The underpopulated township of Silverton near Broken Hill is an unlikely candidate to be a tourist destination. Most of the original buildings are not there anymore and the current population is less than 60 people. The few buildings which remain provide a microcosm of the essential elements of a town. There is a non-functioning gaol, a non-functioning school and the iconic Aussie pub.
The mines of Silverton were established in 1883 on the back of silver and lead deposits only two years before silver was discovered at Broken Hill. As a result of the discovery of silver in Broken Hill the Silverton population progressively declined from a peak of 3000 people in 1885 until the town disestablished in 1899. Most of the houses were relocated to Broken Hill due to a limited supply of building materials being available. Silverton has now re-established itself as a tourist destination with fascinating museums, art galleries and as a television and movie location.
Silverton Gaol provided an eclectic collection of local memorabilia and equipment through the past century. Our children were fascinated by being inside an actual gaol, and the questions kept coming to find out what various things were. The steam engines were of particular interest, along with the ‘washing machines through the ages’ collection.
Just around the corner the Silverton Public School museum with its single classroom was an interesting experience for our children. They had the opportunity to use slates and chalk, in addition to trying out quills and nib pens which needed to be dipped in an inkwell. Seeing the old fashioned readers made me realise that the fundamentals of teaching children to read and write have not changed very much over the past 100 years with the exception of the punishment regime.
The area around Silverton is also worth exploring. Five kilometres away is the amazing view over the Mundi Mundi Plains, which is the flattest view I have ever seen. The Mundi Mundi Plains observation point is one of the few places on Earth where you can see the curvature of the Earth.
We visited Daydream Mine on the way back to Broken Hill which is one of the few publically accessible underground mines in Australia. The approach to the mine is spectacular with the ruined remains of the first smelter in the region. Daydream Mine was established in 1882 and mining operations continued on and off until 1983.
The underground mine tour was fascinating. Our guide was able to provide a comprehensive picture of what life a miner would have been like. My overwhelming memory of the tour was realising that when people decided to work in mining in those days that they were committing themselves to an early death and a painful life.
Between the effects of silicon in the rock causing silicosis, the risk of being crushed in the mine, lead poisoning from the food cans, and early loss of vision there was little quality of life for the miners. Boys as young as 8 years old worked in the mine to pick out the good quality rock, and would only have a few years before their eyesight would deteriorate and have to shift to other jobs. The tour through the underground workings caused such an impact that when we asked our children whether they were interested in working in a mine they all answered with a resounding ‘NO’.
The next leg of our journey was to depart the mining zone to head towards the food and wine zone of the Mildura region and onwards to stay at Turlee Station near Mungo National Park.