Established in 1891, the Broken Hill Chamber of Commerce (also referred to in the early years as the Barrier Chamber of Commerce) has been one of Broken Hill’s five pillars of development, sharing the leadership roles with the City Council, the Mining Industry, Barrier Industrial Council and the Pastoralist’s Association of West Darling.
Up until 1919, there were only a few notable mentions of Chamber activities in the media but reports indicate the Chamber was an active lobbyist for projects that contributed to the economic viability and sustainability of Broken Hill and the Far West of NSW.
In particular, the Chamber actively lobbied government for improved services that supported sustainable business developments such as regular postal services, rail transportation and water supply.
A shakeup at the Chamber in 1919, indicates that the group itself may not have been as functional as it could have been. During that year the Chamber was reformed and Mr. William E. Heywood was elected president. He noted that Chamber business would not be conducted in a Tzar-like manner, but would operate on democratic lines, probably an indication of the rise and fall of the previous Chamber.
From 1919 to 1948, the Chamber’s fortunes fluctuated and again it almost ceased to exist because of fragmented attitudes of business people. However, reports in the Barrier Miner from the time demonstrate that the Chamber embraced an active advocacy role and lobbied governments to improve the sustainability of the region’s economy, in areas such as industry investment and development, law and order, a more reliable power supply and direct railway routes complete with uniform gauges between the capital cities of all States.
In the 1950’s improvements to roads in country centres, law and order, the removal of restrictions on road tax and the necessity of the unification of railway systems to provide consistent delivery of mail and produce were at the forefront of Chamber activities.
The Chamber also agreed to co-operate with the Barrier Industrial Council in the establishment of the new medical scheme (the Broken Hill Hospital Contribution Fund), established the Broken Hill Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1954 to provide mentoring and leadership training and lobbied the Post Master General (PMG) for a telephone control office in Broken Hill.
Given the nature and the extent of the industrial battles in Broken Hill, business has continually looked to the Chamber for guidance and representation throughout the evolution of the mining industry; historically the main industry in the region.
In 1948, a change in the Constitution permitted the Chamber to become directly involved with the Barrier Industrial Council to negotiate industrial agreements and provide some stability to industrial claims by the Unions. It was inevitable, however, given the ideological differences between the Union Movement and the business community regarding pay rates and working hours that the Chamber was often at the forefront of robust and fiery disputes both in and out of the various Industrial Courts, Tribunals, Arbitration and Mediation Systems throughout the City’s history.
In 1994, a joint effort between the Chamber and the Barrier Industrial Council resulted in the Broken Hill Town Agreement being made an Award of the NSW Industrial Commission and renamed the Broken Hill Commerce and Industry Agreement (Consent Award). At this point, the Chamber once again broadened its role in the community as a representative organisation, and in 2009 became known as Business Broken Hill, responding to the challenges of regional business development with a vision to expand information and support services to maximise its ability to respond to the emerging business environment.
In 2011, the Board voted to return the name to the Broken Hill Chamber of Commerce, reflecting the national synergies with other Chambers. However, the focus remains of industrial support, lobbying, promotion building the Chamber’s reputation as the central organisation for business and industry information.