Posts Tagged ‘Broken Hill’

Reaching a fork in the road, where the Eyre and Lincoln highways meet in a dry and empty landscape, we see a cluster of large concrete water tanks daubed in bright colours and writing. It seems that each year the winner of the local football competition celebrates their victory with paintbrushes. We both experience a slightly odd feeling: a feeling of familiarity, a feeling that we’ve been here before.

And we have. Eighteen months ago we spent a few weeks driving to and around South Australia. Port Augusta looked quite different this time. What seemed a bit run down a year and a half back now seems like a bustling metropolis – not because it’s grown, or because we’ve seen so much since then, but because with a population of 14 000 it’s the biggest town we’ve seen since Albany. The sight of a supermarket can make one giddy, but while Port Augusta proves a useful place to stock up on supplies, we’re drawn to another oasis: Mt Remarkable National Park.

It’s a gem of a place, 50 km south of Port Augusta, and a short distance east of the Stuart Highway (the road from Adelaide to Darwin). Explorer Edward John Eyre named the mountain in 1840 due to the “lofty way it towered above the surrounding hills.”

Towering gum trees

Our memories from our last trip here were so fond that we wanted to come again. Nestled at the foot of the southern Flinders Ranges, Mt Remarkable National Park is a wildlife haven with great walking tracks that run up along the ridges and through the valley, and gnarly old Red River Gums that tower over the picturesque campground.

You might expect that after the novelty of the last few months it would seem somehow less interesting, yet it had actually changed for the good. It was much greener, the river was flowing slowly and birds and wallabies were making the most of this in the driest state in the country.

Remarkably wet!

We just had time to climb up to Black Range lookout. From this lofty point we looked west out over parched fields to the Spencer Gulf.

Wet & Dry

Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race recounts his 1938 journey as a crew member on a Finnish four-masted barque, one of about a dozen that made the voyage from Europe to Australia and back collecting cargoes of grain from the south and trying to do it in the fastest time possible. The book is a vivid and humorous account of the experience of living and working on these ships – as the title suggests they were on the verge of disappearing into history, overtaken by war and modern technology. Their destination – the source of the grain – was here in the Spencer Gulf of South Australia. Ports still line the Gulf, today, although they don’t seem to be thriving. We don’t hang around to find out, though, because we’re heading inland, weaving through the ranges, along dirt road shortcuts and past tiny rural settlements.

Classic Outback pub

Any doubt about the continued role of grain in this part of the world is dispelled once we steer inland. It isn’t the sight of silos sticking up on the horizon like churches in rural England, or any other visible evidence of harvest, but the smell that brings it home. I’ve never smelt wheat in the air so strongly as in Peterborough South Australia – it’s like being dropped in a giant biscuit barrel.

A sign on the edge of town reminds me a little of the Royal Family – just as they changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917 to sound a little less Germanic, so Petersburg became Peterborough a year later. That’s not the only thing that reminds me of the monarchy, though. There’s a faded glory to the place that suggests its role has diminished in recent times.

Peterborough was once a rail hub. Three different rail gauges converged here and an unusual turntable was built that catered for them all. The end of the steam age, the change to a standard gauge, and the rationalisation of rail services led to demise of this town. Today there’s a steam heritage museum for enthusiasts.

A little bit of polish and this whole place could be a living museum. The crumbling federation architecture makes it feel like a coma-town rather than a ghost-town. There are several cafes, shops and pubs along the main street through the town centre, but there’s clearly been a contraction in business since well before the GFC. Bright new shop signs indicate those that still trade, but they’re probably outnumbered by those that might as well be mirages to weary nomads – signs are up, but upon arrival it’s clear the business shut down long ago.

Shut up shops in Peterborough

The Federal Hotel, Peterborough

After Peterborough we return to long straight roads, sea views a distant memory, as we head towards the iconic mining town, Broken Hill. I was expecting something like the bland new town of Mt Isa, visited near beginning of our trip, however Broken Hill’s history radiates from the sun-baked colonial architecture in the town centre. It’s impossible to walk for 50 metres without stumbling across a heritage sign showing a 19th century view of the street with an explanation of its significance.

Unfortunately we’ve hit town on a Sunday and several of the attractions we were hoping to visit are closed. A trip out to the Sculpture Symposium is well worth the detour, though. A walking trail winds through the arid landscape to a viewpoint that looks back to town, and against this backdrop sit a dozen sculptures, created by a number of international artists invited here in 1993 to work massive sandstone blocks quarried nearby. It’s a beautiful way to see the desert, the artwork blending so well with its surroundings.

Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium

Back in town it’s impossible to forget what Broken Hill is famous for – many of the street names echo the source of its wealth. They must be useful reminders for high school students learning geology or chemistry: turn left off Crystal Street onto Oxide Street, cross over Argent Street, keep going until you get to Mica Street, then turn left again and cross Sulphide and Bromide streets, before you get to Garnet Street. Once here turn left, pass Cobalt Street and walk to the end of the road. Do you recognise the view? Yes, that’s right, you’re back where you started.

Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium


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