The ultimate outback town: Broken Hill

As we approach from the hills to the south of the town, a flat top mount of mining debris signals that we have arrived. Broken Hill is clearly a prosperous mining town. After camping for days with basic facilities and no shops to speak off, we indulge in all the town has to offer. There is a nice diner in the centre of town. There is historic stuff. And to our surprise there are many art galleries, here in the middle of the outback.

The people are more diverse than we expected. Miners, artsy people, real outback folk and indigenous people mingle in town; young and old. In the outback, a lot of the young people move away to the big cities – and apparently Broken Hill has enough to offer for young people to stick around or come here for work.

We visit the base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), just out of town at the airport. The visitor centre tells the history and story of medical aid (or the lack of it) in remote Australia. There are all kinds of maps and charts, figures and numbers that show how remote we already are and how much of this gigantic country actually is considered to be a remote or even ‘very remote’ area.

Most people on the continent live in or near the cities along the East and South coast, and in Perth. The huge arid outback, the size of Europe, houses less than 700.000 people. Half of them in towns like Broken Hill… And we still got 4G connection! It’s weird, but the main feeling visiting the flying doctors is: ‘Wow! This is serious!’.

We get a peak into the control room and the hangar with the Beechcraft planes. We learn that the famous School of the Air for kids in the outback is a spin-off of the flying doctor service. Nowadays the famous radio (Victor Charlie Charlie, over…) is replaced by phone for the doctors and by internet for remote schooling. The folk at the visitor centre are extremely friendly. They even hand us a copy of a Dutch article on getting more doctors from indigenous origin. More info on the royal flying doctor service: www.flyingdoctor.org.au

There is plenty here for us to play the tourist the other days. We visit some art galleries and a cute geological museum, take a peak in the Palace Hotel with enormous murals of the outback, drive up to Silverton, a near ghost town where several movies have been shot (and even here: art galleries in the middle of the desert).

At the end of the day we visit the Living Desert and Sculptures Park for a short hike, spotting wallabies, kangaroos and flies, and a gorgeous sunset amongst sandstone sculptures. The sculptures are a 1990s initiative of the local art community bringing together an international group of artists.

The large mount of mining debris towering over town has a monument on top for the 900 miners that have died since the mines opened. The visitor centre and cafe-restaurant closed down not long after it was opened. The rather conservative community of Broken Hill never took to it, a local woman tells us, because the road up was too ‘dangerous’ and the modern architecture was all a bit too ‘different’. And the number of tourists coming in the high season are just too low to make the restaurant viable. Again, the feeling that we are somewhat off the beaten track comes back again.

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