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Bourke, NSW

Darling River Towns

back o bourke visitor centre outback nsw 13

Bourke, a legendary Darling River town, was once referenced by Australian poet Henry Lawson when he wrote, "if you know Bourke, you know Australia" (1882).

Anyone who ventures to the iconic Back O Bourke region of Australia will agree.

The town of Bourke is such an intrinsic part of the fabric of outback Australia that it should be visited at least once in everyone's lifetime to garner a real understanding of Australia.

One of the best ways to see and experience Bourke, and other Iconic locations of the Far West, is by travelling the Darling River Run, one of Australia's most iconic touring routes.

This character of the town that colloquially links the city to the outback is why it has become an RV mecca for those seeking an authentic outback experience.

Interestingly, many great journeys and destinations are good once, but only a special few are worthy of a repeat performance.

Some places can touch our soul in a way that a return visit, while familiar, still excites us as we discover new aspects to enjoy and reacquaint ourselves with the elements we enjoyed so much during the initial visit.

A short to the south is Gundabooka National Park, a short detour and loop for those travelling downstream to Louth (about 1 hour).

For those seeking adventures further west (Cameron Corner, Sturt National Park, and the Corner Country Loop), a stay in Bourke on the way out from the east coast capitals is well worth it. 

The PS Jandra travelling along the Darling River past the old lift bridge at North Bourke, NSW, AustraliaThe PS Jandra travelling along the Darling River past the old lift bridge at North Bourke, NSW, Australia

For many travellers, Bourke is one such place and a happy hour chat with fellow RVers confirms the notion that the region touches the soul of many to such a degree that they come back time and time again.

Location

Location of Bourke, NSW, AustraliaLocated 760 km northwest of Sydney, 130km south of the New South Wales/Queensland border, Bourke is the ideal access point for the Darling River Run.

Bourke is set beautifully on the southern bank of the darling River where the Kidman Way meets the Mitchell and Kamilaroi Highway.  The Kidman Way links Bourke to Melbourne (938 km), while the Mithcell Highway is the most direct route from Sydney.

Bourke is a region that, figuratively, is the demarcation between the outback and the eastern seaboard of Australia. Anything further inland is the 'Back o Bourke', the colloquial term deeply etched in Australian vernacular meaning to be a long way away from anything.

But on the contrary, and this is probably what Henry Lawson meant, the further inland you go, the closer you get to the true essence of Australia.

History

The European origins of Bourke can be traced back to 1835 when inland explorer Major Thomas Mitchell built a stockade 35 km downstream from today's Bourke. The purpose of the enclosure was due to Mitchell's encounter with local indigenous which was somewhat hostile (unlike that of fellow explorer Charles Sturt). The stockade was a base for tracking the Darling River.

Known initially as Prattenville, Bourke was later renamed in honour of then Governor of the Colony, Richard Bourke, and soon become an integral part of the inland transport system.

Early pastoralists opened up the interior of Australia realising a potential for cattle and sheep. This potential increased William Randell was the first person to take a paddle-steamer (The Gemini) up the Darling as far as Brewarrina in 1859, providing a means for transporting produce to the Murray River.

The wool-clip was shipped down the Darling River to the Murray River at Wentworth and either to Adelaide (downstream) or Echuca (upstream). The cargo that went to Echuca was transported south to Melbourne.
By the 1890s, Bourke was the most significant Darling River port for the transport of Australia's wool clip.

The Port of Bourke was the focus of the worlds wool industry with up to eighty riverboats servicing the region. The opening of the rail system in Australia and the unreliability of the river flow saw the gradual demise of the 'River Highway' by the early 20th century.

The decline of the river trade was not the end for Bourke though, as Bourke is still a town on the edge of the wilderness with significant historical, cultural and geographic significance.

Bourke See and Do

Despite the town of Bourke getting some bad press in the media (it sells stories), Bouke is a safe place to visit. Not only is it safe, but it also has some unique experiences that are found nowhere else along the Darling River.

Back O' Bourke Exhibition Centre

The impressive Back O' Bourke Exhibition Centre brings to life the story of Outback New South Wales and the Back O' Bourke region of New South Wales.

The experience covers interactive stories of the fabled Inland Sea, WW1 war correspondent and historian Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, the wool story, riverboats, conflict and much more. Learn more about the life of Henry Lawson and marvel at the stories of our women of the west.

Also on show are detailed accounts of Harry 'Breaker' Morant, the bushranger Captain Starlight, poet Will Ogilvie, and the humanitarian eye surgeon, Fred Hollows.

A 'not-to-be-missed Darling River experience!

PV Jandra

No visit to Bourke would be complete without experiencing a trip down the Darling on the PV Jandra, a faithful reproduction of an 1894 steam paddleboat.

The original PV Jandra was used to collect wool bales along the route. Just sit back while the old paddleboat weaves its way along the river, with the wonderfully rhythmic beat of the paddles hitting the water, and listen to the informative narrative of the captain on the history of the river, paddle boats and life in the region over a century ago.

Back 'O' Bourke Mateship Tours

Join Stu Stu Johnson excellent tour to gain a perspective of the area from the land. The Mateship Country Tour is a must, taking in citrus and grape farms, irrigation, and cotton farms with large water storage. It provides a great insight into the history and heritage buildings of Bourke.

The Back O' Bourke Mud Map Tours

For those who like their tours self-driven, pick up a copy of the several 'Mud Map' tour guides. These maps let you explore Bourke and the region at your own pace. These informative guide maps of Bourke have been around for over fifteen years, so they must be pretty good.

There are eleven in total and the major ones for Bourke are:

  • Mud Map 1- Fort Bourke Stockade and Bourke Cemetery
  • Mud Map 2 - Historical Lock and Weir
  • Mud Map 3 - Wharf - River Walk - North Bourke Bridge - Relic of the PS Wave
  • Mud Map 11 - Historical Buildings of Old Bourke

Getting to Bourke:

Drive to Bourke, NSW, from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Adelaide. Australia

Drive Sydney to Bourke

Distance = 760 km approx

The drive from Sydney to Bourke allows the traveller to also visit the Blue Mountains before continuing west through Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo before joining the Mitchell Highway for the run to Bourke.

  • The Great Western Highway
  • Castlereagh Highway
  • Mitchell Highway

Drive Melbourne to Bourke

Distance = 983 km approx

The Kidman Way, which starts at Jerilderie, is easily reached from Melbourne either via the Northern Highway to Echuca then the Cobb Highway to Deniliquin and then through Conargo to Jerilderie or via Shepparton and Tocumwal (Goulburn Valley Highway) then through Finley on the Newell Highway.

The journey along the Kidman Way takes in Darlington Point, Griffith, Hillston, and Cobar before reaching Bourke.

  • Hume Freeway
  • Goulburn Valley Freeway
  • Newell Highway
  • The Kidman Way

Drive Brisbane to Bourke

Distance = 924 km approx

  • Warrego Highway
  • Gore Hwy
  • Leichhardt Hwy
  • Newell Hwy
  • Gwydir Hwy
  • Castlereagh Hwy
  • Kamilaroi Hwy

Driving to Bourke from Brisbane is a great way to experience the Darling Downs and some of the tributaries of the Darling River, those that contribute to make the Darling River the longest waterway in Australia.

From Brisbane, it is a trip through the Lockyer Valley to the Great Dividing Range at Towoomba then head across the Downs to Goondiwindi and into New South Wales.

Once in NSW, the route includes Moree before joining the Kamilaroi Highway and drive west to Bourke.


Drive Adelaide to Bourke

Distance = 1,150 km approx

Driving from Adelaide to Bourke starts off with a run along the Barrier Highway to Broken Hill and onto Wilcannia before crossing the Darling and heading up the Darling River Run.

Following the Darling is a great experience through the river towns of Tilpa and Louth before reaching Bourke.

  • Barrier Hwy
  • W Tilpa Rd
  • Tilpa-Louth Rd
  • Toorale-Louth Rd

Bourke Visitor Information:

Kidman Way Bourke 2840

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