Broken Hill Blog

September 21 - 12 October 2019

Residency at

The Broken Hill Art Exchange

in the old Grand Hotel, Argent St


September 21 ·

My outback adventure has begun.

Next year I have an exhibition at Broken Hill Regional Gallery and this morning I set off on the long drive from Sydney to make a start on this project. 

I felt like I was passing through a Kenneth Jack painting at Geurie.

I reached Dubbo by lunch.

The air was thick with dust that darkened the sky, and about 80 km on, just past the town of Trangie, the highway was closed.

I joined the queue of disrupted travellers and a half hour later a police car arrived. It was difficult to discern the uniform of the rusty yellow figure who emerged. The local sergeant circulated a photo of a blinding dust storm to the assembled motorists and described in detail a pile-up that occurred when a car pulled up to be hit by another, which was in turn rear ended by a truck. It was amazing that anyone was pulled out alive from the crushed car depicted on his mobile phone.

We were advised to take a detour around the affected highway. I stopped to take a photo, an intention that was countered by a swooping magpie and ended up isolating me from the convoy. I began to suspect I took a wrong turn when the bitumen ended and I had travelled 30 km without passing another vehicle!

OK, Now it feels like I am in Jolliffe’s Outback!

My sketchy detour followed the Macquarie River where irrigation pumps appeared to be depleting its precious resource to irrigate thirsty cotton plains.


I had definitely taken the scenic route but 70 km later I rejoined the highway.

The light was fading and considering the road-kill littering the highway I thought it prudent to spend the night at Nyngan. I had a beer and a buffet meal at the RSL club and watched as a storm threatened.  The bar fell silent as a few heavy drops fell, and then ceased, as if by a force resisting the gravitational bond between earth and sky. The back seat of my old Mazda was my intended bed, but my brother texted to say he booked me a room in the hotel opposite!

September 22 ·

I left the Country Manor Motor Inn at dawn. The drive to Cobar was lined with kangaroos and goats grazing on the sparse grass growing on the verge. Thankfully, in daylight they mostly respected the bitumen death zone. Emus are harder to see though, and the first one I spotted bolted from the scrubby bush into the path of the van in front of me. The driver's effort to swerve was in vain and a cloud of feathers exploded. I swerved also, narrowly missing the emu as it came to ground with limbs and neck akimbo. I glimpsed the unfortunate bird through my mirror as it made a weak attempt to raise it's head and slumped back motionlessly. The aghast driver pulled over. She was driving in convoy with a car in front, which also pulled over, so I continued on.

The long outback drive involved constant revision of velocity in relation to time with the aim of reaching a future destination. The landscape opened up as the journey progressed to reveal an incredibly blue sky and cumulous clouds with ridiculously orange purple hues. I could explain this to my students as the effect of reflected light and simultaneous contrast, but the big sky came with a corresponding opening of the mind, and I reached a point where the journey felt like it was carrying me. I was sailing across an endless ocean of flat red earth and salt bush.

And then the landscape rose surprisingly with swelling mounds and rocky crests to deliver me to the mining town oasis of Broken Hill.

A wave of nostalgia followed.  This is where I spent my formative primary school years and I was thrilled to discover my childhood home was just as quirky as I remembered.

My outback journey covering 1200 kms had also taken me back in time!

Susan provided a warm welcome and a cup of tea at the Broken Hill Art Exchange.  The old  Grand Hotel, opposite the Post Office on the main street has found a second life providing accommodation and studio space to visiting artists at very affordable rates. I deposited my bags, and headed out to explore the town, surprised at how my sense of direction returned as I made my way to visit previous home addresses and retraced the routes I took to school. I was inebriated with memory!

September 23 ·

I set up to paint my first plein air study next to an old mine manager's house where I lived in 1973. An overpass crossing the train track to link South Broken Hill with the main town, was my subject. A depression at its base would become a pond when it rained, where we would swim as kids. It might explain why an obsession for painting overpasses developed at art school.  It was a chilly morning and a bit blustery as I worked. Several aboriginal men crossed the tracks and shuffled silently past me toward town.

In the afternoon I painted a church where I briefly attended Sunday School after my family bought a house down the lane opposite for $2500 in 1974. It was just a tin shack, but my father had faux brick arches installed.  He also bought fake tiles (made of tin) which I hammered on the roof at age 11. I felt a sense of pride to find them still there. The front yard now has a faux classical garden to complete the look. I had to abandon this painting as the light was changing too fast. Will complete another day.

September 24 ·

When I was 8 a teacher exhorted us to enter as many events as possible in the school swimming carnival.  I put my name down for everything, even though I could barely swim. It only cost 2 cents to use the heated swimming pool so I went every day to practice. I came third in the medley because there were only four entrants and someone was worse at backstroke than me! Sadly the pool, which was sponsored by the mines, was demolished in 2000. I painted the distinctive building opposite this morning. "The Towers" was the first infectious diseases hospital in Broken Hill. Its distinctive turret found an echo in the church on the next corner.

Several people approached as I painted and impressed with their educated comments. A guy pushing a walking frame in tracky dacs commented “tricky perspective” as I started, and on his return commended my application of the centre line, saying “that helped”; A woman examined the blues I used and, spotting my Lloyd Rees book, offered her approval; And An elderly gentleman described a young artist he had assisted on a trip to Tibooburra, saying he won the Archibald and “Do you know Euan Macleod?” Euan was a popular teacher during my student days at National Art School.

September 24 ·

When we were kids we would send my brother to the corner shop, to buy "one thing" (loaf) of bread, "two things" (litres) of milk, and ten cents worth of mixed lollies, because the shop keeper thought he was cute and we always got good value on the lollies. Sadly, that corner shop, like the ones we sometimes frequented on the journey home from school are now derelict. This one is still operational. Deebees Delhi on the corner of Lane St and Iodide St, Broken Hill.

September 25 ·

In 1973 we visited a family friend who was an artist. While the adults spoke I wandered around the back and into his studio where I encountered paintings in progress, with palettes full of freshly mixed paint. I was in awe and grabbed my mum to show her, declaring that this was what I wanted to do. This morning I found that house (I think) and painted the streetscape directly in front of it.

A local businessman stopped to introduced himself. He spoke about difficulties as the child of Italian migrants, and I mentioned a class mate I recall being called "wog" whose name was Sergio. He replied "that's my brother!" I caught up with Serg at their electronics store soon after. Serg and Alwyn are business partners, pillars in the community, and play in a heavy metal cover band aptly titled (for Broken Hill) Led Affected.

I don't have a personal history to share with the location. I just liked the open space that enhances the individuality of the house on the corner. This might correlate to the larger than life characters that populate the spacious outback.

September 26·

I visited Rocky Hill this morning. The TV station broadcasts from the peak where my father was, very briefly, the local news presenter. Hidden in the rocky boulders on its slope is a cave entrance. A tight pinch restricted progress to the very young, but for those slim enough, a cavern opened on the other side. I was elated to find it, though as impish as I felt, I did not consider trying to enter!

In the afternoon I visited the Imperial Lake on the north east edge of town where I once floated a raft I built for a cub scout badge.   The Lake View caravan park remains, but the North Mine closed its gates to the public some 20 years ago. I found this nice composition nearby.

September 27 ·

I took a break from painting today and visited Silverton. The mining boom began here in the late 1800s before moving to richer lodes 28 km southeast in Broken Hill. In 1972 my family visited looking for a cheap house in the virtual ghost town. This did not eventuate as a film company was negotiating a deal to buy the lot; a deal that provided the set for Mad Max.

Beth Jessup is a writer and poet, also staying at the Art Exchange Hotel, and came with me on the drive to Silverton. We visited the Old Daydream Mine on the way for a guided tour. It provided an insight into the hardships of early mining life and came with great scones and tea. The tour operators were also named Kevin and Beth, so they posed for a photo. Further conversation revealed they knew my father and had built a house on a 10 acre block that he had claimed a 99-year lease on and I helped fence, before it was then abandoned.

September 28 ·

The people you meet in Broken Hill! Justine Muller, NAS colleague, Barka/Darling River activist and artist was at the BH Regional Art Gallery opening last night and is pictured here with work by Blake Griffiths.

Today's effort; The rear view of the Grand Hotel. It is my temporary home, but it was once full of itinerant workers. As a kid I sold newspapers pub to pub and if it was pay day the boarders at the Grand could be good tippers. They were a rough lot though, and I was cautioned not to go upstairs. After an uncomfortable encounter with a big bloke in a dirty singlet cooking sausages in the common kitchen, I never did.

September 29 ·

I got hooked on Enid Blyton in year 2 at Burke Ward Public School. I was pleased to find the Infants department looked just as I remembered - as if it came out of a Noddy story.

I had to paint a mine headframe eventually! To continue digging up the past... This is Brown's Shaft (Junction Mine) the earliest mine in Broken Hill. The North Broken Hill Mine is nearby. It closed much of its production in 1972, the year we came to Broken Hill, and the population has been steadily decreasing since, from a peak of 36,000 to half that today. I ran out of light and will need to put another session into this work.