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Broken Hill: Where Mining and Mad Max Sequels Refuse to Die


Mine in Broken Hill (all photographs by the author)

Things in Australia's Outback can come off as a bit “out-there,” at times. And Broken Hill, New South Wales — 700 miles west of Sydney, or half that from Adelaide — certainly plays by some of its own rules. One of the best reasons to go.

article-imageChloride & Crystal streets

Once a booming mining town, Broken Hill is now watched over by a big bench atop a Line of Lode hill of mineral deposits that anchors the center where street names run like a mineral glossary (e.g., Chloride, Oxide, Cobalt). What you find on them, however, might look familiar. Broken Hill, and its surroundings, have appeared in over 100 films, including The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Mad Max 2; and the criminally overlooked 1971 film Wake in Fright, which actually scared Martin Scorsese.

Here are a few of the “only in Broken Hill” attractions. And then there’s always a surprising memorial to drowned (non-Australian) musicians to see too.


article-imageThe Miners' Creed

Kevin "Bushy" White in the Mining Museum

Probably no one in the world cares as much about mining or art — or the unique hybrid of both — than 70-year-old Kevin “Bushy” White, who spent 26 years underground in Broken Hill, before transforming a neighborhood home into a slightly scrappy mining museum.

Bushy walks visitors through White's Mineral Art & Living Mining Museum, regularly stopping to hoist or demonstrate old mining tools (“I used this drill”) or lunch boxes (“see? it’s rat-proof”). He hopes visitors feel like they’re a couple hundred feet under the ground.

article-imageExterior of the Mining Museum

article-imageRat-proof lunch box

Mining model

article-imageArtifact of the Mining Museum

article-imageFake rat lurking in the Mining Museum

At least once, Bushy will reach out to pluck a large rubber rat off a model case of miniature miners. They’re everywhere here, for a reason.

“Lots of these buggers were about the mines,” he said. “Back before my time, in the ‘30s, there were so many that men had to tie up their pants legs to keep them from running up.”

Another highlight of the museum’s DIY appeal are the 400 mosaic artworks Bushy’s made from glittering minerals he brought back from mines years ago. “I used to tell my wife how beautiful it was down there,” he explained. “And she had the idea to make art with it.”

article-imageArt from mining minerals

article-imageArt & rat

article-imageHomemade miners


article-imageMad Max 2 Museum

Fifteen miles north of Broken Hill, Silverton is a step deeper into the Outback. It's a town with about 90 residents, yet a busy bar, a jail to visit, a couple of art galleries, and perhaps the world’s only museum dedicated to a sequel.

The lone madman behind the Mad Max 2 Museum is British ex-pat Adrian Bennett, a self-confessed Mad Max fanatic who comes off far more normal than you might expect.

article-imageApocalyptic car at the museum

Open since 2010, his one-room museum and back lot of costumes, artifacts (the music box!), and vehicles looks straight out of the 1982 film. And it’s only here because of something he found during a Mad Max pilgrimage years before. Or rather, something he didn’t find.  

“This is the Hollywood of the Outback, and there was nothing on the film,” he explained. And so he made it.

article-imageRubbing of Mad Max's ID badge

article-image"Injured Max" head

Of his favorite pieces is the boomerang the “Feral Kid” uses to slice off fingers of evil gang members (“I couldn’t sleep when I found out I was getting it,” Bennett said). Another stand out, for this visitor at least, is the mask model of “injured Max,” which looks like a decapitated Mel Gibson.

“There is something real about being here. In this place,” Bennett said of living in the area. “To be here, I feel like I’m actually in Mad Max.” Some chase scenes were shot just north of the town, below a ridge overlooking the Mundi Mundi Plain, so flat you can see the curvature of the globe.

article-imageMundi Mundi lookout

article-image"The Vermin Have Inherited the Earth"

article-imageMad Max costumes


article-imagePalace Hotel

A hotel since 1892, Mario’s Palace Hotel — called “tackarama” by Guy Pearce (in drag) in the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — features the same technicolor murals of natural scenes highlighted in the movie.

article-imagePalace Hotel murals

article-imageTwo-up rules

article-imageTwo-up ring

The grandiose two-part bar/restaurant still buzzes most nights, and particularly on Saturdays when two-up hits the hotel’s “ring” and (mostly) young folks bet on a toss or two. (Hopefully betting much less than the schoolteacher loses in Wake in Fright.) This traditional coin-toss gambling game is played nationally on Anzac Day (April 25), as a form of respect to vets of Gallipoli in WWI; it’s only in Broken Hill that you can play it every week.

article-imageTwo-up in action

Robert Reid is a travel writer based in Portland, Oregon. He's National Geographic Traveler's Offbeat Observer. He traveled to Australia in a correspondent role for Tourism Australian. 

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