It’s 6:00 am in Sydney. Half asleep yet, I struggle to make my way to Central Station with my heavy backpack.
The train I boarded there has an inspiring name: ‘Broken Hill Outback Explorer’. Once per week, it covers the route between Sydney and the mining town of Broken Hill, in the interior of New South Wales. See photo. Okay, it’s just a normal train!!!! :). Not one of these scenic retro trains, but anyway, it took me to Broken Hill after a 14 hour journey.
The train journey itself is half the reason to visit. You encounter an ever-changing landscape: from the tall buildings of the ‘Big Smoke’ (Sydney), through the forest and vegetation still near the coast, to the arid scenery of the ‘bush’ (countryside). After a month in Australia, I had only been to places along the coast, where most people live, but I didn’t want to leave the country without seeing at least a bit of the vast, largely unpopulated ‘outback’.
The origins of Broken Hill are traced to the discovery of silver mines in the late 19th century. Here, the Broken Hill Propietary Company was founded, today known as BHP Billiton, a world giant mining corporation. In just a few years, there were 60 hotels two blocks from the main street. Some of the original buildings are preserved, so the town has a certain feeling of ‘Far West’, which is the main tourist draw today. Most inhabitants still work in mining. There are no buses or any public transport between Broken Hill and neighbouring attractions (as is often the case in Australia), so I rented a bicycle and started exploring.
What is the last thing you’d expect to find in a town in the Australian outback?? An Afghan mosque!!!! 🙂 As incredible as it seems, this town has an Afghan mosque. The building itself is nothing special and is almost always closed, but I wanted to visit it if only for the surreal. Apparently, Afghans came to Australia with their camels to help ‘open’ the ‘Outback’, and in 1891 they erected this mosque in the camel camp. Very curious.
Near Broken Hill lies Silverton, a small town that the Lonely Planet refers to as “an absolutely obligatory visit”. I started cycling that way, and after just a few minutes a vehicle coming in the opposite direction stopped and an old guy offered to put my ‘push-bike’ (bicycle) in his pickp-up and take me to Silverton. I told him I would cycle, but as he insisted I finally went with him. Later, I realized he had saved my life, because Silverton was farther than I imagined and the temperature quickly surged to unbearable heat. I spent the next 2 hours with this old man, who said I helped him “fill in the day” 🙂 Seriously, outside of the big cities people are really friendly and will get out of their way to help you. The only problem was that I didn’t understand ANYTHING of what he said. In one month in Australia I hadn’t had any major problem to communicate with my imperfect English, but the accent of old people from ‘the bush‘ is really hard!
So we arrived to Silverton. This village is no more than a handful of houses. It developed first, but after the mines in Broken Hill were discovered, people moved there and Silverton was left almost a ‘ghost town’ until today. It has been the setting for several movies, including Mad Max. The best known building (although it was pretty empty) is the Silverton Hotel, which displays some of the vehicles used in the filming of those movies. It’s quite scenic, but if I had to pedal all the way there it wouldn’t be worth it. 🙂
After that, the old man drove me to the a historic mine, and back to town.
It was a short visit to Broken Hill. However, if you go to Australia it is very advisable to go somewhere in the interior, to get a feeling of a completely different lifestyle, opposed to the ‘beach culture’ in the coast.