It’s 10pm on a Thursday night 20 December and I find myself sitting in a pub in Broken Hill. The beer (and in my case, the Coca-Cola) is flowing freely as is the conversation.
The couple next to me are accompanied by their adult son who is the same age as the bloke behind the bar.
“I grew up here,” said the wife who works at the local hospital. “I love this town, but all the young people are leaving. One of my kids is studying in Melbourne. It’s just us oldies left. The town has nothing for them.”
I hesitate to ask the barman for a glass of water. You wouldn’t risk drinking the tap water here. My skin is super dry thanks to having too many quick showers before work and not applying moisturiser.
“It’s OK,” the husband says. “They double filter the water here. This pub has the best water in Broken Hill.” He was right. I could taste a piece of Sydney.
“Our water is absolutely horrid,” the wife tells me. Like many locals, her family has links to other surrounding towns such as Menindee and Wilcannia. “It’s all because of mismanagement. Our water used to come from a lake in Menindee. We used to swim and fish there. Now the water has dried up. We’re paying for the government to build a pipeline from the Murray.”
The Murray River twin towns of Mildura (in Victoria) and Wentworth (in NSW) are around 4 hours drive from Broken Hill on a highway often strewn with roadkill. You must drive carefully lest you hit a kangaroo or run over its fresh carcass.
Most people drive utes or 4WD’s with massive bull bars. The road isn’t the best – one lane in each direction – and if you don’t keep your eyes both on and either side of the road, you’re likely to roll off the side and not be able to call for help as there is no mobile coverage.
Returning to the pub. “Our hospital used to be managed by people with no health management or medical or nursing experience. It’s like that here. Useless people managing useful things.” Gosh, have Muslim organisational hacks taken over this town as well?
This is National Party territory. Both State and Federal MP’s are National. But there wasn’t much evidence of National sentiment in this pub, even if most of the drinkers were in small business or farmers.
It isn’t sex scandals and moral hypocrisy that upset these people. It’s the lack of basic services, the disgusting water and the refusal to acknowledge the reality of a changing climate.
Oh, and guess what. These people love migrants. “We have a lot of Indians moving in here and we love them. They’re all professionals. Some have set up businesses. They’ve even got a cricket team here.”
Perhaps Broken Hill will produce another Usman Khawaja.
I never imagined I would learn so much about Australia in an outback pub.