Longest continuous river system
The River Murray and its tributary, the Darling River, are the main rivers in
the Murray-Darling River Basin. This drainage basin comprises the major part of
the interior lowlands of Australia, covering more than one million square
kilometres, or about 14 per cent of Australia.
The Murray-Darling catchment also contains Australia’s longest continuous river
system. Australia’s longest single river is the River Murray at 2,375
kilometres. However, if the longest tributaries of the Darling River, the
Culgoa, Balonne and Condamine, are taken into account its total length increases
to 2,844 kilometres, making it Australia’s longest waterway.
The Darling River flows south from the junction of the Culgoa and Barwon
Rivers. Although the Culgoa is longer than the Barwon, the source of the Darling is generally agreed to be the Barwon River, as it has the greater volume of water. The headwaters of the Darling can be traced to the MacIntyre River, which starts in the Great Dividing Range, and forms part of the border between NSW and Queensland. It eventually flows south into the Barwon. The Barwon-MacIntyre section is sometimes referred to as the Upper Darling. When measured from its source in Queensland to its mouth on the coast south-east of Adelaide, the Murray-Darling river system is
3,370 kilometres long.
The Darling River, Australia's longest, runs through Outback NSW, forming
part of the Murray-Darling basin. The Darling River system is fed primarily from
the summer rains of southern Queensland and makes its journey south-west across
the state to Wentworth where it joins the mighty Murray River. The two rivers
continue their journey (as the Murray River) to Lake Alexandrina and into the
Great Australian Bight.
It was in 1828 that the explorer Charles Sturt, accompanied by Hamilton Hume
passed through the district, sent by the Governor of New South Wales, to
investigate the course of the Macquarie River. During his travel his thoughts at
the time was that the area was ‘unlikely to become the haunt of civilised man’.
He was to discover the Bogan River, and then in 1829, Sturt reached the upper
Darling about 30 km north of the present town site of Bourke, then continue
following the river downstream for about 100 km. He named the river after the
Governor of NSW, Sir Ralph Darling. Sturt referred to the Darling as that ‘noble
river’ but was to stop travelling down it as the river was saline and very low,
having arrived in the area during a period of drought. On his return to Sydney
he had less then glowing reports of the area.
Today, the Darling, recognised as our longest river, is celebrated in
writing, song and movies. History is stamped along the length of the river, in
the towns, villages and ports. It provides the focal point for many travellers
and modern day explorers.
The original inhabitants of NSW have lived here for at least 45,000 years, among
which there are more than 38 Aboriginal language groups, some of which
overlapped with each other. Many of those groups lived along the water ways that
made up the Darling River Basin, although today most live in the towns within
the region, still connected to the same areas as their ancestors. The Barwon,
Lachlan, Paroo, Warrego, Murray and Darling Rivers as well as a way of
sustaining life is woven into the fabric of their culture.2
The largest of the Indigenous groups is the Barkindji people,
who were predominant around the
lower Darling, although their region stretched from Wentworth
in the Riverina area, into the
Darling Riverine Plains stretching beyond Wilcannia. Whilst the homelands of the
Barkindji were known to extend into Queensland via the Paroo due to the friendly
relations they had with the Parundji people of the Darling Riverine Plains. The
home of the Parundji was the banks of the Paroo River, although unlike the
Murray and Darling River groups, they did not use the rivers for transport in
The Barkindji people called
the river ‘Barka’ meaning ‘river’,
meaning ‘Darling folk’.
The Paarkantji people who also lived along the whole length of the
Darling River, called the river ‘Paaka’. ‘Paarkantji’ literally means ‘River
People’. The homelands of the Paakantji extended from what is now Wentworth
area, northward through the Murray Darling Depression and into the Darling
Riverine Plains region beyond Wilcannia to Bourke.3
For more information about the indigenous people of the region, review some
of our source reference below.
Check out our listing for
River accommodation. In addition to our listed online travel guide information,
contact the local tourism visitor centre for your destination for more attractions,
tours, local maps and other information.