Having appeared in films like Wake in Fright and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Silverton Hotel is an Australian icon, and an Outback site not to be missed.
“The ones with fly dung on them have been here a long time.”
Patsy Price, owner of the Silverton Hotel with her husband Peter, is pointing to the squares of cardboard dangling from the pub’s ceiling.
They sport quotes from famous wits like Winston Churchill and not-so-famous wits, one of whom wrote, “The odds of finding a man in Silverton are good but the goods are odd”, now fluttering in perpetuity above a tower of old beer cans.
With a population of just 35 locals I’m not sure finding a fella would be easy here, but this bona fide ghost town is indeed odd.
Thirty minutes from Broken Hill across saltbush scrub plains, take a left turn after the old Silverton Goal and the pub is before you, sitting squatly on the red dirt road, donkeys nosing around its perimeter, still every bit the frontier watering hole it was when Silverton was abuzz with silver miners.
The population here peaked in the 1890s and plummeted soon after when a mother lode was found in Broken Hill. “Most businesses hung on as long as they could, but…” Tumbleweeds don’t roll by as Peter Price trails off, but they may as well. “This town once had three breweries and 3,000 people. It’s hard to get your head around.”
The chief charm of the Silverton Hotel is the rush of recognition it engenders in anyone who's seen Razorback, Wake in Fright, The Slim Dusty Movie, Mission Impossible II or The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (the list continues) or any of the many TV ads filmed here. Casually parked in front of the pub’s broad bullnose veranda is a pimped-up, pitch-black Volkswagen beetle, a cheeky homage to Mad Max's V8 Interceptor.
Married for 45 years, the Prices have owned the pub for four, but Patsy is a local from way back. Her drover parents arrived in 1947 and her father managed a station before moving the family to “the big smoke” in 1957.
“There were over 250 people living here then,” Patsy says. “We lived opposite the pub, but I never thought I’d buy it one day! Back then women had to stay outside in their cars.”
“I had this dream one night where I bought it,” says Peter. “I told the pub’s owner and she said ‘Well bloody hell why don’t you?’ Our managers lasted two weeks so I said to poor old Patsy: ‘We’re back to work girl, hope you enjoyed your two days’ retirement.’”
Tourists keep the bar stools warm and the beer kegs flowing. “They like hearing our story,” says Peter. “Some days I might get in a good bullshitting mood and put a slant on it but mainly we tell them about the history. A lot of people don’t know that in 1885 a company was formed in the old Silverton pub called BHP. This was its birthplace – it was signed in that old ruin out the back!”
With the Mad Max Museum, several art studios and shops, the Silverton Café serving hearty country fare and the wealth of memorabilia at the Silverton Gaol, a whole day can be spent here, followed by sunset at Mundi Mundi, where the plains drop before you into a classic outback panorama.
At the weekends, the Broken Hill locals come for music and the famous hot dogs. And though the Prices have made some changes to improve operations, they want to preserve the pub’s old-timey feel.
“It’s a step back in time,” says Patsy. “That’s why people come.”
The Silverton Hotel is located on Layard St, Silverton, NSW. Click here for more information.