Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

Broken Hill Complex - regional history

Aboriginal occupation

The Wiljakali people traditionally occupied the lands around Broken Hill (HO and DUAP 1996) visiting the Barkindji people on the Menindee Lakes each year.

For further information on Aboriginal occupation of the Broken Hill Complex Bioregion, see an overview of the Aboriginal occupation of western NSW.

European occupation

Charles Sturt named the Barrier Range which impeded his progress when he explored the area near Broken Hill in 1844-45, referring to a "broken hill" in his diary (HO and DUAP 1996). (Walkabout Australian Travelguide: Broken Hill) Edward Giles explored the Mootwingee area in 1861 and 1863 (NSW NPWS 1991).

Broken Hill, like other towns in western NSW, is far removed from major rivers and owes its existence to the discovery of mineral resources (HO and DUAP 1996). Gold was first discovered in the Barrier Ranges in the 1860s, although the key period of lucrative exploration for gold, silver, tin and lead did not really begin until 1875, and lasted about 10 years (HO and DUAP 1996).

The first find in this critical period of mining history occurred during the sinking of a well at Thackaringa pastoral station in 1875 (NSW NPWS 1991), less than 40 km west of Broken Hill. The expense of transporting and processing the ore turned interest towards more lucrative gold discoveries further north in the Channel Country Bioregion, although some mining continued in the Broken Hill area (HO and DUAP 1996).

The early 1880s saw many hopeful finds of silver to the northwest of Broken Hill at Silverton and Umberumberka. Silverton had a population of 250 by September 1883, a number which doubled by December the same year and reached 1,700 a year later. Silverton had a reputation for harbouring various undesirables in the form of "horse stealers, cattle duffers and mining sharks" (NSW NPWS 1991).

In 1883, Charles Rasp collected samples of what he thought was tin and although these turned out to be from rich lodes of silver and lead, it was almost two years before the ore body was discovered to be the largest and richest of its kind in the world.

The "syndicate of seven", led by Rasp, were leaseholders at Mount Gipps, the site of this discovery in 1883. The following year they became the "company of fourteen" and by 1885 had formed Broken Hill Proprietary Company, now known as BHP (Department of Mineral Resources).

Due to these developments, Broken Hill began to dominate the bioregion from 1885 as a major township (HO and DUAP 1996). Its growth was aided by the newly discovered lodes and the creation of the Silverton Tramway Company which provided a link from Broken Hill to the new mines and the South Australian border.

By 1891 the population of Broken Hill had exploded to 20,000 and it became the third largest metropolis in NSW, although it retained its strong ties with South Australia (HO and DUAP 1996). With the growth of Broken Hill, the population of Silverton began to decline and its status as a municipality was removed in 1907, the same year that Broken Hill was declared a municipality (HO and DUAP 1996).

Several new mines developed in the 1920s, ensuring the continued growth of Broken Hill. As it was some distance from the nearest major river, the water supply in the Broken Hill area had to be transported by the Silverton train from 1888.

In 1889, the tramway from Menindee to Broken Hill was used to transport water from the Darling River (NSW NPWS 1991). Water continued to be carted to Broken Hill until after World War II when a pipeline from the Menindee Lakes to Broken Hill underwent construction, and by 1952 it serviced not only Broken Hill but agriculture on the Darling as well (NSW NPWS 1991). A railway line from Sydney reached Broken Hill in 1927.

The population of Broken Hill grew to 27,000 in the early 1900s, remaining at this level through the 1920s and 1930s and reaching 30,000 in the 1960s (HO and DUAP 1996).

Broken Hill's population was recorded as 20,963 in the 1996 Australian census (Australian Bureau of Statistics). BHP ceased work at Broken Hill in 1940 and there is only one mining operator remaining in Broken Hill today.

Timber was always a naturally scarce resource in the Broken Hill Complex Bioregion, its shortage heightened by the demand for timber to fuel steam trains as well as for structural supports in the mines (NSW NPWS 1991). When most of the local timber was removed in the bioregion, prompting erosion and contributing to serious dust storms, builders and miners brought timber in from Adelaide (NSW NPWS 1991).

Irrigation and a protective cultivation zone surrounding the town of Broken Hill have reduced the incidence of dust storms (NSW NPWS 1991).


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Page last updated: 26 April 2016