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Australia’s First Heritage City


On January 20th, Broken Hill became Australia’s first National Heritage city.  Whilst the accolade has a truly impressive ring about it, you’d be forgiven for asking, “What does that really mean?”

The Australian Government’s National Heritage list is a collection of 103 natural, historic and indigenous places which have been deemed to have “outstanding significance to the nation”.  In there, you’ll find natural wonders such as Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, sitting alongside important architectural places such as the site of First Government House and Sydney Opera House.

However, never before has an entire city been awarded National Heritage status, which makes the addition of the City of Broken Hill even more remarkable.

Fortunately, Broken Hill had Professor Simon Molesworth – the Chairman of the International National Trusts Organisation and a resident of the city for the last fourteen years – in their corner.  During his early tenure, he became embroiled in a heated campaign to save some of Broken Hill’s most important heritage buildings, and it was these early battles that brought him together with the then Council Sustainability Manager Peter Oldson and the City’s heritage consultant, Liz Vines.  Together they formed a plan to nominate Broken Hill as Australia’s first National Heritage city – recognising that, in doing so, Broken Hill’s past could be the gateway to its future.

But nominating a whole city is quite different to nominating a single entity, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, however the team were confident that it could be done – after all, Broken Hill has played a pivotal role in the development of the modern Australia that we know today.


Discovered in 1883, Broken Hill is home to the world’s largest deposits of silver, lead and zinc – yielding over 300 million metric tons of ore since mining began. Early revenues from Broken Hill are largely responsible for the growth and development of cities and towns right across New South Wales and Australia, with the city contributing “hundreds of millions of dollars to government administration, defence, education and research”, according to the Department of the Environment.  Whilst the silver, lead and zinc are by far the most profitable minerals to be pulled out of the ground, Broken Hill is also home to a veritable ‘mineralogical rainforest’ with approximately 300 mineral species offering a unique glimpse into the planet’s geological history.

However, it is the people of Broken Hill that have arguably contributed most to the heritage listing.  Over 130 years, the rights of tens of thousands of workers have given birth to many laws and provisions that we take for granted today. Broken Hill was not only the birthplace of Occupational Health and Safety and the 35-hour work week, but, thanks to the spread of nationwide worker support resulting from strikes in 1908 and 1909, it has also been recognised as putting a fire under the trade union movement. 


Whilst mining undoubtedly laid the foundations for Broken Hill, other industries have sprung up around it over the years.  The city is well known for its artistic community, which was made famous around the world by local miner-turned-painter Pro Hart, and now houses more art galleries per capita than anywhere else in Australia.  It has also become a mecca for the film industry, with movies such as Mad Max 2 and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and television productions such as The Code and Outback ER flaunting the city and surrounds as their backdrop.

All of these elements fuse together to make Broken Hill a truly unique Australian city, one that its current mayor, Wincen Cuy, describes as “a city with a soul”.

Tracing his ancestry back to pre-Broken Hill era (his great-grandfather was born on Mount Gipps station, ten years before Broken Hill was founded), Mayor Cuy was – by his own admission – “ecstatic” when the National Heritage Listing was finally confirmed, ten years after its submission.   But, like Professor Molesworth, Mayor Cuy also believes that while the National Heritage Listing acknowledges the town’s past, it is also a springboard for the years and decades to come.

“I think that the award itself belongs to the people,” he says.  “Everyone should take a piece of it, and feel so proud that they've been part of Broken Hill's history, and that they're also going to play a major part in Broken Hill's future.”

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