In The Footsteps of Priscilla – We’re Off to Broken Hill

Six months in and I think we’re starting to get the hang of this caravanning caper with the Ford Everest/NOVA Bravo combination proving ideal for a couple of empty-nesters. Teamwork sees us get in and out of van sites without too much hassle and we’ve become very comfortable with the concept of ‘happy hour’. Several trips to Murray River destinations and a longer expedition along SA’s Limestone Coast have been fabulous but we haven’t gone bush, we haven’t seen the outback. Clearly it’s time to do something about that.

Pulling out the maps and looking for a slice of the outback nearest to home in Central Victoria it was obvious – we needed to follow in the footsteps of Priscilla and head for Broken Hill.

In the far southwest of New South Wales, Broken Hill is much closer to Adelaide than it is to Sydney and actually runs on South Australian time. 1,145 Kilometres from Sydney and 840 from Melbourne it provides a reasonable challenge for L-plate caravanners residing in southeastern Australia. Outback but not beyond the ‘Black Stump’.

For us it was a straightforward run up the Calder Highway to Mildura then another 300-kilometres on the Silver City Highway with its abundance of road-kill – hundreds of kangaroos and emus but surprisingly few of the wild goats that seem to have the roos out-numbered up here.

Charles Sturt was the first European to see the Barrier Range in 1844 and he unknowingly gave the future settlement its name with a reference in his diary to a ‘broken hill’ in the range.

The development of Broken Hill’s riches really is the stuff that dreams are made of, discovered by a stockman on Mount Gipps station who happened upon an outcrop of exposed ore. Charles Rasp talked several of his co-workers into joining him in staking a claim on what was thought to be a huge tin deposit. The famed ‘Syndicate of Seven’ was formed and their claim turned out to be the largest deposit of lead, zinc and silver ore found anywhere in the world – a lode more than 7-kilometres long and 1.6-kilometres deep.

Often referred to as the Capital of the Outback or the Silver City, Broken Hill was the birthplace of the Big Australian, BHP, in 1885.

It was also a hotbed of industrial activity with poor working conditions and low pay creating conflict between workers and management. Strikes were frequent and led to the formation of one of Australia’s earliest unions, the Barrier Miners’ Association, in September 1884.

In another Australian first, on 1st January 1915 Broken Hill was the scene of a terrorist attack. Traditionally on New Years Day the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows hosted a picnic at nearby Silverton and on this occasion as many as 1200 people were being transported there by rail, travelling in open ore trucks.

About 3-kilometres from Broken Hill two gunmen opened fire on the train, killing two people and wounding seven others. After firing an estimated 20 to 30 shots the gunmen made their escape, killing two more people as they went.

The attackers were former Afghan camel drivers, Badsha Mahommed Gool now an ice-cream vendor and Mullah Abdullah, an imam and halal butcher. Both were later killed in a gunfight with police.

Neither man was a member of any armed group but the shootings were deemed politically and religiously motivated following the declaration of Jihad by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire against Great Britain and her allies. The next day Austrian, German and Turkish miners were run out of town.

In more recent times Broken Hill has become a tourism mecca and a centre for the arts, home to the renowned Brushmen of the Bush Pro Hart, Eric Minchin, Hugh Schultz, John Pickup and Jack Absalom. Other artistic attractions include the Silver City Mint & Art Centre and the Living Desert Sculpture Symposium.

Then there’s the omnipresent BHP slagheap, covering a section of the line of lode and splitting the town in two, and Argent Street with its 19th Century streetscape including icons like the Palace Hotel.

Not surprisingly, in 2015 Broken Hill became the nation’s first heritage listed city.

Just 24-kilometres west of Broken Hill Silverton is a former ‘ghost town’ enjoying renewed popularity with tourists keen to learn about its early mining history, resident artists & characters and its prominence as a location for movie and television shoots. Today less than 60 people live in Silverton but in its heyday in the late 1880s it boasted a population of more than 3000.

The first pastoralists settled here in the 1850s and prospectors began showing interest following reports of gold finds in 1867. There was no gold but in 1875 two workers drilling a well found significant deposits of silver and the rush was on.

With the massive influx of prospectors Umberumberka township sprang up 2 kilometres south of present-day Silverton. It comprised a store, hotel and two boarding houses. In 1884 there were 1222 mineral leases, 937 business permits and 114 miners rights issued. 6000 tonnes of ore were extracted and sent to South Australia for processing.

In 1887 the Town and Country Journal noted, “The scum of the country began to be attracted to the new and prosperous field like blowflies to a carcass. Horse-stealers, cattle duffers, mining sharks and rogues of all descriptions rolled up. Robberies, and the jumping of claims and allotments, were things of daily occurrence”.

Silverton is a must-see attraction. You can enjoy a beer in the unique pub, be amazed by some of the fabulous artworks displayed in the town’s galleries (and be equally amazed by some of the prices), take in the Mad Max Museum and a spectacular desert sunset at nearby Mundi Mundi lookout.

A detour of 13-kilometres off the Silverton to Broken Hill road will bring you to Daydream Mine with its historic smelter and a fascinating underground tour.

Established in 1882 Daydream boasted a population of around 500 at its peak including boys as young as 8 working underground to pick silver ore by candlelight. A visit here is a real eye-opener to the horrors of these early mines but something you don’t want to miss.

Just 112-kilometres southeast of Broken Hill you’ll find Menindee and the Menindee Lakes. The first permanent settlement on the Darling, Menindee was an important riverboat port and the last township the Burke & Wills expedition visited when they stayed at the famous Maidens Hotel, before venturing north into the hostile desert from which they never returned.

The Menindee Lakes were once just a series of natural depressions that filled with water during floods and emptied again during periods of drought. In 1949 work commenced on infrastructure designed to artificially control and maintain the lakes water level, providing a reliable source of fresh water for Broken Hill and other settlements along the Darling.

The lakes are full of dead trees. Surrounded by red soil and saltbush they give the impression of being well and truly outback.

Nearby there’s Kinchega National Park with its homestead ruins and the stations famous woolshed. In 1881 Kinchega Station covered more that 1-million acres (405,000 hectares) and ran almost 150,000 sheep. Paddlesteamers regularly stopped here and steam engines were being used to irrigate paddocks as early as 1875. In that same year the woolshed was built using river red gum and corrugated iron.

At its peak in the 1880s there were stands for 26 shearers and it’s estimated more than 6-million sheep were shorn here over a 100-year period. Another must-see attraction in the district the shed remains in excellent condition today.

Clearly Broken Hill is still an outback frontier mining town, rich in history and natural attractions. Not surprisingly modern day travellers are drawn to it and the surrounding attractions like moths to a flame.

Fact File


Broken Hill is in the far southwest of New South Wales, 1148 kilometres west of Sydney, 837 kilometres northwest of Melbourne and 517 kilometres northeast of Adelaide.

Best Time to Visit

For me the best time to visit Broken Hill is March to October when temperatures are generally milder, even cool from June to August. Generally the area experiences temperatures in the high 30s and above from November to February.

Stay There

Broken Hill boasts two caravan parks, Broken Hill Tourist Park and Lake View Caravan Park.

Broken Hill Tourist Park is located at the western end of town and Lake View at the eastern end. Both hover around the 4-star mark with good, serviceable amenities and close to everything.

There are also caravan and campsites available at Broken Hill Racecourse offering grassed sites and good clean amenities. It pays to check in advance here as sites are limited during events.

Also check out Broken Hill Showground, Penrose Park Station and Eldee Station, both near Silverton.

For some of the best free camping in this part of the world follow in the footsteps of Burke & Wills and camp on the banks of Lake Pamamaroo just near the Main Weir of the Menindee Lakes.

Turn off the Broken Hill road 8-kilometres before Menindee, follow the dirt road 9-kilometres before turning right (signposted) at the Weir.

There’s a long-drop toilet, fireplace and picnic shelter.

There are numerous other campsites around the lakes but none with amenities.

Don’t Miss

A beer in the Palace Hotel, the Living Desert Sculptures, Silverton, Daydream Mine, a sunset from Mundi Mundi Lookout and the Royal Flying Doctor base tour at Broken Hill airport.

More Information

Drop in to the Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre on the corner of Blende and Bromide Streets, call them on (08) 8080 3560 or visit the website at

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