Snap Shot 93 – Broken Down in Broken Hill

So here’s the thing – I initially wasn’t planning on going to Broken Hill. Once Perth and then Victoria were eliminated as summer holiday options, thanks to Sydney’s Christmas Covid Cluster, I decided to head west to White Cliffs. When I looked at the map and realised it wasn’t nearly as close to Broken Hill as I had thought, I figured I’d give the mining town a miss. But stopping by for lunch with friends in the Blue Mountains, they spoke fondly of their visit a few years earlier. So I figured what the hell – may as well check it out. The drive from White Cliffs was enjoyable and scenic with emus, goats and cattle crossing the road. Entering Broken Hill, I was surprised to see the huge hill of rocky rubbish that runs the length of the town. I learned later that this is the called the ‘mullock heap’. I knew this was a mining town but I didn’t realise the mine was actually in town. On top of the heap are two weird looking space age structures – very out of place compared to the rest of the town’s classical 19th century buildings.

Broken Hill’s Mullock Heap
Barrier Social Democratic Club

It was around two. I figured I’d get some food and then head about 30 kms north to Silverton, which I had been told in White Cliffs was worth checking out. I’d then return to Broken Hill, spend the night, then head to Menidee Lakes the next day. Or at least that was the plan. It was while I was struggling to eat a way too sweet mie goreng at the Barrier Social Democratic Club (great name – crap food) that it happened. Hail storm. With buckets and buckets of water. The locals rushed to the windows, excited to see such a deluge in what is usually a very dry place. I was just happy to be inside and not on the road. After I picked out what was edible from my plate of sugar noodles, I returned to the car. It was raining slightly but the worst of it had passed. Or so I thought. Suddenly the sequel was unleashed. Hail battered my wind screen, the sound deafening. I managed to pull over next to a modest tree which provided little protection. I decided to drive up onto the footpath and under an awning, figuring I was unlikely to encounter any pedestrians. When the worst of it had past, I decided it was time to find a motel. As I drove, I was shocked to see rivers of red water gushing alongside raised gutters. As dry as Broken Hill can be, it seems that they’re prepared for this type of deluge. Even so, entire streets were flooded and I turned around, avoiding them. I now regret not videoing any of this as it was really like nothing I’d ever seen. But my focus was elsewhere. Spotting a petrol station that I wished I’d seen earlier, I figured this was a good place to get some shelter in case act three of ‘The Hail Storm from Hell’ was about to commence. Bad move. Turning into the driveway, there was suddenly a loud ‘BANG’ as my Subaru lurched and swerved. What the? I continued into the entrance, dreading what sort of damage I was about to see. I got out and was relieved that, apart from the front corner being knocked loose, there was no dent. Then I saw the flat tyre. Bugger. Still, if you’re going to get a flat on a road trip, a petrol station is a pretty good place to do it. With a bit of fumbling, I managed to put on the spare, with its yellow hub and warning that it wasn’t to be driven beyond 80 kph. Although it was still well before five on a Saturday afternoon, I was informed that the town’s only tyre shop was closed and would remain so until Monday. Bugger. Stuck here for twice as long as I had planned. Oh well. Decided to make the best of it. Rocked up to the Day Dream Motel and did some laundry. Then wandered around town and discovered that not only was much of it shut but it was going to stay that way, in some cases, until February. It seems that when summer hits, much of Broken Hill pisses off, never imagining that Covid closed borders would usher in desperate tourists. Still, the architecture was interesting. This is something I especially appreciated the next day, taking lots of photos of a town in various states of sun damaged decay. Then there was the art – on the walls and in the main gallery. I even bought something – an extraordinary desert mosiac constructed entirely from glass. It’s to be shipped to me once the exhibition closes next month.

My new favourite piece of art

So by Monday morning, I had pretty much been won over by Broken Hill’s charms. Then I went to Good Year to get my tyres and finally hit the road to Silverton. Or so I thought. Turned out my tyre couldn’t be fixed. And I had another one that looked dodgy. So two new tyres were required. Which they didn’t have in stock. Would take a couple of days to get delivered. Bugger. Oh well. Would still do Silverton and Menidee and get them on the way back. I got in my car and… the battery died. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Still, once again, if your battery is going to die while on a road trip, the parking lot of somewhere that actually sells batteries is a pretty decent spot. It seems that once again, I was lucky in where I got unlucky. Except that they didn’t have the battery I needed. Of course. But at least they were able to source it in town and, a couple of hours later, I was finally back on the road towards Silverton, being very careful not to exceed 80 kph. Getting another flat, with no spare, would not be good. Even at a petrol station.

Snap Shot #92 – Last Day of 2020

I have just watched the sun surrender on 2020. Last sunset of an… interesting year. And it turned out to be a spectacular send off. This is despite an Indian gentleman’s initial assessment of it being a rather disappointing sunset. We were on the ‘roof’ of our motel – even though we stood on solid outback ground. The accommodation beneath our feet was in fact a converted opal mine. The White Cliffs Underground Motel. And although the view was magnificent – red soaked soil as dramatic clouds looked on – the faint orange line on the horizon seemed to underwhelm the Indian. I was trying to justify it as still being beautiful when I turned slightly to my right. In the distance was a brilliant scarlet splash. ‘Uh – there’s the sunset! You were looking in the wrong direction. And wow – it’s magnificent!’ Turning, the Indian was surprised to see that he had wrongly maligned what was in fact a stunning farewell to 2020. I then proceeded to take copious photos with my phone, this being one of the few things my iPhone is now any good for. I have no coverage and no internet. My hole in the wall room also has no tv or fridge or toilet. But I love it. Embraced by the earth, I’ve already had a nap – a peaceful post beer snooze. Then went for a walk outside, taking photos of what looked like another planet – as if Mars was colonized by bogan miners. Then I had a decent dinner of chicken schnitzel. I saw an amusing exchange while I was waiting to order. Two Indian guys (yes there does seem to be a disproportionate number of Indian tourists – perhaps taking a quick non-quarantine trip before the upcoming Sydney cricket match) were asking if they could plug in their rice cooker somewhere. This required the fetching of the grey-haired owner, who inquired, ‘So you want to cook your food in our restaurant?’. The Indians thought about this for a moment, nodded their heads and replied, ‘Yes’. Disgruntled, the owner led them to where they could do this. Later, on my way back down from the roof, rich spicy scents drifted through the white-washed old mining tunnels. I’m going to enjoy my stay here.