Silverton today is characterised by vast horizons, flat terrain and colour – skies of the bluest blue, and rich orange soil dotted with green scrub. These features haven’t changed much since the town’s official naming in 1875, but residents at this time, who hailed from Europe’s cool climate and green landscape, must have found their surroundings even more striking than we do today.
Formed during the mining boom of the late 19th century, the town of Silverton, in New South Wales, lies 26 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill. The Silverton area is the traditional land of the Wiljakali people. The tribe apparently moved south from their origins in the north-west early in the 19th century to resist cultural pressures from the Ngadjuri people to adopt circumcision.
The first Europeans arrived in Silverton in the mid 19th century, when the surrounding Barrier Ranges area was alive with prospecting activity. After an erroneous rumour of a gold discovery eight years earlier, two men found silver when drilling a well just south of the area that was to become Silverton in 1875.
When the true mining value of the area became known in 1880, 300 miners flooded in to seek their fortunes. Originally named ‘Umberumberka’, Silverton was given its own name and status as a township in 1883. The town’s promising beginning saw its population quickly shoot to around 3000 people; but this was to be its peak.
The large influx of people from all walks of life – doctors, solicitors, entrepreneurs, miners and others – saw the establishment of many new conveniences, including a town newspaper, a jail, a gymnasium, a hospital and several churches. Schooling was conducted in a tent from 1884, until Silverton Public School was built in the mid 1880s to accommodate 140 pupils.
Pockets of ore began to run out, however, and the discovery of silver, lead and zinc deposits in nearby Broken Hill – later found to be some of the largest in the world – shifted the focus away from Silverton’s mining. The Umberumberka, Day Dream and Thackaringa mines all closed between 1892 and 1897. Many of Silverton’s buildings were transported to Broken Hill, and by 1901 most residents had followed suit in search of richer deposits; Silverton’s population shrank to just 286.
Today, many of the town’s original sites remain, including the 1882 Day Dream Mine, the Methodist and Catholic churches, a surveyor’s cottage, an old butcher’s shop, the cemetery, and the Silverton Gaol. Wandering around town, you’ll spot large empty areas that were once streets, as well as ruins of abandoned stone homes and other buildings.
Pictured: Former Silverton Courthouse, circa 1984. Image courtesy of John T Collins, State Library of Victoria