Lonely Planet once said, “It’s absolutely obligatory to visit Silverton, an old silver-mining town, where you walk inside a Drysdale painting…” Drysdale was one of Australia’s most controversial artists. Aussies either love or hate his Outback paintings. I’m a fan. I’m also a fan of Broken Hill, the large town near Silverton on the border of New South Wales and South Australia. Silverton has become an almost ghost town. Broken Hill may be headed in that direction too.
Silverton is 16 miles west of Broken Hill, where visitors like Ruth & me hear great stories. Many of them are about Silverton, which we were lucky enough to visit with 2 Aussies named Grant & Sherril from Geelong. Because of the heat and flies, I didn’t really appreciate Silverton when I was there. It was later, when I read about its past, that I began to wish I could go back. The museum that documented its past was especially off-putting. The curators need to put 90% of what’s on display away.
In 1885 Silverton reached its peak because it was 2 miles from the Umberumberka mine. In that year its population was 3,000, and it was the largest town in the Barrier Ranges, where the Outback begins. Most of the 3,000, who envied the settlers with tents, lived in crude, temporary camps by a creek and swatted lots of flies. Then silver and 2 other minerals were discovered in Broken Hill and a typhoid epidemic struck. Deaths exceeded births by 18, and the citizens of Silverton began moving to Broken Hill. They literally took several of its buildings with them. The sight of camel teams pulling structures must have been memorable.
Silverton was vigorously reborn when a pub began selling beer. About 60 people live there today, including many artists who keep it from becoming an actual ghost town. People go there to drink, swat flies on a hot, 2-hour loop trail, explore the Daydream Mine and enjoy tea in its authentic British-style tearoom, see the historic cemetery, etc. Filmmakers come here to make movies like Mad Max II, and the old Carthage Catholic Church above has appeared in many TV shows and commercials. The cemetery is worth visiting for vivid headstones. One cemetery brochure says that a visit tells, “much about the hopes and dreams which brought these people to Silverton and the loved ones they left behind.” One epitaph is in memory of Annie, dearly beloved wife of Charles, “Who died…aged 23 years, blighted hope.”
The best story had a contemporary ring. In 1915 during the First World War, a train carrying picnickers in Silverton was attacked by two “Turks” with rifles named Gool Mahomed and Mullah Abdullah. Three died, including a man chopping wood in his backyard, and three were injured. Mullah said, “I kill your people because your people are fighting my country.”