Two Postcards from Broken Hill and the Outback.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPostcard from Francesca.                                                                                      

 Travelling east from Flinders Ranges in South Australia to Broken Hill in New South Wales involves a long, monotonous drive with few distractions. I love the big outback sky and the low rugged scrub but 469 kilometres of straight road can drive one a little bonkers. I found two things that caught my eye along the way.  This sign amused me. As we waited for the light to change, I envisaged strange scenarios of what might happen if it didn’t.


The other highlight was the drive towards the small settlement of Cockburn. The idea of having a beer in the Cockburn pub was very appealing, which lead to a lengthy discussion about strange English spelling contractions and how the ‘cock’ part of this name can miraculously blur into ‘co’. Try telling this to the average rooster, or adolescent male.

We arrived in Cockburn only to discover that the pub had chosen to call itself the Coburn pub. Hugely disappointed, we drove on.

The Coburn pub in Cockburn!
The Coburn Hotel in Cockburn!

On entering the outskirts of Broken Hill, we noticed mobs of feral goats grazing along the roadside and nearby bush.  It is interesting to see that in the Flinders Ranges, 100,000 goats have been ‘removed’ over the last 15 years by pastoralists, park rangers and volunteers working together to remove this pest. Perhaps a roundup is needed here too.

This sign, in Flinders Ranges, lits the native bush that feral goats like to eat, and destroy.
This sign, in Flinders Ranges, lists the native bush that feral goats like to eat, and destroy.

Postcard from Mr Tranquillo                                                                          

Arriving in Broken Hill from South Australia is a visual jolt after driving through seemingly endless kilometres of arid country. It was a monumental feat to build a city in such a hostile and dusty environment.

Victorian architecture and mullock heaps.
Victorian architecture and mullock heaps.

Broken Hill has bold Victorian architecture, flamboyantly celebrating its wealthy heyday, like the gold rush-era towns and cities of Victoria. In the back streets, corrugated iron miners’ cottages predicted the modern Australian love for building homes in this material by a century or more.


The city celebrates its working and mining history, claiming credit for the introduction of the 35 hour working week in 1920 after a protracted strike, and proudly displays its view of the importance of egalitarianism.


To a casual visitor the landscape around Broken Hill may seem like just another desert vista, in hues of grey blue saltbush, coloured earth, and big skies, flattish, with a smattering of low hills. However, the city and surrounds have inspired artists, with about 25 art galleries in Broken Hill and nearby Silverton, the latter almost a ghost town. Film-makers have been similarly attracted, with Wake in Fright, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Mad Max films as well-known examples.

Broken Hill’s destiny is changing, as a reflection of the winding down of mining. The population has fallen to about 20,000, and numerous old pubs, having lost their miner clientele, have been converted to other uses.


Will tourism and the arts sustain Broken Hill?

Silverton is a testament to what can happen when mining becomes uneconomic.
Silverton is a testament to what can happen when mining becomes uneconomic.


13 thoughts on “Two Postcards from Broken Hill and the Outback.”

    1. I wondered whether you would approve Jane and am so glad you did. We didn’t stay long enough to write deeply about Broken Hill. Only two nights- but glad we finally got there.


  1. We drove the Moomba pipeline road (all dirt) to Arkaroola after leaving Broken Hill the first time we visited the Flinders Ranges. It was long straight dry and dusty! We always stay at Silverton when near BH, but a day visiting the galleries is always on the agenda. The campground at Silverton is very quirky, little tucked away clearings, no power or water, but perfect if you are self sufficient. We were amazed last year to find a cafe in Silverton with a gluten free menu.


  2. Francesca, how interesting! It’s a part of my home state that I’ve never been to, thanks for taking us on holidays with you. Disappointing about the Coburn pub – I once knew a man whose surname was Cockburn and he insisted on being called Cock-burn. Good on him, I thought. 🙂


    1. Good old Mr Cockburn- so honest. I just thought it would be fun to say, ” and then we had a beer in the Cockburn Hotel..” Broken Hill is so far from anywhere, and it is quite a culture shock in some ways too.


  3. Wonderful photos – the horses in the foreground of the undistinguished landscape and sky dressed with cottonball clouds is classic. How wonderful if all city, coastal, hinterland dwellers would partake of this region as appreciatively as you have done… surely there is a collective belonging to it also, to celebrate its intrinsic value as part of the spectrum of this wide and varied land.


    1. I think so- there are views there that look like paintings of another kind, artists that I once thought were too bright or brash, but once in that landscape, I began to appreciate that bold art. Broken Hill is not so accessible- I didn’t write about this as it might be just me- but I had the feeling of being an outsider there more than anywhere in this country.


      1. That maybe also part of Broken Hill’s allure… experiencing the distance and unfamiliarity that delivers the sensation of being an alien, in a pleasant way… or challenging… or both.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your insight into this area of Australia. 25 is a lotta galleries for one town in the Outback…but then again I am not familiar with the area. I enjoyed you details about the pub and the sign. Thanks for posting.

    (It’s getting late here in the states but I do love to browse randomly and see if I can get myself caught in a corner of the world that is new to me.)


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