Broken Hill’s metals and minerals gave the city strength to support Australia through two world wars, two global depressions and endless social change.
A World Underground
Broken Hill is Australia’s longest-lived mining city. Fortunes have come and gone here against an economic background of boom and bust. This legacy continues today. The working mines of today employ a fraction of the people who once laboured underground but they continue to produce a substantial yield. To date, the seam of Broken Hill has yielded 300 million metric tons of ore – enough to fill more than 1,500 concert halls in the Sydney Opera house. Much of today’s industry is built on the back of what was established by BHP. BHP Billiton is the world’s largest mining company and a famous name to most Australians. But few know that BHP actually stands for Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Broken Hill is where it began for BHP in 1885, when the company began mining the massive ore body containing the world’s richest source of silver, lead and zinc. The ‘Syndicate of Seven’ – the men from Mt Gipps Station – put the city on the map when they discovered ore on an isolated ‘broken hill’ in 1883. That same ore body became the largest single source of silver, lead and zinc ore ever discovered on earth, generating over $100 billion in wealth.
Albert Kersten Mining & Minerals Museum
Behind the stone facade of the restored former Bond Store is another of Broken Hill’s must-see mining museums. The Albert Kersten Mining & Minerals Museum displays information on how the world’s largest deposit of silver lead and zinc was formed. It also houses a renowned collection of Broken Hill minerals and the ‘Silver Tree’. The iconic Silver Tree was once owned by Charles Rasp, the boundary rider who pegged out the first Broken Hill mining lease with his partners.
The stark reality of working in Broken Hill’s mines over the ages is writ large on the Miners’ Memorial. The striking architectural edifice and spectacular view over the city add emotional weight to the list of more than 800 miners who lost their lives on the job. The two small dump trucks nearby add further weight as a memorial to the only two miners still entombed. Take a moment to read the poem inscribed on it. The dump trucks and the Miners’ Memorial are sober reminders of why Broken Hill pioneered a culture of trade unionism, including the introduction of the 35 hour working week and the defeat of conscription in Australia.
White’s Mineral Art & Living Mining Museum
Interpret underground life without actually going under at White’s Mineral Art & Living Mining Museum on Allendale Street. A visit here takes you on an illustrated journey through the architectural and mining history of Broken Hill. Bushy White’s mineral paintings are complimented by many rare mining artefacts, underground memorabilia and models of mine sites.
Day Dream Mine tour
Tour the Day Dream Mine and experience the tough working conditions of a bygone era for real. Located 33km from Broken Hill near Silverton, the mine enables you to go underground in safety and relative comfort at the same time as getting a sense of the harsh life miners once led.
Junction Mine and Lookout
This lease was pegged in 1884 and the Broken Hill Junction Silver Mining Co. was formed in 1886. The wooden headframe, the oldest remaining on the Line of Lode, was erected over Browne Shaft in the 1890s and has been modified several times. The lookout is a popular tourist spot and interpretive signs give visitors an understanding of the mine's history.
In the late 1800s, safety in the mines was the sole responsibility of the workers. As a result, miners endured intolerable conditions; breathing silicon-laden dust underground or lead fumes from the smelters. Many died of miners’ phthisis or lead poisoning. Massive attempts were made to improve working conditions, including a large strike in 1892 which was brutally put down by the mine bosses.
Many miners lost faith in unionism as a result but distrusting mine owners became entrenched for generations. Trade unions regained influence in the next century and bitterness flared into unrestrained hostility, making Broken Hill notorious for the frequency and intensity of its strikes. This proud militancy is presented in the Trades Hall and in murals on walls of prominent buildings in central Broken Hill.
Syndicate of Seven
George McCulloch, Charles Rasp, James Poole, David James, Philip Charley, George Urquhart and George Lind. These seven men came from diverse backgrounds, intellect and foresight to form the first mining company in Broken Hill.
Rasp and his fellow station hands, David James and James Poole, pegged out the original lease in September 1883. Rasp is the most famous of the seven today, but it was the equally well educated and considerably tougher George McCulloch who masterminded the syndicate and helped form the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) in 1885. An active patron of the arts, McCulloch helped establish what is now the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (on the condition that entry was free for everyone, as it still is today). He also funded Broken Hill’s first hospital.
Another who benefited was Philip Charley, the young jackaroo who first recognised silver chlorides near Rasp Shaft (pegged by McCulloch). His ongoing involvement enabled him to import a 1907 Silver Ghost – the first Rolls Royce in Australia. Others didn’t do so well. George Urquhart and George Lind sold their shares at a loss. James Poole sold half his share to the cattle king, Sidney Kidman, for a herd of bullocks worth only 40 pounds. As perspective on their mistakes, BHP mined ore worth more than 42,000 pounds in its first year alone.
You can see busts of the original ‘Syndicate of Seven’ outside the Broken Hill Council Chambers.