Today was going to be the first of the big drives. It's over three hours from Mildura to Broken Hill, and while I had done days longer than that on the trip, the Silver City Highway was one big long straight stretch of very little. The agricultural plains and vineyards of Mildura very quickly yielded to scrubby bush which suddenly became the typical outback low-laying vegetation with large sparse areas of red dirt. My friend David whom we stayed with in Melbourne had done this trip a number of times and had warned me about the long boringness of it but as it was completely new countryside to me, it was all quite interesting. The only rest stop on the highway is the Coombah roadhouse and is pretty much everything you'd expect from a service station/takeaway/shop in the middle of nowhere. Again the toilets are for 'customers only' although this time there was a poem explaining this on the wall outside. It covered the fact a transaction must occur before facilities are used and those not wishing to enter this agreement could find a suitable nearby bush. There was something about not letting dogs shit there as well but the poem was annoying me by that stage. We bought a couple of postcards and asked for the toilet key.
After a quick meal of leftover pasta we got back on to the long, straight road for the second half of the drive. As we got closer to Broken Hill, the scrubby bush turned into very sparse areas of red dirt with the occasional bush here and there.
Broken Hill is separated into north and south areas by the train line and a large pile of dumped rocks from mining - the north being Broken Hill and the south imaginatively called Broken Hill South. Driving in, the place looks like a mining town and by that I mean everything looks dry and dusty, there are piles of machinery in various states of repair lying around and lawns consist mostly of dust and rocks. However, once you're in to the city proper it seems like any other town, apart from the fact that all of the streets in the centre are named after minerals. There is Bromide St, Chloride St, Beryl St and so on. We were on the delightfully named 'Oxide' street staying in a beautiful old hotel called the Imperial which had been converted into an accommodation-only establishment. There are a few of these kinds of places around. Having been in decline since the price of zinc dropped in the 70s, a lot of the numerous hotels around town have been turned into other things - one of them is even a church. At least the buildings have been preserved and not knocked down. We checked in and I was going to have a little lie down, but I was looking through the various tourist brochures and came across the ad for Bell's Milk Bar. Now, Bell's Milk Bar had been recommended to me by David and is an old-fashioned milk bar that is not a retro establishment but a surviving milk bar from the 50s. We quickly got ready and headed over to the south side for some of the best milkshakes we've ever had. I had custard flavour and Yvette plumped for banana. Just before sunrise we headed up to the top of the large pile of rocks in the middle of town upon which a restaurant and a miners' memorial has been built. We watched the sunset although Yvette decided it was better from inside the car and out of the wind. Back at the hotel Yvette started preparing a risotto as we waited for our friend Pete to fly in. About 8.30 I headed out to the aerodrome. It's an odd drive at night as the street lights of town finish and there is a few kilometres of darkness before you are suddenly at the turnoff to the aerodrome. I turned in and at the first roundabout was a very large and very unimpressed kangaroo who reluctantly moved out of the way and allowed me into the carpark to pick Pete up. With Pete in the car, it was back to the hotel where Yvette had cooked up a delicious three-cheese risotto. It was time for a few beers and wines and catchup with news from the big city.