Built on the back of mining, Broken Hill boasts an incredible story of life underground.
After more than 125 years of mining in Broken Hill, the 7.5km-long, 1.6km-deep Line of Lode has yielded 300 million tonnes of ore – enough to fill more than 1500 Sydney Opera House concert halls – and generated over $100 billion.
BOOM, BUST AND BRAVADO
Fortunes have come and gone in Broken Hill against an economic background of boom and bust.
Today, mining in Broken Hill is still big business. It generates more than $400 million a year, which, in 2012, accounted for almost half of the city’s gross regional product. The two main mining operators, Perilya and CBH Resources, together employ more than 500 locals in mining works.
Over the years, the vivid stories associated with extreme fluctuations in the city’s wealth have contributed their own richness to the unique character of Broken Hill.
You can experience these stories first-hand on a series of easy, self-guided walking tours – the Broken Hill Heritage Trail, the Broken Hill Cemetery Walk or the Heroes, Larrikins and Visionaries of Broken Hill Walk. Pick up a brochure from the Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre.
SYNDICATE OF SEVEN
Seven men from Mount Gipps Station put Broken Hill on the map in 1883. The group, known later as the Syndicate of Seven, discovered ore on an isolated ‘broken hill’. These men were George McCulloch, Charles Rasp, James Poole, David James, Philip Charley, George Urquhart and George Lind. Together, they formed the first mining company in Broken Hill, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP).
Rasp and his fellow station hands David James and James Poole pegged out the original lease in September 1883. Rasp is the most famous of the seven today, but the equally well-educated and considerably tougher George McCulloch actually masterminded the syndicate and helped form BHP in 1885. McCulloch was an active patron of the arts and helped establish what is now the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery. McCulloch also funded Broken Hill’s first hospital.
The young jackaroo Philip Charley also benefited from the find. Charley first recognised silver chlorides near Rasp Shaft (pegged by McCulloch) and his ongoing involvement enabled him to import a 1907 Silver Ghost – the first Rolls-Royce in Australia. But others didn’t do so well. George Urquhart and George Lind sold their shares at a loss. James Poole sold half his share to the cattle king, Sidney Kidman, for a herd of bullocks worth only £40. As perspective on their mistakes, in its first year alone BHP mined ore worth more than £42,000 (equivalent in value to about $6.5 million today). You can see busts of the original Syndicate of Seven outside the Broken Hill City Council Chambers.
For most of Broken Hill’s history, mining was a very dangerous profession, but social changes made here resonated around the world. In the late 1800s, safety in the mines was the sole responsibility of the workers themselves. As a result, miners put up with terrible conditions, toiling away by lamplight with hammer and chisel, and breathing silicon-laden dust underground or lead fumes from the smelters. Many died of miners’ phthisis or lead poisoning. Accidents were common and often resulted in death; over the years, more than 800 miners have lost their lives on the job. Today, their legacy is commemorated at the Miners Memorial that stands on top of the Line of Lode.
This memorial is a telling reminder of why Broken Hill pioneered a culture of trade unionism, including the introduction of the 35-hour working week and the defeat of conscription in Australia. In 1890, almost every worker on the Line of Lode belonged to a union like the giant Amalgamated Miners’ Association, once one of the most powerful unions in Australia. Massive attempts were made to improve working conditions, including a large strike in 1892.
Union activities at the turn of the century were frequently hostile, which led to Broken Hill developing an infamous reputation for intense and frequent strikes. The conditions that induced these events were a far cry from modern, safety-first methods that use high-tech extraction machines, huge dump trucks and cement-lined underground roads. The city’s proud militancy is presented in the 1905 Trades Hall building – the first privately owned trades hall in the southern hemisphere – and in murals on walls of buildings in central Broken Hill.