The modern story of this city set deep in the NSW Outback begins in 1883 with the discovery of the world’s largest deposit of silver, zinc and lead.
That vast orebody is so integral to Broken Hill’s identity that there’s a towering mullock heap in the middle of the city, and even the streets are named after minerals, metals and compounds.
Beyond Broken Hill is the kind of romantic desolation that always springs to mind when you think of the Outback.
So it’s no wonder that generations of artists have chosen Broken Hill in their quest to capture the spirit of this harsh but captivating land.
Among them have been plenty of filmmakers too, and both Mad Max 2 and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were filmed around Broken Hill.
1. The Living Desert and Sculptures
Couched in the Barrier Ranges just out of town is a 2,400-hectare reserve encompassing some inspiring desert scenery with panoramas that reach out for many miles.
You can traverse this patch of Outback on walking trails, and there are a few remarkable things to get up to while you’re here.
One is the John Simons Flora & Fauna Sanctuary, with free-roaming kangaroos and wallaroos, geological interpretation, a wildflower display, an arboretum with native plants and pieces of Aboriginal heritage.
And in keeping with Broken Hill’s high reputation for art, there’s the hilltop Sunset Sculptures, which were carved during a symposium in 1993. Now a symbol for Broken Hill, these 12 abstract forms were hewn from 53 tonnes of sandstone and take on a certain magic when the sun is low.
2. Line of Lode Memorial
Broken Hill’s townscape is interrupted by a mountain-like mullock heap, crowned with a lookout.
This is an appropriate place to remember the mining industry’s staggering human toll, which was especially dramatic at the turn of the 20th century.
More than 800 miners have had their lives cut short in Broken Hill since 1883, and in remembrance a monument was inaugurated at the Line of Lode Lookout in 2001. This was designed by Angus Barry, Steve Kelly and Dario Palumbo, with names etched on glass panels under a structure designed to evoke the claustrophobic conditions of a mining tunnel.
You can read accompanying information plaques, while a few steps away there’s a staggering view of Broken Hill and the endless desert beyond.
3. Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum (Geocentre)
Broken Hill’s historic Bond Store now houses a superb museum digging up the region’s mineral heritage.
You’ll find out about Earth’s tumultuous early history and discover how the largest deposit of zinc and silver was formed under the surface in Broken Hill.
There are scores of world-class specimens illuminated in specially designed cabinets, although only a fraction of the vast inventory can be shown at one time.
One showpiece is the Silver Tree, made from 8.5kg of silver, once belonging to Charles Rasp, the boundary rider who delineated the first mining lease in Broken Hill.
Also special is a single nugget of silver weighing 42kg, while presentations at the Crystal Theatre answer the big questions about Broken Hill’s orebody and the forces that created it.
4. Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery
The oldest art gallery in regional New South Wales is in Broken Hill and dates back to 1904. The location is a carefully restored emporium, raised in 1885 and linked to two important families from Broken Hill’s past, the Sullys and the Sweetapples.
The gallery has put together a complete survey of Australian art from the colonial to the modern and contemporary periods.
For a just a snapshot of the artists represented in the collection there’s George Lambert, Arthur Streeton, John Olsen, Noel Counihan and Rupert Bunny.
The permanent collection is combined with a vibrant program of exhibitions by national, state and local artists, as well as landmark touring shows.
This is also the venue for the annual acquisitive award, The Pro Hart Outback Art Prize.
5. Pro Hart Gallery
If you had to pick just one artist of European heritage to do justice to the Outback it might be the ever-creative Kevin Charles “Pro” Hart (1928-2006) who was born and died in Broken Hill.
Pro Hart’s work achieved huge popularity, capturing the scale and palette of the desert and scenes from everyday life in rural towns.
Later he was known for his sense of spectacle, working with metal and stone, using balloons and cannons in his process, and even signing his work with his own DNA to prevent forgery.
You can get to know this fascinating character at the Pro Hart Gallery, filled with dozens of his paintings and sculptures and with a documentary about his life on a loop.
6. Royal Flying Doctor Service, The Bruce Langford Visitors Centre
The Royal Flying Doctor Service is a crucial lifeline for Australia’s most remote communities, and this visitor centre at Broken Hill Airport grants a privileged insight into this heroic organisation.
On a tour you’ll get the rare chance to see a working RFDS base in action.
The Mantle of Safety Museum meanwhile recounts almost 100 years of RFDS history, describes some of the service’s most amazing feats of heroism and offers a glimpse of the daily routine of its small army of nurses, doctors and pilots.
There’s an operational aircraft to check out in the hangar, a theatre screening educational films and a gift shop with proceeds going back into the organisation.
7. Sulphide Street Railway & Historical Museum
This station, rebuilt in 1905, was the terminus for the now defunct Silverton Tramway, serving Broken Hill’s mines for 58 kilometres.
It’s a lovely Federation-style building with delicate ironwork on its verandah and a picket fence in front.
The station reopened as a museum in the 1970s, preserving the Silverton Tramway’s locomotives, as well as its big collection of memorabilia.
This includes signs, lamps, tools, captivating old documents, tickets, stamps, as well as a power van and carriages from the old Silver City Comet.
The discoveries continue in the museum grounds are the Hospital Museum, Tess Alfonsi Mineral Collection, Migrant Heritage Collection and the Ron Carter Transport Pavilion.
8. Jack Absalom Gallery
The adventurer, author and artist Jack Absalom (1927-2019) was a self-taught artist, becoming a member of the Brushmen of the Bush group in the 1970s.
Down the years their exhibitions travelled across Australia and raised millions of dollars for good causes like the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Every year Absalom would head off into the Outback for two months to paint.
And in 1997 his romantic depictions of this desertscape found a permanent home with the inauguration of his gallery.
On permanent display are 11 of Absalom’s oil paintings, on 8′ x 3′ canvases, depicting the places in Australia that most captured his imagination.
There are books and limited edition prints on sale, and you can view the extensive collection of opal that Absalom amassed on his travels.
9. Mad Max 2 Museum
We’ve seen that Broken Hill’s stark Outback has been a backdrop to several major films, from the arty psychological thriller Wake in Fright (1971) to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). In 1981 George Miller chose Broken Hill’s dusty desertscape as the location for the seminal Mad Max 2, and fans continue to make the pilgrimage to the region for a dose of the post-apocalypse.
One such fan is Adrian Bennett, whose ardour for Mad Max 2 has brought him all the way from Northern England to Silverton, where he has opened a suitably ramshackle museum filled with artefacts from production.
From customised vehicles to costumes and myriad props, this memorabilia has been amassed by donations but also by rummaging around the abandoned filming locations.
10. Mundi Mundi Lookout
Fans of Mad Max 2 will instantly recognise the scenery from this rise a few kilometres north-west of Silverton.
But more than that, the lookout over the Mundi Mundi Plains gives you one of Australia’s great views.
From here, the Outback seems to continue forever and lies before you in vivid detail, to the point where you can trace the ridges of the alluvial fans in the distance.
When the sky is clear you can sense the curvature of the earth, while the colours are breathtaking as they change through the day.
The sunsets are dreamlike, when the low sun gives the desert a deep red glow, and then after dark the plains are lit up by a brilliant night sky.
11. Mutawintji National Park
At 130 kilometres, Broken Hill is the closest large settlement to this timeless landscape imbued with Aboriginal heritage.
Mutawintji National Park is all arid saltbush, reddish desert vistas and rocky gorges, against the gold tones of the Byngnano Ranges.
One of the state’s great displays of Aboriginal art awaits you at the park, comprising paintings, stencils and engravings, and you can pick up fascinating insights on a guided Aboriginal heritage tour.
For a self-guided walk, check out the art on the Rockholes Loop or take the Homestead Gorge Walking Track, where you may be greeted by emus and wallabies.
The Mutawintji Gorge Walking Track is an adventure through a rocky canyon ending at a hidden pool below massive red cliffs.
12. Silver City Mint & Art Centre
This multifaceted attraction is a sales point for locally crafted silver jewellery, art and handmade confectionery at the Mint & Art Centre’s own chocolate factory.
But maybe the biggest reason to swing by is for the Big Picture panorama, which is officially the world’s largest acrylic painting by a single artist.
This work, by local painter “Ando”, depicts an Outback landscape and is 100 metres long and 12 metres high.
You can easily lose yourself in the detail of this piece, and its 20,000 trees, 3,000 clouds, 1,500 hills and 1,000 large rocks.
13. Broken Hill Heritage Walk Tour
A fine way to get the lowdown on Broken Hill is to join this two-hour guided walking tour around the CBD, departing from the visitor information centre.
Beginning at 10:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the volunteer-led tour shows off this unique townscape, punctuated by that barren mullock heap.
There’s a lot of heritage architecture to admire as you go, like the Palace Hotel from 1889, the Broken Hill Post Office (1892), the Broken Hill Trades Hall (1905) and the Wesley Uniting Church (1888).
14. Day Dream Mine Tour
To show how fast things moved in the pioneer days, a town was born and died at this place in the space of a decade.
Silver-bearing ore was found here, 20 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill in 1882. Within two years there was a settlement of 500 people at the Day Dream Smelter, but by the 1890s everybody had left.
With all the reusable materials from the settlement long salvaged, there’s now no sign that anybody ever lived here.
But you can enter the mine for an hour-long tour (be sure to wear sturdy shoes). The tour begins with a walk around the place where the township used to be, and you’ll see the crumbling remnants of the smelter.
Then you’ll put on a helmet and lamp to go into the mine, where men and boys as you as eight worked in candlelight using primitive methods.
Finish up with a civilised cream tea at the Daydream Tea Rooms.
15. Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre
You better be prepared if you’re taking on the Outback, so a place like this will come in handy.
The Broken Hill Visitor Centre is in a modern building and has amenities that go way beyond a simple information point.
It’s all part of the Tourist & Travellers Centre, so there’s ample RV parking, toilets and showers and a dump point if you need to fill up on potable water.
Inside is a large branch of Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop, together with a gift shop where you can browse handmade gifts and a wide range of local produce.
And of course, all the services you’d want from an information point are at your disposal, like friendly travel advice, maps, brochures, free Wi-Fi and a booking facility.