Broken Hill, Outback New South Wales

About Broken Hill, NSW

Broken Hill was born through hardship, toil and looking after your mates in places like Broken Hill that the true Aussie spirit was born. And that spirit is alive and well today; the people are warm and friendly and it's no trouble to stop and have a drink with you, or point you in the direction of where you are seeking to go. In Broken Hill, that could be anywhere from the galleries of the many artists who call the place home, to the many places of interest in the vast outback that surrounds the town. The backdrop of the Line of Lode (the locality's vast ore seam), provides an usual physical setting for the city, and an ever present reminder of its important mining legacy.

Broken Hill was originally called "the broken hill" after hiils containing the orebody of Broken Hill that was discovered by German boundary rider Charles Rasp in September 1883. He discovered what he thought was tin, but the samples proved to be silver and lead. Rasp is often credited with coining the name Broken Hill after writing it in his journal, however in 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range, and at the time referred to a "Broken Hill" in his diary. The "broken hill" that gave its name to the city 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, believed to be a local Aboriginal term thought to mean "Leaping Crest".

Mineral claims were pegged and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) floated in 1885. From a few huts and tents, the town grew rapidly. The Municipality of Broken Hill was incorporated on 22 September 1888, just five years after Rasp pegged the first mineral lease, and at a time when the population had dramatically increased to 11,000 people. The town was laid out in a grid parallel to the adjacent mining leases and the history of the settlement is preserved in the streets named after minerals, mining officials and aldermen.

By 1907, Broken Hill was the largest town in New South Wales after Sydney and reached its maximum population of 35,000 in 1915. Life was harsh for early residents  the water was fouled and typhoid was rife. Wood was increasingly scarce because of constant demand for the mines and domestic use, and dust storms became a common occurrence. The mineral wealth contributed to Broken Hill s many fine public and commercial buildings, but there is also a more modest but equally fascinating housing stock. The earliest cottages were built of easily transported materials - particularly galvanised iron - and had no verandahs, but these were soon added due to the harsh climate. More substantial stone and brick houses were built for mining officials, doctors and businessmen.

Unlike the rest of New South Wales, Broken Hill (and the surrounding region) observes Australian Central Standard Time (UTC+9:30), the same time zone used in South Australia and the Northern Territory. This is because at the time the Australian dominions adopted standard time, Broken Hill's only direct rail link was with Adelaide, not Sydney. Similarly, Broken Hill is regarded as part of South Australia for the purposes of postal parcels rates, and telephone charges. Broken Hill also used to be a break of gauge station where the state railway systems of South Australia and New South Wales met.


Broken Hill has a desert climate. Winter in Broken Hill can be very cold 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.

How To Get There

Broken Hill is near the border with South Australia on the crossing of the Barrier Highway and the Silver City Highway, in the Barrier Range. The city is 1,160 km West of Sydney via State Route A32; 511 km North East of Adelaide via State Route A32; 266 km North of Wentworth via State Route B79.

NSW TrainLink's Broken Hill Outback Explorer train operates weekly from Sydney to Broken Hill. The train departs Sydney on Monday morning, arriving in Broken Hill that evening. It departs Broken Hill for Sydney Tuesday mornings. Daily XPT train services to Dubbo with coach connections to Broken Hill, Bourke and Lightning Ridge are also available.

The Indian Pacific runs directly to Broken Hill from Sydney and Adelaide once or twice a week, depending on the season. 'Whistle Stop Tours' of the town are available while the train is parked at the Broken Hill train station.

Mining In Broken Hill

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 after one of the city's famous sons Ron Nyholm (1917 1971). Lead with the isotope signature of the Broken Hill deposits has been found across the entire continent of Antarctica in ice cores dating back to the late nineteenth century.

Extending for 7.5 kilometres in a northeast-southwest direction, the line of lode is shaped like an inverted boomerang. It outcropped in the centre with the ends dipping steeply to a depth of 1,600 metres. Mine employment peaked at 8,800 in 1907, but only 366 were employed by mining in 2010. BHP employed one-third of the workforce at its peak in the early 1900s but quit Broken Hill in 1939. The wealth won at Broken Hill was used to establish Australia s iron and steel industry and BHP Billiton today is a world leader in iron ore production. Broken Hill has been the scene of many major developments in mining and metallurgical technology, and the gains won at the mines by the union movement have had a lasting impact on industrial relations in Australia.

The best sites to view the relics of Broken Hill's mining history are along the Silver Trail Drive. When you are at the Line of Lode Visitors' Centre at the top of the tailings and at a height about the same as the original broken hill, you are near the place where Charles Rasp began the history of one of the greatest mines in the world. Joe Keenan Lookout provides a panoramic view of Broken Hill and the line of lode. A visitor to Browne Shaft can inspect up close the oldest existing wooden headframe on the line of lode and its ancillary buildings. It is also the site of the only remaining outcrop of the gossan cap of the ore body.

Wartime Broken Hill

During World War II land transportation between South Australia and Eastern Australia became important because of 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.

As Japan entered World War II, the Commonwealth Bank, in addition to the accumulation of Australian-produced gold, was also holding in safe custody a large quantity of the precious metal placed in its care by other countries. In the circumstances, it was considered prudent to remove this gold from the capital cities where it had been stored, to an inland centre for safe keeping. Broken Hill was chosen as a suitable site because of its isolation and arrangements were made with the New South Wales Government for the Broken Hill jail to be made available to the Bank. The first transfer of gold was effected from Sydney in February 1942, by special train under a combined military and bank guard. So successful were the secrecy measures that certain of the soldiers who, by a series of deductions, had concluded that they were bound for a secret mission overseas, were duly surprised to find themselves members of the escort for a number of very heavy boxes destined for and inland town. More surprised still was one of the Bank's employees. He had been informed that he was required for a secret mission and, in reply to his enquires, someone had added that it was in the nature of a fishing trip. Among his luggage, therefore, was a fishing rod!

A similar transfer was effected by special train from Melbourne in April 1942, and that too, was not without its lighter side, despite the serious nature of the job on hand. The special train, with its valuable consignment of gold, stopped at Jerilderie, a small town which few of the military escort had seen before. A Tasmanian who did not know the Mainland, called to a railway employee from his van and asked the name of the place. When he received the reply: "This is Jerilderie, where Ned Kelly held up the bank," the soldier immediately remarked to his companions in the van that it was a pity Ned Kelly was not there then.

A permanent body of Bank employees, whose sole duty was the guarding of the gold, was stationed at Broken Hill. At first the gold was housed in the various cells, but within a few weeks, a special strongroom was built within the jail and an elaborate system of alarms set up which provided a continuous security check at least every fifteen minutes. All gold was returned to the seaboard in April 1945. This transfer, which was the largest single movement of gold ever carried out in Australia, was also made by special train which, during a forty-hour journey, carried a special guard of thirty senior Bank officers and one hundred military personnel.

Broken Hill Today

The built heritage of Broken Hill is of national significance. Over the last 25 years, the city has been re-invented as a living museum where visitors can experience both past and present. The city horizon is dominated by a seven kilometre length of tailings, waste rock and overburden from the early mines. The Miners  Memorial and Visitors' Centre were completed in 2001 and now distinctively crown the ridge line. The city continues to be actively involved in the preservation and restoration of its buildings and mining sites with a Heritage Advisory Service, supported with Council and State Government funds, providing free architectural advice to owners of heritage buildings. Broken Hill also has developed as a vibrant focus for artists, and the city abounds with art galleries showcasing views of the remarkable outback and cityscapes.