The tourist people describe Broken Hill as Sydney’s most accessible outback. They have a point.
Part of the confusion is caused by the fact that tourism to the Australian outback is an oxymoron. Unless, that is, you are a Banjo Patterson wannabe with swag and pole and a masochistic yen for being bitten by unidentifiable insect-life and doing the dunny in a billabong. The outback doesn’t come with comfortable beds, Castlemaine in the evening, croissants for breakfast and running water.
Thankfully the miners came to the rescue. Remote mining towns with hotels offer us the opportunity to the outback, or at least that version of it that we recognise from films such as Mad Max and Priscilla.
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Broken Hill is that rarity, a mining town that endured. Because it has 30 hotels and dozens of pubs and great restaurants it can offer that rarity, a comfortable bed and the remoteness of the bush at the same time. My hotel, the Palace, has flamboyant murals and the reflected fame of having been used as a film location for Priscilla. It is on Argent Street, near Cobalt Street, in a town where the streets seem to have been named from a chemistry set.
They felled every tree within a hundred km of Broken Hill to fuel the smelters of the town. The road takes you from sparse scrubland into thick vegetation like it crosses a boundary. The bull dust gets into everything. More the grit outdoors than the great outdoors
The earth is less barren than I expected. When the 12-year drought broke in February 2010 the earth started greening again. Lake Eyre in South Australia, probably the most beautiful ephemeral lake on the planet, started filling with water. I won’t get to see it this trip but instead I visit Coogee Lake and other smaller lakes around Broken Hill, red dust bowls now turned into a playground for ducks and black swans.
Who tells the birds the lake is full so they can travel 500km to nest here?
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Dinner is in the magnificent Broken Earth restaurant looking down on the town from the mine-scarred line of lode, what used to be the original Broken Hill before the open cast machinery tore it to shreds. I tuck into Katie Clifford‘s Australian bush tasting plate marinated char grilled crocodile skewers with a dug and passion berry jam, grilled kangaroo fillet with a native pepper leaf potato hash and drizzled with a honey mustard sauce. paperbark wrapped quail with a sticky lemon myrtle and honey glaze and smoked wallaby fillet served with a bush tomato pickle.
I feel like bouncing down the hill afterwards.
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In the ghost town of Silverton the silver ran out long ago so the miners upped with their wooden houses and moved to Broken Hill. The little wooden church used for the wedding scene in a Town Called Alice is dedicated to St Carthage, legacy of an Offaly priest who came this way in the 1880s. Margaret Edwards serves the best quandong pie on the planet in the Silverton café.
Badger Bates shows me the rainbow serpent painting he is making in the tiles at Mutawintji National Park, where Tristate tours have brought me to see ancient rock paintings. We use ballistic spears nowadays when we hunt, says tour guide Maca Malyankapa. His whitefellah name is Mark Sutton and he thinks his family as originally from Barberstown in Kildare. “The Irish are the blackfellahs of Europe” I tell him, borrowing a line from the Commitments, and he chuckles all the long drive home.
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Eoghan Corry flew to Australia with Emirates, who fly direct Dublin to Dubai daily 7 days a week and offer 70 onward connections a week to five Australian cities: Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide
www.emirates.com or telephone 01-779 4777, 2 Hume St, Dublin 2
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See www.australia.com and www.visitnsw.com for more information
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