Cobar to Broken Hill

We decided last night that there would probably be things we would want to do in Broken Hill and decided on an early start We were awake at 6:00 am and on the road just after 7:00 am. At that time, with NSW on AEDT, the sun was just rising.

Majella drove west on the Barrier Highway. Our regular navigation aid, Apple Maps, wanted to take us down the Wool Track but nothing else advised a deviation. A quick internet check found comments about sealing that road so we surmised much of it might be unsealed and saw no reason to go that way. As we drove on we saw evidence of fairly extensive, now completed, roadworks and decided there may have been a time when delays made the alternative route quicker. 

That was not today. The road to Wilcannia was good, mostly straight with occasional curves and undulations at first. Later we encountered hills and some long sweeping curves but the road surface continued to be good and we passed just one or two areas with active roadworks. Traffic was light.

The countryside varied. There was the low scrub we had seen yesterday, occasional patches with taller trees, and, as we progressed, large areas of dry bare red soil with only scattered low vegetation. Some stretches were populated by goats and a couple of times they caused us to slow while they got off the road.

It took about 2.5 hours to reach Wilcannia which is on the Darling River. Most of the shallow watercourses we passed on the way were dry though a few had pools of water visible. The Darling at Wilcannia was sluggish and muddy. No doubt it will benefit from whatever flows from recent rain manage to escape the clutches of irrigators and reach that far south.

We bought fuel and then drove around the town looking at some of the old buildings. The town had evidently been much more prosperous in the distant past. The hospital is a fine old sandstone building from the 1870s and we stopped in a small park across the road for coffee before I drove on.

On the way out we looked at some more old buildings and paused by the river. Then it was on to Broken Hill.

The road surface on that stretch was also very good but there were a few more hills and curves. The countryside was dry and red with limited vegetation in most parts. Occasionally there was a little more growth in depressions where moisture might gather. Even the goats seemed to avoid it and we saw few on that part of the drive.

With the benefit of a change to Central Time, we reached Broken Hill soon after noon and drove straight to the information centre. Once Majella had the information she wanted about what we might see in an afternoon we were off.

Majella had decided that the shorts she was wearing were past their use-by date and she needed new ones. Before we could do any ‘touring’ we needed to attend to that shopping so we parked in the main street and looked for a clothing store. She managed to find one and shorts that would serve her purpose. Then we were off to tour.

First stop was Bells Milk Bar. The shop has a long history and was last renovated in the 1950s. According to its signage, it was ‘rescued’ by the current owners in 2004 but has been maintained with the 1950s decor and menu. That makes it a ‘thing’ in Broken Hill and we were there on recommendation from the tourist information centre. We enjoyed our ham, cheese and tomato toasties with green lime spiders.

Next stop was Pro Hart’s gallery. The garages in the entry way have 3 of Pro Hart’s Rolls Royces, including a painted one, and a Bentley. He like good things. As we entered the gallery we were told that a documentary about Pro Hart had just started and would go for a bit more than an hour. We could watch as much or as little as we liked before viewing the exhibition. We sat in the comfy armchairs to view the documentary and both managed to see some of it when we could keep our eyes open. Those spiders must have been more potent than we thought. What we saw of the documentary before we called time and moved on to look at the paintings was interesting but they could use a shorter version. There was a range of paintings from different periods and we enjoyed seeing the different styles that had been described in the film.

From there we drove about 5 km north of town to visit the Living Desert Park and Sculptures. The 12 sculptures were done by an international group in a couple of months during 1993 using 50 tonnes of sandstone blocks carted from the Wilcannia area. Getting them to the top of the hill and placing them there was an impressive feat. The styles of the sculptures vary. Some are clearly representational with recognisable shapes or motifs but others are not recognisably anything. The comment by the instigator of the project on his own sculpture suggests that he is not sure what it is. He described it as an homage to Fred Hollows with reference to Bourke and other relevant location but that was not evident to me and his comment concluded by suggesting that Fred might know what it meant. It reminded me of some of the artwork we had seen in the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 2017 when I struggled to see how objects qualified as art.

The other part of that attraction is the flora and fauna sanctuary which is well protected by a an electric fence outside a regular wire fence. We followed the cultural trail up a rocky hill to a lookout and back. Along the way we saw some burial poles that had been carved by TAFE students using traditional and modern techniques and materials. To my eye they were preferable to most of the sculptures we had seen on the other hill.

The park notices had indicated a strict closing time of 4:30 pm when the gates would be locked. We had started walking around 3:00 pm and the distance was noted as 2 km so we had no concern about getting back. That was until while around the back of the hill and out of sight of the entrance we saw two vehicles drive away from the ranger station at the rear of the park. We wondered if they were going to lock the gates. When I looked at my watch it was showing 4:20 pm, much later than I expected. We dashed for the gates. As we exited I looked at my watch again. It was showing 4:00 pm. My guess is that the back of the hill was getting phone signal from a tower on NSW time which is 30 minutes ahead of CST.

As we drove back into town we saw a couple of interesting structures atop the heap of mine waste that towers over the town. I checked the map and found the Miners Memorial was up there. We drove up and spent some time there with a view over the town from the structure that lists the names of those who died in the course of mining in the area.

By then it was approaching 5:00 pm and time to checkin at The Royal Exchange Hotel. It is comfortable but, being in the middle of town is convenient for everything but parking which is in the street with the requirement to hall our gear upstairs. When we had done that we relaxed until it was time to think about dinner.