Australia: Bourke NSW

Bourke on the banks of the Darling River is our last outback stop and definitely worthy of a few good words.

‘Back O Bourke’ (back of beyond) is so firmly entrenched in our Aussie lingo, that we use it to refer to anywhere remote, and Bourke is remote. The town lies 800kms north west of Sydney.

The road to Bourke bears the hallmark of other roads we’ve travelled this trip. Rains have brought a sea of green and the outback is bursting with wildlife. Birds are aplenty and in between the calls of curlews is heard the distinct kookaburra laugh. Groups of emus frequent the lush roadside and what has to be a first, they outnumber kangaroos.

Road to Bourke.

The Darling River system, as we discovered, is one hell of a system, covering 1 million square kms (14% of Australia) and is 3,000 kms long. We touched base with a few river ports, not all, since time and floods gave us a run for our money. However, if your stars align, the Darling River Run which includes Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Tilpa, Wilcannia, Menindee, Pooncarie and Wentworth would make a damn fine trip.

Kidman Camp on the outskirts of Bourke was where we set up for a few days. It’s well maintained, has excellent facilities and we enjoyed it very much.

Rosemary bush divider at Kidman Camp

The paddle boat replica PV Jandra sails from Kidman Camp. However, the waters of the Darling were too high during our stay to enjoy the 2 hour trip.

A short walk from Kidman Camp was North Bourke Bridge – a relic from days gone by when vertical lifts operated, securing the success of river boat trade.

Built in 1888 and the first lift bridge in NSW

Sheep and wool ruled this part of the country through the late 1800s and early 1900s and downtown Bourke reflects this in its once quite grand buildings. Today, sheep are still shorn and cotton is grown.

Grand Post Office built 1888
Was the London Bank back in 1888, now a guesthouse
Once the bustling Telegraph Hotel, now a motel
Grand looking pub, but not operational
Bourke Wharf – once a major inland port for wool. 80 riverboats and 40,000 bales of wool were handled here each year. Cotton, citrus and wheat were also transported. Must have really been something in its day.  Note the high water levels.
Relic from 1923 – fully restored 1923 Crossley engine.
Friendly staff and good coffee at Bourke Wharf. Sister cafe in Wilcannia.
Only hotel open in town. They make a hearty pizza and serve a good red with it.

Loads of stories are told at the Back O Bourke Exhibition. Stories of indigenous, bushrangers, Afghans, river folk, shearers, explorers, women. A mix of everything and everyone – well worth visiting.

Bourke’s Historical Cemetery provides a snapshot of the town’s difficult times, leaving you with a keen sense of empathy.

It was a horse that shied, killing several children at the picnic. The raw hardships of these times are etched in gravestones just like this one. Gives a whole new perspective to resilience.
Captain Starlight was the bushranger

Timely reminder in this next pic about the origins of camels in Australia. Afghans brought their camels to Australia in the 1800s, providing a much needed transport system to far flung remote areas.

The Muslim mosque frequented by Afghan cameleers, faces Mecca.

Australia’s esteemed opthamologist Fred Hollows is also buried here. Working tirelessly to eradicate eye disorders in the indigenous community of outback Australia, Bourke became his base. His wife Gabi made clear at his funeral in 1993 that the town is his eternal base, ‘ He loved Bourke. He’ll never really leave.’

The rock over Fred’s grave is laid out in the shape of an eye.

Today, Bourke has settled into a town of 1800 people, 38% indigenous. It’s a town that deals with tourists well, with its local people not so well. High crime rates are regularly reported, the sale of alcohol restricted. Buying a bottle of wine means walking into a securely enclosed glass area where one can view, not touch. Not sure of a solution, but left thinking we can do better. Certainly the town is awash with support services.

It’s the beginning of our winter season and we are witnessing the northern migration of hundreds of caravanners from South Australia and Victoria heading to Queensland to escape the chilly southern weather. People we spoke to tell us they’ll stay put in one place in QLD for 3 months in towns like Woodgate, Hervey Bay, Yeppoon and Cairns. For many, this winter pilgrimmage to Queensland is set in stone – every…single… year.

Perhaps when overseas travel becomes more normalised for Australians, caravan traffic will lessen. Certainly, we heard a number of caravanners counting down the days for cruise shipping to return.

Our month long trip is coming to an end  and we are slowly, but surely making our way home. Our plan was to travel north to Lightning Ridge and then onto Goondiwindi before making our way east to the coast. However, the road from Lightning Ridge to Goondiwindi is closed because of floods, so we will head to Stanthorpe instead. Have found a nice little spot to spend a few days.

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