Broken Hill, Winding Down to Sunset

Well . . . It is Day 7 of our Broken Hill adventure, and this is my twelfth post. Are you getting breathless yet?

I certainly am, so the realisation that today is a “suit yourself until 5.30pm” kind of day is welcome. The problem is, where to start . . . if at all?

Normally we would kick off in a new town with a visit to the Tourist Information to pick up a walking map guiding us to the significant points of interest. But we have been here a week already, and our motel is a ten minute stroll to the centre of town, so we amble off without purpose or guidance. Before too long, we are standing outside the railway station at which we arrived. It has some fabulous murals depicting trains which appear about to run you down. Unfortunately for us, this area is being renovated, and we have to peer through orange safety tape. But if you are interested, simply Google “murals at broken hill station” and click on images, and you will see plenty.

Broken Hill Railway Mural 2016-03-13 036 (3)

Broken Hill is a city rich in art, even if that seems at odds with its mining history. Everywhere the visitor looks, he sees wall art and sculptures. We see many murals the next day, but one of the most important today is on the side of the ABC Radio Station. Beside the iconic legends of the artist Pro Hart and soprano June Bronhill are featured the local broadcast personalities of Mary Maguire and John Pickup who each, from the 1950s, offered around thirty years of services communicating with the local population. In the mural, you can also see a typical Pro Hart depiction, the metal faces of local miners. The artist was Geoff Demain, and you can hear more of the murals in this short video by his collaborateur Clark Barrett .

ABC Radio Mural Broken Hill 2016-03-13 036 (2)

Under still stormy-gloomy skies, we paused to watch a freight train go by, and like little children, we counted the waggons. But we lost count after a while. It was long, let’s just say that.

Freight Train Broken Hill 2016-03-13 036 (3)

We took a lot of photos of explanatory historical boards, but they make for boring blog posts, so I will spare you that. Here instead are a few street scenes of the war memorial, police station, court house, and so on. One of the very fine buildings is the Trades Hall (on the street corner), and I have hinted in earlier posts that this town has a strong union history. We also see several Pro Hart sculptures, featuring his recurrent themes of miners and their metaphorical beings, the worker ant.

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The only placard I will share is one which reminds us that Sister / Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian van Bullwinkel  is associated with Broken Hill as she did her nurse training here. Surely I have written of her before in my military themed posts? I feel sure there was a movie made of her story, but I cannot find a reference to it. Please read about the Bangka Island massacre if you are interested in more of what happened to the nurses caught by the Japanese in the turmoil after the fall of Singapore. It is such a sad story that I feel I cannot repeat it now in this post, and yet at the same time, it is one of incredible bravery.

City Sights Broken Hill 2016-03-13 036 (39)

Ultimately, our meandering brought us to the Synagogue. People originating from the Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and Russia called Broken Hill home from as far back as the 1880s, and among them were many of the Jewish faith. Their descendants have moved away now, and worship ceased in 1962, so it falls to the local historical society to remind us of their culture and traditions.

Behind the main building is a museum dedicated entirely to the Titanic sinking. This is The Bradley Wayne Falappi Titanic bequestSometimes I feel so connected to the Titanic story that I wonder if I have an ancestor that I haven’t discovered yet. This is an amazingly extensive collection of memorabilia, and all the more amazing for being located here in Broken Hill.

Mining and band music go together. Think of the UK film “Brassed Off“.  The bandsmen of Broken Hill felt such a strong connection to their compatriots on the Titanic, they erected a memorial in their name in the nearby Sturt Park.

Titanic Memorial Broken Hill 2016-03-13 036 (5)

Fortified with a couple of coffee stops, we frittered away the hours until Wayne returned to take us to the highlight of the day, our sunset visit to the Sculpture Symposium on the hills overlooking town.

It’s a distance out of town, about twelve kilometres, or nine miles. In fact, the road we take is called Nine Mile Road, and if we took it all the way, we would come to Nine Mile Station (farm), but we turn off and drive through one of the regeneration areas which surround Broken Hill. This is the brainchild of pioneer environmentalist Albert Morris, who way back in the 30s seized on the idea of re-planting areas denuded by drought and timber-getting as a way of reducing the dust storms that plagued the township. We don’t linger, nor do we wander through the “living desert” flora and fauna sanctuary, which needs around two hours to do it justice, but will reward the walker with plenty of kangaroos, emus, goats and native flora.

For this, our last organised tour of our time in Broken Hill, we are headed straight for the hilltop which is home to the twelve sandstone sculptures which make up the Sculpture Symposium.

Wayne explains that they were sculpted in 1993 using  52 tonnes of Wilcannia sandstone,  by artists from all around the world, who worked all hours in the freezing June and July temperatures. They brought their hand tools with them, but quickly discovered the hardness of this stone. They needed electric tools, and soon sent the word out for help!

I am glad we had been given this explanation, as some of the sculptures are really only marks on rock, but each one has an explanation board containing the background of the artist, and his vision for his work. Australian sculptors are joined by those from the Tiwi Islands, Georgia Russia, Syria, UK, a Bedouin, and the one which is probably most photographed was done by an Aztec Indian.

When the sunset is just right, the glowing orb shines directly through the circle of his Aztec-inspired figure. Today, given the cloudy conditions and ongoing possibility of rain, we are denied that highlight. For me, however, the view and colours of sunset – the blues, the mauves, and the haze – were just superb. Probably all the better for the overcast conditions. The light lit up the texture of the stony surrounds, bathing them in their own beauty.

We were high on an (extremely windy) hill-top, with vast horizons beyond. On one side was the endless beauty of the Barrier Ranges, and on the other, a distinct view of the town we have called home for the last week.

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Notwithstanding the dramatic colours and scenery, it was nice to come down from that cold and windy hilltop!!

 

20 thoughts on “Broken Hill, Winding Down to Sunset

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

  2. Here I am somehow reading backwards again having already finished up your journey on your next post…. the sculptures are quite impressive! It must have been extremely hard rock to stand the test of time!!! It’s amazing how people are dedicated to the things that they love to do. I cannot imagine out there in the cold chiseling and sculpting away on those rocks but in the end, they left behind a recent history and art.

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    • I am so behind in reading others posts. I despair of catching up. I am just about to do one last story on Broken Hill, which is just as well, as we are off on another adventure in a few weeks time. Isn’t it great the things people get up to? I am not at all artistic though 🙂

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  3. Art and heritage is one way that many places in the UK have been rebranded after the loss of their major ‘producing’ industries. It’s not always clear who benefits from the new jobs though. Broken Hill looks like they’ve successfully remade themselves into a mini cultural centre.

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  4. It’s a small world. My father was in Singapore in late December/January 1942, his UK line Section was attached to the 8th Australian Division. In the month before capture he was in hospital because his Aussie driver had hit a truck and my father was injured. In his last letter home before the Fall of Singapore he wrote about his time in hospital being treated by ‘real female nurses’ who had arrived on Singapore Island from further north (he doesn’t say Singapore in the letters as they are censored, but he later wrote his memoirs). Some of these nurses may well have ended up on Bangka Island. His aunt was evacuated on the SS Kuala and died when it was bombed near the Island of PomPong.
    You are not alone in feeling connected to the Titanic. I worked in the National Maritime museum many years ago and had the job of dealing with the Titanic correspondence which was endless.

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    • Hi Hilary, I am in Dubbo at the moment with lousy internet access, so cannot double check my facts, but I am pretty sure the 8th were the “chocko” soldiers, almost raw recruits who had been conscripted, as opposed to the battle-hardened volunteers who had already been serving in Africa and elsewhere. Just shocking what happened to them after the fall of Singapore, and I suppose your father was caught up in that. It is very hard to reconcile those atrocities with the nature of the Japanese that I met when I was working with them, in a shipping company as it happens. My career was in shipping and logistics, and at one stage I hoped to get a job with the Australian National Maritime Museum, can’t remember now if it was paid or volunteer, but they didn’t pick me up. It would have been wonderful, and heartbreaking, to read those Titanic letters.

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      • Some of the 8th were those very soldiers you are describing (they were reinforcements to the 8th, who were already in Singapore/Malaya and fighting hard). Many of the raw recruits were untrained and unsuitable having been, my father said, conscripted from the prisons and magistrates courts. He described, with some embarrassment, having to stop some of them trying to jump on the evacuation ships.

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        • Ah, I remember now. I am not so sure about conscripted from prisons, but they were conscripts in the sense that they had been required to join the home militia. What is now called the Army Reserve, and in the time of the Vietnam War, when my brother served voluntarily, was called the Citizen’s Military Force. With the threat of Japanese invasion, what constituted “home territory” became loosely defined, and they were rushed to Singapore. I have read several accounts of unruly behaviour, conversely there are accounts of great achievement in adverse situations, such as New Guinea. Now I am home with my usual internet access, I have been able to read up on the Kuala. A terrible tragedy. Your father must have been devastated when he received that news.

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