Broken Hill Day 2 – The Living Desert & Silverton

It was Catie’s birthday and we all made her feel special by wishing her a happy day and giving her presents.

For morning tea I brought out a cake that I’d bought the day before. Jenny provided candles and I had sparklers. We all sang a loud ‘happy birthday’ and then shared the delicious cake. It was a happy morning.

After the morning’s frivolity we set off in two cars to drive out of town and visit the Living Desert State Park. The park is located 12km from the city and is a unique 2,400ha reserve established in 1992.

Our first stop in the park was at the top of a hill to view the Sculptures. The incredible sandstone sculptures sit atop a rocky hill. They are the result of a Sculpture Symposium held in Broken Hill in April 1993. 53 tonnes of sandstone was brought to the site from Wilcannia and artists from around the world created the 12 individual pieces. There is a large carpark below the hilltop and the sculptures are accessed by a winding concrete pathway that is wheelchair friendly.

On the way back we passed by the entry to the Starview Campsite. This is a campgound that has 15 unpowered sites, a shelter with gas BBQ’s and picnic tables, toilets, showers and drinking water and you can camp for a maximum of 5 nights.

Next we visited the 180ha John Simons Flora & Fauna Sanctuary. This is bordered by an electrified predator-proof fence. The Sanctuary has kilometres of walking trails and many of the native plants are labeled. We saw Native Apricot trees, a fabulous prickly plant called Dead Finish, Hop Bush, Sturt Desert Pea and any more.

Here’s a fun desert fact. The evaporation in the Living Desert exceeds the rainfall. The evaporation rate in the desert averages over 2,000mm per year while the rainfall averages only 250mm. This is why water is such a precious commodity in Broken Hill.

Our next stop was Silverton but to get there we had to drive back to Broken Hill and then a further 25km out on the Silverton Road.

Silverton was a town long before there was anything at Broken Hill. The discovery of silver and lead in the area in 1875 led to Silverton being proclaimed a town in 1885 and by then had a population of 3,000 people.

The Silverton Municipal Council had its inaugural meeting in January 1887 in the Silverton Municipal Chambers which still exist today.

The Silverton Tramway operated between 1887 and 1969 linking the SA rail line with the newly found Broken Hill fields via Silverton. The tramway transported over 42 million tons of ore, 14 million tons of freight and 2.8 million passengers. A standard gauge rail line was opened in 1970 linking Broken Hill directly with South Australia and the Silverton Tramway became obsolete. There is not much of the Tramway left except for some rail lines, a small rail building and a crossing sign in town. The tramway has been developed into a shared pathway following the line of the old tracks. Walkers and cyclists are encouraged to follow the track and learn about the history, heritage and the landscape of the area.

As Broken Hill’s larger mines became established, Silverton fell into decline and the Council ceased in 1899. Many buildings were torn down so their materials could be reused elsewhere. Today Silverton has a steady population of 60 and the village is managed by the Silverton Village Committee. The town survives mainly on tourism and the film and television industry.

We had lunch at the iconic Silverton Hotel. This incredible hotel has been in many movies and television ads and is instantly recognisable as soon as you see it. Since we were last there in 1997 they have added a large covered beer garden on one side. However builders were working out there being very noisy with their power tools so we ate our lunch on the other side of the pub under an large covered verandah shaded by shade cloth walls. There was an amazing collection of native animals in jars on the end wall including red back spiders, snakes, and other critters. The tables and the long benches along the edge of the verandah were made from huge slabs of River Red Gum. Overhead fans were whirring and it was a lovely spot for lunch and a cold beer.

Sadly many of the galleries and museums in Silverton were closed so we could only view them from the outside. The Mad Max Museum looked like it might be worth a visit and the Old Goal Museum too. Oh well! We’ll have to come back again one day. We did drive around the small town though and I managed to get photos of most of the old buildings.

Here’s a fascinating piece of history for you! Broken Hill is the only site of an enemy attack on Australian soil. Two Turkish patriots raised a flag over their ice-cream cart and opened fire on passengers aboard the Silverton Tramway, which was heading to the annual picnic, during WWI in 1915.

And here’s another one! Huge quantities of our nation’s gold reserves were moved to and stored in Broken Hill during WWII because of fear of a Japanese invasion. The gold was stored in a purpose built strongroom at the Broken Hill Goal.

We drove another 5km west out of Silverton to the Mundi Mundi Lookout where we met a lovely young couple traveling around Australia in their campervan. Pedro and Estephania are from Spain and have been living in Australia for a year and a half alternating traveling with working. They’d just finished a 3 month work stint in Bourke and were now setting off traveling again. They were really enthusasitc to show off their camper that they’d fitted out themselves. Pedro had built all the cupboards and bed and Estephania has done the painting and decorating. They’d done a great job.

The view from the Mundi Mundi Lookout is huge. You can see for miles across the vast Mundi Mundi Plains. We could see willy willy’s in the far distance and we joked that those willy willy’s were in South Australia. Mundi Mundi Station is where the organisers of the Big Red Bash have chosen to stage another of their fabulous 3 day music festivals. Tickets have already gone on sale for that event and I’m sure it will be popular as it is a tar road nearly all the way.

The vast Mundi Mundi Plain

Andy & Jenny headed back to town but Catie, Robert, Richard and I went on further to check out the Umberumberka Reservoir. The reservoir was completed in 1914. It was a surprise when we arrived there to see a large expanse of water behind the dam wall. At the top of the hill with a good view of the lake below was a lovely picnic area with very green grass, picnic tables and free gas BBQ’s. Umberumberka, combined with the Stephen’s Creek Reservoir, provides Broken Hill with water.

On the way back through Silverton we called in to check out Penrose Park. Penrose Park was established in 1937 as a recreation area for miners and their families. Picnic areas with wood and gas BBQ’s, powered and unpowered camping sites with amenities, a large hall for hire with a kitchen, 2 bunkhouses with kitchens and a self contained cottage that sleeps 10. The park also has 6 tennis courts and they were all in good playing order. The caretaker out there obviously looks after the place. It would be a good spot to camp if out that way.

As it was Catie’s birthday we went out for dinner to The Musicians Club. The Broken Hill Musicians Club began in 1919 with four musicians meeting up and having ‘jam sessions’ in an old shed down the Main Street. This grew into the successful club it is today. The club moved to its current home in 1964 and the building was refurbished in 1991/92. In 1996 a complete refurbishment and extensions were commenced and the club spent over $8million completing the project in 1998. The Club has over 5,000 members and has a Bistro which is open for lunch and dinner, three Function and Conference rooms, a 250 seat Auditorium, the Main Bar, TAB and 101 gaming machines.

Jenny and Catie ready for our dinner out. Taken at the Racecourse.

We had dinner in the Bistro accompanied by the Friday night chook raffle over the intercom. About 7pm we all felt and heard a deep rumbling noise. We later found out that at 7am and 7pm the mines do their blasting and that is what we felt and heard. It felt like an earthquake. Locals are so used to it they don’t bat an eyelid.

We were a little disappointed that there was no live music at The Musician’s Club.

After dinner we drove up to the Line of Lode Lookout again to check out the sunset across the city.

Broken Hill at night from the Line of Lode Lookout

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