cab To Darwin, you cannot help but become fascinated by the houses of Broken Hill - many of stone but also with corrugated iron walls.

Approaching Broken Hill from Wentworth, western NSW.
Approaching Broken Hill from Wentworth, western NSW.

Driving into the city is just like the movie. The houses are reminders of the hard lives of the miners and the harsh environment.

So prosperous was Broken Hill in its heyday that architecture was centre stage. Major public and bank buildings are classic brick and stone.

Recognition of the historic value of early development and retention of unique buildings and inland-city layout warranted a National Trust listing of the entire city: the first in Australia.

Unlike the rest of New South Wales, Broken Hill and the surrounding region observes the same time zone used in South Australia and the Northern Territory. This is because at the time of its foundations on mining, the only direct rail link was with Adelaide, not Sydney.

Broken Hill is Australia's longest-established mining city.

In 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range, while searching for an inland sea. The range was so named as it was a barrier to his progress north. Burke and Wills passed through the area in their famous 1860-61 expedition.

Dry river bed south of Broken Hill, western NSW.
Dry river bed south of Broken Hill, western NSW.

At the time Sturt referred to a "Broken Hill" in his diary.

Broken Hill's massive ore body, which formed about 1800 million years ago, has proved to be among the world's largest silver-lead-zinc mineral deposits.

Pastoralists first began settling the area in the 1850s, with the main trade route to the area along the Darling River.

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) was founded by the Syndicate of Seven in 1885.

Expanding from its modest beginnings BHP Billiton is now the world's second-largest mining/ energy company.

Visit the mining museum and see just how from little things big things grow.

The Trades Hall at Broken Hill.
The Trades Hall at Broken Hill.

Yet it was at nearby Silverton that a valuable seam of silver, lead and zinc was first discovered.

Nothing to see in Broken Hill?

Eyes wide open and take a look ... a week in this place is barely long enough.

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