|Episode 7 of 9 – Yeppoon to Port Augusta
Cobar to Broken Hill
Broken Hill is 3039kms from Dunsborough.
The 450kms drive was as boring as all hell and seemed to go on and on forever, through countryside that was almost totally devoid of any characteristics. Flat, dry and featureless, with the only distraction being the number of wild emus and goats that one had to keep one’s eye on, as they all seem to have a death wish and cross the road just as you’re going passed. We refueled midway at a place called Wilcannia and oh my God, what a dump. Another place in the realms of Roebourne, with every shop in town having their windows boarded up. You couldn’t even walk into the toilets at the service station – unless wearing a full blown nuclear protective suit - it was that disgusting. Thank goodness we didn’t stay there for the night. We stopped and shared our packed lunch with the multitude of flies at a Rest Area about 60kms from Wilcannia, overlooking what I imagine to be typical “Outback Australia” (miles of bugger all), before continuing on to Broken Hill. They say first impressions are lasting impressions – well – the road into Broken Hill is bounded on both sides by old disused, rusting machinery and old mining houses that aren’t fit for human occupation, but ARE still used. I had expected it to be a typical mining town, but really didn’t expect it to quite this bad. Having said that, in all fairness, we have only seen a small section of the town and probably shouldn’t form opinions until we’ve seen a lot more – but our first impression was not exactly complimentary. Our caravan park, however, is fine and all amenities are satisfactory.
The following morning we drove into town and collected our mail, that Suzie had very kindly forwarded for us – thanks Sue - and whilst in town had a walk down a couple of the main streets. All the usual buildings like banks, hotels, police station, courthouse and shops are there and some of the old architecture is really very appealing, but in between there are some real daggy places that bring down the tone of the whole area. There’s also a distinct lack of colour and greenery and one gets a feeling of harshness about the place. In our travels we came across a shopping centre, which was one of the few modern buildings in town, with a Woolies, so got the usual bread and milk etc. Later in the afternoon, we had a walk to a nearby oval, but found it’s not suitable for our jogging. Call me a woosie, but I’m not big on jogging in grass that’s 2 foot long, with God knows what at the bottom.
Next day we drove into town and visited the “Broken Earth Café and Restaurant” which has been built right on top of the old BHP mine dump, overlooking the town and had a coffee. After which we visited the “Miners Memorial” next door, which was built as a legacy to the more than 800 miners who lost their lives on the job. The memorial is a sober reminder as to why Broken Hill pioneered a culture of trade unionism, including the introduction of the 35 hour working week. In the 1800’s, safety in the mines was considered the sole responsibility of the workers themselves and as a result they existed in intolerable conditions and only after numerous strikes, did things improve. God those old buggers must have been tough. Whilst driving around the town and suburbs we discovered a sports oval that will do quite nicely for any jogging we might do.
Fathers Day - we drove a short distance out of town, parked the car and then walked the 1.2kms (uphill all the way) to the “Living Desert Sculptures Park”. These sculptures are a celebration of the region’s powerful connection between art and environment and feature 12 massive sandstone sculptures by artists from around the world. Each sculpture was described in a deep and meaningful manner by the sculptor and were obviously way too deep for my pea brain, but vaguely interesting all the same. It was a very dry and hot day and the flies were out with a vengeance, so we didn’t do the nature flora and fauna walk. On the way back to town we stopped off at the Pro Hart Gallery. At the entrance to the gallery there are 4 of his Rolls Royce’s parked under tin carports, but otherwise exposed to the elements, slowly rotting away and it just seemed such a shame that they weren’t parked somewhere more pertinent to their status. Also one of them had been painted in the true Pro Hart style, with cartoon like characters depicted in an outdoor setting and to me this was nothing short of sacrilege on such a fine piece of machinery. However, inside the gallery his true artistry could be seen in abundance and we spent a couple of very pleasant hours walking around. We learnt that he was born in nearby Menindee and actually worked in the Broken Hill mine, before taking up painting full time. On arrival back at the van park, Lin baked the most delicious scones and we sat back and watched the final footy game of the home and away series. Lin ended up just one point behind the eventual winner of the Heytesbury & Friends footy tipping competition and Murkei Murray came third, a distant 2 points further back. To celebrate Fathers Day, we decided, to hell with the expense and dined out in style at McDonald’s.
Monday is our last full day here and we had a couple of errands to run in town before deciding to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service base here in Broken Hill. This particular base is unique because it’s the only working base, located at an airport, open to the public daily. There are currently 21 Flying Doctor Bases and 47 aircraft around Australia and they cover over 80% of the country. The tour was very informative and we got to see the Operations Centre, Maintenance Hangar, Museum and Shop – all for $7.00 per person. I had no idea that the only part the Federal Government pays in the entire operation is 66% of the running costs of the aircraft. All the rest, including the purchase of the aircraft (at $8 million a pop) is paid for solely by fund raising. God – talk about priorities, when the politicians waste countless millions on lost causes across the other side of the world, when the money could far better be used right here in Australia - I hate those over indulging pollies even more now. We ended the day with a quiet jog and got things set up for our departure in the morning.