Association Spotlight: Barrier

Number of members: 268
President: Maureen Clark
Secretary: Jenny Shroff
Treasurer: Warren Darke

Our meetings: We meet at the Gallery Bar in the Broken Hill Musicians Club. Broken Hill has a population of just under 18,000 people and is quite isolated from neighbouring towns – one hour from Menindee, three hours from Mildura and five hours from Adelaide. Our schools are the most western in NSW. Because members have to travel long distances to attend our meetings, we lure them with the promise of refreshments at the club.

Our community: Like most rural and remote areas, we are experiencing severe drought. Children from sheep stations near Broken Hill, as well as beyond Tibooburra in the north and Yunta in South Australia, do the work of adults at home and have lessons through the School of the Air. We have five public primary schools and two public high schools catering for local students. Many high school students are boarders from the surrounding region.

The major industry in Broken Hill is the mining of silver, lead and zinc, closely followed by tourism. In 2015, we became Australia’s first nationally heritage-listed city. Tourists are charmed by our historical buildings. The beautiful Trades Hall was built entirely from money raised by local union members and families in 1905.

Because of the local mining industry and the presence of large mining companies, Broken Hill is strongly unionised. Over the years, local members have won many improvements to working conditions. We were successful in the fight for the 35-hour week and workers compensation, and began the campaign for equal wages for men and women. During the strikes of 1892 and 1920, and the miners’ lockout of 1909, families of striking miners suffered great deprivation. There were physical confrontations between police and miners and the women of Broken Hill. More than a century ago, there was no love lost between the Barrier Industrial Council and the government, with a strong campaign mounted against conscription in 1916.

Broken Hill has long been a proudly multicultural city. There is a synagogue as well as NSW’s first mosque. Italian, Yugoslav, Maltese and Afghan surnames are common, dating back many generations. The region’s natural attributes attract a variety of occupations. Large wind and solar farms have been constructed, and the clear skies and brilliant natural light attract astronomers, filmmakers and artists, such as the late Pro Hart. Hit 1990s film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was shot in and around Broken Hill and has spawned the annual Broken Heel Festival for drag queens.

Local issues: Politically, Broken Hill is a Labor oasis in the NSW state electorate of Barwon, held by National Party MP Kevin Humphries. However, Mr Humphries is standing aside at the 2019 election and the seat will soon be contested by local Labor mayor, Darriea Turley. Federally, National Party MP Mark Coulton holds the seat of Parkes.

There is significant local controversy regarding the Darling River, which has been devastated by the drought and upstream cotton growers using its water. A new pipeline built by the NSW government has guaranteed Broken Hill’s water supply from the Murray River, but lobbying continues to save the Darling, or Barka as it is known by the Indigenous Barkindji people.

Our focus: The Barrier Teachers Association serves Broken Hill, Menindee and Wilcannia and boasts a 95 per cent membership rate. Many of our new teachers originate from the NSW east coast and they find the TA’s social network supportive and welcoming.

We rely on the centralised staffing transfer system to attract new teachers to the region, plus accommodation incentives, travel benefits and the fast-tracking of permanency. However, once many of these teachers are here, they are reluctant to leave. Even some dedicated surfers from the NSW north coast have enjoyed the Broken Hill “bush experience” – possibly because there are no sharks here!