Broken Hill in far western New South Wales with a population of about 18,000 promotes itself as “The Accessible Outback”. You can go there by car (on sealed roads, about 1150 km from Sydney), by train, bus or plane, so it’s certainly accessible, but some would argue that it’s not really “Outback”. The question of where the Outback starts and finishes is contentious, ultimately a matter of opinion, and we won’t debate that here.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, Broken Hill has plenty of options. But there’s one place that because of its quirkiness, helps you to feel that maybe you’re really in the Outback – that’s Mario’s Palace Hotel. Strictly speaking, now that it’s no longer owned by Mario, it’s just The Palace Hotel, but the evidence of Mario’s style is still so pervasive that the older name is still widely used.
It was built on Argent Street in the centre of town in 1889, and has a beautiful wide first-floor balcony around two sides, with cast-iron lacework. Once you enter the reception area, you realise that Mario’s is not your average pub: just about every flat surface is covered by murals.
One of The Palace’s claims to fame is that some of the scenes for the movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” were shot there. There are “Priscilla rooms” which you can stay in. Occasionally you may come across a tour group being shown around by a drag queen. And although I don’t understand how it works legally, there are regular two-up games held in the hotel! The “Sidebar” restaurant and bar provides a range of menu items that have never been heard of on the Oodnadatta Track (“Balsamic caramelised baby beets? Struth, what’s that?”) – and there’s sometimes even live music.
The Palace will not please some people who get agitated if the lift to the first floor is not working, or the globe in the bedside light has had it. (Online reviews range from “wonderful” to “awful”.) But for those who travel to the Outback knowing it will take them into a different kind of world, a visit to Mario’s may well be a memorable experience.