On the edge of the Outback, the city of Broken Hill is oasis-like. Because it is so remote, it’s still a repository of fading culture. It’s the place to go if you want to see what Australia was like a century ago. The locals love it, but many of them are leaving.
Broken Hill used to be defined by its mines, and early conditions in them were appalling. The still-producing silver, lead, and zinc mine sits atop the hill adjacent to downtown, where most of the streets are named for minerals. Up that hill is the place to go to see a thoughtful memorial to miners. The scant info about them does include their gory causes of death–Crushed by wagon, fell down shaft, suffocated by earth. This is a definite-must-see for visitors to Broken Hill. Be warned–it’s not included on the walking tour and is a long hike up a huge incline usually in intense heat to see it. Conditions in the mines were so bad that unions and labor unrest were inevitable. The biggest strike was in 1919-20, lasted for 1½ years, and resulted in a 35-hour-work-week for miners.
In addition to its rough and tumble machismo, Broken Hill also has a cultural side. Two eminent Australian artists–Pro Hart, who died in 2006, and Jack Absalom, who is in his 90s–made their homes here and excellent galleries honor them. There are others too, like the Thankakali, a gallery that specializes in Aboriginal art. The Sculpture Symposium 5½ miles north of town includes great Outback views, sits atop a kangaroo habitat, and is another must-see.
The story of an odd World War I terrorist attack was told on the walking tour. Two immigrants, Gool Mohamed and Mulla Abdulla, fired on a train in 1915 resulting in the deaths of 3 Australians. To avenge them, an angry mob burned down the German Club. We also saw a couple of union buildings on this tour and watched a film about unions’ bloody riots with lots of shaking fists. Three of the longest strikes in this country’s history occurred in Broken Hill. There were once 19 unions here.
Today haunted and haunting Broken Hill is shrinking, but there is still hope for renewal. The mine is still operating and a cobalt deposit was found. It’s need in lithium batteries and other uses might impact Broken Hill’s future positively. My biggest shock while there occurred as Ruth & I were leaving. Our flight back to Sydney was announced, and the passengers trooped out to the plane and got on without a security check. It was like what flying used to be before 9-11. I wonder how they get by without routine security clearances for travelers.