Discover how it all began for this outback oasis.
Since its birth as a promising little mining village in the 1880s, Broken Hill has gone on to become recognised as the boldest of Australia’s outback towns, a reputation pressure-cooked through decades of hardship and heroic survival in the isolation of the desert. The story of how the town gained such a standing is a long and fascinating one, spanning indigenous cultures, European settlement, mining, and the silver screen.
1700 million years ago:
Thermal springs deposit silver, lead and zinc sulphides formed in mud from hot springs on the ocean floor. The Broken Hill ore body is born.
200 million years ago:
The Great Artesian Basin, a huge inland sea, laps into the Corner Country, with the Barrier Hill exposed further south.
30 million years ago:
The Barrier Ranges are uplifted and the Broken Hill ore body is exposed, and sits rusting for the next 30 million years. This weathering turns the top of the hill into oxides containing silver, lead and zinc.
50,000 years ago:
The Barrier Ranges are home to the Bulali, a subgroup of the Wiljakali people, who occupy the region from Broken Hill to the country beyond today’s border with SA. These hardy people hunt and forage in the Barrier Ranges, and are feared by the more peaceful Baarkindji of the Darling River.
The first European, surveyor and explorer Major Thomas Mitchell, visits the area.
Charles Sturt passes through the region in his quest to find an inland sea.
Pastoralists shear 50,000 sheep at Mt Wood Station (today Sturt National Park).
Burke and Wills use the Maidens Hotel in Menindee as a base during their ill-fated expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria, becoming the first Europeans to traverse the continent.
Silverton (25km north-west of Broken Hill) is established after the discovery of silver and lead deposits. It reaches its peak population of approximately 3000 by the end of 1885. The current population is less than 50, but Silverton features multiple art galleries, museums and an exciting movie history.
The Broken Hill Mining Company is floated by the Syndicate of Seven after the boundary rider Charles Rasp finds what he believes to be tin but turns out to be silver, part of one of the most valuable mineral deposits in the world.
Mining the ore body in Broken Hill sets the newly formed Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP) on a path to become Australia’s richest company.
The first train arrives in Broken Hill from South Australia (via Silverton) and Broken Hill is proclaimed a municipality.
The first steam tram begins shuttling between Argent Street and Patton Street. More than 6000 passengers climb aboard on the first day. The last steam tram finishes its journey in 1926.
Broken Hill’s population reaches 30,000.
Broken Hill is proclaimed the Silver City. It is now the second-largest settlement in NSW, after Sydney.
Picketing is introduced by unions during a violent strike. BHP leases are patrolled by the company and, as intimidation, mock graves set up bearing derogatory ‘epitaphs’ of union members. The strike lasts several months but miners return to work for the same pay rates and hours – 48 hours a week.
Broken Hill is the scene of the only enemy attack on Australian soil in WWI. Only four months before the ANZACs fight the Turks at Gallipoli, a Silverton-bound train is fired on by two men in an ice cream cart flying the Turkish flag. Today a replica cart can be seen at White Rocks at the northern end of Broken Hill. Population peaks at around 35,000.
The ‘Great Strike’ lasts 18 months and secures once and for all proper recognition of the rights and conditions of workers in the mining industry.
The first train arrives in Broken Hill from Sydney after 40 years of campaigning for the route.
The worldwide depression is at its lowest point. Unemployment in Australia is almost 30 per cent. In Broken Hill many single men are evicted from boarding houses and in desperation they build a shanty town on the site of the original municipal power station.
Dust storms continue to plague the lives of the people, made worse by the sharp, gritty sand from the ‘skimp’ (mill residue) dumps. A tree-planting campaign is initiated under the direction of botanist Albert Morris to minimise these effects. The resulting ‘Regeneration Reserve’ is classified by the National Trust as a Landscape Conversation Area in 1991.
BHP leaves Broken Hill. It has since become Australia’s largest corporate body with widespread interests in steel production, coal mining and shipbuilding.
A munitions annexe is constructed, employing 300 women and 84 men, producing 637,606 nosecones for shells until the end of WWII.
The Broken Hill Gaol houses the nation’s gold reserves in a special steel-lined vault.
Queen Elizabeth visits Broken Hill and broadcasts a message to outback listeners linked with the Flying Doctor base.
Broken Hill School of the Air opens to combat the lack of educational facilities in remote areas.
The Menindee Lakes Storage Scheme opens, guaranteeing a continuous water supply to Broken Hill and offering recreational water sports to the community.
Wake In Fright is filmed in Broken Hill and Silverton and puts the area on the map as a unique film location.
The long-established but illegal Crystal Lane Two-Up school is shut down.
The Sculpture Symposium adds a new attraction and visual identity to Broken Hill.
Opening of the Miners’ Memorial and Line of Lode Visitors Centre.
Opening of the Living Desert Sanctuary.
After more than 125 years of mining a 300-million-tonne mineral system, the 7.5km-long, 1.6km-deep Line of Lode still supports mining, making Broken Hill one of the longest continual mining towns in the world.