Head off from Sydney, drive west, and the furthest you’ll get before you hit the state border is Broken Hill.
This is the Outback, through and through. Red earth and scorching temperatures in summer, mining equipment sitting by the side of the road and old country pubs where the miners sit by the side of the road.
But don’t imagine that this means this part of New South Wales is desolate and dangerous. Quite the opposite.
There are so many things to do in Broken Hill that the city has become a popular tourist destination in itself. This isn’t somewhere you would just stop on a drive between Sydney and Adelaide – this is somewhere worth coming to visit on its own.
In fact, there are so many things to do in Broken Hill, I would suggest staying for a few days. One day in Broken Hill is certainly not enough, and even with two days you’ll be rushing around a bit too much (and it’s not a city conducive to rushing).
I would recommend a few days in Broken Hill, giving yourself time to explore some of the Outback around the city, and a day trip to one of the national parks or the old mining town of Silverton.
What you’ll quickly realise about Broken Hill is that it’s bursting with culture. It’s much more sophisticated than you might be expecting from a remote outback city. There are cool new cafes, some fun bars, an interesting community vibe, and a whole heap of great art galleries.
But that’s not to say that it has lost its heritage. Broken Hill has been nicknamed The Silver City because of its booming mining industry and you’ll see that reflected everywhere – from the grand public buildings, to the large corner hotels, and even the street names, many of which are named after minerals in the centre of town.
If you’re wondering where you should start with a trip to Broken Hill, I’ve got some suggestions to help with your planning. Here are my top tips for the best things to do in Broken Hill.
Broken Hill museums
Broken Hill has several interesting museums that tell the story of the city and how it became what you see today. It looks at the mining heritage that led to the creation of Broken Hill, but also the way of life that was born from that.
Line of Lode
I would recommend starting a visit to Broken Hill with a trip to the Line of Lode precinct, which is easily visible at the top of the large mullock heap that sits in the middle of the city.
The most important feature here is the Line of Lode Memorial, which honours the miners who have lost their lives in the mines here. It’s a poignant moment to walk through the narrow pathway resembling an underground experience, and emerge into the hot sun at the other end.
Also up on the hill is an open air museum with some mining heritage, and a visitors centre and decent cafe.
You’ll also spot The Big Bench, another one of Australia’s iconic big things – although the authorities have fenced it off these days so you can’t sit on it, which rather spoils the fun.
The GeoCentre is the informal name for the Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum, which is in a heritage building at the foot of the Line of Lode mullock.
It has a comprehensive exhibition about all things to do with the geology of the region, including how the world’s largest deposit of silver, lead, and zinc was formed here in Broken Hill.
There’s plenty of interesting history about the mining industry and there’s an impressive collection of minerals to see.
The Sulphide Street Railway & Historical Museum
If you’re interested in knowing about life in Broken Hill, this is the place to come. It’s actually a series of small museums all in the same complex, but the most important one is the Railway Museum.
The Railway Museum has a series of original train engine and carriages, giving you an insight into the transportation back in the day, when families would travel out for weekend trips, or come in from Adelaide.
One of the highlights when you visit is chatting to the volunteers who spend their time here, some of whom have worked on the railways for more than 50 years. They’ll tell you stories about the exhibits on display in the old 1905 station building.
The other smaller museums on the site that you can see, each of which offers a fascinating side of the city, are the Broken Hill Migrant Heritage Museum, Hospital Museum, Ron Carter Transport Pavilion, and the Tess Alfonsi Mineral Collection.
Broken Hill art galleries
Maybe you don’t traditionally associate the Outback with culture, but that’s probably not fair and Broken Hill is a perfect example of why that impression is wrong.
There has been a long art scene in Broken Hill, gaining national (and even international) notoriety in the 1960s with Pro Hart and then particularly in the 1970s with a group of painters called the Brushmen of the Bush (which included Pro).
Since then, Broken Hill has become known as an incubator for emerging artists and a producer of some of the most interesting works about Outback Australia and life in remote parts of the country.
One of the best things to do in Broken Hill is visit some of the galleries – and there are dozens of them these days. I’ve got some recommendations for galleries worth visiting, but you’ll surely stumble over some other great ones yourself.
Pro Hart Gallery
The most influential artist to come out of Broken Hill was Pro Hart, who spent more than 40 years painting scenes of the Outback, of country life, of the mining industry, and much more. He brought a vibrancy and energy to the region that wasn’t common in artworks previously.
It’s well worth visiting the Pro Hart Gallery to see a collection of his work that is still owned by the family. There’s also an exhibit of his studio with the final piece that he had been working on before his death in 2006.
Interestingly, all of his children have also become artists and you can see the influence – and evolution – in their work. Pop into Julie Hart’s gallery to see what I mean.
Silver City Mint and Art Centre
Another iconic spot in Broken Hill is the Silver City Mint and Art Centre. The exhibitions about the silver-making are interesting (particularly if you’re interesting in picking up some jewellery yourself), and there’s also a good collection of artworks for sale from artists across the region.
But the real highlight – and, to be honest, the main reason you would pay for entry – is to see The Big Picture.
The Big Picture is an incredible painting done on a piece of canvas 100 metres long and 12 metres wide. It is displayed as a panorama and has different landscapes and viewpoints of Broken Hill across it. Standing in the central viewing platform, you can see so much detail in each direction.
It took artist Peter Anderson about two years to paint it and there are some pretty impressive statistics you can read about the artwork.
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery
The Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is the oldest regional art gallery in New South Wales and, as it happens, is also one of the best. In an old emporium building that used to have its own livery stable and blacksmiths in the yard, the gallery is spread over two levels.
Of course, the gallery supports local artists and there are usually exhibitions showing their work – much of it experimental and modern. But there is also usually artworks in display that show the history of painting in the region.
A highlight each year is the Pro Hart Outback Art Prize which can be entered by anyone around the world but needs to represent something about the Outback. If you are in town when it’s on display, don’t miss it!
Broken Hill heritage buildings
Broken Hill was officially founded in 1883 and has been growing ever since. The mining industry caused its boom initially, with the discovery of the world’s largest deposit of silver and lead and, over the years, different forms of mining kept the industry steaming along.
Although there are still mining operations here, it’s not as profitable as it once was. Agriculture has become a big industry and the farms around Broken Hill are full of sheep.
Still, regardless of what the main source of employment is, there’s always been lots of wealth and lots of people passing through the city, and you’ll find a wonderful collection of heritage buildings to reflect that.
Broken Hill Heritage Trail
Although you can wander around by yourself, there’s actually a path marked out that will lead you to most of the important buildings in the centre of the city.
The signposted Broken Hill Heritage Trail takes about two hours and leads you along streets named after metals, minerals, and compounds. Some of the highlights along the way include the post office, the Trades Hall and the Town Hall.
Heroes, Larrikins and Visionaries Tour
Another official walk that you can do through town is more about the people than the buildings – but, when it comes to heritage, that’s one of the things that makes Broken Hill so interesting.
This 1.7-kilometre stroll from the railway station to Billy Goat Hill brings to life some of the city’s colourful identities, including the world’s smallest mine worker, famous artists, musicians and actors, the first lady blacksmith, gamblers and even ghosts.
Broken Hill Cemetery
Speaking of ghosts, another of the interesting sites worth visiting in Broken Hill is the city’s cemetery. While it may sound a bit morbid, there are lots of famous people buried here and it’s through their stories that you can learn more about the city.
It’s quite a scenic place to walk around yourself but you’ll get more out of your visit if you go with a cemetery tour.
The Palace Hotel
Of all the pubs in Broken Hill (and there are quite a few), the most famous is definitely the Palace Hotel – and it’s well worth a visit for a drink or a meal.
The Palace became particularly famous after the movie, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, because it was featured as one of the spots the main characters stopped. It has embraced this fame and hosts regular drag events.
But the Palace was a significant hotel before this because of the beautiful murals painted over the walls by artist Gordon Waye in the 1970s. They each feature water, to create the sense of an oasis in the desert.
Bell’s Milk Bar
And, for something a bit quirky but a Broken Hill icon, check out Bell’s Milk Bar, which is said to be the oldest operating milk bar in Australia, having started in 1892.
The current design is based on the 1950s style and it feels a bit like walking back into a retro time warp, and there’s a museum out back with lots of heritage items.
While it’s unashamedly about nostalgia, they still serve great drinks and all the syrups and cordials are still handmade, based on original recipes.
While there are plenty of things to do in Broken Hill that are in the city, let’s not forget that we are in the Outback. You only need to go a few kilometres out of town and you’ll be amongst the desolate – but gorgeous – landscapes of the middle of Australia.
Living Desert State Park
Just 12 kilometres from the centre of Broken Hill is the Living Desert State Park, a protected area of 2400 hectares that lets you drive and walk amongst some stunning outback scenery.
One of the best features is the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, which is surrounded by a predator-proof fence, and has wallaroos and kangaroos inside. There are walking tracks you can take and it’s particularly nice in the late afternoon.
But the highlight is the collection of sculptures at the top of hill. There are twelve carved artworks here by different artists, each creating shapes on the skyline, each with its own story to tell. They have become a popular sunset spot as the colours change and the works turn to silhouettes.
Day Dream Mine
If you want to see a mine, you’l have trouble getting access to any of the ones that are still operating. But you can go into a historic one – the Day Dream Mine, about 20 kilometres out of town.
Day Dream Mine was established in 1882 and, at its peak, it would’ve had about 500 people based here. These days you can see some of the operations and old township on the surface, then you can take a guided tour underground to see what life would’ve been like for the workers.
The stars are so bright out here, far away from the big cities and other light pollution. Looking up, you can clearly see the streak of the Milky Way galaxy and the millions (even billions?) of other stars.
In fact, there are so many, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re look at, which is why the evening show at Outback Astronomy is fascinating.
Sitting in big reclining chairs, you’ll look up at the sky as Linda uses a laser point to show you the planets, the constellations, and even nebula far away. You can choose a package with food and drinks to make a night of it.
Royal Flying Doctor Service
Although there are bases across the country for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the biggest one is at Broken Hill, and there’s a visitors centre that lets you see some of the action and learn more about this vital service.
It’s actually just on the edge of town, at the airport, but the service’s work is all about the Outback, because that’s where they fly to give emergency health care and regular medical clinics to people in remote areas.
The visitors centre here isn’t as big as the visitor experience in Dubbo but you do see more of the behind-the-scenes activity in Broken Hill, including the planes in the hangar.