As mentioned – Broken Hill is a long way from anywhere. 500km from Adelaide and 1160km from Sydney. It is amazing how a thriving town has risen up from the desert. When there’s stuff to be dig out of the ground, people will go to considerable lengths. Broken Hill had a population of 30,000 in its heyday. It is now around 17,000. History abounds in the city and as a whole.
Mining was a thirsty game, which explains why Broken Hill had over 70 pubs in its day. Buildings that used to be pubs are obvious, but their numbers are dwindling with the South Aussie and the Northern clearly recent closures. A number have been turned into hotels like the Old Willyama, which apparently still opens its bar occasionally. There’d be less than 20 now, but there are gems to be discovered amongst those establishments still going.
We visited Broken Hill to see my daughter, who had wholeheartedly embraced the Broken Hill scene. She explained that many of the pubs really only revved up quite late. We walked past the Mulga Hill Tavern (264 Oxide St) early and it was empty. At 11.30pm on Friday – absolutely jammed. The Mulga is a modern construction and not aesthetically pleasing – but gees it goes off. Plenty of food options in most of the pubs. The Tydvil Hotel (318 Oxide Street) and The Old Royal (148 Oxide Street) were bulging at dinner time and seemed be the town’s gastropubs of choice.
For a real dose of local, try the Rising Sun Hotel aka the Riso (2 Beryl St). This pub shut down but has since been revived and the locals are friendly. The Black Lion Inn (34 Bromide Street) is a pub in two parts. Locals frequent the corner bar replete with pokies and sport. My daughter advises that young locals and ever changing itinerants (like herself) frequent the cocktail bar, which offers a unique and outrageous menu of luridly coloured cocktails at a happy hour price of 2 for $15. Gets very popular. If you do the Mundi Mundi sunset (highly recommended), take the opportunity to visit the most hard core locals pub in Broken Hill – The Excelsior (13 Thomas Street, Broken Hill). Colourful locals with colourful language.
So that leaves Argent Street – Broken Hill’s historic main drag. The Theatre Royal Hotel (347 Argent Street, Broken Hill) has been around since the earliest days of Broken Hill. On the occasional night a part of the Hotel is transformed into The Night Train, an infamous night club, that my daughter advised was not for me. The jewel in the Broken Hill pub Crown is The Palace (227 Argent Street). The Palace’s claim to fame is that it appeared in the iconic Australian film, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It is also one place where it is legal to play two-up regularly. Friday nights go off and locals and tourists happily rub shoulders and hand cash over to each other around a makeshift two up ring. The artwork is extraordinary and has its own history and the upstairs veranda is an awesome place to sit and watch the sunset. Truly one of Australia’s grandest pubs.
Last but not least, a trip to Broken Hill is not complete without a visit to Silverton. 25km out, Silverton had a population of 3000 people at its peak and apparently 3 breweries and 10 pubs. It is now a small collection of old and/or decaying buildings, a couple of galleries and a pub. The Silverton Hotel (14 Layard Street, Silverton) has been in that many films it could have its own Hollywood star of fame. Often they rename the pub for the film and these hoardings are displayed out the back. Plenty of merchandise and really friendly staff.
Broken Hill – I hope to return.