Silverton Loses Its Character

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Oceania » Australia » New South Wales » Silverton
October 14th 2014
Published: November 7th 2014
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The Silver MineThe Silver MineThe Silver Mine

This amazing piece of silverwork is a model of the BHP Block 10 Mine, which was part of the original mine in 1888. The model was made by JM Wendt in 1892 and given to the General Manager of BHP, "Captain" John Warren, just after the mining strike.
Started today with a headache so took some tablets and laid in a bit until 9am. It was still really windy and quite chilly. After breakfast, Barry went outside and then called out that the dead bird had disappeared – had I removed it? No, I hadn’t touched it. All that was left were a few colourful feathers on the ground. Something had obviously had a feast during the night.

We then went into what’s left of Silverton proper. It was originally settled when silver was discovered in the Barrier Ranges in 1876 and mines and smelters were established nearby. It had a population of 1,745 with 4,000 people in the whole district in 1884 and was proclaimed a town and had a Municipal Council in 1885, with a private rail line the Silverton Tramway Company opening in 1988. The town was the commercial centre for the mines around. Unfortunately, when the huge silver deposits were found at Broken Hill and mining started in earnest there the early mines all closed down and were all gone by 1894. The Council ceased operation in 1899 and the town quickly became a ghost town. Today it has a population of less than
The Painted Dunny, SilvertonThe Painted Dunny, SilvertonThe Painted Dunny, Silverton

This painting is called "The Shit Hits the Fan" by Howard William Steer. It stands outside the "Beyond 39 Dips" Visitor Information Centre and Gallery. You can just see the "Flying Doctor" with his white wings near the top, that is a feature of many of his paintings.
60 people.

There are still a few of the original buildings left but mostly it has large empty areas that were once streets. When we came here more than 30 years ago we were stuck by how empty and desolate it seemed with most of the remaining structures falling down and only one or two complete but closed up, like the churches. The highlight then had been the Silverton Hotel which stood almost alone in the High Street. We’d even seen a horse that had stuck his front half through the front door and appeared to want to go inside. It was full of character.

Our first look this time was a drive up the High Street past the Hotel. What a disappointment that was! There have been additions to the building such as outdoor eating areas and awnings, which are lovely for the patrons but totally spoil the ruggedness it featured before. It was also flanked by several buildings and there were cars all parked out the front. It looked like any outback pub, not one from a ghost town, as it had.

We continued up the hill to the row of buildings we could see
St Carthage Catholic Church, SilvertonSt Carthage Catholic Church, SilvertonSt Carthage Catholic Church, Silverton

The church was not open, unfortunately, but was the grandest building still standing in the town. It was built in 1886.
on the skyline, which included the information centre. This had not been there last time, just derelict structures and the two churches. They had now been refurbished and some new places built to house a series of Art Galleries and a café. We began by visiting Beyond 39 Dips Gallery as this was the Visitor Info Centre, too. It’s called that because the road to Broken Hill has 39 labelled dips in it for flood waters – (we counted the next day and it did!).There were some good decorated cars outside and I liked quite a few of the paintings and the glass work and jewellery by resident glass blower Lee Neilson (I treated myself to a pair of green and purple dichroic glass earrings) inside, but I wasn’t allowed to take photos (as if usual in places selling artworks). There was also an area, that for a donation to charity I could photograph, which was a tribute to the outback farmers and featured a large dray and some wool bales and baling equipment. The shop itself had formerly been a Kidman Brothers Butcher shop before Sir Sidney Kidman became the “Cattle King”. He eventually owned hundreds of outback cattle
Mad Max II MuseumMad Max II MuseumMad Max II Museum

This is just a small part of the outside area where there are many of the vehicles from the movie, some reconstructed from wreckage left in the outback and some replicas. It all looked very dangerous!
stations – more than 3% of Australia- and his company is still the largest private landholder in Australia, but smaller now.

We next went into Cowz Art Gallery, owned by artist Jason Cowley who specialises in primitive art scenes, almost cartoonish, that feature wide eyed emus, kids playing in the outback and locals in all sorts of pursuits. They were quite good and made great postcards but it’s not something I’d put on a wall.

Further down the hill was another gallery that looked like a derelict warehouse/tin shed. This was John Dynon’s Gallery and it had a load of rusty old bicycles outside propped up as decoration. Inside were a few nice scenes, some of which he sold as postcards, so I bought 2 and he gave me a third which he had signed on the back. Coincidentally, it was the Silverton Hotel as we saw it last time, so I was happy to get it.

At the bottom of the hill was the Horizon Gallery, where the paintings inside were OK but nothing to rave about. The highlight was a large camel’s head and neck which was unexpectedly sticking out of the wall next to
Silverton HotelSilverton HotelSilverton Hotel

We felt that the hotel had lost a lot of its original character and looked quite commercial now, with the awnings and outside eating areas.
the door as you approached. Barry hadn’t joined me for the last two galleries, he’d had enough art for today so he’d snoozed in the ute and looked up stuff on his phone!

As I walked back towards the top of town to Barry, I noticed a group of donkeys that had wandered off the Common heading through the middle of town. They stopped, first, at Silverton Souvenirs, where they were given some food, then strolled on to Silverton Hotel for more. One of the staff came out with a bowl of bits for them. Evidently, they belong to various people in town and live on the Common, coming in for food every day.

By this time we were getting hungry and decided to check out Silverton Hotel menu as we could see a lot of people (bus loads) eating. To enter you couldn’t use the front door any more but had to walk through the side eating area. Inside it still had the central bar area but there were now hundreds of odd, old-hat sayings hanging from the ceiling written in scruffy black handwriting on scrappy white paper and flat beer cans had been tacked to the
Silverton Ghost TownSilverton Ghost TownSilverton Ghost Town

This is looking across the desolate township at John Dynon's Gallery on the right, with all the bikes etc. he thought would attract customers. You can also see the St Carthage Catholic Church, 1886, in the middle and the Methodist Church, about 1884, on the left.
walls. It all looked as if they were trying to make it look interesting but it seemed very forced to us (especially after seeing places like Daly Waters Hotel which had genuinely developed into a quirky place and was fun to explore). It had one redeeming feature, lots of photos on two walls of the filming of Mad Max II and A Town Like Alice, and some of the 100 other films and commercials the pub has been used in. We were very happy to see a tribute to the horse we remembered, too. The place was totally packed and claustrophobic so we decided not to have lunch there, after all.

Instead, we heading back up to the top of the hill and had lunch at the Silverton Café, sitting next to a window from which we had a lovely view across the “ghostly” part of the outskirts. This felt more like what we’d expected. While we waited for the food to be cooked, we explored their large collection of memorabilia, which was mostly for sale, and the Doll Collection, which wasn’t. The dolls were made from porcelain heads that had been found in and around Silverton, as had the colourful glass bottles you could buy. I wanted to buy some for my mother as she used to like them, but there’s no place for them in a Nursing Home – pity.

The meal was wonderful, with Barry having a “Pigout” (pork and red wine gravy served on damper with a small side salad) and I also had damper with my vegetable soup which was packed with lots of chunks and served in a deep, narrow, earthenware bowl so it stayed piping hot the whole time. Why don’t all cafes serve it like this instead of in wide shallow bowls which chill in seconds? We finished by sharing a Devonshire Tea but with iced coffees. It was all delicious and filling – best part of the day so far!

We then went next door to the Mad Max II Museum, where we were met at the door by the very enthusiastic owner, Adrian Bennett, who told us lots of facts and stories about the filming (one was that part of the movie had been made at the Old Pumping Station at Scienceworks in Melbourne and some had been done in Melton). He had a large collection of artefacts from the movie (which we couldn’t photograph – this is getting old!) many on loan from cast and crew who had been involved in the movie. We then went outside to the yard (where we could film) and looked at his amazing personal collection of vehicles from the Fortress, some had been used in the movie and some were replicas. They had a few life sized models of the characters that went with the vehicles alongside them, too. It all looked very warlike and primitive and just like the movie.

The last port of call was a flying visit to the Old Silverton Gaol Museum, which I’d read was very good. Barry had no interest in another museum and as I only had half an hour before it closed, said he was happy to snooze in the ute for that time so I went in. I’m so glad I did and wish I’d had longer. I did take lots of photos so I could look back on them for details.

Each room in the Gaol was a separate display of different aspects of life in Silverton and the surrounding area complete with one of the largest collection of artefacts I’ve seen in a small town museum (and some big town ones!) complete with information cards and life-sized dummies to show off the clothing, costumes and even wedding dresses, particularly from the 1920s and 30s. One room was dedicated to sports and hobbies, with old swimsuits and games I remember playing as a kid, like quoits; another to housekeeping and shopping, with the history of washing machines, irons, stoves, churns and sewing machines etc.; one for the Freemasons, with costumes and regalia; one had a hairdresser’s showing a very dangerous looking contraption that hooked electricity up to metal curlers wound into the hair to produce a long-lasting perm (looked like a good way to get electrocuted to me but it had been popular and made its inventor famous!); another was set up like a doctor’s clinic and was full of medical equipment; the best ones were the mining equipment, including a full fire fighting rescue uniform made of leather complete with oxygen mask and leather helmet and the amazing silver model of Mine 10 and another huge one showing the underground of the mine at Broken Hill. They were detailed and fabulous.

One section had retained the gaol cells and one had an iron bed, a hard chair and a small table. There was a small solitary cell and, outside in the exercise courtyards (one for men and one for women) there was a large wooden box with a bed and no windows, which was taken from a police station and was used as an overnight holding cell. Most surprising of all, still in the courtyards, were several alcoves with toilets in them – facing forward and open for the world to see! Glad I didn’t have to use them!

As I raced around the last few displays the volunteer was following me and locking up the rooms – it was definitely time to go and wake Barry up before we got locked in the car park! I would have loved to have spent longer and will enjoy reviewing the photos to see what I missed.

As we left the town we stopped at the cemetery and looked at some of the old headstones there. A few were from the 1880s and some had died fairly young but the saddest were a pair of headstones together in a fenced enclosure that had two adults who had lived long lives and four of their children, aged 4, 14, 17 and 29 years, who had predeceased them. They must have had some surviving offspring as they were buried with the message “loving parents” etc. but it must have been awful to see so many die so young.

We continued on home for dinner, both tired after a long day. It had been disappointing as a “ghost town” as we felt it had lost some of its unique character and become commercialised but, that said, we still found many things to enjoy about the day (me more than Barry).


6th November 2017

Great Post. I have been to Silverton twice, and will pass through again. The gaol was great, as was the Café on top of the hill. I couldn't help but purchase a couple of things from there.
13th November 2017

Silverton Revisited
Dear Mohamad Thank you for your comment. We also bought a couple of things from there. We were back there in March this year when our daughter came to visit and I'm sorry to tell you that the lovely cafe on top of the hill was closed and up for sale. We were very disappointed. I hope it is back in business when you next go.

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