September 30 ·

The local TV station interviewed me and I appeared briefly on the evening news.

A volunteer at the Broken Hill Art Exchange, Sharon, took me for a drive, pointing out where a new underground pipeline has been installed to bring water directly from the Murray River. It used to come from an overland pipeline from Menindee, so in a way this change reflects an understanding that the Darling River supply is dead. One wonders how long it will take to do the same to the Murray.  We visited the city tip where items in good condition are re-sold in a shed that some refer to as “Broken Hill’s Bunnings”.  Much of the merchandise looks like it came from the 1970s and would fetch top dollar in Newtown.

October 1 ·

Broken Hill may be bogan, but this monument in Sturt Park also demonstrates civic pride, stoic idealism and cultural appreciation. The town's first public monument was privately funded by local bands and erected to honour the bandsmen on the Titanic who continued to play as the ship went down. It made a powerful impression on my younger self and during my years at Burke Ward Primary School I played the fife in a marching band.

October 2 ·

No story here. Just trying to channel a little Edward Hopper.

October 3 ·

I had a sarsaparilla spider (root beer float) at Bells Milk Bar in South Broken Hill yesterday. Its history is almost as old as the mines. I am told the last renovation was in the 1950s. I know the decor has not changed since I was a kid when visiting Bells was a rare treat. They claim to make their own syrups using a 1950s recipe. I could believe that as I doubt my sickly sweet flat soda, would sell in the shops. The entire shopping strip is a time capsule with shops that are more dated than retro. I would not have been surprised if the fish and chip shop still fried with lard!  Part of me was charmed by the authenticity, but the rose-coloured nostalgia fog must be lifting as I found it just a little bit sad.

A former National Art School lecturer called asking if I could enquire about an artist he once knew. He had moved to Broken Hilll to live the life of a recluse.  As it happened I was able to confirm he was still active locally as I had just attended his exhibition opening at Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, where Jim Paterson maintained his reputation by failing to attend.  I left a message with the art gallery, but did not hear back from him.

October 6 ·

It has been too hot to paint en plein air, 37 C yesterday and still over 30 degree at midnight, so here is yesterday's studio effort. Most people's social set was once framed by either a pub or a church in Broken Hill.  Both seem to be in serious decline now. This was a Uniting church that my family attended briefly. I used to wear a white gown and "sing" in the choir. I mostly mouthed silently to hymns I did not know and belt out the ones I did in compensation. The sign indicates it switched brands, but it is derelict now, with a sold banner raising hope for a future life.

Number 5 and 6 South Rd Broken Hill. Despite the isolated appearance they are located directly behind the main shopping centre.

I returned to investigate the plight of Imperial Lake - an oasis of aquatic fun provided by the North Mine.  When the mine closed, so did the gates. Their imposing authority was undermined, however, by the supporting star-picket fence in an advanced state of gravitational surrender, and was easily negotiated. Trace water reflected sky blue in one corner, but the feature garden and green lawn that once graced the shore had largely returned to the desert scrub. I visited the mine on my return. The gates were open, suggesting some activity continues, but the derelict residential housing complex was showing similar state of decline. I was saddened by this loss.

October 7 ·

I visited the  Zinc Oval to paint the grandstand.  This once proud sporting complex hosted the Silver City Gift, an annual professional athletics event that I returned to compete in at aged 16. (I was fastest qualifier in the 600m, but faded in the 45 degree heat and the final to finish third.) The neglect associated with declining mine activity was also evident here and so there were mixed emotions when my view was interrupted by a small convoy of parked cars. At least someone was using the venue! The Flying Doctors Auxiliary had arrived to bake fruitcakes in the kitchen facilities so I conceded defeat. As I packed up, one of the men inquired about my activity and quickly identified my father, from whom I inherited some running ability, saying he had backed him at 100 to 1 in a mile race circa 1975 and won $500.

October 8 ·

I painted a vacant lot this morning. It's the sort of place we would play in as kids, if we could avoid the thong-piercing three-cornered jacks (multi-pronged desert thorn). The messiness is so Broken Hill, and this site is just a stone's throw from Pro Hart's gallery, an identity that is as messy and famous as the town itself. I used to ride my bike to visit his gallery which included Rembrandt and Picasso etchings, some not even framed. Pro gave me my first art prize at age 9.

October 10 ·

A massive slag mountain presides over the centre of Broken Hill. I visited the Miners Memorial yesterday afternoon, erected on it's peak. One can enjoy the view from the coffee shop, but the harsh reality of mining is brought home by a list of over 800 workers who died on the job. It helps explain why Broken Hill pioneered a culture of trade unionism and industrial action. The struggle for equitable pay and safe working conditions is documented in the Trade Hall which I visited in the afternoon. This grand landmark was built by the workers and became the headquarters of a series of strikes that would eventually see the introduction of a 35-hour working week. The workers union established their own newspaper, The Barrier Daily Truth, which, incredibly still produces a daily edition. My father worked briefly as a journalist for the opposition paper, The Barrier Miner, until it folded in 1974.

October 11 ·

Can you get any more Broken Hill? I found this shack on a ridge that we, as kids, would climb over to go to school. We referred to the plateau as "the sand dunes". It is just bare rock now. I wish I had taken a video of the resident who came out to talk. He sounded drunk, but he explained that the sand was removed because it was full of "lead, arsenic, and cadnium" (sic) and explained "this is why we are all f---ed in the head". When I pointed out the house we once lived in, he said that was the most toxic place in Broken Hill. Perhaps it's just as well we moved away!

And now it is time to pack! It has been fun revisiting my childhood home, and making a start on a body of work for exhibition in Broken Hill next year. I would like to acknowledge Susan Thomas, Armando, Gigi, and everyone at the Broken Hill Art Exchange who provide a great service and a comfortable home to visiting artists.

October 12 ·

So long Broken Hill. Looking forward to returning again next year.

My journey nearly ended an hour later when a big red kangaroo leapt in front of the car.  I don’t know how I missed it.  I found my driving groove though and cruised through the day. Misty rain and fading light made the descent down the Blue Mountains and the final passage through Sydney a bit hectic, but I completed the journey in a bit over 13 hours and was happy to be home with family.

October 16 ·

A run of strange coincidences associated with Broken Hill has continued on my return. During my residency a friend recommended I investigate the houses that feature in Last Cab to Darwin. I had not seen the movie and so did not know what to look for, but when I told my first class back about my trip, a new student spoke about his visit to BH, preparing the set for a movie... yes, the very same!  And, when he showed me pics of the house that features, I realised I had visited it repeatedly. Here is one of my photos of that location.