“The ones with fly dung on them have been here a long time.”
Patsy Price, owner of the Silverton Hotel with her husband Peter, is pointing to the squares of cardboard dangling from the pub’s ceiling.
They sport quotes from famous wits like Winston Churchill and not-so-famous wits, one of whom wrote “the odds of finding a man in Silverton are good but the goods are odd”, now fluttering in perpetuity above a tower of old beer cans.
With just 35 locals I’m not sure finding a fella would be easy here but this bona fide ghost town is indeed odd.
Thirty minutes from Broken Hill across saltbush scrub plains, take a left turn after the old Silverton Gaol and the pub is before you, sitting squatly on the red dirt road, donkeys nosing around its perimeter, still every bit the frontier watering hole it was when Silverton was abuzz with silver miners.
The population here peaked in the 1890s and plummeted soon after when a mother lode was found in Broken Hill. “Most business hung on as long as they could, but…” Tumbleweeds don’t roll by as Peter Price trails off but they may as well. “This town had three breweries and 3,000 people. It’s hard to get your head around.”
The chief charm of the Silverton Hotel is the rush of recognition it engenders in anyone who’s seen Mad Max II, Casually parked in front of the pub’s broad bullnose verandah, like Mel himself skidded up only minutes before, is a replica of Mad Max’s V8 Interceptor.
Married for 45 years, the Prices have owned the pub for four but Patsy is a local from way back. Her drover parents arrived in 1947 and her father managed a station (“out the back of the cemetery over there”) before moving the family to “the big smoke” in 1957.
“There were over 250 people living here then,” Patsy says. “We lived opposite the pub but I never thought I’d buy it one day! Back then women had to stay outside in their cars.”
In 2007 the Prices bought Silverton’s old Catholic Church, renovating it on weekends. But when manager of 30 years, owner Ines McLeod (the pub had been in Ines’s family for 54 years) began considering the pub’s future, the unexpected happened.
“I had this dream one night where I bought it,” says Peter. “I told Ines and she said ‘Well bloody hell why don’t you?’ Our managers lasted two weeks so I said to poor old Patsy: ‘We’re back to work girl, hope you enjoyed your two days retirement.’”
Tourists keep the bar stools warm and the beer kegs flowing. “They like hearing our story,” says Peter. “Some days I might get in a good bullshitting mood and put a slant on it but mainly we tell them about the history. A lot of people don’t know that on May 17th 1885 a company was formed in the old Silverton pub called BHP. This was its birthplace – it was signed in that old ruin out there!”
With the Max Max Museum, several art studios and shops, the Silverton Café serving hearty country fare and the wealth of memorabilia at Silverton Goal, a whole day can be spent here, followed by sunset at Mundi Mundi, where the plains drop before you into a classic outback panorama.
On weekends, there is music and Broken Hill locals who come for the famous hot dogs. And though the Prices have made some changes to improve operations, they want to preserve the pub’s old-timey feel.
“It’s a step back in time,” says Patsy. “That’s why people come.”
Filmed in and around Silverton
Dirty Deeds – 2001
Mission Impossible II – 1999
The Missing – 1998
Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – 1993
Reckless Kelly – 1991
Roral Flying Doctor Service (TV) – 1991
The Water Trolly – 1989
As Time Goes By – 1987
Dirtwater Dynasty (miniseries) – 1987
A Place to Call Home (tv) – 1986
The Blue Lightning (TV) – 1986
Alice to Nowhere (TV) – 1985
Comrades – 1985
The Long Way Home – 1984
Razorback – 1983
The Camel Boy –1983
The Slim Dusty Movie – 1983
Hostage – 1982
A Town Like Alice (miniseries) 1981
Max Max II – 1981
The Golden Soak – 1978
The Battle of Broken Hill (Miniseries) – 1971
Girl in Australia – 1970
Wake in Fright – 1970
First published for Broken Hill Tourism, here.