Michael Scheineker dreamed of it for a long time. Finally, in May, he and his wife jumped into his big pick-up truck. In two days he traveled the 2,800 km that separate his city of Perth – on the south-west coast of Australia – from the ghost town of Silverton: in the 19e century, with the gold rush and then the discovery of a vein of silver, adventurers and workers flocked to this remote corner. The mine closed, they left. There are six churches left but barely 50 inhabitants.
By coming to Silverton, Michael Scheineker, the city dweller, offers himself a dip in the legendary Outback, the Australian hinterland. He is huge. Relentless and beautiful, brimming with energy and yet almost deserted. However, if Michael has gone so far, it is not primarily for these wide open spaces. It’s for Mad Max 2, The Challenge, an Australian film he is crazy about. Michael wanted to see the corner where, in 1981, this mixture of action, stunts and science fiction had been filmed. And visit the museum of the same name.
The kingdom of thorn bushes, acacias, eucalyptus…
This museum was created by Adrian Bennett. This Englishman has found Mad Max 2 if ” fantastic “ that he dumped everything to pile up in a huge hangar an incredible bric-a-brac of cars, motorcycles, costumes and objects related to the film. Some were used for the filming, others are copies.
To make the most of this museum, Michael will stay two days in Silverton: he has reserved a room in the only hotel. The day after tomorrow, he will go to Broken Hill, the neighboring town backed by a huge slag heap. He will have only 25 kilometers of paved road to cover in the middle of the vast arid expanses, barely punctuated by a few farms. Usually it is the realm of tall grasses, thorny bushes, acacias, eucalyptus, dust, ocher, red, parchment, sun-beaten soils. And sometimes fires. This year, the countryside is green as rarely. It fell torrential rains. As a result, the roads in Mutawintji National Park are impassable. Impossible to reach the most beautiful aboriginal rock carvings in the region.
Looks like a Far West town
Like Silverton, Broken Hill is an oasis in the middle of the Outback. Like Silverton, this town founded in 1850 prospered thanks to its silver, lead and zinc mines. The first arrivals were pioneers, sometimes adventurers. Hard workers too: at the beginning, the miners worked in such terrible conditions that a powerful trade union movement was born: the great strike of 1919-1920 lasted more than eighteen months! Today, the 16,000 inhabitants retain a taste for independence and freedom from this epic.
Broken Hill also looks like a town of the American Far West: the desert begins at the gates of the city, the streets are wide, the buildings do not exceed two floors. Vaguely Victorian in style, many are preceded by colonnaded galleries. Thanks to the brick tower of the post office, the main avenue, the “Street of Money” (Argent Street), is easily identified. Farmers from the surrounding area come here in pick-ups to do their shopping, young people tend to arrive in the evenings and on weekends in the many bars and restaurants. The atmosphere is friendly, the decor often old-fashioned, the meals made of solid burgers, thick steaks, breaded cutlets, fries, all washed down with beer, sometimes local gin.
The rest of the time, the city seems a bit deserted. However, the mine where zinc has now taken over still employs a few hundred miners. And, the past is omnipresent: at the top of the austere slag heap, an imposing steel memorial pays homage to past tragedies: inside, between artificial roses, plaques list the names of the 800 victims, year by year. In town, the mining past is exhibited in a museum which also gives pride of place to the geology of the region. However, the population of Broken Hill is declining. To get out of its torpor, ensure its future, it is now banking on tourism.
Already, the cinema has been of great help to him to emerge from anonymity. Australians love to make – and see – films that showcase the Outback and its vastness. Thanks to the richness of its landscapes, the spectacular change of colors over the course of the day, its easy access from the big cities, Broken Hill has established itself as an ideal filming location. In 1971 there was Waking up in terror, the story of a teacher who, during a stopover on the way to his holidays, discovers a real hell in a mining town. Then, madmax. Then, Priscilla, Mad of the Desert.
This film tells a colorful crossing of Australia by a troupe of drag queens aboard the bus named Priscilla. Scenes were shot around Broken Hill, others at the Palace Hotel (48 rooms), at 227 rue de l’Argent. Since then, the very kitsch decor of a one-bedroom has been retained: this “Priscilla suite” has been a huge success with customers.
“Big Picture”, number one tourist attraction
Originally, in 1889, the Palace Hotel was a soft drink establishment, wanted by the Women’s League. Due to lack of profitability, it quickly closed. A hotel-restaurant took the place. Today, it is downright a tourist attraction. Thanks to Priscilla of course. Thanks also to the large colorful frescoes on its walls and its stairwell. Mario Celotto, the owner, painted part of it, the others were inspired by Gordon Waye, an Aboriginal artist, by the Australian hinterland.
Broken Hill’s number one tourist attraction, however, is “Big Picture,” a 100-meter-long, 12-meter-high circular mural on display inside the building at 66 Chloride Street. It would be “the largest acrylic painting in the world”. The author? Ando, a local artist. The subject ? Once again, Outback landscapes. Here, they are rendered with such incredible luxury of detail that visitors believe they are in the middle of nature.
Many other artists are inspired by these same landscapes. Often they exhibit in their own gallery, like Kevin Charles “Pro” Hart. This former miner, now deceased, is the father of the Australian hinterland pictorial movement. Although he also painted mine and religious subjects, he owes his fame to his ability to restore, in his paintings, “the spirit of the Outback”.
12 giant sculptures carved in sandstone
After a period of hesitation, the elected officials of Broken Hill also understood that to attract tourists, the large preserved spaces and the clear skies were indisputable assets. At the gates of the city, they have sanctuarized a vast nature reserve called “Living Desert”. At the top of a hill are perched 12 giant sculptures carved in sandstone by artists from all over the world. The place is ideal to see the sun go down on grandiose landscapes. And also to see kangaroos and emus – two emblems of the region – and all kinds of endemic plants. In the suburb of Broken Hill, Linda Nadge seduces tourists with her outdoor dinners, dedicated to observing the stars and the Milky Way. As for Petah and Duncan Devine, they offer camel rides around their farm in Silverton. It’s a nod to the Afghan cameleers who once helped pioneers “open up” the Outback.
With the enthusiasm for “nature” tourism helping, these choices are winning ones. If, tomorrow, Broken Hill bounces back, it will be thanks to its large untamed spaces which have not finished marking the mentalities of the Australians.
One kingdom, six states, three territories…
Opened to Europeans by Captain Cook in 1770, Australia was colonized by Great Britain from 1788.
Today it is an autonomous parliamentary democracy, but it remains attached to the British crown. She is a member of the Commonwealth.
This country as big as fourteen times France is divided into six states – in particular New South Wales where, more than 1,100 km west of Sydney, Broken Hill – and two territories.
90% of the 25.7 million inhabitants live in fifteen major coastal cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide…). The rest of the country is virtually deserted
(2 to 3 inhabitants/km2).
Ask about :
– Australian Tourist Office: https://www.australia.com/fr-fr
– And also: https://destinationbrokenhill.com.au/