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Small Businesses of Broken Hill – Outback Astronomy

By Dylan J Stone

Outback Astronomy opened in 2014, boasts a unique stargazing experience for customers, and is a very successful small business owned by Broken Hill local Linda Nadge.

“The way we offer stargazing is unique. We offer audio, reclined chairs, personal binoculars for use in the sky shows, and chairside food and wine services.”

But the business is not standing still because as Mrs Nadge points out, “our format and style of gazing has already been copied so it won’t be long before our other USPs (unique selling points) are copied too”.

In Mrs Nadge’s earlier years, she travelled Australia and the world, and had worked across several industries after graduating from Queensland University of Technology.

She had a stint in financial journalism and sub-editing roles across several Queensland newspapers before moving to Papua New Guinea in 1989 with her family.

After a brief time in the Port Moresby AusTrade office, she accepted a role to train financial journalists at News Corporation’s Post Courier daily newspaper as an expatriate journalist.

While in Papua New Guinea, Mrs Nadge’s career saw her become a director of the Investment Promotion Authority in Port Moresby, with responsibility for attracting investment in non-mining/non-forestry/non-fisheries sectors, advising on investment policies, and attempting to pair investors with PNG business partners.

She arrived in Broken Hill in 1997 and fell in love with the region.

“I have lived overseas and in different parts of Australia, and I’ve travelled overseas, but I’ve been in Broken Hill longer than any other place, and I love it here because it’s open, spacious, and a low-risk environment.”

Several roles in Broken Hill kept Mrs Nadge busy until she ventured into Outback Astronomy, including a nine-year stint in the utilities sector where she was responsible for corporate functions including marketing, retail, HR, IT, insurance, legal, risk compliance, and regulation.

She was also a commercial manager for Perilya Broken Hill, and between 2010-2012 she was CEO of Regional Development Australia Far West.

Outback Astronomy was born after detailed planning and research during 2012 and 2013.

It’s since received the Gold Award for Tourism Attraction in the 2019 NSW Tourism Awards, and has been a finalist in NSW Tourism Awards every year since 2015 except in 2020 when the awards were not hosted, and in 2021 when Outback Astronomy did not participate.

Initially, the business operated out of a shipping container at the local racecourse but now it operates from a purpose-built stargazing facility just 8km from Broken Hill.

Mrs Nadge says the most significant challenges she has faced include the sheer amount of work required to remain sustainable, and the fact she had to remodel the business to accommodate the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic.

Specifically, the business chose to implement, “self-imposed limits until there’s far more certainty about the future,” she says.

“The intent is to be respectful of how much service we can offer to a certain amount of people. If there’s too many people attending a sky show, you can’t provide the best possible experience, so we turn back a lot of sales. We have also scheduled fewer events to save personal energy, and this is hard to do when know you have capacity and demand to work all day every day.

“But these limits buys us time to make sense of the market, as the visitor profile to Broken Hill is changing. We know the market now is hugely different compared to 2019, and so these limits allow us to actually review these changes so we can react and offer the best possible experience.”

Mrs Nadge has some clear advice for aspiring small business owners.

“Once you commit to a policy or decision, you need to see it through and not make unnecessary alterations, or you defeat the purpose of it in the first instance.”

As an example, the business only accepts online bookings, and does not accept, for example, over-the-phone bookings.

“By doing this, we maintain consistency across how we manage our business and online bookings allow us to collect data on the market such as where visitors are coming from, and how far in advance they are booking.

“So, I know who my customers are on a quantitative level. I can say with certainty that the market has changed and I know that Outback Astronomy is doing a good job of driving visitation to Broken Hill all year round. We have also kept the vision constant since 2014, to create a leading astronomy tourism experience while helping our community grow.”

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