Captivated by the culture of art in Broken Hill…

Art is everywhere in Broken Hill, this outback area seems to be a magnet for artists, with galleries scattered all round, both along Argent Street, the main thoroughfare, in the suburbs, and also the outlying townships.

It all started back when the town became rich on the back of the discovery of a huge silver deposit. In the mid 1800’s it was a shanty town of struggling prospectors living in tents and improvised buildings. Now there was money to erect impressive council buildings. One of the first was the Town Hall built-in 1890. Broken Hill road trip 327_3385x3614On our first day wandering along Argent Street and being impressed by the wide streets and the many heritage buildings including this beautiful and extraordinarily ornate Town Hall, designed by Adelaide architect Whittal in the Victorian Classical Revival style. It was one of the first of the truly ornate structures to grace the streets of Broken Hill. But what really caught my eye was this, an open door, inviting us into a world of art..BH art (4 of 20)_4326x3245An opportunity to go inside and see what was on offer. Today it is the Civic Centre that acts as the congregation point for Broken Hill’s large-scale entertainment events. This week it is hosting the “West Darling art society’s” annual art show. An interesting selection of local artists works.BH art (2 of 20)_5184x3888It was lovingly restored back in the 1970’s, but it came just a whisker from being demolished and a modern structure put in its place. The Historical Society arranged a protest to save the architectural treasure from demolition more than 40 years ago. Thankfully they succeeded.

I was surprised that we were the only ones looking round the exhibition.

BH art (3 of 20)_5184x3888

What I really wanted to see was the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, it is the oldest regional art gallery in New South Wales and the second oldest art gallery in Australia after the State Gallery in Sydney. It started in 1904 when George McCulloch (one of the founders of BHP) donated three paintings. The collection was originally housed in the Technical College Museum and moved to its current site in 1970.

Now located in a restored heritage building, the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is as beautiful as the collection of works within.

It is now housed on the main street of Broken Hill in a grandiose two-story heritage building. Built in 1885 and formerly the well-known Sully’s Emporium hardware store, the imposing building was purchased by the Broken Hill City Council in 1998 and underwent an award-winning restoration to become a truly beautiful gallery space. Many of the buildings original features were preserved, including external Sully’s signage that shouts its heritage loud and proud to all who pass. What else would you expect in Australia’s first Heritage-listed city?

BH art (11 of 20)_3888x5184It is indeed a beautiful building and as I entered I was greeted by this over life-sized poster. The renowned Broken Hill artist Pro Hart is an icon here and around Australia (another post about him soon) The prize showcases work in any media which reflects the spirit and diversity of the Australian Outback. We were just lucky enough to be here during the last week of the exhibition.

BH art (5 of 20)_5184x3888The public are asked to vote for their favourite and this is what I chose. I love the feeling of being drawn into the bush and lost in the wilderness.BH art (7 of 20)_5184x3888


BH art (6 of 20)_5184x3888BH art (9 of 20)_3645x2734It was 2 floors of diverse art. Jack was drawn to this very large painting in the general gallery, he loved the complexity of it and the sheer overwhelming emotionb h arfjc 001_4000x3000When doing this post I checked it on the internet and it has an amazing story. Jack really has an eye for art, this is the back story of this magnificent painting…

Poisoning, vandalism and an artist’s dramatic death surround one of the most valuable paintings in a regional art gallery in New South Wales.

Vae Victis, the sack of Morocco by the Almohades was exhibited by Arthur Hacker at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1890, then was purchased by Broken Hill Proprietary Company director George McCulloch.

The massive oil painting caught attention at the time for its scale — it measures more than 1.5 metres by 2.7 metres — and its subject matter featuring female bodies exposed and strewn across a scene of pillage.

Rumours of a death curse

Broken Hill locals like to talk in conspiratorial whispers about the painting having some kind of curse surrounding it.

It is a difficult claim to measure objectively, but there were some strange deaths associated with the painting.

The first was that of a Broken Hill art gallery caretaker, who mixed up medicine bottles in 1914.

“He was quite unwell and was in the habit of going to the laboratory at the technical college and drinking something for it,” Mr McCallum said.

“One day he grabbed the wrong bottle and drank cyanide. That was quite sad.”

The next death was that of the artist himself, found dead in his house in 1919.

“A police officer noticed Mr Harker’s door was open,” Mr McCallum said.

“Thinking something was amiss he entered to find the artist in his pyjamas, sprawled across the vestibule, dead.”

Mr McCallum said it looked like a case of life imitating art.

“He almost seemed to be emulating what he had painted in Vae Victis.”

(To find out more follow this link)

I, on the other hand, chose a far gentler painting. It was the beauty of the light, radiating peace, that captured my artist’s eye.BH art (8 of 20)_3642x4856I will finish this post with a gallery of some of the street art scattered around the city. street art (4 of 5)_4438x2934

street art (1 of 5)_3472x2374BH art (1 of 20)_5179x3884There are about 40 galleries and we only managed to see about 10 of them. Plus there were many other things that we didn’t have time to fit in. I really hope we do manage to get back one day for another visit.

In the next post I will take you to visit those famed “Brushmen of the bush”….


This week I am taking you into the world of art and joining the Len’s-artist photo challenge with Tina’s invitation to take you through an open door .


  1. Wonderful Pauline.. LOVED that Gallery, and I know I would have been contented to walk around for many an hour devouring the talents of those artists..
    The street art is also very talented.. I think many people often overlook the special talent street art requires.. Because of its scale..
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend.. And good to see Jack enjoying the art too…
    Love to you both. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was caught too by the painting you liked – the intimacy and the truth to childhood. I didn’t even register Jack’s favourite! There were also some done by Aboriginal young people using corrugated cardboard that I liked, especially one called something like “My best work”! Again, I’ve really enjoyed your account of a place I know, and the way you excavate fascinating stories. I’ll be sorry when your Broken Hill ends.

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  3. We also very much enjoyed the Regional Gallery when we were there and were particularly taken with the painting of the mother with her two children. Such beautiful light….

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  4. The similarities between California and Australia are so amusing. Even ‘some’ of the architecture is similar.
    My great uncle who passed away about a year and a half ago operated a foundry in Long Beach that made reproductions of sculpture (among other objects). Consequently, I grew up with Rodin and Brancusi and such. I do not know where all the reproductions went, but there were quite a few of them. Some went into a Rodin Garden up north at Stanford in Palo Alto. I sometimes see sculpture in public places and wonder if it came from my great uncle’s foundry.

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      • No. He was not a sculptor. He made reproductions of sculpture, and sometimes cast ‘reproductions’ of plaster or carved sculpture. That would have been interesting. Artists would bring in their plaster models to be copied in bronze or cast metal of some sort.

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      • As a kid, I did not understand why the work was so tightly regulated. People who controlled the original sculptures inspected the reproductions very carefully before approving them as reproductions. Those that were blemished were destroyed promptly, although my great uncle was able to purchase one of his one reproductions of ‘the Kiss’ by Rodin. It was not blemished enough to be destroyed, but not good enough for the collection that was getting it either.

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          • As a kid, I though they were disturbing. Now I can see why they were so disturbing to a kid. They express everything that Rodin is known for expressing, in such remarkable clarity.
            Brancusi is still disturbing.

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                • I’ve just had a google session with Brancusi and I really like the clean, pared down look of his sculptures. Some have a distinct alien look with the big eyes but I like them they are touchable

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                • That is not the response I expected; but then, perhaps I should know better than to know what to expect from someone with such discerning taste.
                  Many years ago, I stayed with my uncle in an abandoned house in Aloha in Oregon. The owner of the property rented it out to my uncle for a while. His only stipulation was to not mess with the ‘head’ in the corner of the parlor. To this day, I do not know what the ‘head’ was, but it was probably a copy (not reproduction) of a Brancusi sculpture. I can not imagine a very expensive original in an abandoned house in Aloha, but I suppose weirder things have happened. The ‘head’ was very creepy. I did not like sleeping with it. My great uncle in Long Beach was the one who owned a reproduction of a Brancusi sculpture that looked something like ‘Bird in Space’.

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                • I was not that young. I was about thirty. (My uncle in Aloha is not the same as my great uncle in Long Beach. I went to Oregon later in life.) I just did not like that ‘head’ watching me. It was creepy; not scary like a wallaby, but . . . creepy. The sculptures that I remember from my great uncle’s home in Long Beach were creepy when I was a kid; but I would probably see them differently now, and I can see some of the originals online. I sort of wonder if some were cheap copies that were used in movies and television. A very long time ago, he or his father (my great grandfather) made some of the props used in movies and such. I would really like to know where the statue of ‘the Thinker’ with a hole through its head from ‘Real Genius’ went; or the sculpture from the library of ‘the Breakfast Club’!

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