When Sydneysider Katrina Lobley flew 2.5 hours west to Broken Hill in Outback NSW, she entered a widescreen world of slow-moving camel trains and red wine-enhanced stargazing. Here, she shares the six best things to do in Broken Hill.
Explore the desert on the back of a camel
I’m bobbing along on a camel, slow-travelling through Silverton, an almost ghost town near Broken Hill in Outback NSW, admiring clouds that seem tinted pink by the red desert glare. These old mining towns and the surrounding Mundi Mundi Plains aren’t short on cinematic good looks. As the Mad Max Museum up on the hill showcases, this otherworldly landscape is a favourite of movie directors.
For now, Silverton Outback Camels’ Petah Devine is rolling the camera, capturing our camel train. Her husband, Duncan Pickering, leads, narrating as we pass local curiosities. A colourful tin hut turns out to be the studio of artist John “Emu Man” Dynon, who lived out here until supernatural shenanigans alarmed his wife, prompting a move into Broken Hill.
Turn your gaze upwards
Everyone has a story, I’m discovering. At a former Royal Flying Doctor communications base on Broken Hill’s outskirts, Linda and Travis Nadge have turned their passion for all-things celestial into the Outback Astronomy stargazing experience. I recline on a lounger, sip chilled red wine and listen to Linda’s tales of black holes and asteroids. One night, she says, a fireball of a meteor streaked from east to west across the sky as she spoke.
See ancient rock art and contemporary sculpture
This is ancient Country with a vibrant living culture. Inside Mutawintji National Park, 130 kilometres from town, Keanu Garni Bates from Mutawintji Heritage Tours shows me the park’s Historic Site (only accessible with a guide) and its astonishing rock galleries of ochre hand stencils and engravings. Bates’s grandfather, Badger Bates, is a knowledge-holder for the Barkindji people and an artist of note.
When I later head to Broken Hill’s Living Desert Reserve, where 12 sandstone sculptures stand in the middle of nowhere and glow at sunset, I’m not surprised to find that it’s Bates’s quietly intriguing work that’s speaking to me the loudest.
Stay in a revamped church
The Broken Hill Outback Church Stay, just two kilometres from Broken Hill airport, is set in a transformed 1911 Romanesque-style church, with double-height ceilings and arched doorways retaining its sense of glory. There are three master suites, each with king bed and ensuite, plus a limestone spa bath and full gourmet kitchen. Bell’s Milk Bar, a cheerful local institution offering 1950s vibes and proper lime spiders, is just steps away.
Dig into local eats
Saltbush-dusted lamb rump and wattleseed date pudding are recent additions to the menu at The Old Saltbush. Silvers Restaurant in the classic colonial Junction Hotel (560 Argent St, Broken Hill, 08 8088 4380) serves up creature comforts in the form of barramundi, confit duck and Cajun lamb. And for the best brunch in town, head to the Silly Goat (425 Argent St, Broken Hill, 08 8088 7210) for matcha lattes and brekky burgers with smoky sauce.
Visit the home of Priscilla
The Palace Hotel bills itself as the ‘spiritual home’ of Aussie drag classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, thanks to the fact that it featured in Stephan Elliott’s Oscar-winning film. Extraordinary murals – including a local take on Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus – adorn the walls, ceilings and staircase here like a quirky Sistine Chapel of the Outback. Book a stay in the Priscilla Suite, which is where the film’s characters rested their weary wigs.