Paintings and pubs – art of the outback

Rebecca Gredley
(Australian Associated Press)

There are twice as many art galleries than pubs in Broken Hill, a surprising statistic when the main town area has a pub on nearly every wide street corner.

There are 22 public art galleries (and 11 pubs), as well as a group of sandstone sculptures scattered through the landscape a short drive out of town. Artists tell mayor Darriea Turley that it’s the light in Broken Hill that inspires them, with an intense sun that drenches the vast outback landscape.

The town’s isolation creates mystique for outsiders, but builds resilience and inspires creativity, says Turley.

“People can be innovative out here, people can be creative artists, people can enjoy the space of the land to write,” she told AAP.

“That wondering, of how people survive in the outback – well, for most of us it drives us and makes us thrive.

“Artists come to live in Broken Hill, they choose to come here. They travel here for a bit of inspiration and then when they get here and realise how amazing it is, they actually stay here and then they create their own art galleries.”

Broken Hill’s outback landscape has been painted into the history books, quite literally, in the world’s largest acrylic painting by a single artist, which is at the Silver City Mint and Art Centre. Aptly titled The Big Picture, it spans across a canvas that measures 100m in length and 12 metres in height.

Self-taught local Ando painted 100,000 saltbush, 20,000 trees, 20,000 small stones, 1000 large stones, 3000 clouds, 1500 hills and the 12 sculptures to create the piece.

The painting stretches along the curved walls of a room and is viewed from a platform in the middle. The space between the viewing platform and the canvas is filled to replicate the desert, complete with creatures, sand and plants. It’s size makes it feel like less of a painting and more of a visit to the outback, and it’s hard to comprehend how it was made by one artist.

The town’s mining history has also steered paintbrushes into honestly depicting the tough mining life. The late Pro Hart’s painting Monday Morning Miner shows a man with his head in his hands, eyes closed, surrounded by foreboding darkness. Born and bred in Broken Hill, Hart worked in the underground mines while focusing on his artistic career. His works don’t just focus on mining, but are incredibly diverse in subject matter and colour.

Pro Hart’s gallery spans three floors, complete with his studio, which can be viewed through glass walls. It’s untouched since he passed away in 2006, with his last, unfinished painting sitting atop an easel, and a coat draped over his chair. It’s a unique glimpse into how he worked, and I found myself peering in to see the small piles of notes he had, to see what was ticking through his mind.

Other major artists who called the silver city home were Eric Minchin, Jack Absalom, John Pickup and Hugh Schulz. In 1973 the group began “Brushmen of the Bush”, and held exhibitions showcasing their outback inspired artworks. Absalom is the sole surviving member of the group and you can meet him, as he still lives in Broken Hill running his gallery.

The town hasn’t just inspired artists, but also writers and directors, cementing it in literature and on the silver screen. The silver city has been described as the spiritual home of Priscilla the Queen of the Desert and it inspired the outback setting for Kenneth Cook’s novel Wake in Fright, and was where the big-screen adaption was later filmed.

Travelling about 10km out of Broken Hill takes you to the Living Desert and Sculptures, where 12 sandstone sculptures rise from the natural scenery. They were made in 1993 by international artists under the guide of Gosford sculptor Lawrence Beck, and have a strong spiritual element.

About 20km northwest of Broken Hill in Silverton, there’s an art gallery for about every eight people who call this historic outback town home. There are five galleries and one pub, the Silverton Hotel.

Silverton is a scattering of historic buildings dating back to the 1880s, and a quirky museum dedicated to Mad Max 2. The vast landscape was the post-apocalyptic setting for the movie, inspiring Englishman and diehard Mad Max fan Adrian Bennett to move to Silverton in 2009. He fossicked around film locations to find props and relics, and opened the museum in 2010.


GETTING THERE: Broken Hill is isolated – it’s about 1100km from Sydney and 830km from Melbourne. There are limited direct flights from Sydney, which take just over two hours, usually stopping in Dubbo. Flights to Broken Hill from Melbourne stop in Mildura.

Silverton is about a 25-minute drive from Broken Hill, to the northwest towards the South Australian border.

STAYING THERE: Ibis Styles Broken Hill offers three-star accommodation with included continental breakfast. It has an outdoor pool and is a short stroll to Palace Hotel. Pay $140 per night for a double room.

PLAYING THERE: Silver City tours run a half day Taste of the Artback tour – tickets are $80 for adults and $40 for children. Galleries on the tour include Pro Hart, Jack Absalom, and the Silver City Mint and Art Centre, where you can view The Big Picture.

The Living Desert and Sculptures is about 10km out of town and has a $6 entry fee.

For more info, visit or

* The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.


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