Broken Hill – Snapshots of NSW

Broken Hill is one of those places you either have an affinity for or can’t get out of quickly enough. I fit squarely into the former category. I have been there twice already and had even considered living there for a year. That opportunity, unfortunately, did not eventuate. 

I’m baaack!

I spent a week in Broken Hill on an SES deployment as flood water continued to amble down the  Darling River. I wrote about the week I spent at the Bourke Airbase before Christmas in another post. In the week surrounding New Year, I packed my bags again (well, to be honest, I had yet to unpack them!) and headed out to Broken Hill via Sydney on two very small planes. 

The peak will arrive Wednesday morning…

Unlike coastal flooding, riverine flooding in the far west goes on and on and on. Communities know when the water is coming, they know approximately how much is coming, and they have time to prepare. The peak height is never certain because factors like how much soaks into the dry ground before it gets there or how much water takes the Darling Anabranch route will vary. This flood started in Queensland in October 2022, but its effects will continue until sometime in February, 2023 as it heads downstream. 

Although Broken Hill itself is not on the Darling and in no threat of flooding, it is the largest town in this otherwise very remote area. It is therefore used as an operational base for the helicopters and other emergency personnel assisting the communities affected by the flood. 

You can see the water spilling over the banks

Menindee goes under

The area of concern centred on the Menindee Lakes. The lakes were already above capacity, and the impending arrival of the flood peak was predicted to cause some inundation of the Menindee township. The peak was predicted to be a record-breaking 10.7 metres. The water authority that manages the water levels in the Lakes (WaterNSW) had delayed releasing water from the lake system in the weeks beforehand. As the flood waters got closer and closer, they finally decided, at the 11th hour, to release a very large volume of water from the weir.

This caused a great deal of angst in the town and among emergency volunteers who had to hurriedly evacuate several homes which were sure to be flooded to above floor level. The disquiet in the town was not helped by local politics and “colourful characters” who were acting (potentially) unlawfully by telling people not to evacuate despite an evacuation order being in place. There was a flurry of activity as stock was moved to marginally higher ground just in case the predicted peak and the water releases coincided. 

Several homes were indeed flooded. Thankfully the predicted peak of 10.7m was not reached, and the level settled out around 10.3 m. This saved several homes and businesses but nonetheless left many families isolated. In the days after my shift ended, the helicopters contracted to the SES were busy with food and medical drops.

Some time to play tourist.

Despite the long daily shift at the Control Centre, I had time to walk around town, revisit the Living Desert State Park and reacquaint myself with this historic mining town. I watched New Year’s Eve fireworks launched from the monolithic Line Of Lode that dominates the town. I enjoyed the grand buildings and cute miners’ cottages early in the morning before the temperature soared above 40oC. I enjoyed lolling about in the little pool at the hotel and sleeping in air-conditioned comfort. 

I was surprised by the general lack of people in town and that many shops were closed, including the very famous Palace Hotel. A local set me straight “It’s too hot for tourists this time of year… they come in April and leave by November”. That makes sense! 

My car told me it was 45oC one day. I can’t complain though I was in a coolish building with a struggling air-conditioner while some of the other SES volunteers were out filling sandbags in the hot sun. One old fellow at Menindee who wanted sandbags quicker than they could be filled; yelled out to the volunteers taking a rest in the 44oC:

“C’mon ya lazy buggers, what do you volunteers get paid for!” [sic]

an angry local!

Lots to see and do.

I recommend visiting the large tourist information centre which will give you many ideas about what you can do in Broken Hill. There are very wide open spaces to enjoy the view and see emu and kangaroos. The spaces are so wide that from Mundi Mundi Plains, you can see the Earth’s curvature. There are also a lot of clubs and pubs which serve a variety of different types of foods at different price points. A historical walk around the town will take about two hours, with signage to tell you what’s what and who’s who. 

Many of the old pubs have been converted to “boutique accomodation” and there are plenty of motels so accommodation should not be too hard to come by. This time I stayed at the Ibis which was very comfortable and had a very good restaurant.

Despite being an outback mining town, Broken Hill has a very tolerant and diverse population. The movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert has made the town a Mecca for the LGBTQI+ community, and they are welcomed. One day I hope to get along to the Broken Heel Festival, which looks like great fun although the website is not updated with the 2023 details yet. There is also a music festival at Mundi Mundi.

You can head out to Silverton, where they made the first Mad Max movie or take a good look around the cemetery with some interesting people resting there. 

Getting there…

Closer to Adelaide than Sydney, it will take you all day to drive the 1,141 km from Sydney and just under six hours from Adelaide. It is a two-hour flight from Sydney and an hour from Adelaide. If you’re a train enthusiast, there are two options. The very grand Indian Pacific passes through the Hill, or the take the more affordable weekly Outback Explorer. At $142 return vs several tanks of fuel at current prices, makes this a very enticing option!

However you get there, stay at least four days to settle in and unwind. And perhaps take the locals’ advice and don’t plan to be there in the peak of summer!

Facts and Figures about Broken Hill

Distance from Sydney: 1140 km

Population: 17,600 (2021)

Median Age: 44

House prices: Average price for a 3 bedroom family home is ~$170,000

(source: and

Broken Hill was and always will be the traditional land of its custodians the Wilyakali people.

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