Broken Hill

Overlooking the city of Broken Hill from the Broken Hill Lode Line

As chance would have it, a sheep herder discovered the altered rocks at a stumpy place called Broken Hill and sent a sample in for a metal assay.  When it came back rich in lead, zinc, and silver, he told six of his sheep buddies and the seven of them formed the “Syndicate”.  Together they claimed one of the richest silver mines in the world.  Two of the seven sold out too early and realized little, but five became super rich and went on to do such notable things as import the first Rolls Royce into Australia, win the Melbourne derby (horse race) in 1898, and subsidize the arts in England.  Evidently no one was cheated out of their share, although one person traded for 10 lousy cows (so they say).

Today the original mining company is BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary), one of the world’s largest companies.  You can buy a share of BHP on the stock market and own a little bit of the $10 billion profit they made in the last quarter.  Australia wants to increase BHP’s taxes because they are so profitable.  They don’t make their money at Broken Hill any longer, however; they sold out many years ago and the mines there are now owned by a Japanese company.

Fred Peter, a retired miner and life-long Broken Hill resident, personally guided us around town for three full hours.  Broken Hill is full of old, once-elegant buildings that are slowly coming back to life with the tourist trade.  Unions were very strong at Broken Hill.  One of Fred’s best stories concerned two young miners who were killed and buried in a cave-in.  Their bodies were not recovered and the union said that part of the mine now had to be designated a cemetery and was off limits.  But the company responded that they were still paying their wages, therefore they couldn’t be dead.  Evidently, the families of the miners were still receiving paychecks, and as long as that was happening, the unions let mining continue.  That story seems to have a ring of truth about it.

But the best mineral samples couldn’t be found in the museums or the tourist centers; it was at Milton Lavers’ house at 687 Williams Street. After we talked with the owner of an art store, he called a buddy who suggested these wandering Americans go see Milton if they were genuinely interested in minerals.  So we did:  Milton is 83 and was a miner for 30 years.  I didn’t quite get how it all worked, but after 2:30 p.m. each day, miners could collect minerals uncovered in that day’s blasting.  I think everyone got some, including the boss.  Milton did this for 30 years and has one of the best collections of awesome Broken Hill minerals in the world.  He is trying to sell the collection to the city museum if they can raise the money.  I think it is worth a lot.  He said one case of red rhodonite crystals was worth a “fortune”.  I have never seen such clear rhodonite crystals; rhodonite is usually pink and massive and not nearly this pretty.  I think I drooled over every case.

Just a sampling of Milton's Minerals

Collections like this will not be made again.  Mining today is by “long wall” methods, whereby long, open faces are blasted and the ore is loaded remotely by machines.  No more hand labor to high-grade and save the precious stuff.  Everything gets crushed, concentrated, and melted to make our electronics, steels, and everything else.  Milton says that any and all of my American friends are welcome to come and see his minerals.  (Sorry, Canadians.)

We’ll spend the next two nights in Adelaide near the southern coast.  I say the word Adelaide is a piece of surveying equipment, but Jan says it is a woman’s name.  Are we both right?

P.S.  After our arrival in Adelaide last night, we began seeing pix of the quake in Christchurch.  The places you see on TV that are in rubble are where we walked and toured while in Christchurch; we attended the Sunday a.m. worship service in the cathedral that is so seriously damaged now.  Hard to believe!  Haven’t been able to connect with our friends that live in the area; their home is actually in Lyttleton which Gerry says is right where the epicenter is reported to have been.  Sure hope and pray Sally and Dick are all right  : / .

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3 Responses to Broken Hill

  1. Sandy says:

    I, too, pray your friends are OK. I went back today to re-view your photos of Christchurch. Glad you were there last week.
    Beautiful minerals in today’s post. They’d make some nice jewelry for me 🙂

  2. Sounds like you are enjoying a fascinating time! Love the photos!

  3. Crystal VK says:

    Nice T, Dad. Way to represent.

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