If only the walls of the Silverton Gaol could speak! Built in the 1880s when “The scum of the country began to be attracted to the new and prosperous field like blowflies to a carcass” - according to the Town and Country Journal – the Gaol now houses an incredible collection of history.
The comprehensive display of memorabilia from Broken Hill and the surrounding area, which is housed within the walls of the Silverton Gaol, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
A dedicated team of volunteers from the Broken Hill Historical Society has curated an eclectic array of history which ranges from Bibles dating back to 1862 to war memorabilia.
Even the gaol’s original medical room has been converted into a museum displaying tools of the health profession – and comes with an authentic hospital smell. One of the real curiosities is the coroner’s bath where bodies were preserved awaiting the arrival of the Sydney coroner which at times could take up to three months.
Walking through the front door of the Silverton Gaol Museum you are immediately greeted by the story of the mining boom, which explains how prospectors began working the area in 1867, after hearing of a gold find by a local station hand.
Some years later, two men drilling a well on Thackaringa Station to the south hit a lode of silver and by 1883 Silverton’s population was 250. A year later a buzzing community of 1700 was living in slapdash huts of iron and canvas.
The boom in Broken Hill however reduced Silverton to a community of less than 300 by 1901 and many owners carted their homes to the Silver City. Ironically, historical artefacts now regularly make their way back out to Silverton from Broken Hill to become part of the Gaol Museum.
A collection of early era scales and kitchen equipment shares space with olde worlde lamps and gramophones. Elsewhere, the history of institutions such as the Salvation Army, Fire Brigade, Silverton Tramway Company, schools, scouts and girl guides is on display.
Even the story behind the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows has a home.
Of course the mining heritage is extensive, including the bill of sale by which James Poole tragically exchanged his share in the new Broken Hill mine for a handful of steers.
The expansive display of mining equipment shares its outdoor location with the famous Sturt Desert Pea which is regenerating in the former gaol exercise yards. Elsewhere within the museum a broad explanation of the area’s flora and fauna can be found.
Aboriginal artefacts, drawings and implements such as grinding stones and axe heads are also on show, progressing through to historical pastoral equipment used in a bygone era.
Recreational pursuits from women’s football to picture theatres are also covered – including a 1916 Epidiascope - along with sundry other ancient projectors.
An entire room is dedicated to music, where the 1928 Broken Hill Orchestra and the more recent Cameron Pipe Band are chronicled, together with documents and photographs detailing the illustrious career of June Gough – better known as world-renowned opera and operetta star June Bronhill, OBE.
Born in Broken Hill on June 26, 1929, June Bronhill enjoyed a very successful career as a soprano and joining the Sadler’s Wells Company in London in 1954. She delighted Australian audiences as Hannah Glevarri in the 1955 production of “The Merry Widow” which ran for some six years and was also a stand out as Maria in The Sound of Music in the 1960s.
The Silverton Gaol Museum in Burke Street is open daily from 9.30am to 4pm, (except Christmas Day) and more information can be obtained by phoning (08) 8088-5317.