I picked Broken Hill as it’s the furthest destination with the largest population that I could find, With a population of around 18000 it’s a historical mining town that sits near the South Australia Border with vast expansive views of the desert including the Mundi Mundi Plains an expansive seemingly endless desert landscape. The town’s main function was mining silver (Broken Hill is referred to as the Silver City) but over the years it has evolved into a substantial arts community and has been involved in the production of famous Australian movies such as Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Id visited the city previously in 2004 when backpacking around Australia and was keen to have another look. It also is a tourist destination for fellow wanderers of the Outback.
This is a road trip so first how I got there, well by car as regional flights are now infrequent and costly. If you have been reading my blog you would also know that Im a big fan of road trips. So I packed up my stuff, threw it in my car wagon and headed out of Sydney on a 2600 km round road trip. First stop off was the spectacular Blue Mountains to take some pictures, because of Covid there were very few tourists about so it was a good opportunity to take in the views without crowds of people around. I then headed for the city of Bathurst where I stayed for a few days to see my parents and my brother and his family who Id not caught up with in 3 months because of you guessed it, Covid.
After a few days of getting fattened up by my parents and beers with my brother, it was time to head to Broken Hill, a 10 hour drive. The first stop off was the city of Parkes to look at the Antenna Array there (referred to as the Dish). Unfortunately, I couldn’t tour the facility as it was in lockdown because of Covid, so I took a photo and continued my drive. The road changed from sealed to dirt and the trees started disappearing, switching to a more barren landscape. I was driving through enormous properties with sheep and cows walking through paddocks and then these stock animals also vanished. I stopped in a few towns on the way for petrol, these small towns mostly appeared inactive.
As the afternoon approached dusk, I saw native wildlife, emus and kangaroos. While initially this was amazing this soon became alarming when a kangaroo got in my path, I swerved to avoid it and blew out my tyre also damaging the tyre rim. Now this was a little unsettling as I could not take the wheel off the car and get the spare on and it was approaching night and I had seen no cars on this dirt highway for 3 hours. I was 50km from the town of Menindi, which was another 100km from my last destination of Broken Hill. With no phone reception I had no choice so I continued my drive slowly destroying the wheel and part of my car but eventually made it into town a few hours later.
I made it into the quiet town and stopped out the front of the first place I could find with people. I rolled up to an Aboriginal Health Services Centre as it was closing and one of the kindly staff rang her husband who came a few minutes later. I jacked up the car, and he took off the wheel and we changed the tyre. He even gave me the tyre iron to keep in case I had more trouble. It’s amazing the kindness of strangers, especially in the Outback. I continued my drive and finally made my hotel for the next 3 nights, the Palace in Broken Hill. It had been 14 hours in the car.
The Palace Hotel was made famous during the shooting of the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert and is known for its paintings adorning the hotel and pub. I got myself a takeaway pizza and sat down drinking a few beers, reflecting on my remarkable and somewhat alarming drive. Needles to Say I was exhausted, so I headed off to bed as I had a few activities planned. Unfortunately, a lot of the galleries and museums in town were closed thanks to our friend Covid, so planning didn’t take much preparation.
First up was a visit to a gallery by an artist by the name of Pro Hart. Pro Hart was made famous in Australia in the 1990s because of his eccentric approach to creating art, a long running tv campaign and being part of the movement that makes Broken Hill a regional artist hub. I walked through the gallery looking at the rich coloured vibrant art and then looked at his beloved Rolls Royce Collection. After and an hour or so talking with the friendly museum curator who was just happy to see a customer, I was the first and suspect last for the day, I then headed for the ghost town of Silverton 25 kms away in the desert. Made famous for the film location of Mad Max Silverton is a collection of old buildings, a jail, a few mines, graveyard, pub and art galleries. To its west is Mundi Mundi lookout and to the west of that nothing but an endless barren desert. It’s easy to see why this was the location for the dystopian nightmare that is the movie Mad Max.
That evening I went to a Services Club, had a traditional Aussie Schnitzel and spoke to a few of the locals about the city, its diminishing population and Australian Rules Football. Broken Hill had turned into a bit of a retirement village apparently, and lots of younger people were leaving for bigger opportunities elsewhere. Much like the museum the locals were interested in talking to a tourist as whilst Australians could travel, few people had made it to Broken Hill as yet, preferring the north and south coast of NSW. I took a drive to a mining site that overlooked the town and took a few photos of the spectacular desert sunset.
The following day I bought a new spare tyre, chatted with the mechanic about Australian Rules Football and then headed back into the desert to take a look drive to the Living Desert and Sculptures back out near Silverton. First, I went for a hike on Aboriginal land looking at a few desert art pieces and taking in more views. I then headed for the sculptures, created in 1993 it’s a collection of 12 sandstone sculptures created by local and Aboriginal artists designed to blend into the natural landscape. After a few hours I headed back into town, got myself a milk shake and cheese burger and sat in the park. In the evening I headed for another Services Club that was practicing Covid safety. Each person sitting on their own or in pairs with the staff wiping down furniture constantly. It was good to see business starting up again, even if that atmosphere was strange.
The following morning I was up early and I was driving back to Bathurst for a few more nights and my nephew’s birthday. The sun was slowly coming up and in my rear-view mirror the full moon was trickling down, the sky a head shade of purple. Fortunately, my drive back was far less eventful, the road being sealed all the way. I stopped off in the city of Cobar for some lunch and 10 hours later in Bathurst for some more family time and beer. I now find myself back in Sydney, running around getting my car fixed. Id enjoyed my minor break from Sydney as Australia awakes slowly from Covid and my challenging journey to Broken Hill, a mining town stranded on the edge of the Outback desert. It was just good to be out on the road roaming again.