Since its settlement in 1883 when Charles Rasp — a keen prospector with chemistry training — discovered one of the largest silver, lead and zinc ore bodies in the world, Broken Hill in far west outback NSW has been a place that has intrigued and beguiled people of all types from across the world.
Lovingly dubbed the ‘Silver City’ and the ‘capital’ of the outback, Broken Hill was announced in January this year as Australia’s first National-Heritage-Listed city. That’s not just because of its wide streets lined with charming early settlement-style homes and characterful pubs, but due to the rich history, innovation and creativity that this true-blue beauty of a city showcases.
The accolades for Broken Hill, which now has around 20,000 locals, keeps growing as business-minded people are drawn to it for a myriad of reasons far beyond its spectacular outback scenery. The Silver City is also a filmmaker’s heaven, as George Miller attested while filming Mad Max 2 in the nearby town of Silverton. Many other filmmakers and TV crews continue to follow suit, recognising the city and surrounds as an ideal backdrop and readymade film set with incredible natural lighting.
Broken Hill is also considered an art lovers' paradise, with the legendary painter Pro Hart establishing his studio and gallery in the centre of town, kicking off a following of artists drawn to the wild open landscapes and a community-wide support of art in its many forms. Today, there are more than 30 galleries of note in town, from sculptors and mosaic artists, to oil and watercolour painters, fabric designers and even the wacky, wonderful crushed-mineral artworks of Bushy White, who worked in the mines for 26 years, collecting the leftover gems that are now no doubt priceless. Howard Steer also has a wonderfully vibrant collection of his satirical outback Aussie artwork on display in a home gallery, and the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery brings together an extensive collection of Australian colonial works including James Coutts Michie and James Ashton.
For those who enjoy a walk outdoors while absorbing art, the city’s outdoor Sculpture Symposium on a rugged hilltop overlooking a mesmerising expanse of red-dirt desert is a major drawcard for visitors, particularly photographers. Within the Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, 12 stunning sandstone sculptures conceptualised by artist Lawrence Beck artfully punctuate the skyline. They were carved by a team of sculptors from Damascus, Georgia, Mexico and Bathurst Island, working alongside indigenous and caucasian locals from 52 tons of sandstone.
History buffs are also drawn in their droves to Broken Hill. To keep them entertained there’s the Bruce Langford Visitor Centre which covers the fascinating history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia, the Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum – a dynamic, interactive museum detailing the incredible history of mining in Broken Hill – and for those who want to get out and about to breathe in the history, The Broken Hill Heritage Trail is a two-hour signposted walking tour past many outstanding heritage buildings and down streets named after mine managers, leading citizens and civic leaders.
No one should visit Broken Hill without paying a visit to The Silver City Mint and Art Centre, which is a wonderful gallery packed to the rafters with an enormous range of art and craft by local artisans, including an incredible array of jewellery (this is the place to buy silver), but also the legendary home of the 'Big Picture'. It’s no ordinary painting. It took artist Peter Anderson (known to the locals as Ando) ten years to complete the 100-metre long, 12-metre high work, which is recognised as world's largest acrylic painting on canvas by a single artist.
Yes, Broken Hill is incredibly remote. Sitting 935 km northwest of Sydney, 725 km northwest of Melbourne, and 420 km north-east of Adelaide, the Silver City might be in the middle of nowhere, but as the locals love to say – it is in the middle of everything.