Experience a quirky double-act mining and dolls museum run by an iconic Broken Hill couple.
One afternoon in 1971, Kevin “Bushy” White, then a miner with Zinc Corporation, came home to his wife and said a curious thing. “It’s dark down there, Betty – but it’s beautiful.”
The multi-coloured minerals in the rock, which Bushy spent his days blasting through, were twinkling back at him. “Betty got me a hobby kit with imitation rocks and I said ‘Get rid of the fake rocks, I’ll use the real thing’.”
Forty three years on, Bushy’s hobby has become an obsession. Frame after frame of his art – made from rock carried out during his 26 years underground, crushed and glued – carpet the walls and creep all the way up to the ceiling.
“No imitation rocks, no dyes,” Bushy says, turning to scrape his fingernails crunchily down a canvas. “And you can’t damage it!”
MAN WITH A MISSION
Bushy and his mates built the museum in 1984 in the Whites’ front yard. His dream was to allow tourists to ‘go underground without going underground’ and, at 71 years old, that’s what he’s still doing.
After ushering tourists into an area built with the same timber ‘stopes’ he worked among as a young miner, Bushy flicks off the light and holds a candle up, assuring us it’s the perfect way to see the minerals glimmering from his art.
Later, he uses a scale model of a mine to show us the back-breaking work that mining was before modern technology, and how Broken Hill’s legendary body of silver-lead-zinc ore was blasted, gathered and hauled back out.
Everything changed when computers came in, according to Bushy. “Miners today sit on their backsides pulling handles,” he says. “Stress and boredom are the killers now.”
WELCOME TO THE DOLL HOUSE
Unmissably sandwiched among suburban houses, White’s Mineral Art and Living Mining Museum is definitely a curious sight. Several signs blare from its façade, one a massive grinning miner, his drill piercing the blue outback sky above a jumble of vintage mining equipment. You’d almost think the theme of the mining museum was, you know, mining – until you see the other sign that says “Large handmade doll and bear display. Unique! A must see.”
Bushy’s wife Betty waits near the exit, ready to show tourists her dolls. Also born and bred in Broken Hill, Betty understands the perils of a hobby gone large. Her doll collection numbers 1000, most made and dressed by her, and includes a huge gathering of bears (known of course as The Teddybears’ Picnic), clustered in the room’s far corner.
Like Bushy, who is currently working on ten new artworks, Betty has found her niche and shows no sign of stopping. “I haven’t even counted the bears yet! They seem to multiply overnight.”
She began making clothes for dolls when her children no longer wanted to wear her homemade creations. “Dolls don’t answer back,” she says.
“When I was a girl, if you had a doll you were rich. During the war you couldn’t buy them for love or money, and when they were being made again, I was too old.” That doesn’t seem to be stopping her now, and in a book the White's made about the museum, Betty offers this very sound advice: “When all else fails, hug your dolly!”
While the White’s dual-museums do share a quaint gift shop, money cannot buy Betty’s dolls or much of Bushy’s art. Point to certain frames depicting scenes of men working underground, or Broken Hill heritage buildings, and Bushy jumps in. “That one’s history. It’s not for sale.”
White’s Mineral Art and Living Mining Museum is located at 1 Allendale St, Broken Hill, NSW.