Silverton – The Ghost Town

Day 4 of our Broken Hill adventure

After lunch we jumped back into the coach supplied by Silver City Tours, and headed off for a visit to Silverton. We had a different driver today, and not to be out-done by Wayne, he offered up this in the “Dad” joke category: “The only thing sillier than an emu is? . . . Two emus!” ba-boom. Well, we have certainly seen a lot of emus already on this trip! We learnt that emus cannot take a backward step, and neither can the kangaroo, which is the reason they feature together on our Australian coat of arms. We also learnt it is the male emu who nurtures and defends the chicks, which grow quickly in their first six months. They are day foragers, and we come upon them quickly as the road leads through the low salt bush scrub and Mulga trees. Our driver does need to be alert as to which direction they will scatter. Up close the adult’s blue neck can be seen clearly, but at a distance its soft brown feathers merge with the rest of the red-brown dusty surroundings. This fellow had quite a brood on his hands, and it may even be mum in the distance, leading the flight.

Emus on the road to Silverton near Broken Hill

The road to Silverton is sealed and straight, but undulates like a roller coaster. There are thirty-nine dips in the road. Some larrikin thought it would be a good idea to get out his paint brush and name them. So for a time each dip in the road was painted with graffiti reading: “Lucky“, “Sheep“, “Skinny“, and so on, but the RTA (Roads and Traffic Authority) was not too happy with that, so they are gone now. Sigh – some people are just no fun at all. But it is worth noting that one of the craft shops in Silverton is called Beyond 39 Dips.

Just a short distance west of Silverton lie the Mundi Mundi Plains. Standing out here, one can turn 360′ and see only the wide, flat heart of the Australian outback. Fifteen minutes fast driving down the road will bring you to the South Australian border. In the distance – although my photos have not captured it – you can see the back of the Flinders Ranges. I lived in Adelaide for four years and never once ventured into the area. This is the vista so many Australian artists love to paint, including Jack Absalom, whose gallery we will visit later this week. The surrounds are an ancient timeless place, so fitting a home for the shingleback lizard who crawled across the road. Nearby, yet more emus were on the roam.

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Silverton is only a thirty minute drive from Broken Hill, and again we hear of the stocking policy in this semi desert and arid area, of around one sheep per ten to fourteen acres. It is also cattle country. As mentioned, we are very close to the South Australian border, and on our left for a short distance, there is a portion of the Dingo Fence which was built in the 1880s to protect stock from that Australian native dog. It stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 mi) on the route depicted in this map.

File:Dingo fence in Australia.PNG

Dingo fence in Australia, source Wikimedia Commons

Another Australian native is the Quandong Tree, which thrives in these conditions, and our driver points to a farm in the distance. This fruit is gaining a foothold in the “bush tucker” market, and one of our group had sampled Quandong ice-cream at lunch. I am yet to taste it.

Just before we reach Silverton, we pull into Penrose Park. This is where the hapless picnickers from yesterday’s post were headed when they were attacked in 1915. These days it is a caravanning and camping ground, with a few “gently fading” facilities, including – who knows why – a small zoo. Its star attraction is Jack, a white crested Corella who likes to chat and dance. During our visit he confined himself to “hello” and “what are ya’ doing?”, but apparently he can say a lot more. I think his next door neighbours are also aspiring to his job, as they came eagerly to the front of the cage, and then got stage-fright.

Two young and eager cockatoos

Two young and eager cockatoos

Jack meanwhile, was screaming for attention and I took a longish film of him. It seemed a bit sad to me really, but it is not uncommon to keep cockatoos as pets, and it was a large cage with lots of shelter and activities. Perhaps the saddest thing was that I found myself drawn into a conversation with a bird, because I come across sounding rather foolish on the soundtrack 🙂

When we arrived at Silverton a short time later, we were met with a welcoming committee:

Silverton Donkey 2016-03-10 (34) Silverton 2016-03-10 (40)

The free roaming donkeys of Silverton are just one aspect of this quirky town. Metal was found here in 1881, and for a time it was expected to grow to be the biggest town west of Dubbo. One of our leading breweries, Reschs, was established here at that time. At one stage Silverton, also known as Umberumberka Creek, had 3000 residents. But the mineral deposits were shallow, and when silver was discovered a couple of years later in Broken Hill, people upped and moved, taking their dwellings with them. It became a ghost town, with a current population of less than forty people.

The central part of Silverton is a “common” (albeit without any lush green grass cover), with a few remaining stone buildings in good condition, and some in various states of decay. Most of the other dwellings and buildings are around the perimeter.

Silverton 2016-03-10 (94) Silverton 2016-03-10 (95)

Many films and commercials are filmed here. A Town Like Alice used the Catholic Church in the left of the below photo:

St Carthage Catholic Church, and Masonic Lodge, Silverton March 2016

St Carthage Catholic Church, and Masonic Lodge, Silverton March 2016

Possibly the most famous film is Mad Max, and in fact, there is a privately owned museum displaying memorabilia. The most recent film, Mad Max: Fury Road, was intended to be shot in Silverton. As luck would have it, heavy rains fell in 2011, and consequently the area became too lush to pass for a dystopian wasteland. Pity, because that film went on to win six Academy Awards.

Speaking of rain, it had clouded over in the morning, and several drops of wet stuff had fallen out of the sky, but by mid-afternoon it was hot with bright blue skies again.

There are a number of Art Galleries and Museums in Silverton. The historical museum is set up within the old gaol (jail). There is also a school museum. On this day, we had to make a choice, so we went with the Mad Max theme. But not before we had browsed several of the art galleries, and bought a few postcards of his artworks from John Dynon. I couldn’t resist his emus! You can see them on his “now open” sign in the below photo. John’s studio is in a corrugated iron shed, with a fence made from old bicycles. I imagine he needs the fence to stop the donkeys from wandering in, as they have free range of the town. (I’m guessing every knows the purpose of the out-house in one of these photos).

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By then it was time for a “loo” break

Silverton 2016-03-10 (109)

at the Silverton Pub

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Outside of which was what I took to be an old horse mounting block

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And in the courtyard out the back, there was a performance stage

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Inside, it was decorated in the “eclectic” style

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Including this poster 🙂

Silverton 2016-03-10 (113)

Speaking of sinking, even today we had another “truth is stranger than fiction” story. Back in 1912, work commenced on Umberumberka Reservoir, in order to carry water back to Broken Hill via a 30 km (18 mi) wooden pipeline. Today, at least until it rains again, the reservoir is completely dry. It has a huge capacity, built with 50,000 drums of concrete weighing 400 pound each. They were delivered to Broken Hill by train, transferred to the Silverton Tramway Company, and then carted from Silverton to the site by bullock wagon.

(You may recall from an earlier post that the Broken Hill to Silverton railway was a private concern because of the failure of the South Australian and New South Wales governments to agree on who should build the missing link from Broken Hill to Silverton. At the time, 1888, Australia was not federated, and rail gauges were not uniform. The company was called a Tramway, because they were not allowed to use the term “railway”).

The reservoir construction engineer was George Sidney Mullen. At the completion of the works in 1915 he returned to Sydney. Just a few months later he died in Sydney Harbour. The inquest considered suicide, but ruled that out. A doctor attested Mr Mullen had heart disease and was suffering from influenza, which may have caused him to be light-headed. The coroner decided on “drowning, probably accidentally caused through falling into the water after having had a sudden heart seizure“. (Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, Fri 24 Sep 1915, page 4). He had been an engineer on public works for thirty years, and is memorialised on a plaque at the reservoir site.

And so ended another big day in the outback. Tomorrow, mining meets art.

9 thoughts on “Silverton – The Ghost Town

  1. Pingback: Day 2 of the The Indian Pacific Sydney – Perth (Part One) | The Reluctant Retiree

    • I wondered the same thing. But it has to be me. Unusually high pitched and facile. I seem to have acquired that tone mothers use on their two-year-olds. But that half-whispered, “poor thing” at the end of it is definitely me. I’m sure the exhibit is all as it should be, but, I don’t know . . . I almost felt guilty that I bought in to the whole display. If no one stopped to admire, then there wouldn’t be any point caging them in the first place, don’t you think? On the other hand, for all I know, he is a rescue bird that can’t fly. I’m still a little unresolved about the purpose of that stopover. But local businesses have to take advantage of the tourist trade, I understand that. Not that it can be much of a money spinner. Maybe it was more about saying, “this is where we come for an out-of-town break, and our kids love mucking around with the animals. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you city slickers.” 🙂

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