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Take a glimpse behind the closed doors of the Broken Hill Outback Resort.


Throughout the outback, everyone is talking about the newest Broken Hill accommodation venue. Now is your chance to see it for yourself. The Broken Hill Outback Resort will open its doors this month, for a sneak preview before its official opening.

Date: Friday 31st August
Food: Drinks (including alcohol) and pizzas will be available for purchase in the restaurant.
Courtesy bus: Will be available on the open day. Call the Broken Hill Outback Resort office for more information on 1300 866 225.
Promotion: Stay three nights, get your fourth night free


Only ten minutes beyond Broken Hill, following the Barrier Highway past salt bush plains locals refer to as ‘scrub’, the Broken Hill Outback Resort stands out as a gem in the dust.

We’ve all seen the landscapes that define Broken Hill as the ‘Gateway to the Outback’, even if only in cinemas and magazines. The experience found in this region is one much more surreal. Sweeping views of red desert sands and salt bush plains, bordered by undulating hills and laying beneath cloudless skies that reach forever – the land here is silent, still and undeniably serene.

This site was once home to the former Mt Gipps Hotel, a popular family-friendly pub that found great success during the mining boom of the 1960s and 1970s. As the boom gradually came to an end, Mt Gipps profits began to shrink and the business eventually closed its doors.

In 2017 Scott Smith, owner-director of outback tourism group, Out of the Ordinary Outback purchased the property to revitalise the sight as a tourist resort. The grounds have since been transformed into a picturesque contrast of thick green turf and the natural red of local sand. Majestic gum trees now shade manicured lawns that feature numerous caravan and camping sites.

Large, king-sized cabins sit neatly against the site, each with perfect views of the outback vistas The heritage building that was once the Mt Gipps pub, has been rejuvenated into a rustic outback restaurant. The owners have lovingly detailed the interiors to compliment the outside views so that outback themes saturate the resort, inside and out. Benchtops have been fashioned from red gum and feature lights have been designed from pipe, giving the building a distinct character.

Keeping with the outback theme, the owners are collaborating with a local chef, to produce a uniquely Australian menu with an outback twist. While the menu is yet to be released, it has been suggested that local ingredients such as quangdong, wattle, kangaroo and camel may feature.

Although visitors won’t be able to sample the outback cuisine just yet, a pizza menu will be available on the open day, with a variety of toppings to tempt hungry travellers. The restaurant bar is now licensed and will be stocked with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

For those keen to experience a night under the stars, the resort will take a limited number of bookings for camp and caravan sights.

Visit the Broken Hill Outback Resort website for more information


Australian photographers take Outback New South Wales into focus

Anticipation bubbled and gave way to excitement, as annual outback photography competition, Life and Light, announced its winners earlier this year.

Emerging photographer, Abbie Kelly, took the spotlight on the day, claiming first place in both primary year categories. The pint-sized winner was joined by eight other photographers to receive first place recognition across 10 categories.

Life and Light aims to bring together amateur and professional photographers from adults to primary age students, in celebration of a commonality between them all. That is, their shared love of everything Outback Australia.

This year’s theme ‘What makes our outback special’ inspired photographs that captured outback lifestyles, environments and communities. In response, many photographs featured the drowned red river gums of the Menindee Lakes, the hardships of station life, iconic outback wildlife and landscapes and brilliant starry nights.

Out of the Orindary Sponsorship

When approached about sponsorship opportunities, outback proud tourism group, Out of the Ordinary Outback, gave a resounding yes.

“Outback Australia is our passion,” says OOO spokesperson, Janine Gowenlock.

“We are thrilled to be involved in anything that supports and promotes the successes, the unique cultures and lifestyles and iconic landscapes that have become synonymous with the outback and its communities.”

The tourism group sponsored primary age categories, Primary Black and White and Primary Colour. Entries into these categories were incredible, particularly considering the young ages of entrants, who were enrolled in primary years K-6.

These categories included the incredible work of Abbie Kelly, who is responsible for the photograph, featured on this page.

A number of organisations also gave sponsorship to the competition, showing strong support for outback initiative. Sponsors included, Western Landcare NSW, Far West Rural Supplies, NSW Farmers and government department, Western NSW Local Land Services.

High calibre entrants make the competition difficult to judge

Miss Kelly’s success was one of many. Submissions into this year’s contest were of such a high standard, that the judging panel states they had trouble determining winners for some categories.

Instagram star, Emma Moss, of Life on a Station stated that the Black and White category was particularly difficult to judge.

“There are a lot of talented photographers that either live in the region or have travelled through it,” said Ms Moss, “and it is great this competition has been around for so long for them to express their talent.”

“I was particularly impressed with the Open Black and White category which I found particularly hard to judge so special mention to all the photographers that entered that. I found there was great variety with the photos in all the categories and also great originality.”

2018 Life and Light Award Recipients

Colour open – “Thirsty Goats at the Trough” by Jane Smith
Colour secondary school – “Stare Off” by Charli Smith
Colour primary school – “Sunset & Sunflowers” by Abbie Kelly
Black and white open – “Well Oiled Machine” by Mel Adams
Black and white high school – “Tired Pup” by Georgia Bragg
Black and white primary school – “Junction Mine” by Abbie Kelly
Digitally enhanced – “Sunset in a Glass” by Brock Martin
20 Years of Life and Light – “Windows” by Simon Seppelt
Professional – “Vast” by Andrew Barnes
People’s choice – “When the Dust Settles” by Jenna Shirt.

2018 Life and Light Entries

View all photographs entered in the 2018 Life and Light competition on the Life and Light website here.


Out of the Ordinary Outback gets CLEVER and ARTY with Channel 7

Two new children’s programs aired last month, with the aim of encouraging Australian children jump in and explore creative and scientific pursuits. Channel 7’s two new series titled ‘Get ARTY’ and ‘Get CLEVER’, feature a variety of short educational videos over a dynamic and fun paced thirty minutes, that kids are just loving!

During each half hour episode, a mob of colourful and energetic hosts, travel to a variety of guest and home locations, to showcase new, interesting and fun ways to get smart and arty. They explore the best bits of science and get their hands dirty with experiments, games and expressive art.

In each program’s first series on air, Out of the Ordinary Outback was thrilled to be involved in the production of three outback focused segments. We took the crew 4WDing through Outback Australia, taught them how to create traditional indigenous dot paintings and went in search of outback water sources.

The programs are fun and factual for the kiddies, and we’ll bet even the adults learn a thing or two.

Check out each of our segments below and tune in at the following times to catch the Get ARTY and Get CLEVER teams in action!

Get ARTY broadcasts on 7TWO Monday – Friday at 7am
Get CLEVER broadcast dates to be announced.

How to find water in the outback | Get CLEVER with Tri State Safaris and Out of the Ordinary Outback

4WD through Outback Australia | Get CLEVER with Tri State Safaris Out of the Ordinary Outback

Learn about dreamtime painting | Get ARTY with Eddy Harris and Out of the Ordinary Outback


The team at Sydney Weekender love a good adventure – and we made sure not to disappoint!

Channel Seven presenter, Lizzy Lovett and the Sydney Weekender crew, arrived in the Heritage City of Broken Hill last month. Waiting to meet them were Tri State Safaris’ tour manager, Janine Gowenlock, and driver-guides, Irving Blundell and Geoff Spangler.

With detailed itineraries and a tight filming schedule, two action-packed days of adventure followed. The Tri State Safaris team lead Lizzy and Sydney Weekender on an Outback journey through Broken Hill, Silverton and Menindee. They explored the artistic influence, mining heritage and cinematic exposure of these dynamic communities and experienced a uniquely Australian culture.

Situated in the centre of salt-bush plains and red desert sands, Broken Hill is renowned as being Australia’s ‘Gateway to the Outback’. A just nickname, considering the nearest capital city is over 600km away. Travellers travelling along the connecting highways, will find townships are dotted with decreasing frequency. Often with populations of a few dozen residents or less.

In striking contrast to surrounding communities, Broken Hill boasts a fluctuating population of an average 15,000 permanent residents. This makes it the perfect base, to begin any outback trek.

With so few inhabitants outside of the city, what is left is a whole lot of outback.

Catch the Action!

Check out the Broken Hill scene, with Lizzy Lovett and Sydney Weekender on Channel Seven!

Broadcast date: DATES COMING SOON!

Recreate the Adventure!

Call 1300 688 225 to book your own Out of the Ordinary Outback holiday

Don’t let us have all the fun – experience the adventure for yourself! Lizzy and the Weekender crew explored outback Australia with these Out of the Ordinary Outback packages and venues.

1 Day Broken Hill and Silverton Explorer Tour by Tri State Safaris

Explore the unique mining culture and artistic community of heritage-listed city, Broken Hill. Journey through sweeping salt-bush landscapes to the cinematic gem of Silverton. Then, complete your experience with stunning views and sandstone sculptures from the hill-top Sculpture Symposium.

1 Day Menindee and Kinchega National Park Tour by Tri State Safaris

Departing from Broken Hill, journey to the picturesque landscapes of the Menindee Lakes. Defined by its often-painted ‘drowned’ red river gums, the Menindee Lakes are an important part of local indigenous and pastoral history. Wildlife is abundant here, with a variety of native animals and birdlife calling this land home. A visit to Kinchega National Park offers insight into the hardships undertaken by early station workers.

Out of the Ordinary Outback Accommodation by the Argent Motel

Situated in the heart of Australia’s ‘Gateway to the Outback’, the Argent Motel offers family-friendly accommodation at a family-friendly prices. The venue’s central location is walking distance from local restaurants, art galleries, food and gift stores and attractions.

Make your holiday an adventure. Call 1300 688 225 to reserve your seat on a Tri State adventure tour. Book family-friendly outback accommodation at Broken Hill’s Argent Motel at the same time!


Thanks to reviewers all around the world, two Out of the Ordinary Outback services have been awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence!

Since it’s launch in 2016, the Out of the Ordinary Outback group has grown to encompass a total of eight accommodation venues, a tour specialist and a renowned Outback artist. With a focus on the individual strengths of each offering, the group has successfully redeveloped and designed a variety of iconic outback attractions. Amongst these are Certificate of Excellence recipients Tri State Safaris and Warrawong on the Darling.

Thanks to our adventurers, for all the feedback you’ve given us. We use it to improve and grow for our future explorers!

But enough from us … here’s what you had to say!

Warrawong on the Darling

TripAdvisor review by best0ne2017

“Hidden oasis in the outback”
After travelling the isolated Broken Hill to Wilcannia road we sighted from a distance the welcoming sight of green grass. Great choice of van sites available from unpowered riverside spots to large powered sites on lush green lawn. Some sites available backing on to billabong. Cabins also available. The newish amenities block is something else! Biggest shower cubicles we have ever come across in a park during our extensive travels. Large Shower area plus separated by wall adjoining wash basin facilities with powerpoint. All contained within individual private cubicles. Amenities block all very clean and well maintained. A real credit to the designers of this park after experiencing the many cramped shower cubicles provided by larger caravan parks belonging to the big chains. It was the talking point of the park.
Great evening happy hour around firepit with managers supplying nibbles. Just bring your chair and a drink. Chat to your fellow travellers around the campfire about the days happenings and swap travel tips as the sun slowly sinks over the horizon.
Meals supplied by management several days a week at a cost in communal happy hour area if you wish a break from all the cooking. Many walking tracks and pet friendly park. Highly recommended for a stopover in this outback oasis

Tri State Safaris

TripAdvisor review by Tonbou

A great tour company.
We have now travelled twice with Tri State, first in 2011 and again recently, and have nothing but praise for them. Preliminary communications with Sarah-jayne were easy and personable (it’s nice to be a person rather than a number). We did two tours out of Broken Hill as a group of four during the last week, a 3-day to Mungo Park and a 1-day to Mutawintji Park. The tours were comprehensive with many points of interest included along the way. On our way to Mungo we stopped off at Menindee Lakes (or what’s left of them) and did a “River Queen” cruise up the Darling River, with expert commentary, then lunched at the Menindee Hotel. Accommodation at Mungo Park was very comfortable in the Resort. At Mungo Geoff took us round “The Loop” with numerous stop-offs, and then we had a hike up the Wall of China with an indigenous guide.Homeward bound we went via Mildura and Wentworth (the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers, but did not see it) and lunched at the GolGol Hotel on the banks of the Murray. The Mutawintji trip was more straight-forward, from Broken Hill to the Park and back, but we did a loop rather than re-tracing our steps and saw far more country as a result. Both our drivers, Geoff and Paul, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the district, but both starting from different data-bases, gave us a different outlook on the area. Both were excellent communicators. The vehicles were extremely comfortable.

The Argent Motel

TripAdvisor review by Ron

“Highly recommended”
My wife and I stayed for five nights at the Argent Motel in Broken Hill in August 2017. The managers Juanita & Ben look after their customers very well and the motel is comfortable and clean. We felt very much at home at the Argent. We have no hesitation in recommending The Argent for your stay in Broken Hill.

White Cliffs Underground Motel

TripAdvisor review by Robbie S

“unique experience”
White Cliffs is a must see destination. We meet some incredibly interesting people who live there and were impressed by the strong sense of community they’ve created. The motel was a terrific experience as when do we ever sleep underground!!! Very clean, nicely decorated rooms and good country food. The little swimming pool was a welcome relief after weeks of travelling in the outback.Take a drink up to the roof and watch the wonderful sunset.

The Alma Hotel

New listing – no reviews yet!
Be the first by leaving your review on our TripAdvisor page!

The Tourist Lodge

TripAdvisor review by JayBanx

“Thank Heaven for The Tourist Lodge”
There is a friendly and relaxed atmosphere at the Tourist Lodge. Ruth, the proprietor, is very pleasant and helpful to the guests. The kitchen/dining room is spacious and well equipped and the swimming pool area provides sunshine and shade. For budget priced accommodation, the cleanliness of the facility is a compelling reason to choose to stay there.

Copper City Hotel

TripAdvisor review by Gwen454

“Great family and pet friendly too”
Comfiest bed, just what a weary traveller needs. Hospitality plus and very clean. We will be staying there again and also will be referring our friends, colleagues and family to this family friendly motel. More than we expected and pleasantly surprised. Just great

The Broken Hill Outback Resort

Coming soon!


WYSE Exchange travels downunder with Tri State

In the prelude to the World Youth, Student and Education Exchange held in Sydney in May, a group of 6 international tourism representatives joined adventure crew Tri State Safaris, on a journey through Outback Australia. Our team had the opportunity to showcase some of the best locations in regional NSW to our growing international market.

Led by old-hand tour guide, Geoff Spangler, the group explored the culture, history and awe-inspiring beauty of Menindee, Broken Hill, Wilcannia and White Cliffs.

Providing excitement with interludes of relaxation, this four day journey offers spectacular insight into what it means to live in one of the most beautiful yet isolated destinations in Australia.

Take the adventure yourself with Tri State Safaris’ 3 Day Outback Exposure Tour and 1 Day Broken Hill and Silverton Explorer

The World Youth, Student and Education Exchange

In partnership with Destination NSW and with the support of BOA NSW, WYSE Travel Confederation delivered the 2018 WYSE Exchange Australia Conference on 8-10 May 2018 in Sydney.

WYSE Exchange Australia brings together Australian businesses involved in the youth, student, adventure and backpacker travel sector for three days of trading, education and socialising. The event has established itself as a unique platform to meet new trading partners and help grow Australia’s inbound youth travel industry. WYSE Exchange Australia is a bi-annual event of WYSE Travel Confederation.

Learn more about the WYSE Exchange


Outback divas prepare to receive a queen’s welcome

Event date: September 7th – 9th

Prepare for the razzle, dazzle and darlin’ good times as the Broken Heel Festival kicks off in September. There will be plenty to see and do, as the nations’ best Drag Kings and Drag Queens travel to the hometown of Outback Queen, Priscilla!

Take your own desert adventure through the living desert, to join us for a weekend of singing, dancing and laughter. Comedy, cabaret, and capers of all kinds will delight audiences young and old. The live musical talents will leave you awe-struck.

When the curtains close, continue the adventure through the iconic community of Broken Hill.

Read more about the Broken Heel Festival

Out of the Ordinary accommodation available at these fantastic venues (they’re just darlin’):

The Argent Motel – Family-friendly accommodation located on the main drag of Broken Hill

The Broken Hill Outback Resort – Cabin, caravan and camping venue on the outskirts of Broken Hill – 10 minutes from the CBD

The Tourist Lodge – Budget accommodation for back-packers and light travellers


There is a buzz of excitement, as Tri State Safaris’ annual 12 Day Simpson Desert Adventure begins this week

Breath-taking expanses of red sand dunes, rise and fall beneath brilliant blue skies, stretching as far as the eye can see. The silence is deafening, disturbed only by gentle gusts of wind through saltbush, and scuffling of distant bird or wildlife. Besides the company you keep, there is no sign of human life.

If Broken Hill is where adventure begins, this is where true adventure arrives.

Adventure is what seven of our avid explorers will find over the coming weeks, as they prepare to depart on our annual 12 Day Simpson Desert Adventure. Led by our experienced, talented and passionate 4WD enthusiast Dave, our group will discover the remote townships and isolated communities, traverse gibber plains, jump-ups and red sand dunes as tall as 30 metres. Our group will explore iconic destinations such as Birdsville, Tibooburra and Rawnsley Park as the travel through the Flinders Ranges and Strzelecki, Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the group to experience the outback first hand. They’ll swim in the Dalhousie hot springs, touch the Corner Post, enjoy a slice of camel pie and camp beneath Australia’s million-star sky.

Most of all, they’ll look forward to the late night stories around the camp fire, enjoying a glass of red, sharing stories and wondering what lies over the next sand dune.

We consider this journey to be emotional and awe-inspiring and are confident you will too!

See what lies ahead for our excited travellers, by reading our full tour itinerary.


The White Cliffs Music Festival releases its three day program, jam-packed with award-winning artists and events with guest performances at the Underground Motel

The White Cliffs Music Festival is just around the corner. Country music lovers, from all over Australia will travel to the quaint and quirky outback community this month, for one of the biggest outback music events of the year.

The event will feature a line-up of award-winning artists, including Golden Guitar winner Victoria Baillie and sister Barb Baillie as Baylou. Multi-award winning artists Royden Donohue and Nick Charles have also been confirmed.

Guests staying at the White Cliffs Underground Motel will be in for an extra special treat, as two acts have been confirmed to perform at the iconic underground accommodation venue. Both Euripi and Sympatico have amassed a solid fan base across Australia for their musical works, and certainly not to be missed. The performances will be open to the general public with tickets priced at $5.

A variety of musical styles will be celebrated throughout the three days, with country, bluegrass and folk music featuring prominently. Festival-goers will also have the opportunity to meet some of Country music’s big stars, and learn how to write and produce their own music and poetry in a variety of workshops. Poetry and yarn-telling will also feature in the festival.

A full program of performances, workshops and events can be found on the White Cliffs Music Festival website: White Cliffs Music Festival Program

Guests staying at the White Cliffs Underground Motel will be in for an extra special treat, as two acts have been confirmed to perform at the iconic underground accommodation venue. Both Euripi and Sympatico have amassed a solid fan base across Australia for their musical works, and certainly not to be missed. The performances will be open to patrons spending the night as well as to those dining in the restaurant.

Rooms at the White Cliffs Underground Motel are still available, but are running out quickly. Book now at the White Cliffs Underground Motel to avoid disappointment.

Euripi: A brief biography

Euripi is a Mudgee based, original, folk and cover duo, composed of husband and wife team, Glenn and Emily Van Reason. Although coming from different musical backgrounds in Classical and Music Theatre and Aussie Rock, they share a love of an eclectic range of music which transverses many genres.

Euripi draw inspiration for their unique style and harmonies from the musical artists they admire, particularly singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Paul Kelly, Rodriguez, Debra Conway and Damien Rice. They can be found performing through out the Central West at pubs, clubs, weddings and functions, markets and festivals.

When not performing Glenn and Emily are busy raising their four children on the family farm, growing organic vegetables and fruit and tending to their increasing menagerie of animals.

Sympatico: A brief biography

Fiddle, mando, slide guitar, tenor banjo, guitars and vocals blend into an extraordinary Sympatico of musical energy. Sally Carter is a singer/songwriter who plays violin/fiddle, guitar, mandolin and piano. Sally is a New Zealand Australian who indulges in her love of music with joy and gusto . She got her first fiddle when she was 11 years old, but only after she was told that she had to learn the mandolin first, as it had the same fingering. After 6 months, Sally had the basics down, so Santa was obliged to give her a fiddle…Upon hearing some beautiful classical piano music being played one day Sally became entranced with all the possibilities that she felt the piano had to offer and Sally went on to study classical piano.

Sally is a prolific song-writer and loves to tell a story, pull at the heart-strings, or simply pen a good song. Her first jam session with Evan was a “test’ to see how well he could improvise, as Sally needed a duo partner………playing only her originals, Sally was delighted to see just what Evan could do on dobro and mandolin. Evan passed with flying colours, and so Sympatico was born. Sympatico…the blending of like-minded souls to create wonderful music! Evan Webb is a (reluctant) singer and multi-instrumentalist – guitar, bass, mandolin, dobro, harmonica, tenor banjo, uke and piano

Together with Roy Carter and Keith Rea, Evan started Mamas Mountain Jug Band, playing mainly dobro and mandolin. “Mamas” are still together 16 years later. Evan eventually bought a double bass and played with Faux Grass, The High Times String Band, The Chestnut Street Orchestra, Appalachian Heaven and the Johnny Cash Tribute Show. Sally saw Evan accompany a performer at the folk club on mandolin and dobro. A short time later, after an audition (supposedly a “jam”) she suggested forming a duo – thus Sympatico came into existence. At about the same time, Sally joined “Mamas”, much to everyone’s delight. Evan is both surprised and thrilled to be Sally’s musical partner in not just one, but two great lineups.


To journey into the HEART OF OUTBACK New South Wales is to FIND THE AUSTRALIA depicted in movies; a MOON-LIKE landscape, home to OUTBACK chancers and ANCIENT STORIES.

Article as it appears in Australian Traveller. Written by Jac Taylor

RISSOLE THE EMU IS MOTIONLESS, looking me dead in the eye. At this close range, it’s clear she’s either sizing me up for fighting, feeding or mating, and the cerulean shade painting her neck in a dirty watercolour makes me surmise she’s showing her breeding colours. Rissole, I’m thinking, is ready for love.

She punctuates the silence with the oddest sound I’ve ever heard issued from a living thing – a kind of booming poonk from the depths of her throat that makes me alert, slightly alarmed and not at all able to take her seriously.

Leaving Rissole to send her poonks into the air to be heard by bachelors up to two kilometres in each direction, I hear the exact same sound from an even less expected source. Eddy Harris is the resident artist at Warrawong on the Darling, here on the breezy billabong outside of Wilcannia in outback New South Wales, and his place as part of the Bakandji (river people) mob means he can not only recognise the emu’s call but can recreate it with a squat, decorated section of tree trunk that I mistook for a short didgeridoo. He thumps it and it thumps back with a poonk. We’re indoors, alongside the hotel reception in the gallery colourfully filled with Eddy’s detailed, soulful art creations, and I hope the sound doesn’t escape to give Rissole the wrong idea.

As Eddy starts recounting quiet tales of the area, I feel like I have the wrong idea about Wilcannia. But I know what I see: once the country’s third busiest port, the stately architecture and wide streets hint at Wilcannia’s mercantile past. However, now those wide streets are entirely empty of humankind, the supermarket boarded up, and the Darling River stolen to a trickle by upstream farming concerns. Population 600, it is a question mark of a town, intriguing and worrying in equal measure, perched upon the precipice of a rich past and an unmaintainable present. I see a ghost town in the making.

But with Eddy’s help, I also see a country thick with tradition and story, for anyone willing and able to take the time to go for a walkabout. This countryside’s songlines have massive breaks in them, so the young people’s framework for traditional learning sits on shaky foundations, but Eddy and his elder contemporaries are repairing the bonds, restoring pride in country. They take them into the forest and teach them how to tell their story through art, to provide the catharsis that Eddy himself experiences with every single artwork.

“I get feelings out there, out in country,” he confides, gesturing beyond the bird-swooped billabong. “Sometimes too many – I have to do something with them, to look after myself. So I make art.” It’s all gazetted in paint: bird tracks in flood season, the landscape’s colour and the many dreamings that speak for the land.


North of Wilcannia, the red earth turns a rocky white. The gibber plains (small rocks and pebbles) spelt the end for Burke and Wills’s camels, unable as they were to navigate the purplish shining stones surrounding the town of White Cliffs; but those who followed had dollar signs in their eyes. Ever since roo shooters stumbled across a precious white opal here, a tight community of dreamers has called this desolate town home, with an estimated two-thirds of the 100 or so residents living underground to escape the lunar-level extremes.

“I don’t know why I stayed,” says resident Cree Marshall, among the white-washed tunnels of her unexpectedly luxurious underground home. “You either love it or you hate it here, but there’s just something about the land that’s so powerful. It just lets you be what you want to be.” She welcomes visitors into her home for $10 a pop, and it’s worth it. Her artistic streak is apparent in a giant angel on the wall, made from a sewing machine table and a box-worth of Thai leather belts; in emu eggs lined up, bleached from the sun to form a modish pattern; and in the mosaic floors, which somehow manage to follow the curving, labyrinthine walls. She and her handy-as-hell partner Lindsay White began to convert this erstwhile mine into a home about nine years ago. Its mining past means a few dead ends here and there, but it’s certainly one of a kind.

The Underground Motel in town offers a first-hand experience of living in the white tunnels under White Cliffs, with a long staircase to take you topside to drink in the slow desert sunset from atop the earthen motel mound – the ‘rooftop’, if you will. A swimming pool and underground bar complete the good-life vibe, but there’s no escaping the true nature of the town down the road the next morning.

The Blocks are the current major diggings being worked by ambitious miners looking for the Big Find; pits and mounds scar the surreal landscape like the burrows of a hundred giant meerkats. Overlooking it all is the entrance to the mine belonging to White Cliffs success story Graeme Dowton, whose sandy-haired charm hides either a steely will or a deadset addiction to the digging game – or both. Either way, visitors can explore his mine with him and even rummage through the opal chips on the ground, then see his famous white opal ‘pineapples’ back at his headquarters at Red Earth Opal. These huge chunks of opal number less than 200 in the world and can fetch up to US$70,000 from collectors, which explains Graeme’s rather happy demeanour. Down in the mine, he waves his hand vaguely toward a small dead-end passage still being worked on. “This little section is worth about six or seven hundred thousand to me,” he says in passing. This is a man who’s struck it rich in one of the toughest opal fields to work in the world, and there’s a genuine kick in bearing witness.


Mutawintji National Park, further along from White Cliffs and a veritable oasis protected by both green-tinged hills and the determination of the local Aboriginal land council, shines a somewhat different light on mining.

In one Bakandji dreaming, my guide Mark Sutton tells me, the people were turned into veins of silver and lead by divine force, “which explains our unease with it all. It’s like disinterring our very ancestors. But we’ve had to put up with mining almost since white people came here.”

It’s a privilege to walk the land here with Mark. The open, wave-like caves fringing the valley shelter some mind-blowing history, and they’re not for the casual visitor – you need to be brought here by an accredited local guide. The pay-off is rich: cave after swirling rock cave, acting as billboards to display the story of people who’ve passed by. Full armprints from elders, or simple handprints from the younger ones, just initiated. A somewhat cluelessly blue one from William Wright brings to mind the stories about him – that his refusal to meet Burke (as in, Burke and Wills) at the appointed location, due to non-payment, spelt ultimate disaster for the famous expedition and death for Burke and his men.

Up on a jagged, impressive hillside, all that modern history seems like ridiculous bickering. These carvings were tattooed into the shining, fragile rock face perhaps as early as 5000BC. An ancient, carved emu bends its head, forever surveying the cypress pine and mulga of the valley below, and the vertigo hits me, of not only our precarious perch on the hill but our much more precarious perch in the vastness of time. What a wonderful way to feel very, very small.


Two hours away is Broken Hill. It is metal and boots and a reputation for dust from the rampant mining that built the city, though the dust has settled, thanks to a bush regeneration zone ringing the district that has cleared the air. In bathrooms and on local TV, you’ll encounter reminders to mop the floors and wash your hands, to keep the lead dust from coming home each day. The transcontinental train line shines beside the giant slag heap; the grey heap, in turn, is a stone’s throw from the gay colour, in every sense of it, found within the Palace Hotel. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert filmed here, and left an indelible trail of pink feathers behind it; gruff miners sink a few cold ones among sequins and frescoes, and it all somehow makes sense in a place like Broken Hill.

Out of town, a small mob of emus splashing in a precious puddle guards the Living Desert and Sculptures park; I still go out of my mind with excitement at seeing emus in the wild, always a dream of mine before this trip. The sculpture park makes sense in Broken Hill too: the majestic curves of the artworks crowning the hill herald a deep love of creativity that is as much a part of the city as the red earth and sparse, flower-dotted scrub stretching across the plains beyond the park’s lookout is.

One of the emus keeps pace with the 4WD bus as we head away, as if to coax us into staying a little longer, but we’re picking up speed on a road that seems to have as many dips as a good-sized cocktail party. Because Queen Elizabeth herself graced these parts on her 1954 tour of Australia, the road out to the famous old mining ghost town of Silverton was hurriedly paved – and it seems like they missed a few spots. The dusty roads of Silverton are now mostly walked by itinerant donkeys and mowed down by the fat tyres of Mad Max 2 fans who’ve come to see the locations filmed back in 1981. So no one’s complaining.

Head out from Broken Hill on a different road, though, and gigantic water-supply pipes trace a straight line to a wonderland of green and blue, a landscape transformed in a matter of moments: the Menindee Lakes. Holding more than three times Sydney Harbour at their peak, the massive waterways wind their way through impossibly green grass with nary a blade of it pressed by a footprint; the main population is in the trees and the sky, with thousands of birds insouciantly watching our progress by boat. Squadrons of pelicans lazily take wing, Nankeen herons vainly pose and Jesus Christ birds seemingly run across the water as they take off – hence the name. And even here, the emus are resident. Three of them, distant but clear in this crystalline environment, narrow their eyes at me and take off running along the bank, outpacing the boat, and the thrill in seeing them hasn’t worn off. Much like the hillside carving back at Mutawintji, they’re more a part of this place than I’ll ever be, but I’m good with that. It won’t stop me coming back. Not in a million years.