Located in the far
western parts of New South Wales, 789 km north west of Sydney
and 100 m above sea level on the Darling River, is Bourke. It is
the centre of the wool, cotton and citrus region, as well as a
popular tourist destination, and is also the place to visit as
the ‘Gateway to the Real Outback’.
Bourke has a rich heritage, immortalised in both poetry and song.
The renowned Henry Lawson lived for some years here, and his
experiences moved him to state that ‘if you know Bourke, you know
Australia’. Come and see for yourself what it is that appealed to so
many of Australia’s great poets, and what it is that continue to bring
visitors from all over the world to the ‘Back o’ Bourke’.
Although Charles Sturt passed through the district in 1828 he
thought that the whole area was ‘unlikely to become the haunt of
civilised man’. They had arrived in the area during a period of
drought and he returned to Sydney with less then glowing reports of
the area. It wasn’t until 1835 that Sir Thomas Mitchell returned to
the area and constructed a fort about 13 km south of the town site.
Fort Bourke was short-lived, but it did establish the possibility of settlement in the area and over the next decade pastoralists
moved into the area. It was marginal land and few people prospered,
however the history of the district changed dramatically when, in 1859, Captain
W R Randall sailed the Gemini up the Darling River from South Australia. Suddenly
towns such as Bourke and Brewarrina along the river became vital transport nodes. Bourke
remained the transport centre for the whole of south west Queensland and western
NSW for decades, as it’s port was the only efficient way to
transport wool to the coastal markets, and at its height in the late
1800s over 40,000 bales of wool were being shipped down the Darling
annually. This river transportation continued until the last
commercial riverboat in 1931.
In 1862 the township was surveyed and the first businesses, ‘Bourke Store’ and
were established. This boom time saw many large landholdings being taken up by optimistic
graziers, but the unreliable rainfall, averaging between 150 mm one year to 800 mm the next,
saw many of the optimists leave the area.
Images © Bourke Shire Council