Historic Buildings of Broken Hill and Silverton
5 Jul 21 · 10 mins read
Historic Buildings of Broken Hill and Silverton
By Marco Stojanovik
Broken Hill and Silverton are historic outback mining towns in the far west of New South Wales, home to several heritage buildings. Broken Hill developed quickly in the 1880s after the discovery of rich mineral resources in the area attracted unemployed miners from around the country and created enormous wealth. The town centre, concentrated on Argent Street, is home to a particularly fine collection of late-Victorian public buildings, while other attractions around the town speak to its industrial and multicultural past.
Silverton is typical of many Australian mining town, which were established in boom times with high expectation for the future, only to fade away once the ore ran out. Today an abandoned silver mining town with a population of about only 50, many of its glorious old buildings have been pulled down or fallen, their remains scattered on the surrounding hillside. Those that do remain in preserved and restored forms, however, are impressive. Public buildings, churches, houses, schools, a hotel, and others are remnants of a vibrant past which continues to draw tourists in significant numbers.
Odyssey traveller conducts a tour of Broken Hill and Silverton as part of our Broken Hill and Back small group tour, as well as our small group tour of Western New South Wales. During these tours we conduct a walking tour of Argent Street, Broken Hill’s Main Street with a local guide, and gain an appreciation of the transformation from wild west mining to organised unionists managing the town. We then spend some time visiting the mining museum, and visit some of the key art galleries, enjoying short talks from the curators. At Silverton, we visit the School Museum and Silverton Gaol, and enjoy spectacular views of big skies over an expansive landscape at Mundi Mundi Plain Lookout.
This article explores the notable historic buildings of Broken Hill and Silverton as background information for your tour. Much of the information is sourced from the Australian Council of National Trusts’ book Historic Public Buildings of Australia.
Located at the corner of Argent and Chloride Streets is Broken Hill’s iconic Post office. It is a fine brick structure with an easily recognisable and photogenic clock tour with four dials. Constructed in 1891, it is a reflection of the wealth received from the late nineteenth-century mining boom and confidence in the permanency of the town by that time. It also provides evidence of the changing nature of postal and telecommunications practices in NSW, particularly in servicing an isolated regional community.
However, the incitement for building the Post Office was far from peaceful. Following the resignation of the postmaster, essential supplies began to exhaust. The Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, in turn received an avalanche of telegraphs from angry citizens questioning his capability of manning the colony. Soon the 7,000 inhabitants of Broken Hill had not a single stamp, promissory note, or telegraph form. The seriousness of this situation in such an isolated community must have provoked the required reaction and building commenced. Bitter progress then ensured that construction showed satisfactory progress until it was finished.
Upon completion, the Post Office’s most striking feature was the tower, standing at 86 feet high – and with the building’s spreading shady veranda and its balcony-topped corner entrance, supported in paired timber columns, it provided satisfactory reward for the efforts of the citizens. It soon became a focal point for the community and sense of civic pride, connecting residents of Broken Hill with the rest of Australia and beyond.
When tracing the spectacular early growth of Broken Hill, it quickly becomes clear the extent to which the trade union movement was at the heart of the town’s social fabric. The Trades Hall, one of the few surviving Victorian buildings in Broken Hill, was the first building south of the equator to be built and owned entirely by unions. It stands symbolic of the strength and healthy progression of the union movement in the city.
At a ceremony in 1898 at which the foundation-stone was laid by the leading union representative, Ben Tillett, a hope was expressed that each citizen would ‘own a brick in the building’. The 6,000 people present seemed to have responded well, for building was quickly free of debt. The establishment of the Trades Hall and the strength of unions in the city undoubted assisted in the attainment of comparatively strike-free labour-management relations.
Trades Hall today remains open, home to a fascinating exhibition displaying the union history of Broken Hill. The substantial stone structure with its truncated hipped roofs, high open-trussed patterned metal ceilings and fine cedar joinery has been preserved as an integral part of life in Broken Hill today. It is especially worth seeing for the ornate facades, stained-glass windows, and ceiling mural.
Sulphide Street Railway Station
In January 1970, the last train departed from the Sulphide Street Railway Station, in operation since 1895. It had until this point served as a passenger terminal for the Silverton tramway Company, a highly successful privately-owned railway line to the South Australian Border. But, with the opening of the new Commonwealth standard gauge railway line through Broken Hill, the station was no longer needed.
The Sulphide Street Station building complex, at the corner of Blende and Bromide Streets, was constructed as a showpiece. Still today, the building remains well-preserved and attractive; the limestone walls have become eroded, but the building is generally in good repair. Steel columns, wrought iron veranda trusses, and tiled floors are in fine condition, while patterned, coloured pressed metal ceilings rise above high-lofted rooms.
These days it houses four museums for the price of one: the Broken Hill Migrant Museum, the Hospital Museum, the Ron Carter Transport Pavilion and the Triple Chance Mineral Collection. It is also home to a range of railway attractions, including the Silver City Comet and a selection of restored gems from the Silverton Tramway Company.
The Muslim Mosque
Broken Hill’s Muslim Mosque, located in Williams Street, is recognised as Australia’s first mosque. Built in 1981 by camel drivers from India and Afghanistan on the site of a former camel camp, it provides rare evidence of the pioneering presence of camel trains operated by a large Muslim community.
Importation of camels to Australia commenced in 1840 and the first Afghan camel driver, Dost Mahomet, accompanied Burke and Wills in 1860. In total, more than 10, 000 camels arrived in the late 19th century. Guided by cameleers from the Middle East and Asia, they brought goods from the cities to remote pastoral stations, helped build the Overland Telegraph Line along an ancient Aboriginal trading route, and played a key role in the creation of the Canning Stock Route and laying out the Trans-Australia and Central Australian railway lines.
Bourke was a key location for the ‘Afghan’ cameleers – in actuality from British India, Iran, Turkey, and the Middle East (as well as Afghanistan) – making it the most multicultural city in NSW at the turn of the twentieth century.
Repaired and refurnished in 1968, the Mosque is a simple iron structure with an anteroom and a prayer room. Its alcove points to Mecca. Still intact is the trough in which each worshipper washed his feet before entering the Mosque. The Mosque remains in use for worship today and is open to visits from the public.
A fire in 1888 destroyed many of the buildings in Argent Street and led to a press campaign for better public buildings. The Court House, built in 1889, is the finest example of the results of this relentless campaign.
It is a dignified and unpretentious white-painted building of Victorian Italianate style, typical in design of courthouses of the time. It combines an unadorned two-storey pedimented front with single-storey side wings, flanked with verandas supported on paired timber columns manufactured in Broken Hill. The entry is heralded by an eye-catching coat of arms, and in the Court House grounds is a sculptured bronze war memorial depicting a soldier throwing a grenade.
Next door to the Post Office, is the gorgeously ornate Town Hall, built of stone in the Victorian Classic Revival style in 1890. It features an open veranda on two levels with projecting porch and balcony. The first of the truly ornate structure to grace the streets of Broken Hill, it is an absolute must-see.
Perhaps the most internationally recognisable icon in Broken Hill is the Palace Hotel. Thanks to the building being featured so heavily in the iconic Aussie drag-queen comedy Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, it is a very popular destination for visitors to the town.
But the hotel’s appeal goes beyond just its important spot in film history. With three storeys, long verandas, and beautiful cast iron balustrades, it is a heritage buff’s dream. Plus, its famed colourful murals make the inside a real visual treat as well. Painted by Gordon Waye in the 1970s, each features water to give the impression of an oasis in the outback.
Silverton Gaol, a solid stone-walled building with multiple cell galleries, exercise yards and facilities for solitary confinement, provides some insight into the turbulent times. It replaced the previous makeshift wood-and-iron structure, which by 1888 was regarded totally inadequate and unfit even for prisoners. At this earlier goal, prisoners were routinely held in leg-irons to prevent their escape and were frequently chained to a large Peppercorn tree outside when the cells overflowed.
In 1891 the Gaol had a total staff of nine, but with the general exodus from the mining town and the establishment of the Broken Hill Gaol in 1892, it was used with less frequency. Eventually it was closed in 1943.
Restored by the local historical society in 1868, the Gaol is now open as a museum. Across the 18 rooms and cells of the Silverton Gaol and Historical Museum is displayed an extensive and eclectic collection of artefacts and memorabilia about the town and the region’s heyday. Amongst the literally thousands of items are daily items such as clothing, badges, bed pans, dolls, and roller skates. Tools of the trades of mining, transport, entertainment, technology, food, religion, sport, education, and medicine are also present, accompanied by a range of photographs. All combine to create a vivid picture of Silverton’s early years.
On the other side of the road from the Gaol is the old Court House, constructed in 1889 as a stone structure with high timber ceilings. It is like many of the public buildings of that time, complete with cooking and washing facilities, and has quarters for the visiting judiciary. It is now port of a hostel-style accommodation facility.
Other notable historic buildings in Silverton include the Methodist Church (1885), Masonic Lodge (1886), Public School (1888), St Carthage Catholic Church (1888), and Municipal Chambers (1889).
Tour of Broken Hill and Silverton
Our Tour of Broken Hill and Back begins and ends in Broken Hill, taking you through Outback NSW, Queensland, and South Australia. From Broken Hill, we head through the outback to the opal-mining town of White Cliff, stopping off at Menindee Lake on the way. Our outback tour then crosses into Queensland, seeing the dunes of the Strzelecki Desert on our way to Birdsville, near the Northern Territory border.
After our visit to Queensland, we pass into South Australia, and stop in at the outback town of Maree, once a hub for the ‘Afghan’ cameleers of the Overland Telegraph. We then head south to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, a privately owned flora and fauna sanctuary on the northern tip of the Flinders Range. From the Flinders we head back to Broken Hill via the tiny town of Tibooburra (population: 134), passing through what is possibly the most remote area of the Australian landscape.
During our Tour of Western New South Wales, we travel for 14 days from Dubbo around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura, before heading back East towards Dubbo via Griffith.
Gain an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and features of the Murray Darling Basin through some spectacular scenery. The program skirts around the edges of the “Aussie Outback”, but is not an outback adventure for the traveller. Whilst the Murray-Darling begins in Queensland, by the time the river system reaches New South Wales it represents one the most complex river systems in Australia against which modern agriculture has placed substantial stress. We see the historic and contemporary evidence of this in the lakes around Menindee. and the many landscape changes including the Mallee, observing and learning about the river woodland galleries, arid lands, saltbush plains, agriculture practices; as well as the mining and railway history of Southern Australia
Our outback Australia tours are designed especially for mature Australians, who seek an authentic and informed experience of their destination. We move in genuinely small groups of between 6-12, and are led by knowledgeable local guides. Our tour price generally includes accommodation, meals (whether lunch or dinner in a local restaurant or a picnic lunch), and entrance to attractions.
Odyssey Traveller is eager to announce that we are now running a number of Australian outback tours. We take you down the outback roads of the Kimberley, where we take a scenic flight over the rock formations of Purnululu National Park, and admire the west coast, where the ‘red dirt meets the sea’. On our tour of outback South Australia we explore the ancient landscape of the Flinders Ranges, learning about Aboriginal culture and art at Wilpena Pound. On yet another tour we enjoy the quintessential outback experience in rural Queensland, where we explore golden outback towns such as Longreach, understand the history of the cattle station, and marvel at the lush beauty of Canarvon Gorge, surrounded by arid plains.
If an outback adventure isn’t for you, you might want to check out some of our other Australia tours, including Adelaide and surrounds (with visits to the Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island), West Australian Wildflowers, and the history and wildlife of Tasmania.
Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to ‘Broken Hill and Back’
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