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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Broken Hill, New South Wales

Looking across to the Miner's Memorial

A huge mullock heap towers over the town of Broken Hill. On the top is the Miner's Memorial where 795 miners died over the life of the mine. The mullock heap is estimated to weigh 6 million tons and still contains zinc tailings which will be extracted at a later date.

In 1883 on remote Mount Gipps sheep station, boundary rider Charles Rasp discovered what he thought was tin oxide and immediately registered a 40 acre claim. He went straight to his boss, station manager George McCulloch and told him he was quitting work to mine his new claim. The canny Scot McCulloch suggested a syndicate of seven station employees be formed to develop the first claim and peg out six more. It turned out to be one of the largest silver-zinc-lead deposits in the world. The company they formed to prospect the 7 kilometre lode became Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) - the Big Australian.

2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the BHP Lockout. Unionists were locked out of the company gates for rejecting pay cuts. BHP cut wages to below the minimum wage because of declining mineral prices. When the workers took the case to the Federal Arbitration Court, BHP locked out every man who refused to accept the cuts and hired scab labour to replace him.

The conflict reached a head in January 1909. Justice Henry Bourne Higgins was sympathetic to the working class and ruled that the welfare of the Broken Hill workers outweighted the economic struggles of BHP and ordered the company to increase pay above the minimum wage. But BHP refused to pay and shut the mine down for two years.

Mad Max's Car

BHP ceased work at Broken Hill in 1940 and today the mine is operated by Perilya who acquired it in 2002. They say they have extended the mine's life by more than six years but the writing is clearly on the wall. Last year they sacked 440 workers after mineral prices fell and mining activity has declined so drastically over recent decades that young people have had to look elsewhere for work.

A couple of Pro Hart's Rollers

Tourism is on the rise as people are keen to visit the outback town because it's so accessible from major capital cities. They were queueing up to go down the famous mine until they stopped the tours about two years ago when mining resumed. There is lots to see, 50 artists live here and there are 27 private galleries and studios. Movies and commercials are also made here, they come for the earthy colours and magical light.

Water Mirage

As they say in the brochure - Broken Hill - the accessible outback.