A self-guided heritage trail provides
a glimpse of the town's former glory, taking in the beautiful
sandstone buildings. There is also the historic Centre Lift Bridge.
between Broken Hill and Cobar, Wilcannia is where the Barrier Highway crosses
the waterway of the Darling River. Being at the juncture of the major east-west
highway and the Cobb Highway (promoted as the iconic ‘Long Paddock’) which ends
at Moama on the border, continuing south into Victoria as the Northern Highway.
The original inhabitants of NSW have lived here for at least 45,000 years, among
which there are more than 38 Aboriginal language groups, many of which
overlapped with each other.
There is a sizeable Aboriginal community living in Wilcannia, as their ancestors
had, being the traditional home of the Barkindji people (‘barka’ meaning
‘river’) and Paakantji people of the Darling River (which they called the Paaka). Paakantji
means ‘River People’.1, 2
Wilcannia, is thought to mean ‘a gap in the bank where flood waters escape’
in the local dialect.
The Surveyor-General Major Thomas Mitchell was the first European to the area in
1835, who travelled along the banks of the Darling River from Bourke to what is
now Menindee. Settlers soon moved into the region in the 1840s, establishing a
village in the 1860s as a result of growing trade that travelled up and down the
Darling. At this stage the village was known as Mount Murchison Station, a name
chosen by Thomas Mitchell.
It was June 1886 that the town of Wilcannia was proclaimed, being
incorporated as a municipality in 1881. During this decade Wilcannia became the
third largest shipping port on the Darling River, servicing not only the river
but the expanding coach and road transport travellers.
With the discovery of gold at Mount Browne, trade increase, but the larger
deposit at Broken Hill and Silverton saw a decline in the town's importance.
With the discovery of the opal fields at White Cliffs in the 1890s, trade to
Wilcannia increased, being the central supply source for the opal miners, who
came there to spend some of their wealth. With the decline in the steamer trade
along the Darling, and the increase of road and rail, the town declined in
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.