Discover Broken Hill history on walking tour
Saturday, 8th May, 2021
By Nardia Keenan
Guided walking tours of Broken Hill uncover gems of historical information that perhaps even a few locals may not know.
Speaking with guides from the Broken Hill Heritage Walk Tour, they recalled that Sturt Park was once called Central Reserve and remember hearing family stories about walking through the reserve to see monkeys.
That’s because there was once a mini-zoo in Central Reserve. In 1927, the gamekeeper of the mini-zoo said that the animals were well-fed but he recommended that the monkeys be moved closer to the kiosk.
Alderman A.S Rawling also recommended that the zoo should be reorganised or abolished altogether and this was approved.
Central Reserve underwent another change in 1944 when it was renamed Sturt Park to commemorate the centenary of Charles Sturt travelling through the region in search of an inland sea.
However, there was no inland sea, so Broken Hill citizens would keep cool at the parks.
Guide, Les White, said that every Broken Hill park had a rotunda and crowds would flock to hear a brass band play every Sunday.
Before the advent of television, brass bands provided one of the main sources of entertainment in Broken Hill. Les said that all schools had brass bands and, when the students left school, they then joined adult bands and this was how the bands replenished.
“In Broken Hill we never had a procession without two or three brass bands.”
The emotional sway of brass bands in the city was so pervasive that, 400kms from the sea, Broken Hill’s citizens were stirred to erect the city’s first memorial, which was to honour the heroic bandsmen on the Titanic.
Eight bandsmen from a quintet and a trio combined to play a hymn together on the night of April 14, 1912, as the Titanic ship sank. They played for as long as they could to comfort the passengers until all of the bandsmen went down with the ship.
The first four bars of sheet music of that hymn, ‘Nearer My God To Thee”, are hauntingly displayed near the rotunda in Sturt Park on the Titanic Memorial.
Musicians from one of Broken Hill’s four brass bands - the Amalgamated Miners Association - launched a public appeal for the memorial, which was quickly taken up by the citizens of Broken Hill.
The top of the memorial is a broken mantle or column. “This always symbolises that life is fragile and can be snapped at any time,” said Les. He usually snaps a stick in two to illustrate this fragility and a hush descends over the tour group.
Don “Ducky’” Delbridge is a tour guide with a compelling, personal story about the Titanic. Don’s wife’s grandfather was a butcher in England in 1912 and his friend was also a butcher. There was one position for a butcher on a ship bound for America and one on a ship bound for Australia. The grandfather flipped a coin with his friend to decide who should work on which boat.
“The grandfather travelled to Australia. The friend sailed on the Titanic and was never heard from again,” said Ducky.
In addition to the moving tales, the walk tour guides share some delightfully odd history about Broken Hill buildings.
Guide, Ross Howse, said that the GUOOF Hall letters stand for Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.
“It’s a Cornish saying. If a man was out of work, he was an odd fellow,” explained walk tour guide, Ray Quinn.
“He’d be crying in his beer at the end of the bar because he had been put off work and couldn’t feed his 15 children.”
As a response, Welsh and Cornish miners started benevolent funds for miners who were out of work.
Welsh and Cornish miners also built Wesley Church next to Sturt Park but rank was clearly maintained.
“Managers sat in the front pews and miners sat in the back pews,” said Les.
The church’s records show that miners were given Sundays off work but were expected to attend church and work opportunities were often secured in the church. “If you worked on the mines, it was ‘a good idea’ to be seen there by management,” said Les.
Most of the walk tour guides did work on the mines and mining anecdotes flavour their tours.
If the tourists enjoy the tours, they donate at the end and all donations support Broken Hill charities, including Silverlea, Palliative Care, Vinnies’ Soup Kitchen and the RSPCA.
The tour guides are obviously doing a sterling job because “tourists have donated over $20,000 in 18 months,” said Ray.
The Broken Hill Heritage Walk Tour is doing a call-out for more guides for the two-and-a-half-hour tours because of the increasing influx of tourists into the city.
“If anyone wants to become a walk tour guide and you know the guides, have a talk with them,” said Ross.
Otherwise, more information is available by contacting Carol McGavisk on 8088 3095.