We’ve got that itch for a little road trip once again, and this time it’s taking us to the Land Down Under, specifically, to the town of Broken Hill— no sandy beaches, no respite from a sun that (literally) shines longer and brighter than most places on earth, but it’s the keeper of some of Australia’s most nostalgic and kitsch treasures. We’ll venture beyond the town borders too, for the occasional cemetery or homemade museum along with some of the best gems hiding in the Outback.
Where you’re staying
Without question, the Palace Hotel. It’s the reigning temple of kitsch made famous by the cult underground film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a 1994 musical that tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman trying to get their act off the ground in the remote Australian desert. Needless to say, it was lightyears ahead of its time and a seminal gem of LBTQ culture. These days, it hosts everything from drag bingo nights to events for the annual “Broken Heel Drag Festival”:
The hotel itself has roots back to 1889 when it was just a “coffee palace.” What the hell is that, you might ask? Well, The Temperance Movement of the era that believed “in non-licenses venues for the community,” explains the Palace’s site, so they built it simply as a community space for about £12, 190 pounds.
The imitation Botticelli painting on the ceiling was made former owner Mario Celotto, who started with the Venus and passed the torch to an artist named Gordon Waye to cover every inch of the space in murals.
Many of the rooms look like they came out of a standard airport hotel, but the aptly named Priscilla suite is still dripping in kitsch:
You can book everything from a mixed dorm room at $35, to the Priscilla suite at $225. Learn more on their website, and see if you can’t plan your trip in time for the Broken Heels Drag Festival next year.
For those who prefer to Airbnb, you can book a 102 year old cottage (complete with a fireplace) for about $80 a night here.
Or this baby blue miner’s cottage for about $85, to actually live in a piece of the town’s history (book here):
Bringing Mad Max to Life
Open since 2010, the “Mad Max 2 Museum” is one man’s ever evolving homage to the classic post-apocalypse films. In fact, owner and curator Adrian Bennett moved his entire family to the Silverton area (at 20 minutes away, consider it a suburb of Broken Hill) just because it’s where many of the film’s scenes were shot.
He’s constantly evolving his collection of props from and inspired by the movies. Why? “After all, this was supposed to be the Hollywood of the Outback,” he told Vice about the area in 2014, “but there wasn’t anything from any of the movies that gave you any indication that big movies were filmed here.” Learn more about visiting here.
Abandoned Exploration at the Old Mines
You can still snoop around the remnants of the mining industry that put the town on the map in the 1800s, when it was known as “The Silver City”. As Australia’s longest-lived mining town, with the world’s biggest deposit of silver, lead and zinc, one miner became so rich here, he imported Australia’s first Rolls Royce.
See “The Big Picture”
A 100 metre long trompe-l’œil-slash-diorama of the Outback, in the Outback (so meta) is the main attraction at the Silver City Minton Art Centre, which also has various expositions and a gift shop filled with work by local artisans. It’s also a five minute walk from the Palace Hotel…
In fact, it claims to be the biggest mural of its kind on canvas in the world. Oh, and see that rock on the far right in the diorama below? It’s also a beloved local sculpture…
It’s a part of the “Living Desert Sculptures” standing about 9km outside of central Broken Hill, and built in 1993 by artists from around the world in a nearly 2 kilometre space of protected, indigenous plants and wildlife. Entry is about $6, and try to come at sunset because the sculptures change colour in the light:
You kind of never know when you’ll come across what is and isn’t a piece of art in this neck of the desert. One visitor, Robyn Brody, found this gem somewhere “between Yunta and Broken Hill. Apparently someone started this and travelers add bits to it.” Perhaps it began as a laundry line, but now it’s an Outback scarecrow:
One of the World’s Greatest Trains: The Silver City Comet
The Silver City Comet was the ultimate in luxury back in 1937 when it was introduced. It was the first diesel powered train in the area, and the first-air conditioned train in Australia (which sounds like nothing today but just have a second think about what your August heatwave, morning metro commute would be like without the AC). It ran up until 1989 through Orange and Broken Hill, and is now permanently parked at the Sulphide Street Railway & Historical Museum.
Check out some archival footage of the train:
Ok, so this is one to pull over and see on your way in to the Outback, as it’s a few hours West in Peterborough. But we couldn’t resist it, if not for the sheer novelty of seeing some very European looking, Grecian columned graves in the middle of the desert.
Titanic Bandsmen Memorial
Usually memorials are erected in the towns of the men and women who’ve died, but this one is a touching exception. Of all the haunting stories from the night the Titanic sank in 1912, the tale of the eight bandsmen who played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the “unsinkable” ship went down is one of the most legendary. When local musicians heard the story, they commissioned the monument at once.
Just Visit the Victorian Architecture. Everywhere.
Argent Street is the town’s elegant main street and shows off how rich the town has been since Victorian times. And don’t miss Trades Hall, at 242 Blende St:
And the old Town Hall on the aptly named Argent (French for Silver) Street: