Broken Hill is located near the border with South Australia on the crossing of the Barrier Highway (A32) and the Silver City Highway (B79), in the Barrier Range. It is above sea level, with a hot desert climate, an average rainfall of . The closest major city is Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, which is more than to the southwest. Unlike the rest of New South Wales, Broken Hill (and the surrounding region) observes Australian Central Standard Time a time zone it shares with South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Broken Hill has been referred to as "The Silver City", the "Oasis of the West", and the "Capital of the Outback". Although over west of Sydney and surrounded by semi-desert, the town has prominent park and garden displays and offers a number of attractions such as the Living Desert Sculptures.
The earliest human settlers in the area around Broken Hill are thought to be the Wiljakali Aborigines, although originally thought to be intermittent, owing to the lack of permanent water sources, it has since been found that the Indigenous Clans of the area were able to survive on underground water holes and wells that were unknown to the European settlers. Many of these waterholes are still kept secret from non-Indigenous people. As in much of Australia, a combination of disease and aggression by white settlers drove them from their lands.
The first European to visit the area was the then Surveyor General of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell, in 1841. Three years later, in 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range while searching for an inland sea; the range was so named as it was a barrier to his progress north. Burke and Wills passed through the area in their famous 1860–61 expedition, setting up a base camp at nearby Menindee. Pastoralists first began settling the area in the 1850s, with the main trade route to the area along the Darling River.
Broken Hill was founded in 1883 by boundary rider Charles Rasp who patrolled the Mount Gipps fences. In 1883 he discovered what he thought was tin, but the samples proved to be silver and lead. The ore body they came from became the largest and richest of its kind in the world. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP) (later BHP Billiton) was founded by the Syndicate of Seven to mine the ore body of Broken Hill in 1885. By 1915 BHP realised its ore reserves were limited and began to diversify into steel production and on 28 February 1939 mining at the BHP mines at Broken Hill had ceased.
BHP was not the only miner at Broken Hill, and mining continued at the southern and northern ends of the Line of Lode. Currently the southern and northern operations are run by Perilya Limited who plan to open further mines along the Line of Lode.
The Battle of Broken Hill took place on New Year's Day 1915 when two Afghani men fired upon a trainload of people who were headed to a New Years Day picnic. Since, at that time, Australia was at war with the Ottoman Empire, those people were first speculated to be Turkish, but later identified as being from British colony of India (modern day Afghanistan). They killed four and wounded six, before they were killed by a group of policemen and soldiers.
In 1918 the Italian Ambassador to Australia, Emilio Eles, with the help of the Australian police and the army organized the rounding up of Italian deserters, working there as miners, to be forcibly sent back to Italy to fight in the war.
Like many "outback" towns, Broken Hill was built on precious metals, having once had the world's richest deposits of lead, zinc and silver. Although now depleted somewhat, mining still yields around two million tonnes annually. Some mine tours are available. Sheep farming is now one of the principal industries in the area and there are considerably more sheep than people — almost 2 million Merino sheep.
On 10 January 2007, the Broken Hill City Council was dismissed by the New South Wales Minister for Local Government following a public inquiry.