Australia's Outback Hollywood

Story and Photography by Colin Kerr

This outback town is ready for lights, cameras and action!

A town where donkeys wander down the main street, rusty old VWs are parked defiantly in the elements as quaint artistic treasures. A leaning dunny shakily stands on a town hillside, while ruins crumble all around. The scene here is set for, well, it seems almost anything.

Once, way back in the 1880s, Silverton was a real buzz, with some 3000 miners digging away at rich silver, lead and zinc deposits.

When the pockets of ore ran out, and the town’s population dropped to just a few hundred people at the turn of the century, it seemed certain that the place would be reclaimed by the desert.

That was until Silverton was discovered by movie directors. 

VWs have replaced Gold Diggers.

This lonely Outback town on the edge of the Mundi Mundi Plain, more than 1100km west of Sydney, captured the collective imaginations of the movie sect.  The rustic, dilapidated and virtually-abandoned feel of Silverton was just what they had been looking for. Some of the old buildings were restored, and others were left untouched for their visual impact. There was a general town clean-up and make-over, the actors were brought in and the cameras started to roll.

Films like Mad Max 2, Golden Soak, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, A Town Like Alice, Blue Lightning, Hostage, Razorback, Journey into Darkness, Wake in Fright, the Slim Dusty movie – 45 movies all up – all have sequences filmed right in Silverton. The place almost overnight had taken on the image of an “Outback Hollywood”.

While in the past few years the film set activity has slowed, there continues to be a stream of others heading into town to shoot commercials, promotions,_travelogues and documentaries, all featuring the now famous Silverton backdrop.  

Midnight Oil, Mick Jagger, INXS, Coca-Cola and an estimated 80 other teams have been here, all looking to capture the Outback Silverton flavor.

Not one of the visiting stars -- this is a local resident.

Along with all of this glittering activity is the current “true blue” lifeblood of the township – tourists, in cars, in buses and in tour groups, pouring into this wild west Mecca of Australian film sets. Arts and craft galleries, the old jail and museum, the historic court house, little old churches, the school and on opal collection all draw visitors to revisit the past and take in the movie atmosphere. But there is little doubt that one of Australia’s most famous outback pubs – the Silverton Hotel, featured in many a film clip – is the real drawcard.

Built along side the site of the original De Baun’s Hotel that burnt down in 1921 (it’s reported that in its first few weeks of trading 19 tons of beer was sold), the current pub has appeal to all comers.

Boasting such notable names associated with the town’s early days like Sidney Kidman, the Dickens brothers (sons of author Charles Dickens), Dame Mary Gilmore (who once taught at the small school) as well as early explorers who passed by here looking for their vast inland sea, Silverton has clearly never been short of attention and it appears won’t be, for a long time to come.

And those donkeys? Well, it seems they have developed a taste for ice cream, and anyone wandering the streets with a cone in hand will usually have several close followers.

And it’s not known whether that leaning dunny is real or not, because nobody is game to be caught doing their business in there when it eventually does topple over.

Not exactly the Tower of Pisa (I think there might be a pun there somewhere but I aint touching it)

A virtual ghost town it might be, but Silverton, it seems, still has an alluring silver lining.

Fact File

Silverton is on a sealed road, 23km north-west of Broken Hill. 

Most of the buildings in town have been classified by the National Trust. While there are a dozen or so of the original buildings left, many were dismantled and taken to Broken Hill when the miners moved on. The old Silverton Jail, open to the public, houses interesting relics and historic reminders of the town’s mining and wild west past.

Best time to visit is autumn, winter and spring. Nearest fuel, mechanical services and supplies are at Broken Hill.

For visitor information on Silverton, phone(08) 8087 6077.

Our map is from Hema’s Road Atlas, contact (07) 3290 0322.