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Broken Hill

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Broken Hill

For other uses, see Broken Hill (disambiguation).

Broken Hill
New South Wales
Part of the city seen from the top of a mining slag heap

31°57′24″S 141°28′04″E / 31.95667°S 141.46778°E / -31.95667; 141.46778Coordinates: 31°57′24″S 141°28′04″E / 31.95667°S 141.46778°E / -31.95667; 141.46778

Population 18,430[1]
Postcode(s) 2880
Elevation 315 m (1,033 ft)
Time zone ACST (UTC+9:30)
 • Summer (DST) ACDT (UTC+10:30)
  • 1,160 km (721 mi) West of LGA(s)
City of Broken Hill
County Yancowinna
State electorate(s) Murray-Darling
Federal Division(s) Farrer
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
24.2 °C
76 °F
11.9 °C
53 °F
241.8 mm
9.5 in

Broken Hill is an isolated mining city in the far west of outback New South Wales, Australia. The world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton, has roots in the town.

Broken Hill is located near the border with South Australia on the crossing of the Barrier Highway (national route 32) and the Silver City Highway (national route 79), in the Barrier Range. It is 220 m (722 ft) above sea level, has an average rainfall of 235 mm (9 in) and summer temperatures that reach well over 40 °C (104 °F). The closest major city is Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, which is more than 500 km (311 mi) to the southwest. Unlike the rest of New South Wales, Broken Hill (and the surrounding region) observes Australian Central Standard Time (UTC+9:30) a time zone it shares with South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Broken Hill has been called "The Silver City", the "Oasis of the West", and the "Capital of the Outback". Although over 1,100 km (684 mi) west of Sydney and surrounded by semi-desert, the town has colourful park and garden displays and offers a number of attractions such as the Living Desert Sculptures.[2]

Origins of town name

Broken Hill is Australia's longest-lived mining city. In 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range, and at the time referred to a "Broken Hill" in his diary.[3] Silver ore was later discovered on this broken hill in 1883 by a boundary rider named Charles Rasp. The "broken hill" that gives its name to Broken Hill actually comprised a number of hills that appeared to have a break in them. The broken hill no longer exists, having been mined away.

The area was originally known as Willyama.[4]

Before Charles Sturt's naming of the town, the surrounding area was referred to by the local Aboriginal population as the "Leaping Crest".

Broken Hill township backed by the man-made mullock heaps from the mines along the Line of Lode


Broken Hill's massive orebody, which formed about 1,800 million years ago, has proved to be among the world's largest silver-lead-zinc mineral deposits. The orebody is shaped like a boomerang plunging into the earth at its ends and outcropping in the centre. The protruding tip of the orebody stood out as a jagged rocky ridge amongst undulating plain country on either side. This was known as the broken hill by early pastoralists. Miners called the ore body the Line of Lode. A unique mineral recently identified from Broken Hill has been named Nyholmite [5] after one of the city's famous sons Ron Nyholm (1917–1971).[6]


Broken Hill has been and still is a town dominated by the mining industry. The mines founded on the Broken Hill Ore Deposit – the world's richest lead-zinc ore body – have until recently provided the majority of direct employment and indirect employment in the city. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company became Australia's largest mining company, and later became part of the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton.

Before the 1940s, mining was done by hand tools with high labor usage rates and included horse-drawn carts underground. The advent of diesel powered mining equipment in the late 1940s and the move toward mechanised underground mining has resulted in less labor used per tonne of ore recovered, and the mine workforce has declined. Another factor in the shrinking of the workforce has been the consolidation of mining leases and operators from several dozen to just two main operators at present.

While the low metal prices of the 1990s led to the failure of miner Pasminco Ltd, the recent resurgence in metal prices has returned the sole existing operator, Perilya Limited, to profitability and prompted Consolidated Broken Hill Limited to advance development of the untouched Western Lodes and Centenary Lodes. This created over 70 jobs during development and will lead to a second, new, milling operation built within the town. Although the mining industry is resurgent, labor usage will remain low.

Owing to its exposure to the vagaries of the mining industry, and because of a swiftly shrinking population, similar to other rural centres, and compounded by its isolation, Broken Hill has encouraged its widespread artistic credentials and is promoting itself as a tourism destination in order to become less reliant upon mining as a source of employment.


In 1933 Broken Hill, with a population of 26,925, was the third largest urban incorporated area in New South Wales.[7] Broken Hill's population peaked at around 30,000 in the early 1960s and has shrunk by one third since the heyday of the 1970s zinc boom, with the decrease attributed to migration from the closure and consolidation of mining operations.[8] The impact on Broken Hill's economy of the shrinking mining industry and the more efficient mining rates resulted in a higher proportion of part-time employment, higher employment participation rate by females, a general reduction in overall household incomes, and an increase in the average age of the populace as the young leave seeking work.

Broken Hill has always had a small indigenous community. In recent years the proportion of the population identifying as Aboriginal has increased markedly; from 0.6% in 1971 to 5.1% in 2006, partly owing to the migration of non-indigenous Australians away from Broken Hill.

In the 19th and early 20th century Broken Hill was home to a community of Afghans. Afghans worked as camel drivers in parts of outback Australia, and they made a significant contribution to economic growth when transport options were limited. The camel drivers formed the first sizeable Muslim communities in Australia, and in Broken Hill they left their mark in the form of the first mosque in NSW (1891).


  • Local Talk Broken Hill Magazine – Free Broken Hill Community Magazine + Print, Design, Web, Video & Photography Services
  • Barrier Daily Truth – Local Newspaper

Major Metropolitan and National Newspapers from Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne are available in Broken Hill.

Local Radio Stations that are available in the Broken Hill region include:

  • 2DRY FM – 107.7FM – community radio station
  • Radio 1656 AM – Independent Local Radio
  • ABC Local Radio as 999 ABC Broken Hill – 999 AM (NB: ABC Local Radio's national and state-wide programming is received from Adelaide instead of Sydney when the Broken Hill studios are not broadcasting local programming.)
  • Triple J (ABC) – 102.1 FM
  • ABC Radio National – 102.9 FM
  • ABC Classic FM – 103.7 FM
  • ABC NewsRadio – 104.5 FM
  • 2BH Commercial Radio – 567 AM
  • 2HIL Hill FM Commercial Radio – 96.5 FM
  • Silver City FM 88 - 88 FM
  • Hype FM – 87.6 FM

The following television channels are available free-to-air in the Broken Hill region.

Although Broken Hill is in New South Wales, the programming schedules for these channels is the same as Channel Nine, Channel Ten and Channel Seven in Adelaide, with local adverts inserted and some variations for coverage of Australian Football League or National Rugby League matches, local and national news and current affairs programs, some lifestyle and light entertainment shows and infomercials.

Southern Cross GTS/BKN broadcasts Seven Network programming including AFL telecasts other sporting and major events. Southern Cross Ten broadcasts Network Ten output and some programming from the ONE HD.

On Sunday 31 October 2010, Southern Cross GTS/BKN commenced broadcasting a full-time Channel Nine station available in digital broadcast format only. This service will initially be a relay of TCN Sydney, with local advertising inserted.[9]

Analogue Television transmissions were turned off and discontinued on 15 December 2010 as part of the Federal Government's national digital TV switchover scheme.[10]

The Southern Cross Central service (unrelated to the original Central GTS/BKN) and Imparja Television are available via satellite and terrestrial transmission in the adjacent areas.

Broken Hill was featured during the 2nd leg of The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business.


The earliest human settlers in the area around Broken Hill are thought to be the Wiljakali[3] Aborigines, although this was probably only intermittent, owing to the lack of permanent water sources. As in much of Australia, a combination of disease and aggression by white settlers drove them from their lands.[11]

The first European to visit the area was the then Surveyor General of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell, in 1841. Three years later, in 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range while searching for an inland sea; the range was so named as it was a barrier to his progress north. Burke and Wills passed through the area in their famous 1860–61 expedition, setting up a base camp at nearby Menindee. Pastoralists first began settling the area in the 1850s, with the main trade route to the area along the Darling River.[3]

Broken Hill was founded in 1883 by boundary rider Charles Rasp who patrolled the Mount Gipps fences. In 1883 he discovered what he thought was tin, but the samples proved to be silver and lead. The ore body they came from became the largest and richest of its kind in the world. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) (later BHP Billiton) was founded by the Syndicate of Seven to mine the ore body of Broken Hill in 1885. By 1915 BHP realised its ore reserves were limited and began to diversify into steel production and on 28 February 1939 mining at the BHP mines at Broken Hill had ceased.

BHP was not the only miner at Broken Hill, and mining continued at the southern and northern ends of the Line of Lode. Currently the southern and northern operations are run by Perilya Limited who plan to open further mines along the Line of Lode.

The Battle of Broken Hill took place on New Year's Day 1915 when two Afghani men fired upon a trainload of people who were headed to a New Years Day picnic. Since, at that time, Australia was at war with the Ottoman Empire, those people were first speculated to be Turkish, but later identified as being from British colony of India (modern day Afghanistan).[12][13] They killed four and wounded six, before they were killed by a group of policemen and soldiers.[14]

It is also known for its input into the formation of the labour movement in Australia, and has a rich trade union history. Some of the most bitter industrial disputes have been fought in Broken Hill in 1892, 1909 and 1919. The last of these led to the formation in 1923 of the Barrier Industrial Council, a group of 18 trade unions, which became one of the most influential organisations in the politics of the city.

Like many "outback" towns, Broken Hill was built on precious metals, having once had the world's richest deposits of lead, zinc and silver. Although now depleted somewhat, mining still yields around two million tonnes annually. Some mine tours are available. Sheep farming is now one of the principal industries in the area and there are considerably more sheep than people — almost 2 million Merino sheep.

On 10 January 2007, the Broken Hill City Council was dismissed by the New South Wales Minister for Local Government following a public inquiry.


The city's isolation was a problem until the Adelaide narrow gauge railway link was finished in 1888. Since the New South Wales Government would not allow the South Australia Government to build a railway to cross the border, the last 19 miles (31 kilometres) was built by a private company as the Silverton Tramway.[15] The line was so named because it was originally intended to serve the mining town of Silverton, but by the time the railway reached the town it was already being eclipsed by the newer and bigger mine at Broken Hill.[16] The main purpose of the railway was to transport concentrates and ores from the mines to the smelters and port facilities on the coast at Port Pirie, South Australia. As a backload to Broken Hill it transported supplies, principally coal for boilers at the mines and timber for the timber sets used underground in mining. The Silverton Tramway was owned by Broken Hill mining interests.

The main sidings and locomotive servicing facilities were located in Railwaytown, a suburb of Broken Hill with sidings running to the south and north to serve the mines. The main passenger station was at Sulphide Street.

From the later 1890s, Broken Hill Council campaigned for a tramway to provide public transport around town and to the mines. Eventually the NSW Government decided to build a tramway which was opened on 19 March 1902. It was run by steam trams transferred from Sydney by sea and then by rail across South Australia. It was a curious operation which after World War I suffered increasingly bad losses until the New South Wales Government closed the system in December 1926.

Another curiosity was the Tarrawingee Tramway which was a narrow gauge railway line which ran north from Broken Hill for about 40 miles (64 km) to an area of limestone deposit which was quarried and transported to Broken Hill for use in the smelters at the mines.[17] The tramway opened in 1891 but closed in 1898 as the smelters moved to Port Pirie. In 1889 the Public Works Committee of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly recommended that the Government take over the line and it subsequently became a narrow gauge part of the New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) run under contract by Silverton Tramway.

It was an excursion train on the Silverton Tramway that was fired on by two immigrants in 1915 (see Battle of Broken Hill).

In 1919, a 4-foot 8½ inch (1435 mm) standard gauge rail link from Broken Hill to Menindee was opened as the first stage in a planned direct route to Sydney. The terminus for the train was at Crystal Street station, some distance from the Silverton Tramway's Sulphide Street station. The railway mainly hauled water from the Darling River. The rolling stock all had to be transported by sea to South Australia and the railway was supervised by the superintendent of the Broken Hill Tramways.

In November 1927 the direct link to Sydney was completed. In September 1937 the NSWGR placed into service the Silver City Comet, an air conditioned rail car which ran between Broken Hill and Parkes.

During World War II land transportation between South Australia and Eastern Australia became important with the threat posed by submarines and mines to coastal shipping. Extensive transshipment yards were constructed at Broken Hill in 1942 to allow transshipment of munitions. However, the threat was never fully realised.

With the purchase of the Sulphide Corporation by the Zinc Corporation in 1948 a modern zinc smelter was constructed at Cockle Creek, south of Newcastle. This started to take lead and zinc concentrates directly from Broken Hill via rail in the 1960s, marking the first major use of the rail link to NSW. This was the well known W44 Concentrate Train.

In 1970 the 3-foot 6 inch (1067 mm) gauge railway from Port Pirie to Broken Hill was converted to a 4-foot 8½ inch (1435 mm) gauge, thus completing the standard transcontinental gauge line from Sydney to Perth.


Broken Hill has never had a permanent local water supply which meets the town's needs. By 1888 when the town's population had reached 5000, the state government built a series of small storage tanks.[18]

By the 1890s, mining development had increased to the point that there was a severe water shortage and the mines and the people fought for water. Emergency water supplies were shipped by rail from the Darling River.[18] In 1891, the Stephens Creek Reservoir was completed by a private company. The cost of water was high but not excessive and people were willing to pay because the environment was arid. Another reservoir was built at Umberumberka, however variable rainfall meant supplemental supplies by rail and rationing was still needed.[18]

In 1952, Broken Hill's demands for a permanent water supply were met with the completion of a 24 in (61 cm) pipeline from Menindee.[18] The pipeline can supply 1.6 megalitres of water per hour. Water storage facilities that are part of the Menindee Lakes Scheme on the Darling River, have secured water supply to Broken Hill, making it a relative oasis amid the harsh climate of the Australian outback. High evaporation rates have resulted in the policy of using the local storages for supply before using the pipeline.[18]

Electric power

By the 1920s most of the nine mines on the Line of Lode had their own steam powered electrical generators to power the surface and underground workings. As Broken Hill is in a desert with little water and virtually no fuel, steam generation was an expensive option. In 1927 a plan for a central power generating facility was proposed by F. J. Mars, consulting electrical engineer with the Central Mine. The proposed powerhouse would provide electricity and compressed air. The mines agreed and formed Western New South Wales Electric Power Pty. Ltd. to construct and operate the plant. The Sulzer diesel powered plant was completed in 1931. This was one of the earliest examples of the use of diesel power generation in Australia. The plant was enlarged in 1950 to cope with increased demand from the North Mine. At the same time, a new power station run by the Southern Power Corporation (owned by Consolidated Zinc) was erected near the New Broken Hill Consolidated Mine to provide power to the southern end of the Line of Lode. Both stations were connected to a common grid that serviced the mines on the Line of Lode.

A HVDC back-to-back station with a maximum transmission rate of 40 megawatts was built at Broken Hill in 1986, to draw from the National Grid. It consists of 2 static inverters working with a voltage of 8.33 kV. After this station was operational, the two other power stations closed and the equipment was gradually removed from the Central Power Station. The mothballed Southern Power Station, now owned by remnant miner Perilya, still houses five, 9 cylinder, Nordberg marine engines and two Mirrlees V16 marine engines.


Broken Hill and the surrounding area has many natural and man-made attractions on offer for the tourist. These include mining operations (some open to the public), a visitor's centre and lookout on top of the original Line of Lode mine, historic buildings, town history walking trails, many resident artists and galleries, the Sculpture Symposium, COBB & Co coach & wagon rides, Silverton Camel Farm, Stephen's Creek, several quarries, lakes, the Mundi-Mundi plains, and terrific sunsets.

Broken Hill is a major base for both the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia and School of the Air.

The Brushmen of the Bush was a group of artists who formed in Broken Hill in 1973. Members included Pro Hart and Jack Absalom. The Pro Hart Gallery and Sculpture Park contains a large collection of Hart's paintings and sculptures, as well as many artworks of others that he collected during his lifetime. The gallery also features the Rolls Royce that he painted in his unique style.

Surprisingly, for a town with such a small population, Broken Hill has a burgeoning nightlife. Many clubs exist and are open most nights of the week until late. Establishments catering to both locals and tourists include the Musician's Club and the Democratic Club.

Broken Hill has many literary connections. Crime writer Arthur Upfield developed a nostalgic association with the city after his first visit in 1910, and published The Bachelors of Broken Hill in 1958.[19] Kenneth Cook's 1961 novel Wake in Fright—set in the fictional mining town of Bundanyabba—is a thinly disguised portrait of Broken Hill. Cook based the novel on eccentric ocker characters he befriended in Broken Hill, drawing on their penchant for ritualistic drinking, two-up, and aggressive mateship. The novel was adapted into a 1971 film of the same name, shot on location in Broken Hill and starring Broken Hill native Chips Rafferty in his final film role.[20] Wake in Fright is now regarded as a seminal film of the Australian New Wave, attracting many more film productions to Broken Hill and the surrounding region, including Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989) and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994).[21] Mario's Palace, now trading as The Palace Hotel, has the "tack-o-rama" mural featured in The Adventures of Priscilla.[22]

Visitors are often fascinated by the houses with corrugated iron walls. Although corrugated iron is widely used as a roofing material throughout Australia, it is not commonly used for walls of houses.

Because of its rich historic heritage, the City of Broken Hill has been nominated for listing on the Commonwealth National Heritage list (the highest level of heritage protection in Australia) and the nomination will be assessed.


Broken Hill is one of the stops of the Indian Pacific passenger service, operated by the Great Southern Railway, from Sydney in New South Wales to Perth in Western Australia via Adelaide in South Australia. The popular weekly NSW TrainLink Xplorer service between Broken Hill and Sydney, which was introduced in 2005, arrives from Sydney on Mondays at 19:10, departing Broken Hill on Tuesdays at 7:45 for the return to Sydney. NSW TrainLink also operates a daily road coach service, departing the Broken Hill Tourist Information Centre at 3:45, connecting at Dubbo to the Central West XPT to Sydney. The return journey arrives daily at 22:45. Regional Express operates air services from Broken Hill Airport to and from Adelaide, Dubbo, Melbourne via Mildura and Sydney. Buses R Us operates a mini-bus service to Adelaide on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays with return journeys on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. They also provide a service to Mildura on Wednesdays and Fridays, connecting with road coaches to Melbourne and Sydney.[23]

Local Public Transport is provided by Murtons Staff Pty Ltd, operating four city bus routes, Monday to Saturday.[24] The city is also serviced by two urban Taxi companies.

Preceding station   NSW Main lines   Following station
Terminus Broken Hill Line
Mount Gipps
towards Orange
Preceding station   NSW TrainLink   Following station
Broken Hill Outback Xplorer
Great Southern Railway
towards East Perth
Indian Pacific
towards Sydney


Broken Hill has a hot desert climate (BWh) under the Köppen climate classification. Winter in Broken Hill is cool and dry, while summers are highly variable — mostly hot and dry. The average maximum during the summer months (November to March) is about 32 °C (90 °F) with an average of 25% humidity, although occasional rainfall and cooler weather occur. Dust storms are a common problem in the desert, but in the late 1930s the people of Broken Hill, led by Mr Keast of the Zinc Corporation mine, created green reserves to surround the town thus protecting it from the worst of the storms.

Climate data for Broken Hill
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 46.8
Average high °C (°F) 32.7
Average low °C (°F) 18.4
Record low °C (°F) 7.7
Precipitation mm (inches) 23.7
Source: [25]


Health effects related to the mining industry were endemic to Broken Hill for many years. In 1892, as many as 1 in 50 miners were affected by lead poisoning. As recently as 1991, over 80% of children under 5 years of age had blood lead levels higher than government guidelines.[26]

Notable people


Further reading

External links

New South Wales portal
  • Official Broken Hill Campaign - Discover a lost world
  • Sharing the Lode: The Broken Hill Migrant Story
  • Official Broken Hill homepage
  • National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's collection.
  • From this Broken Hill
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