LIFESTYLE Time Zoned: The town where time is broken

3 min

Discover far-flung places that are unique because of their time zones.

At the very edge of the western border of New South Wales, far beyond the state capital’s suburban sprawl, lies the town of Broken Hill. Approximately 1,148 kilometers (713.33 miles) away from Sydney, Broken Hill sits comfortably in the lap of Australia’s outback. Its color schemes include broad strokes of dusty desert brown, bursts of sky blue often disrupted by reddish orange streaks made up of heat and sunshine. Broken Hill’s official website proudly states that the town has more art galleries than pubs. It is also known as the “Hollywood of the outback” because its barren landscape has been used as a backdrop for several blockbuster films. There is a lot to see, a lot to do and a lot to absorb in Broken Hill. Its majestic Palace Hotel boasts 500 square meters of murals that showcase retro kitsch. The town is an oasis for writers and artists. Originally a mining town, the area is packed with minerals and gemstones. But one of the main highlights of Broken Hill is its “broken” time zone.

One country, three time zones

OK, since Australia is such a vast country, it has three main time zones: Western Standard Time (UTC +08:00), Central Standard Time (UTC +09:30) and Eastern Standard Time (UTC +10:00). For the uninitiated, UTC or Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard. The world uses UTC to set its clocks and time. In Australia, time is regulated by the different state governments. Some states observe daylight saving time (DST). Some don’t. In the 1890s, all of the Australian colonies adopted standard time. Before this switch, each local city or town was free to determine its local mean time. Now, Western Australia uses Western Standard Time. South Australia and the Northern Territory use Central Standard Time. New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Jervis Bay Territory and the Australian Capital Territory use Eastern Standard Time. This is where Broken Hill stands as an outlier.

Why Broken Hill broke time

Broken Hill is a part of New South Wales. But unlike the rest of the state, Broken Hill observes Central Standard Time, the same time zone as South Australia and the Northern Territory. Why? Well, when the Australian dominions adopted standard time, Broken Hill’s only direct rail link was with Adelaide, not Sydney. So while Broken Hill was physically part of one state, its livelihood was tied to the neighboring state. The town is even regarded as part of South Australia for the purposes of postal rates and telephone charges. Outsiders might need to do a little mental gymnastics to make sense of Broken Hill’s time zone, but for the locals who’ve grown up with this broken time, it’s not a big deal. In fact, most of them feel that it’s the right time zone because Broken Hill is so far west.

Some astronomers call the time zone a “quirk of history”. They say it would make much more sense if South Australia’s time zone was UTC +9:00 and Broken Hill’s was UTC +10:00. South Australia, the Northern Territory and Broken Hill fall into a rare sliver of time. It’s 1 of only 7 time zones in the world on a half hour point from UTC. This debate about Central Standard Time happens often in Australia. Recently, in 2015, there was a consensus to try and measure the public mood for this time zone. And people seemed to prefer keeping it. They’re so used to UTC +9:30, changing the time might change their everyday lives. It’s the same for Broken Hill. Over generations, the broken time zone has become part of the town’s identity. And why not? Some broken things don’t need to be fixed.