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Road to ruins: history washed away

By Dylan J. Stone

The flooding rains, which once again soaked our region last week have all but washed away an important piece of local and even national history.

The remains of De Baun’s Hotel in Silverton – host to the very first meeting of what would become Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) Limited, has completely collapsed this week due to the rain, and sadly it’s meant the iconic slice of Broken Hill history has had to be completely demolished for safety reasons.

Owners of the Silverton Hotel, Peter and Patsy Price, had become custodians of the remains of De Baun’s Hotel, and had gone to great lengths to promote the history of the place to tourists and guests.

Signs provided information on the historical significance of the Hotel, and the area was fenced off and protected from public access to preserve the ruins from vandalism and misadventure, either of which could have altered the structural and historical integrity of the site.

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“It was a sad day for the history of Silverton and Broken Hill to see the collapse of the ruins,” Mr Price said.”

“They showed the rich history of our region, and highlighted the significant role that Silverton and Broken Hill played in Australia’s mining and economic history, and to see the demise of another historical site is certainly unfortunate.”

After a large section of the ruins collapsed last week, Mr Price said, “the entire site had become unsafe and so urgent demolition works had been undertaken to ensure the collapsed ruins were not a safety threat to staff or the general public.”

To understand the significance of this loss of our local history, we have to look back at the importance of De Baun’s in the formation of BHP.

The forerunner to BHP, the Broken Hill Mining Company (BHMC) was registered on October 4, 1884 by the Syndicate of Seven, though it was not technically registered as a company.

On July 16, 1885, the final meeting of the BHMC was held at De Baun’s, which immediately followed by the first meeting of BHP, which later became properly incorporated on August 13, 1885.

While the first Annual General Meeting for BHP was held in Melbourne on December 15 that same year, Melbourne’s The Argus newspaper on July 30 noted the ‘first meeting’ of the BHP occurred ‘on July 16, (and) Mr George M’Culloch took the chair.’

The Argus article provided the authority for De Baun’s Hotel to claim to be the ‘birthplace’ of BHP, and the fact the article claimed this before the incorporation of BHP legitimised this claim.

A significant fire in the Hotel in 1918 led to the relocation of De Baun’s to where the Silverton Hotel is now located, and the De Baun’s Hotel site was never occupied again following the relocation.

Demolition of De Baun’s was in 1967 for safety reasons, but portions of the Hotel were spared out of respect and appreciation to the history of the site, which remained until last week’s rain.

Several attempts had been made to preserve the ruins in the last decade, with the most comprehensive proposals including the repointing, capping, and reinstatement of collapsed walls with the original stone that still remained on the site.

Beautification proposals for the site were also suggested, such as replacing the corrugated iron currently filling the doorways with wooden doors to reflect the historical appearance of the building.

Detailed signage was also suggested to physically record the history of the Hotel and the role the site played in the formation of BHP, so future generations could better understand and reflect on the history of the region.

For Mr Price, these proposals have now come nothing, “because we have now lost a key part of our history, and while it would have been expensive and time consuming to keep the ruins in good condition, I feel it was important to put the effort in, as future generations will now not understand fully what happened in the early days throughout our region”.

“The facts are that the mineral discoveries in Broken Hill, and the incorporation of BHP, was the most important economic event in Australia’s history, and so to now have lost this significant piece of regional and national history is regrettable,’ Mr Price said.

While Broken Hill and the Far West region is enjoying widespread and continued rain events, our communities can now only hope that more of our local and national history does not simply wash away along with the mud.

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