Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Diprotodoms Fossils

View over Burra from the mine lookout

Burra Mine Scape

View over Broken hill from the Broken Earth Restaraunt

The Miners Monument

What a dirt road looks like

Silverton Hotel scene of many films (Mad Max car in foreground)

View across the Suclpture Garden

View over Broken Hill from the Sculpture Garden (you can see the...

Sylvia's Comments

After leaving Clare we set off for Broken Hill which is in the Australian Outback and a mining town. To get there we first had to travel to Burra, another mining town.

In the 1840s, the discovery of rich copper deposits in Kapunda and Burra rescued the ailing South Australian economy. Miners flocked to Burra and within 10 years had created the Monster Mine, 13km long and 6km across. Today a heritage trail takes visitors around the historic areas such as the museum, a mine captain's cottage and the extraordinary riverbed dugouts in which 2,000 miners lived.

As we arrived at Burra it reminded me of an oasis, which might seem strange way of describing a mining town. It is situated in a hollow with lots of lovely green trees and surrounded by hills of burnt grass.

Our first port of call, as is usual, was the tourist information centre to ask what we should see whilst there. We did not have time to do the full heritage trail but we did manage to look at the two local churches with their stained glass windows. On our way to the churches we passed the town hall which was hosting a cultural awareness day. When we peeked to see what was going on, we saw an Aboriginal gentleman undertaking some traditional dot painting for a group of young people. I find the dot painting fascinating, being both colourful and intricate. We were also told not to miss the Diprotodons Display in the local council office.

The Diprotodons was Australia's largest marsupial living in the Burra area more than 100 thousand years ago. These larger than life creatures weighed in around between one and two hundred tonnes, stood 2 metres tall, and measured 3 meters long. They were flat footed creatures but able to walk (much like a wombat ) at a pace of 5km an hour. A natural herbivore, the diprotodon would eat between 100 and 150 kg of vegetables per day and eventually died out about 60 thousand years ago. This dates around the time humans are believed to have first entered Australia.

The discovery of the fossils in the Burra area has excited the most seasoned palaeontologists, describing Burra's backyard as one of the richer mega fauna sites in Australia.

After all our sight seeing it was time to get some lunch and the bakers advertising traditional Cornish pasties attracted our attention. It seems that many of the miners that worked in the mines came from Cornwall and had the pasties for their lunch underground. Having bought lunch we headed for one of the mine look out points to eat it.

After lunch we set off on our long journey to Broken Hill. As we drove up the Barrier Highway the surrounding scenery changed from hills and bushes to the desert bush with the red soil. You look around and can see nothing but the same thing for miles and miles. Eye spy was not really a successful game to play and our excitement came from waving to other drivers when we saw them. We as tourists would give a big hearty wave, the Australians are more refined and would give a subtle one finger wave. No not what you are thinking. They just raise the index finger of the right hand off the steering wheel, thus demonstrating how laid back they are.

We eventually arrived in Broken Hill and found our pitch at the camp site. We were pulling in behind a caravan when the male occupant jumped out and shouted across to someone else on the site "four more runs you pommy bastard" followed by his wife shouting "Aussie, Aussie Aussie" This informed Jeff of the cricket score in the test match at Adelaide, and he was not happy.

We later made friends with our neighbours Neville and his wife (we never discovered her name ) and on one evening, much to Jeff's disgust, Neville and I challenged each other to sing songs from our favourite musicals. He certainly enjoyed musicals and could sing many of the songs from them, well singing is not really the way to describe it.

The next day we drove into the town and had a walk around. Broken Hill is in New South Wales but apart from voting their M.P. to represent them in the Canberra Government they align them selves very much with South Australia, even keeping the same time. It was founded on a 6.5-km lode of silver, lead and zinc, the richest of its kind in the world. As the mines have been downgraded due to the low world prices for its products the tourist industry has taken over. Broken Hill is a surprisingly leafy spot in a harsh environment. It is bitter cold in winter and extremely hot in summer, it reached 110F when we were there. There is still one mine at Broken Hill but all the rest are gone.

We went into the tourist office and watched a video detailing the history of Broken Hill and how it is changing with the tourists, and with all the artists that have come to the town to paint inspired by the light and colours. The most famous of the 'bush artists' as they are known is Pro Heart. We had been told by people at the campervan rally that we must go to his studios. Broken Hill has been called the art gallery without walls. Murals are on building walls and just outside the town is the remarkable sculpture gallery in the Living Desert Reserve

We walked around the city admiring all the old Victorian buildings and also looking for the jewellers selling silver. We found one small craft shop and as I needed a button for my shorts we went in. This small lady in her 60's asked if she could help so I explained what we were looking for. She informed me there was a jar of odd buttons over the other side for 10 cents each. I then was looking around for some Christmas presents and she pointed me in the right direction. She informed me laughing "No one leaves here empty handed, we don't let you out till you buy something" Luckily we did buy something as we may have still been there.

We eventually found the jewellers and made our purchases and then went through to the back of the gallery where we saw 'The Big Picture'. This is the world's largest acrylic painting on canvas (12m by 100m) it is set out in a room with desert soil and plants before it creating a desert scene. You walk out on a deck area and it gives the impression you are walking into the painting.

It was now time for lunch and we drove up to the top of one of the old 'mullock heaps' where they have built a restaurant called 'Broken Earth' which gives spectacular views over the city. Close by is the Miners Memorial, a futuristic memorial which names all the miners who died working in the mines from when they first opened until present time. Needles to say more miners were killed in the early years when safety was not a major concern. We noticed some died as a result of lead poisoning. We later learned that this was often due to the amount of tined food they ate. All the tin food was brought from the U.K. and the long sea journey added to the long journey from Adelaide meant the food was often not in good condition when it arrived. It seems that more of the rich people died of lead poisoning as they could afford more tinned fruit than the workers. So having money does not always serve you well.

The next day we set off for Silverton, dubbed the Hollywood of N.S.W. due to the large number of films and television commercials that have been made there. Silverton is 25 km from Broken Hill and was a thriving community before Broken Hill existed as silver was found there first. On the way we passed a sign saying to the Day Dream Mine tours available, pointing up an unsealed road saying only 20 minutes away. I think Jeff really wanted to go down silver mine as he set off up the road at a great speed of between 3 and 12 miles per hour. We got there just in time for the last tour.

The story goes that a young prospector became tired so he sat down under the shade of a tree and fell asleep. When he awoke he saw glinting in the sunshine on the rock an indication that silver was present. He thought at first he was dreaming but when he looked more closely he realised he wasn't. He registered the mine as the Day Dream mine and began prospecting in 1867. The high grade ore was quickly taken from the mines and when the boom in Broken Hill began many of the miners carted their homes there. The mine tour was interesting as it has not been made tourist friendly and when you scrambled down the shaft with a helmet on to protect your head and a hand rail to cling on to you realise how perilous it must have been for the miners who did not have these modern inventions. They also had to carry their tools, a candle and their lunch. It must have been an equally hard life for their wives and children living in such a harsh environment.

After our mine tour and our slow drive back along the dirt road we continued our journey into Silverton. It is now just a picturesque collection of houses with a restored gaol, some artist's studios and the celebrated Silverton Hotel, with its desert background, and a replica of Mad Max's car in the front. The hotel has been used in a number of films and television commercials and out in the back yard are all the name board created for film sets pinned up on the ceiling. Some of the films made there are Mad Max, A Town Like Alice and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

On our way back to Broken Hill we visited the sculpture garden at the Living Desert Reserve. In 1993, 12 sculptors from around the world were invited to attend a symposium in the desert. They each worked for 14 hours per day, everyday for eight weeks to create individual rock art on huge Wilcannia sandstone boulder up to 3m high without any power tools. The emotional impact is profound and exciting especially in the evening when the sun is setting against the backdrop of the red and orange sky. It is also a heck of a walk up to it in the heat, good job they provided lots of seats to admire the views.

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