Broken Hill is steeped in history. It is a mining city built on the riches of silver, this city embraced the union movement that reshaped the working environment and that all started with the mining boom and the atrocious working conditions back in the mid 1800’s.
Come back with me to September 1883.
37-year-old Charles Rasp, an immigrant from Germany, was working as a boundary rider on Mount Gipps Station. After discoveries of silver at Silverton, a small township not far from Broken Hill, every station-hand in the area searched for indications of the metal. Rasp was no exception and often examined the outcrop as he rode around. He was not a geologist, but he was observant. Imagine his excitement when, as he trudged along behind a mob of sheep, he spotted a sparkle in a rock. Getting off his horse he picked the lump of rock up. It was heavy and glinted in the sun. Imagine him turning it over, holding it up to the unrelenting sun, wondering what he had found. Then putting it in his pocket he took it back to the station. He thought he had found a tin deposit.
Another chapter in the history of Australia was about to be written.
Charles Rasp had discovered the Eldorado. This Aussie immigrant had just stumbled on the richest seam of silver-zinc-lead in the WORLD.
On advice of the Mount Gipps manager, George McCulloch, a ‘syndicate of seven’ was formed and seven blocks pegged to include the whole ridge. Each member subscribed £70 to the unregistered ‘Broken Hill Mining Co.’ and paid £1 a week towards working the claim.
“The busts of the syndicate members are outside the council chambers and facing the famous Trade Hall. The Syndicate of Seven was immortalised and remembered with the unveiling of sculptures in their honour in 2008. Created by artist Geoff Demain”
The syndicate had little success for some months and the Adelaide analysts’ reports were disappointing as they only tested for tin. The discovery of rich silver ore in 1885 led to the formation of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co., with capital of 16,000 £20 shares, 14,000 of which went to the syndicate, and to a rapid growth of the mining industry at Broken Hill. Within five years Rasp had made a fortune.
BHP is now one of the largest mining consortiums in the world.
Now 135 years later and in September, the same month Rasp made his discovery, we were going to explore this interesting city.
We arrived in late afternoon, found our Airbnb accommodation, with difficulty due to road closures and road works which confused Siri our, usually, unflappable GPS lady. Then, as the sun set, we drove up the Line of Lode Lookout to the Miner’s Memorial, a dramatic, iconic structure on the edge of the mullock heap that dissects Broken Hill. This is a memorial to the 800+ miners who lost their lives working in the Broken Hill mines. The building itself is a metaphor for the underground lives of the miners, evoking the damp, claustrophobic underground environment .
The Memorial is to the left, just peeping over the mullock heap and to the right is the café and museum.
It is a sombre and saddening walk through the centre of this monument to see the records of the men and boys, some as young as 12 and 14, who have died in the mines.
The views over Broken Hill are spectacular from this view-point. Across the desert plains to the distant Barrier Range. In 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range while searching for an inland sea; so naming it because it blocked his journey north. The distinctive broken hill that he commented about in his journals gave the area its name and that particular hill has long since been mined to oblivion.
In the opposite direction and zooming in we could see the brick-red Wesleyan Uniting Church and tucked in behind it was the 100-year-old house we were staying in (more on this in another post)
Looking to the left of the church the city stretches flat and crowded together with an estimated urban population at the 2016 census of 17,814. The row of impressive heritage buildings, bottom right, are in Argent Street the CBDThe sun is setting and casting a golden glow on some of the old mine workings just below the rim of the mullock heap.As the sun sets we experience the fabulous sunsets that this desert area is renowned for.
So ends our first day here and I look forward to exploring more of this area. But that is for another post…