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Broken Hill High School. Built in stone with half hipped gables in 1919. | by denisbin
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Broken Hill High School. Built in stone with half hipped gables in 1919.

Broken Hill Mine and town. The Barrier Ranges were discovered by Captain Charles Sturt in 1844 but it was not until 1876 that silver was discovered at Thackaringa near Silverton by Paddy Green the storekeeper of Menindee. Sturt had taken samples of mineral rocks back to the SA governor in 1844 but they were lost! The silver rush at Thackaringa did not begin until 1880. At that time the NSW government sent a police officer and magistrate to Silverton. In 1883 Silverton was surveyed as a town and its own silver rush began. A year later it had a population of 1,745 with 3,000 near the town. There were dozens of silver mines and mining companies within thirty miles of Silverton. Then in September 1883 Charles Rasp an employee of the Mount Gipps sheep station saw a part of the ranges that looked promising for minerals so with other employees James Poole and David James he pegged off the Broken Hill mining lease as it looked like almost pure tin. Once aware of this mining claim George McCulloch, the leaseholder of Mount Gipps, held a meeting of all his station men. The seven men formed a syndicate pegging 7 more mining leases in the ranges covering all that is now Broken Hill. The syndicate was: Rasp boundary rider, McCulloch station leaseholder, George Urquhart sheep overseer, George Lind station bookkeeper, Philip Charley station hand, David James contractor and James Poole offsider of James. Within a year others took out the North Broken Hill blocks and others the South blocks. Early returns were poor and the lodes not rich but all lodes showed both silver and lead. By the end of 1884 chloride ores of lead and galena ores of silver and lead and some zinc were being mined. The first smelters were built at the mine. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company was floated in August 1885. Only four of the original group of seven in the Broken Hill Mining Company were in the new BHP Company. The shares that were sold from the old syndicate for around £110 were worth one million pounds six years later! The new company offered 1,600 shares at £20 each in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. New shafts showed the lode went down almost vertically and was over 20 feet thick in places. The head office of BHP was located in Melbourne and the town of Broken Hill emerged around the BHP mines. Within days of the share release some shares were foolishly being sold for £13 a share. But in the first two months of operation the big mine produced over £44,000 worth of silver and lead. The first share dividend was given out three months after the company was formed! The first Broken Hill Post Office opened in 1885 as Silverton town and mines declined. The BHP mine shafts were over 200 feet by January 1886. By April BHP shares were worth £47 each. The BHP smelters opened in May 1886. In the next four months £67,000 worth of ore was obtained. By the end of 1886 shareholders had received over £4 for their initial share price of £20. The completion of the Peterborough to Silverton to Broken Hill railway set up BHP for more production in 1887. Original shareholders were going to be wealthy for at least the next 100 years or more. But the BHP mine was not the only mine- the other main ones were the South, Central, British, Block 14 and Block 10 mines. In 1888 BHP £20 shares reached £417 and their mine produced over £900,000 worth of ores including tin. In 1888 BHP was paying a regular dividend of £2 per share. In its first six years to 1891 BHP paid out £3,320,000 in dividends and produced over £7,000,000 worth of minerals. In its first four years BHP spent £175,000 on land, buildings, its smelters and machinery. By 1906 BHP had paid nearly £12,000,000 in dividends. By 1908 BHP employed 4,850 men and they were just one of several major companies in Broken Hill. BHP miners received a minimum of 10 shillings per eight hour shift in 1908. Three shower and bath rooms able to accommodate 500 men each were provided for those ending a shift. A major decision made by BHP in its early years was to end its smelting in Broken Hill in 1892 as there was not enough water there. Instead BHP developed their smelters at Port Pirie and railed the ores to that city from 1890 onwards. The British Broken Hill Company had established a smelter at Port Pirie in 1889 and BHP took this over and enlarged it. Eventually the smelters at Port Pirie smelted for five major Broken Hill mining companies. SA salt was required for the smelting of zinc in the Pirie smelters.


By the end of 1888 Broken Hill was the third biggest city in NSW after Sydney and Newcastle. It had a population of over 10,000 people by the beginning of 1889 but in April 1886 there had been only 34 inhabitants! The first building there was the mine manager’s house for the Day Dream mine in 1885. The town was surveyed in April 1886. The first church as the Wesleyan Methodist church built in 1885. The Customs House was an important early structure levying goods from South Australia but mainly collecting revenue from ores produced. The first hotel, the Bonanza was licensed October 1885. More followed. Hotels, houses and hovels had been built all over Broken Hill by the end of 1888 and in 1908 there were 61 hotels in Broken Hill. The town was declared a municipality in 1888. By 1890 many stone shops and offices in Argent Street had been completed and the town had a population of 26,000 by 1891. But progress had not been smooth. Strikes had closed mining operations for short periods, a major fire had destroyed wooden buildings in Argent Street in 1888, a water famine was experienced in 1892 and a bigger strike occurred in 1892 and in 1893 several banks had failed as depression and crisis hit all of Australia. The first of many serious mine accidents occurred in 1895 when nine men were killed and many wounded followed by another accident killing three men in 1897. But early in the 20th century the city was well endowed with churches, halls and government buildings. In 1905 there were wooden Anglican, Salvation Army, Baptist, Congregational and four wooden Methodist churches in the town. There were also three stone Methodist Churches, the stone Catholic Church (now the Cathedral), the stone Presbyterian Church in Lane Street and a stone Anglican Church in Railway Town. The Town Hall was built in 1891 as was the current Post Office. The Courthouse was finished in 1889 and the Police Station was built in 1890. The first Trades Hall was built in 1898.


Broken Hill in the 20th Century. By the early 20th century Broken Hill had 35,000 residents which was an all-time peak for the city. Some significant things occurred between 1900 and 1930. From 1902 to 1926 steam powered trams ran along Argent Street. Minor city centres developed in Railway Town and in South Broken Hill with shops, churches halls etc. An eastern railway reached the city in 1919 but it was only a spur line from Menindee with no other connections and a small timber station was built in Sulphide Street. The great western line from Sydney had reached Parkes in 1893. It was extended to Condobolin in 1898. It reached Menindee in 1927 thus completing a line from Broken Hill to Sydney. The world famous Silver City Comet train, the first air conditioned train in the British Empire, began service in 1937. It operated to and from Parkes connecting to a Sydney train. It ceased in 1989. When the service closed local residents protested and since 1993 they have had a once a week Outback Explorer train from Parkes to Broken Hill connecting to Sydney. In 1970 the new standard gauge line from Sydney to Perth opened & the Indian Pacific now calls into Broken Hill twice a week on its transcontinental services.


With a half dozen mining companies dominating the city and with the mining industry being heavily unionised Broken Hill has had a number of significant strikes and lock outs by the mine owners. In the 1880s miners went on strike to ensure only unionised miners were employed. Later all workers in the city had to be in unions or black listing was applied even to shopkeepers and small businesses. One of the worst mining strikes was in 1909 when miners were locked out for five months if they did not accept BHP’s offer a reduction of 12.5% of their wages. Scab works were ostracised sometimes violently. The strike put considerable stress on miners, their families and businesses in the town. This was followed by the worst strike in 1919/1920 when miners struck for 18 months. Earlier strikes during WWI tried to reduce the 48 hour week to a 40 hour week and to improve conditions. But between 1910 and 1919 a total of 141 miners and been killed at work; temperatures deep in shafts were often around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and wages were static. As metal prices worldwide dropped the mining companies tried to reduce wages. The workers wanted a wage increase, better safety and a 30 hour working week and compensation for industrial diseases and injuries. Thus the strike began. Cooperative depots were established by the unions to provide bread, butter, potatoes and onions to the families. In 1920 when metal prices began to rise again the mining companies were more prepared to negotiate. The companies accepted a 40 hour week for miners and 44 hours work for surface workers and miners suffering from tuberculosis or lead poisoning were to be compensated. Finally a ruling by the NSW Industrial Commission settled the dispute. During the strikes the unions bands and musicians would lead hundreds of picketers to the mine gates. The dissatisfaction with wages and conditions fostered some radicalism with Communists and other radicals joining the ranks of the miners. In 1923 all the town’s unions united in the Barrier Industrial Council led by Paddy O’Neill until 1948.


One of the most radical men to lead the miners was NSW Member of Parliament Percy Brookfield. He began as a Labor MP in 1917 but left the party in 1919 as they were not radical enough. He was a strong supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World movement and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. In 1920 he contested the Broken Hill seat as a member of the Industrial Socialist Labor party and won. His support of the Bolsheviks probably led to a mentally unstable Russian émigré Koorman Tomayeff attacking him on the Riverton Railway Station platform on 22 March 1921 at the refreshment rooms. When the gunman started firing at passengers a local policeman drew out his revolver but it jammed. Brookfield ran towards Tomayeff with the gun but he was shot and wounded. Brookfield wrestled Tomayeff to the ground saving other passengers from gun fire. Brookfield died the next day of his wounds and over 40 shots were fired by Tomayeff. Several other passengers were wounded and one died. Tomayeff was not tried but certified insane and died in 1948 in a mental hospital in Adelaide. This was the first political assassination in Australia. Brookfield was buried in Broken Hill cemetery with a large publicly funded memorial obelisk.


Broken Hill was the site of the first and only WWI attack on Australian soil on New Year’s Day 1915. But was it also a Muslim terrorist attack and not just a war attack? The Manchester Unity lodge was holding its annual New Year’s Day picnic and a loaded train with 1,200 men, women and children all in open ore trucks was leaving the town for a picnic site along the Silverton Tram railway. The open desert scrub meant the passengers were sitting ducks. Not far out of town two “Afghans”, probably from the Kyber Pass area of India (now Pakistan) opened fire on the train as part of jihad called for by the leader of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mehmed V and religious leader Shakyha-al-Islam as Turkey was at war with Britain and France from 5th November 1914.The jihad was issued on 14th November 1914. Gool Mohamed and Mulla Abdulla fired 20 to 30 shots. Eleven people were hit - four died with two shot on the train and two more nearby and seven were wounded. People tried to jump off the train to escape the slaughter. The two attackers headed to some rocky outcrops at White’s Reserve about a mile away. Police and militia gathered and headed there for a show down at what was sensationally entitled the “Battle of Broken Hill“ in a 1981 film. After an hour and a half of shooting the rocky hideout were stormed. Mulla Abdulla was dead and Gool Mohamed had 16 wounds and died shortly afterwards on his way to Broken Hill hospital. The two attackers were quickly buried. Their former residence in the Camel Camp was burned to the ground as was the German Club in the city as residents believed the Germans had urged the cameleers to attack. Germany and Turkey were allies. The newspapers referred to the two as Turks as they were fighting for Turkey. In Adelaide a Muslin flag was torn down from the Little Gilbert Street Mosque. Gool Mohamed supposedly left a note in Urdu at the rocky outcrop saying he was fighting for Turkey. The rifles, Koran and Turkish flag which the two used are now in the Police and Justice Museum of Sydney. At the site of the attack an ore train carriage marks the spot and a replica of an ice cream cart is nearby. Gool Mohamed was born in Pakistan and came to the outback as a cameleer. Around 1900 he travelled to Turkey to fight in the Turkish army. He returned to Broken Hill and sold ice cream from a cart. He had worked in the mines for some time so he had to be a unionist at that time. Mulla Abdulla was the Iman and the halal butcher for the Camel Camp residents and he had arrived in Broken Hill in 1898. Although their mosque was in the town the cameleers were not welcomed in the town as residents as they lived with their camels. Their houses were in a camp a couple of kilometres out of the city. Three days after the attack eleven suspect enemy aliens were removed from Broken Hill (six Austrians, four Germans and one Turk) and taken to the internment camp on Torrens Island in Adelaide. The Prime Minister Billy Hughes used the attack as motivation for the internment of enemy aliens during the WWI. Less than four months after the attack Australian troops were fighting the Turks at Anzac Cove.


Historical Walk in Broken Hill by Denis.

1. Corner of Argent and Chloride streets. Post Office. Red brick. Built 1891. Architect the Colonial Architect James Barnet. It is dominated by the square tower with the mansard roof which is on the corner with a veranda.

2. On the diagonal corner is Wendts Chambers with classical Greek triangular pediments along roof line and two projecting triangular pediment headed sections. It was built in 1892 by Wendts jewellers of Adelaide for they used Broken Hill silver in their work. They leased sections of the building including to the Commonwealth Bank from 1914.

3. Old Town Hall next to PO. Foundation stone 1890 laid by Sir Henry Parkes Premier of NSW. Opened 1891. Very ornate stone building with double veranda and projecting porch and balcony.

4. Opposite Town Hall is a fine granite commercial building the Pirie Building erected in 1891. In grey stone with classical style with symmetry – triangular pediments over end double rectangular windows and another over the double central rounded windows. The architects Withall and Wells also designed the Town hall opposite.

5. Next to Town Hall is old Police station. Red brick with arched veranda and built in 1890.Cell block at its rear.

6. Next door is the Art Deco/Federation style Technical College built in 1900 to 1901. Now a TAFE College. Two government architects including Walter Liberty Vernon. Note central air vent and wooden cupola so necessary in this climate with no air conditioning!

7. Next is the fine Courthouse. Architect was James Barnet the Colonial Architect. Built in 1889 in stuccoed brick. Triangular pediment in middle of façade contains the NSW state emblem. Double veranda posts add to this sense of stability and power.

8. Opposite the Courthouse are Carrington Chambers one of the oldest building in Broken Hill. Built in simple style in 1888 with Dutch gable style pediment and decorative corner stones above windows.

9. Soldiers’ War Memorial by Courthouse. The statue of a soldier with a grenade was unveiled in 1925.By C. Gilbert.

10. Across the corner with massive bulk & cast iron balcony lace work is the 3 storey Palace Hotel with unusual peaked roof structures on the two corners. Built primarily in red brick in 1889. Now known for its role in the film Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Go inside to see the amazing painted murals over the stair case walls and ceilings.

11. Next door to the Palace Hotel in the former Bank of South Australia. Built in 1889 but during the bank collapse 1893 the building became the AMP. Built in classical style with pilasters and rectangular windows with no decoration. Great symmetry and balance. Triangular pediments over the street doors. It still has the AMP logo statue across the roof line although it is now a finance office.

12. Opposite the AMP is the Barrier Social Democratic Club. This was a union controlled town as most people were employed in the silver, lead and zinc mines but this organisation was formed to promote socialism. It was formed in 1903 and the building erected 1904. Return to the Palace Hotel and turn northwards to the left.

13. On the next corner right is the Trades Hall. Behind it is the original simple Trades Hall which covered unionist in the mines, the railways and government service etc. It was built in 1898 on land donated by the NSW government. The elaborate corner building was erected between 1898 and 1905. A stone building with cement rendered quoins, corner door, rounded windows, and French mansard roof etc. Turn left here.

14. Opposite the City of Broken Hill Centre (look for the busts of the group of eight who were the founders of B.H.P Proprietary) is the Barrier Daily Newspaper Building. The paper started in 1908 but the building dates from earlier. The unionist newspaper the Barrier Truth was established in 1898 and moved to this building a few years later. It was much later taken over by the Barrier Daily.

15. The next building on the right is the former Sulphide Street Railway Station which was the terminus of the Silver Tramway Company track. It is now a Migration Museum and railway museum and two other museums. Across the roundabout is the Information Centre. Turn left or northwards from this corner by the former railway station.

16. Turn right at the next roundabout so you are going around the railway museums. In the next street you see the Broken Hill Ice and Produce Company. Turn left at the next intersection and go north along Sulphide Street with Sturt Park on your right. On the next corner is the impressive Wesleyan Methodist Church now the Uniting Church. Architect was Frederick Dancker from Adelaide and built in 1888. It is heritage listed. Behind it is the stone church hall built in 1885. Used 1988 for the Pro Hart carpet advert. The walk ends here or you can continue up the hill.

17. At the next street Wolfram Street turn left and a few buildings along is the former Broken Hill Jewish synagogue. It is the most isolated Jewish synagogue in the world. Opened 1911 and closed 1962. It was restored 1990 and turned into a museum. Note the Hebrew on the façade. Retrace your steps to Sulphide Street and turn left up hill.

18. You will be rewarded up the hill with an amazing castle style stone cottage on the right beyond Sturt Park. It was built around 1890 with castellations. Used as the Towers Hospital of Nurse Robertson from 1890 to 1909. The historic government hospital was built in 1889 in another location. Sturt Park was created in 1895 but only named in honour of Captain Charles Sturt in 1944 – the centenary of his explorations in the Broken Hill region. It has a memorial to the bandsmen of the sinking Titanic of 1912.

19. 141 Sulphide Street is the North Broken Hill mine bachelors’ quarters building.

20 - 24. Still in Sulphide Street is the Catholic Cathedral situated on the hill with a panoramic view of Broken Hill. Opposite the Cathedral is the former orphanage now part of the catholic primary school. It was established in 1895. Behind the Cathedral up the hill is the impressive St Joseph’s Convent. The best views of the Convent are from the Catholic School car park in Lane Street. The convent was built in 1889. Opposite with the sloping stone wall is Bishop’s House. The Diocese of Wilcannia was established in 1887 and the first Catholic Church in Broken Hill opened in 1887. The current cathedral opened in 1905.The original stone and tin church behind the Bishop’s house is the 1887 Catholic Church best seen from Mica Street.


The Line of Lode Lookout. There is a memorial to the 800 people who have lost their lives beneath the ground in the mines on the mine overburden. This memorial opened in 2000 but access is not often available but the adjoining Line of Lode Lookout is always open and offers panoramic views across the city from the coffee shop.

Pro Hart Gallery. Admission about $5. Of the many art galleries in Broken Hill the Pro Hart gallery is one of the best. He was a painter, sculptor and collector. He was a grand figure of Broken Hill with strong community links. He was a legend in his city and beyond. He was born in Broken Hill in 1928 and although he travelled the world he lived there until his death. Her collected Rolls Royce cars (and painted them), Picasso prints and paintings and Rembrandts. He worked an outback sheep stations and deep beneath the ground in the mines. But above all he painted almost every day of his life. We all remember the TV advert with his carpet paintings with the dragon fly! He started painting full time in 1958 and he died in 2006. His first solo exhibition was in Adelaide but he also had exhibitions in London, Sydney, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong, Tel-Aviv etc. Apart from his works his gallery includes paintings by William Dobell, Arthur Boyd, Claude Monet, John Constable etc.

Regional Art Gallery. Entry by donation. Founded in 1904 paintings were donated including some by McCulloch of Mt Gipps. The first gallery director started 1950. Its collection includes many famous Australian artist as well as the works of many Aboriginal painters including Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Sulphide Street Railway and historical museum. Nominal entry fee.This great museum in the old railway station includes a walk in mine viewing, art works, mining history etc. It was originally the terminus of the Silverton Tramway Company. Thus museum has a collection of railway memorabilia, hospital items, minerals and gems.


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Taken on November 2, 2019