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Life Happens The adventures of Nora Dunn & Kelly Bedford, Professional Hobos. Nora writes, Kelly makes music. Together, we are on a lifelong journey to...wherever.

The Mining Horns of Broken Hill

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 11 July 2008 | Views [4044] | Comments [1]

A long blare of a not-too-distant horn echoed throughout Broken Hill around 6:30pm, while we were preparing dinner. Shortly thereafter, a short blare of the horn followed.

Being of a volume and pitch similar to what we heard in Hawaii when the tsunami warning system was tested each month, we wondered what these horns meant. We were pretty sure that a tsunami wasn’t an immediate risk in Broken Hill.


Broken Hill, otherwise known as the “accessible outback”, is a destination, but not. Some of the key draws of Broken Hill aren’t the city itself; rather the surrounding areas. Between the beautiful outback surrounding Broken Hill, sculptures in the Living Desert, the national park to the north full of aboriginal sites, the quirky ghost town of Silverton (home to many movie sets including Mad Max), the mining town of White Cliffs where people live underground to escape the summer heat, and the expansive cattle stations, Broken Hill’s appeal largely lies in the area 100kms around the city.


The town of Broken Hill itself is a heavy mining community with over 100 years of history. With lodes of iron, zinc, silver, and other metals, the landscape of Broken Hill somewhat resembles an open pore on the face of the Australian outback landscape that has been squeezed for its underground riches. This is not a particularly savoury analogy I know, but then again mining – as necessary as it is – isn’t a particularly savoury industry.


That is not to say that the city of Broken Hill should be avoided, by any means. There are numerous wonderful art galleries to enjoy – almost too many proportionate to the town’s size, but you won’t hear me complaining.

One such art gallery, and one not to be missed, is the Silver City Mint and Art Centre, where you can not only purchase beautiful hand-crafted jewellery and art made by a variety of local talent, but you can also view the Big Picture. Which is just as it sounds - a beautiful big picture; in fact it is the world largest canvas painting at 100metres in length.


Broken Hill is also home to some of the most friendly people, and conversations with passing strangers sometimes last 10 minutes, or even through tea. In our time at Broken Hill we have been invited into people’s homes and hearts, cattle stations, and places of business with warm welcomes and generosity that appears to be characteristic of the Australian Outback and even of Australia itself.


But back to the ominous blares that startled us at 6:30pm while preparing dinner. Being a mining town, and one born due to mining discoveries so long ago, men over the last century have ventured into the mines each day to earn a hard honest living. Many men lost their lives in various accidents, especially before we had the technology we do today to detect and prevent problems.


Many a day, wives and children at home would sit on pins and needles, wondering if their husbands and fathers would make it home at the end of the day. And so was developed the shift change alerts. I don’t know what exactly they are called, or how long the tradition has been in place, but the alerts are still used today for the families of the miners. The first long tone indicates the shift change, and more traditionally lets the wives know that their husbands will be home soon and that they can start dinner. The second shorter tone is to let the community know that everybody is out of the mine safely.


We were lucky not to hear any variations on these tones while in Broken Hill; no catastrophes happened, and everybody always made it home safe and sound. (Or at least out of the mine safe and sound – whether or not they made it home from the pub or social club is another matter)!


We would like to extend a big thank you to the kind folks of Broken Hill, who made our stay in the accessible outback so special. We’ve been told that once you visit Broken Hill, you always go back. When we do go back (a trip that is not planned, but who are we to nay-say such a proverb), we know we’ll have many friends to share good times and warm meals with.

Tags: ambassador van, australia, broken hill, outback, world nomads



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