Broken Hill Blog

September 2019

Thursday 12th September

After planning the trip only a couple of weeks earlier, we had accommodation sorted most of the way, and a general plan. It did include three nights camping so sorting out camping gear and food was the major pre-departure activity. But, given the uncertain weather, deciding on clothes and sufficient bedding was also a challenge.
We left early, enjoyed a comparatively easy drive, via Mudgee, as suggested by Tom Tom, although we had planned to go via Bathurst, Orange and Wellington. But our updated Tom Tom knew about a few new roads, so it was OK.
We took a short break for a picnic lunch on the banks of the Macquarie River in Dubbo, before heading for Nyngan River Park. Most of the trip was taken up finishing our Great Courses series on Early Civilizations in the Middle East.

The Nyngan River Park is located on the banks of the Bogan River, which at least still has a bit of water, thanks to the Macquarie Marshes higher up. We were able to get a few bird photos - herons, ducks, wagtails, galahs, eagles, etc. and explored facilities at the park.
The accommodation was not as good as the cabin we had on our trip to the Flinders Rangers, but had all we needed. Discussions with our neighbour were interesting, given that we started by commenting on our amazement, given the drought, and the lack of water in the River, that there were still farmers between Dubbo and Nyngan irrigating land, and it seemed to be cotton, not a crop that should be grown in dry areas of Australia. But, he is a cotton classer, so we all quickly retreated from our corners to try and understand the other perspective.
The Shetland pony we remembered from our previous trip was still there.

Friday 13th September

We left early, and made good progress to Cobar, a mining town, mainly copper, but other minerals as well. We had visited the mine site sites on the previous visit, so this time we focussed on the museum. It was very well done, with lots of information and a very helpful volunteer, who gave us suggested farm stays, and found a T-Shirt that fitted Tim.
The trip from Cobar to Wilcannia is about three hours, and there is nothing in between, but the scenery does change, in that some areas showed evidence of a bit of rain, but very quickly switch to the dry, flat land. Destocking has obviously been the norm, and in this area there was little evidence of irrigation. There was evidence of road kill - lots of dead roos and wallabys, obviously going onto the roads at night to get water (dew), but being done by the trucks, which do travel through the night. The eagles and ravens did not mind, and we saw plenty of wedge-tailed and other eagles scavenging, and even ravens fighting with eagles.
We had camped for two nights at Wilcannia on our trip to the Flinders Rangers, and there was much less water in the Darling River than on that occasion (although even then we were amazed that we could walk across the river). Actually now there is no water! Broken Hill used to source its water from the Menindee lakes south of Wilcannia, but as these Lakes have dried up, there is now a pipe-line from the Murray River hundreds of km South.
The interest in Wilcannia is its history as a river port for paddle steamers. Then as now the river frequently dried up. The old offices and warehouses are attractive buildings.
We did not stop at Wilcannia, other than for a bit of low grade petrol, but found a spot to have a picnic lunch a little later. There we chatted to a male nurse who was travelling from Broken Hill to Coonabarabran for the week-end (8 hour trip). He is part of the fly-in-fly-out workforce for Broken Hill. They have enormous difficulty getting health workers there.
He reinforced our plans to camp at the Mutawintji National Park, as he had hiked there recently.
We moved from the Ancient Middle Eastern Civilizations to our course on Africa, which we enjoyed. The two-hour trip from Wilcannia to Broken Hill meant we were able to listen to 4 x 30 min sessions.
Our accommodation at Broken Hill was a little more expensive than we planned, but the whole town was booked out because of the Broken Heel Festival, an annual event that has occurred since the Movie/Musical - Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It is a wonderful Gay celebration, but small fry compared to the Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney.
Our accommodation had only recently been listed on AirBNB - we were the first visitors. It had period decorations in all the rooms, but with a modern kitchen, bathroom and, fortunately, a washing machine. There was a back yard where we could park the car, eat and cook outside, and hang the washing out to dry. The only disappointment was that it did not have Internet (yet), I guess that is the disadvantage of being one of the first guests! But the i-Centre offered free internet, so we had no problems.
We ate out at a local pub. Everyone claims that the only places to eat in Broken Hill are the pubs. The food was OK, and we had good salads.

Saturday 14th September

Our visit to the i-Centre when we first arrived in Broken Hill had set us up for the day. We planned to walk from our accommodation to the Saturday Market, then visit the only Indigenous Art Gallery/outlet, spend time in the middle of the day when the Broken Heel parade was on, visit a photographic exhibition of the drying rivers in the area, before doing something for the evening. We followed that plan, but underestimated the walking distances, so both ended up tired (about 20,000 steps - although good after two days of driving).
The market was fun - not much fresh food, but we could not have dealt with that anyway. Rather the stalls offered lots of trinkets, cakes, craft, jewellery, etc. Food outlets were 'deep fried' or else hot dogs in white bread, but we did manage to find oven baked curry puffs that were more like samosas.
We chose a shady spot near the only fresh food seller, who then gave us each a nartjie - really delicious. They were growers from the Menindee Lakes - now dry, so no planting for them this year. Quite a few outback guys seem to have Asian wives, but it all seems to work for them, which is great. There was some comment a decade or so ago, about the practice of outback guys getting Asian wives as there were no women in the Outback, and not many who wanted to live there.
Our other purchases were a jar of Quince Jam - my mother used to make that - and a lovely wooden chopping board, which we lugged on the long hike to the Amanya Mitha Indigenous Arts Gallery, 7 Gypsum Street (tel 0429218713 ) email =
This was the only Indigenous Art Gallery on the long list given to us by the i-Centre. It was about 3 km out of the Centre of Town, and we were very worried that having hiked in the heat we would find it was closed or something (our experience in Casino, alerting us to this possibility). But it was exactly where we expected, and was open, being looked after by the father (Paul Kemp) of the gallery owner (Clinton Kemp), as Clinton was manning a stall close to the Broken Heel Parade 'epi-centre'. Paul Kemp and several of his mates were most informative and helpful. It is a mixed media gallery, and they produce wonderful indigenous wood works - bowls, didgeridoos, boomerangs etc., all with wood sourced from huge stations, owned by corporates (eg Kidman Station), but over which they now have Indigenous Rights, thanks to Mabo. They are able to collect emu eggs, wood and undertake other indigenous activities on these lands, but as Paul explained they are very careful not to be rude to the station managers - they are very polite. He commented that with the current drought and lack of water in the river (probably due to the cotton growers siphoning off more water than is sustainable even if it is paid for) the whole eco-system has changed, there are fewer snakes, fewer emu eggs - all critters are reducing their reproductive capacities, as is typical in times of food and water shortages, or other stresses.
He is part of the Wilyakali mob, his mother was the artist that taught him and his son, but the history of art goes back a long way. They are slowly trying to repurchase some of the art from their ancestors, and piece together the story. He grew up on a Lutheran Mission, and is grateful that someone from the church understood their language and translated the bible into it - a wonderful source of written language for their mob - better than most in Australia. We need to check exactly what areas his mob covered, but it includes parts of South Australia, and does not include the area covered by the Mutawintji National Park. He mentioned that the Wilyakali people do have an area with Indigenous Art that is second only to that at Mutawintji, but it is not open to the public,
He was a TAFE teacher - wood-working and Art, and is committed to trying to pass on Indigenous knowledge and skills to the next generation. They take lots of school kids out with them when looking for wood to work, emu eggs etc., and his son (Clinton Kemp) runs classes in a room at the back of the gallery.
He had mixed reactions to the outcomes from Mabo, as he chaired the committee that submitted claims (successful, in part because of the documentation that they had from the Lutheran Mission), but then he also had to handle the conflicts about how best to manage the resources.
It was our view that what he is trying to do is just great, although it seems they have been less successful in getting Government Grants etc. He claimed that their enterprise was self-funded. It is professional, but low cost, and they have not stretched themselves so far that they need middle-managers, all of whom would take a slice. They don't yet have a web site, but do have very professional brochures. Not being in the centre of Broken Hill is a bit of a disadvantage, but given the workshop activities that they undertake associated with the gallery, perhaps it is understandable.
We were privileged to be taken to the wood workshop, where they have state of the art equipment, and one can see the piles of raw wood that they have retrieved, the half produced products, and then the final art work in the shop. The father clearly has an eye that allows him to look at a piece of wood on the land and see what it can be turned into. We were shown bits of the very rare purple wood - just amazing. He knows everywhere in his peoples' country where this can be found. One station manager/owner once showed him some of the wood and asked if he knew about it. He said to the manager/owner "Yes, of course".
Although it is clear that their skills are varied - wood working, emu egg shell painting, tortoise shell painting etc., we were only really interested in paintings. This they had too, some done by Clinton Kemp, and others where indigenous artists who have asked to have their work shown at the Amanya Gallery because they were ripped off in other galleries.
We were able to put them in touch with the Leichardt Indigenous Gallery (Boomali), and I suspect they will make contact with them to try to get a trusted outlet in Sydney.
We purchased two works - one by Clinton that captures the dying critters in the dying Darling River, and another by Ben Zarko, that we just liked, given its colours, use of stones etc (3D). Clinton has also done paintings that used occlusion to give 3D perspectives, but we preferred his piece that combines contemporary issues with traditional art forms.
Then we faced the challenge of getting the two paintings to our Airbnb temporary home as well as back to Sydney. We did not have the car, so had to carry them to the i-Centre, where we asked if they could look after them until later in the day. They agreed. Subsequently we also purchased a low cost quilt which could double as warmth for camping and protection for the painting.
We then spent the next couple of hours hanging around the crowd, and it was a large crowd, all waiting for the Broken Heel Parade. Photos explain that best.
Although tired, we finished the day with a brief visit to the Watermarks Photo exhibition (Paul Harmon) with amazing photos that demonstrate the destruction of the land in the area by excessive grazing - although photos they could be indigenous art works. All were done with the agreement of the local Indigenous elders. He has perfected a technology for using post-processing to combine various photos taken by low-level drones, that gives the impression of either google earth or aerial photos.
Then home (some 4 km hiking on road), picked up the car, picked up our two art works and the wooden board, used the free internet at the i-Centre, shopped at Coles, came home, showered (awful shower - either too hot or too cold), and did our usual thing of cooking and eating on the back patio. Great!

Sunday 15th September

We decided to visit Silverton, a classic old mining town a half hour drive from Broken Hill. It has become an iconic spot with lots of movies being shot there (eg Mad Max), given its historic architecture, red dirt roads, and outback feel.
We wondered around the town, taking photos of various old buildings(courthouse, gaol, municipal chambers, churches etc.), visiting some of the galleries, and having an excellent pie and coffee at the bakery.
It was the day after the Broken Heel festival in Broken Hill, and we learned that the festivities moved to Silverton on the Sunday. Fortunately we were there before the rush, but by the time we departed there was no parking space left, and standing only room at the pub, with all the folk dressed up for the occasion.
A visit to the museum was instructive, providing information about ways in which the area was developed, the devastation for the indigenous folk as the miners moved into their land, and then the quick demise as miners moved elsewhere.

A visit to the Living Desert State Park provided the opportunity for a hillside walk featuring wonderful views, examples of desert vegetation and some history.
The area is rich in aboriginal artefacts, although only demonstration displays are accessible.

Monday 16th September

The trip to Mutawantji National Park was relatively short, with about 100k of dirt road. We arrived around 11.00, and were able to set up the tent in the best spot in the camp given that no-one else was there. We were glad to set up early as the wind began to increase in velocity. We decided to cook and eat early (wisely), as that meant we could pack up, and bunker down in the tent. Fortunately we have tripods that we can sit on, and were able to do cross-words and bridge, on the i-phone, and Tim played lots of guitar. As soon as it turned dark we headed for bed - a long and very windy night.


Tuesday 17th September

In the morning, the wind had abated just a very little, but was still a huge challenge. We did not even try lighting the gas cooker, but rugged up and headed out for two great walks (even in the wind) - the Western Ridge Walk and the Mutawintji Gorge track. The Western Ridge is dry desert, but has attractive rocks and views on the way down.
The gorge was a surprise. We expected the dry river bed, but not the pools at the head of the gorge.

Overall it was about 13 K, but not much climb. Footing on rocks slowed one down a bit.
We set up a separate spot with a spare tarpaulin, sheltered a bit from the wind where we were able to cook, and read for a while, before once again retreating to the tent. At least the wind was not as bad as the previous night.

Wednesday 18th September

We woke to a glorious day with almost no wind, and warm but not excessively hot temperature. We had hoped to arrange an Indigenous tour of the areas of the park that are not open, but despite trying for two weeks, it seemed it was not going to work out. Instead we hiked all the paths on the Homestead Path network (Rockholes Loop, Homestead Gorge Trail, Bynguuano Range Walking Track and the Thaaklatjika Minkana Walking Track), with simply wonderful river scenes, rock art, and rocky hills of so many different varieties. It was a very special day.
That night we were able to cook and eat close to the tent - canned curry with remnants of a salad, but it was good.

Thursday 19th September

The trip to White Cliffs was uneventful, but we were able to finish our Great Courses on Sub-Saharan Africa.
We arrived too early to book into our accommodation, so had lunch and the one-stop-shop that sells petrol, coffee, a very nice egg and bacon burger, and anything else one might need.
We explored the town and decided to go on an underground opal mining tour. This was a good decision, as the tour guide is one of the few still operating a commercial mine, although he supplements it with a coffee and gift shop.
Walking through the various tunnels about 20-40 m underground prepared us for the White Cliffs Underground Motel/Hotel, which has all the rooms in old dugouts, with bathrooms and toilets in one area, less underground. A sound decision, as that probably facilitated sewerage management.
Dinner at the Motel/Motel was much better than our last two camping meals, so appreciated.

Friday 20th September

The Paroo Darling National Park is about 70 K from White Cliffs on a very bad dirt road, so it took us an hour and a half to get there. It is very barren land, and we wondered if there would be anything worth seeing.
But we were delightfully surprised and rewarded. Although Peery Lake is without water, there are the most unusual springs on small mounds - not sure exactly how they work, but they were obviously a source of water for Emu (lots of tracks), birds, and many roos, some that must have got stuck in the mud, as there were plenty of skeletons in the area.
The plants and flowers, although very fragile, gave a totally different visual impression from the vast surrounding outback.

One of the hills must have been a quarry for Indigenous stone implements. The Indigenous folk (Paarkintji People) would have loved this area, but the white farmer settlers also wanted the water, so about 6 homesteads took over their land, and the Indigenous folk were sent to Wilcannia, where they have not done well. Now at least their mob is involved in helping run the National Park, which has taken over all the older farm leases. What a sad history. The farmers absolutely destroyed so much of the hinterland of Australia with overgrazing in such a fragile country. Indigenous folk lived in harmony with what was there, water, plants and animals, knowing that to use anything to excess would upset the balance.
We sorted out tyres on the car, cleaned up, and enjoyed another meal at the hotel/motel.

Saturday 21st September

We drove to Narrowmine, stopping to take photos in Wilcannia, and lunch in Kobar. The motel was very ordinary, but the pub meal was OK.

Sunday 22nd September

The trip back to Lawson, via Orange was uneventful, but gave us time to re-listen to 9 lectures on paleo-anthropology.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.12.