Get primitive with pots at the Broken Hill Potters Society.
The Broken Hill Potters Society is a long standing group of committed and crafty locals, all of whom love pottery and sharing this passion with the Broken Hill community. The group organise craft fairs, exhibitions, classes, workshops and more, but it is perhaps their ‘outback firings’ that make the group so special.
Lilly Spencer, the Secretary of the society, describes these occasions as “primitive firings you couldn’t do in the city.” And when you understand the process, you can see why.
First, gather a lot of cow dung. Second, find an old bed frame. Then load your pots onto the piled-up cow dung, put a match to it, watch the flames lap the pots, then lay a corrugated iron sheet on top. Leave it overnight and return in the morning. It’s not a kiln per se, but the same motto applies.
“We always say opening any kiln is like Christmas,” says Sandy Bright, the President of the society. “It’s always a big, lovely surprise.”
It is one of five kinds of primitive firings that occur on what Lilly calls “Our Purnamoota Weekends”. Forty minutes out of town is Purnamoota Station, an old township now owned by a potter. About four times a year, the society (mainly women, presently two blokes) head out to make a weekend of it.
“Most of us stay in the shearers’ quarters,” says Lilly. “We take our swags and cook with a camp fire oven on hot coals. The silence is amazing out there. There’s a crow flying over occasionally but it’s really quiet and peaceful.”
During the day, the group gets busy doing salt firings, sawdust and pit firings. “We dig a pit and wrap our pots up in corn husks,” says Lilly. “We throw in coffee grounds and things like oxide, copper and cobalt.”
A brick kiln is used for salt firing – still classified as ‘outback firing’ because you can’t do it indoors. “We get it up to about 1000 degrees and throw in a couple of handfuls of salt which splatters and gives off striking marks.”
Pots are not the only thing fired at Purnamoota. “We roll clay out like sheet pastry and wrap up chickens and bury them in hot coals,” says Lilly. “It’s an ancient technique. When they’re ready, they whistle from a little hole in the clay. You crack the clay off and eat the chicken – it’s tender as, scrumptious.”
While Purnamoota weekends aren’t on the official itinerary for those “from away” (the locals term for out-of-towners), Lilly says it’s always possible if you ask the right person. So, if you’re looking for an authentic outback experience, be sure to get in touch with the legendary Broken Hill Potters Society.