If you have an image in your head of what a small outback town looks like, I reckon it will be pretty close to Silverton. With a population of just 35 people (and four donkeys), it’s a dusty community with a smattering of buildings, where the pub is the focal point of town.
But don’t let first impressions trick you. There are lots of things to do in Silverton, which is just inside New South Wales from the South Australian border, about 25 kilometres from Broken Hill.
Part of the charm of Silverton is just being here, walking around this authentic old town full of heritage – and meeting the quirky characters who live here today. It sure has a lot of personality.
And it’s interesting to hear a bit about the history and see how the town has changed over the years.
Modern Australians first started living here around 1880 but Silverton was officially founded in 1883 as a the main township for all the mining prospecting that was going on in the area.
As more and more was found underground, the mining industry boomed and so did the population. What started as 250 people when Silverton was founded quickly became about 3000 within months.
At its peak, Silverton was a bustling town with a busy main street full of businesses and about ten pubs. It had churches, a gaol, a gym, a hospital, and even a stock exchange. Keep in mind that, in those days, getting to a major city was a massive expedition, so the town needed to be self-sufficient.
After a few decades of prosperity, the huge deposits of silver, lead, and zinc were found at Broken Hill and so the region’s main township moved there. Some people even put their Silverton buildings on carts and took them with them.
Thankfully, since then, a few important buildings in Silverton have been protected and a small – but loyal – population has remained. It means we can visit today and still get a sense of this wonderful place.
A lot of people visit Silverton as a day trip, as one of the things to do in Broken Hill. But there are some accommodation options where you can stay overnight and immerse yourself even more in this unique outback community.
But either way, whether you visit for a few hours or even longer, I would suggest taking it slow and looking beyond the surface.
There are quite a few things to do in Silverton, but there’s no need to rush. The key is to have a chat to the people who live here and those who run the small businesses. They’ve got stories to share – and they will be some of your best memories of the place.
To help you plan a trip to Silverton, here are my suggestions for the best things to do in Silverton.
Mad Max 2 Museum
Silverton has been used to film quite a few movies and television shows, but the most famous is certainly Mad Max 2. The post-apocalyptic action film is considered one of the best movies made and the landscapes of the outback are a big part of its aesthetics.
For a long time, there was nothing here to commemorate the filming. That was, until Adrian Bennett arrived. He’s an Englishman who became a fan of Mad Max 2 as a youngster. He visited Silverton in 2004 and vowed to come back and open a museum, which he did in 2010.
The Mad Max 2 Museum is full of memorabilia from the movies, with props, costumes, behind-the-scenes photos… and much more. There’s heaps to see but I think it’s the collection of vehicles that’s the most impressive. Seeing the cars and trucks from the movie really transports you there.
John Dynon Art Gallery
The art scene in Broken Hill has gained a strong reputation in recent years and it has spread out to Silverton as well. With much of the work in the region influenced by the vibrant colours of the outback landscapes, it makes sense you would find inspiration in this small town.
The most famous of the art galleries in Silverton is the John Dynon Art Gallery. He set up his studio here about 35 years ago and has been painting full time ever since.
You’ll easily spot his gallery, with the corrugated iron walls brightly painted and an odd collection of sculptures and installations out front. You’re welcome to go inside and see his collection.
John is always here (if the gallery is open), usually working on a painting in his studio in the corner. But he’s happy to have a chat if you’ve got some questions.
Beyond 39 Dips
Up the hill from John’s, there are a couple of other art galleries. I would recommend popping in to see Beyond 39 Dips, which is run by Jimmy and Lee Neilson.
They have their own glasswork and leather goods on display, but there’s also a decent collections of other artwork here – paintings, pottery, and photography.
It’s a good way to get a broad sense of some of the work that’s produced in the area and learn a little bit more about the town.
Heritage buildings in Silverton
The town may not be large but it is quite spread out because so many of the old buildings are now gone and there are big spaces between those that remain. I think it feels a bit like visiting a Roman ruin site where just some things are still standing.
But it’s worth going for a walk to see the heritage buildings and get a sense of how it would once have been in Silverton. Just imagine that they filled the streets.
In particular, look out for the Methodist church from 1885, St Carthage Catholic church, the public school from 1888, the municipal chambers from 1889, and the small Masonic Lodge from 1886.
Silverton Gaol Museum
One of the most interesting historic buildings is the Silverton Gaol Museum, which uses its large space for its dense collection of memorabilia about the town and the region.
Across 18 rooms and cells, the artefacts tell the story of life in Silverton through the boom period and the move to Broken Hill. There’s plenty about the workers but also about the social and family lives of those who lived here.
There’s a lot to see and you probably won’t be able to cover everything in one visit. But it’s interesting to concentrate on just a few rooms with topics you would like to know more about, or wander through to get an overall impression.
The Silverton Hotel is the centre of the community and you’ll be bound to end up here at some point during your visit. Not only is it a great place for a drink, the meals are delicious (and really the only option in town, other than the bakery next door).
But the pub is more than just somewhere to eat and drink. The walls are full of quirky bits of heritage and story-starters from the pub’s founding in 1884 until today.
The current building is not the original, but you can see the burnt out remains of the first pub out back. This is the spot that one of Australia’s largest companies, BHP, was formed.
There are also extensions to the property which mean there’s a large outdoor area for eating and drinking, with a stage for entertainment. You might think you’re popping in, but I bet you’ll end up staying a bit longer than expected. It really is one of the best things to do in Silverton.
Mundi Mundi Lookout
Just a few kilometres out of town is the Mundi Mundi Lookout, which is worth making the little extra drive to see.
For fans of Mad Max 2, this is a must-do pilgrimage site because it’s where one of the most important scenes – a long chase at the end of the movie – was filmed.
But there’s good enough reason to come, even if that cinematic significance is lost on you. It’s from here that you get a stunning view of the Mundi Mundi Plains.
The vista is famous for the seemingly-endless flat treeless plains that stretches to the horizon, where you can often clearly make out the curvature of the planet.
If you’ve got a bit of spare time and you really want to experience a bit more of the Outback, I would highly recommend staying a couple of nights at Eldee Station.
It’s about 25 kilometres from Silverton and is an operating farm station – although it’s also been welcoming tourists for years and has lots of things you can do.
There are two types of accommodation here. You can stay in one of the guest rooms around the main homestead, or there are camping spots for tents and campervans. Either way, you’ll be comfortable.
But the highlight of Eldee Station is exploring its vast area. There are 4WD trails for people who want to do some of their own driving, taking you through wonderful landscapes, along creeks, over hills, and past ruins.
Or you can join station owner Stephen Schmidt for a tour of what it’s like to run a station, some of the heritage, or a sunset trip up to one of the best views of the Mundi Mundi Plains (his wife Naomi will even make you up a snack plate).
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BROKEN HILL
Although you can stay in Silverton itself at the Silverton Hotel, you’ll probably find it easier to get accommodation in nearby Broken Hill.
Although it’s nothing special, the Desert Sand Motor Inn is probably the best of the budget options.
There’s something comforting about knowing the ibis chain is similar everywhere, and the ibis Styles in Broken Hill is no exception.
To make the most of isolation, get a room at the Broken Hill Outback Resort with views of the red dirt from the spa bath.