The country pub: An outback NSW icon

By Justin Walker Photos Destination NSW/Dean Mellor/JW April 15, 2020
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No family road trip to Broken Hill and the Central Darling region is complete without visiting a few of the region’s famous historic pubs, where you’ll find cold drinks, great food and unique characters in abundance.

Never too many pubs 
Broken Hill was, in its mining heyday, packed with some legendary pubs (more than 70, in fact), and although there are less of these historic watering holes left in town now, those that still exist are well worth checking out. 

These iconic establishments in town are nothing if not grandly named, with the Black Lion, Old Royal, Rising Sun (1888; one of the town’s oldest hotels) and – most famously – the Palace Hotel (established in 1892), just some of them. The Palace Hotel is not just a brilliant example of the town’s watering holes, but it is also rather famous, having featured in the film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). 

The accommodation at the Palace (as with other pubs in town) is great, the bar is simply awesome, and there’s even a mural of Botticelli’s Venus on the ceiling! Topping off the Palace’s appeal is the fact that you can play Two-Up any day you are there (only a few Australian pubs are legally allowed to run games daily, rather than just the usual once-yearly events on Anzac Day). 

A night or two in one of these Broken Hill establishments is the ideal way to – excuse the pun – whet the appetite for more of that unique country pub hospitality. For that, you really don’t have to venture far – and the road less travelled to get there makes it more than half the fun…

Another movie star
Blink and you may miss it – although most likely not; the Silverton Hotel is the quintessential outback pub, and you’ll often find not only more than a few travellers’ vehicles parked out the front, but also the occasional camel or donkey! The building is actually the third incarnation of the Silverton Hotel, with this one coming into being in 1918 after the second hotel burnt down and the owners acquired the town post office building for the ‘new’ pub. (The original hotel ruins, dating back to 1884, are located nearby.)

The Silverton Hotel’s bar is huge. Spend some time here checking out the movie memorabilia that lines the walls before heading outside to dine in the beer garden.

Walk inside the Silverton Hotel and the first thing you’ll see is the wide, wrap-around bar (lined with corrugated iron) and a vast selection of beers on tap, as well as wines and other alcoholic beverages. The bar is a brilliant place to sit back and sip a cold beer while chatting to the bar tender, a fellow visitor, or a local resident. The food here is also brilliant – as is the outside beer garden area where you can sit back, chow down and, sometimes, listen to some live music. 

Silverton itself is a famous movie town, having been the location for films such as Mad Max 2, Razorback, and A Town Like Alice, to name a few. The bar area is dotted with photos and memorabilia of those films being shot in the area and it makes a great way to pass some time, checking them all out. Silverton is also home to some famous outback artists, such as John Dynon (his gallery is just a short walk up the road), which means you’ve got the perfect excuse to stay overnight at the pub to explore the town in more detail – not a real tough decision to make!

Checking out one of the Silverton Hotel’s more unique local characters.

Have a beer and leave your mark
For those looking for a truly laid-back outback pub experience, it is hard to beat the Tilpa Hotel, located right on the banks of the Darling River and about 3.5 hours’ drive east of Broken Hill. Yep, it’s a bit of a drive but you will also pass through Wilcannia along the way, itself home to some great examples of historic outback pubs, as well as other heritage buildings. The drive from Wilcannia to the Tilpa Hotel, following the Darling River Run Road, is itself a nice outback adventure. 

The perfect outback NSW night: having some great food and chatting to locals and visitors at the historic Tilpa Hotel.

The Tilpa Hotel is well worth the drive; the low-slung, wide corrugated iron roof and shady verandah area hides one of the most unique pub bars in this country. Inside, you will find the bar’s walls adorned with thousands of travellers’ comments and signatures, reflecting their best memories from a visit to this area. For a small donation, you can add your own comments as well.

The Tilpa Hotel’s bar walls are covered in travellers’ notations and signatures. And yes, you could spend hours there, sipping a few beers while you read them all.

It’s hard to believe now that the pub (first established in 1894) was a key stop-over point for river boats that ran up and down the Darling River delivering goods and freight to local communities. The rear lawn area/beer garden offers the chance to relive that earlier life a bit while you sit in the shade looking over what is one of Australia’s most famous waterways. 

For those keen to stay the night here – and this writer, having done so, would definitely recommend it – you have the choice of a room in the pub itself, or you can take advantage of the excellent camping area directly opposite the pub (on the other side of the road). Here, you will find plenty of space for camper-trailers, vehicles, tents, etc., plus there are toilets and even hot showers (built by the Tilpa communiy; use is via an honesty system of a gold-coin donation).

And there’s more…
You will never run short of a country pub to visit in the Broken Hill and Central Darling region, that’s for sure. Besides the aforementioned hotels (and towns) there are plenty of others that offer just as memorable an experience. Venture an hour north of Wilcannia and you will arrive in the famous opal-mining town of White Cliffs, and the near equally famous White Cliffs Hotel. This grand outback pub (one of only a few buildings in White Cliffs that is located above the ground; most residences and other businesses are built below ground) has a huge wraparound verandah for those relaxing evenings sitting outside with a drink watching that outback sunset. Plus, there’s plenty of accommodation on offer so you can use it as a base for further exploration of the town and the mines.

For those who have headed southeast of Broken Hill for some camping at Menindee Lakes, and want a refresh (and a cold beer) after camping, there’s the brilliant Maidens Hotel (established 1853). The original pub here was actually visited by Burke and Wills in 1860; they camped at the hotel on their way through to Cooper Creek. Again, with great food and comfortable accommodation, it’s hard not to find an excuse to stay for a night.

There’s little doubt that, whether you’re an outback pub ‘tragic’ or just like spending time in a place that offers all the essentials – cold beer, great company and with grand history – the Broken Hill and Central Darling region has more than enough of that combo in its many fantastic ‘watering holes’. Really, do you need any more of an excuse to stop by and stay a while?

For more info on this amazing part of NSW, see