Bourke is a major service centre for the vast outback sheep stations of the NSW far west. It also supports beef, citrus fruit and fodder crop cultivation. It was also formerly the largest inland port in the world (on the Darling River) for exporting wool on the Darling River. The countryside around Bourke is used mainly for sheep farming with some irrigated fruit and cotton crops near the river.
Where is it?: 797 km north west of Sydney on the Lachlan River. Bourke can be reached by the Mitchell Highway, with additional sealed roads from town to the north (Cunnamulla), east (towards Brewarrina, Moree and Goondiwindi) and south (Cobar). The town is also served by Bourke Airport and has Countrylink bus service to other regional centres, like Dubbo.
The Back of Bourke Exhibition Centre paints the true picture of the harsh yet resilient outback. Aboriginal dreamtime stories and tales of local legends are explored in depth through captivating visual and auditory installations.
A 10 minute drive north from the heart of town leads to Kidman’s Camp, home to the popular ‘Poetry on a Plate’. Visitors should be warned – here, they will not hear rote memorisations of the old greats, such as Henry Lawson, nor will they be subject to the typical ‘bush yarn’ style poetry. Performed by accomplished local artist and musician, Andrew Hull, his original poetry and stories of Bourke and surrounds are told with such poignancy and respect that listeners find themselves mesmerised.
PV Jandra: a replica of an 1894 paddle steamer, which cruises the Darling River twice daily. Guests on the Jandra are told of the river’s extensive local history, once a bustling water-highway full of many similar vessels going about their daily trade. Today the Jandra makes her way slowly around the bend alone. The Red River Gums and Coolabah trees stand stoically on the riverbank, with exposed roots telling stories of harsh floods many years ago.
Mud Map Tours: a brochure which is freely available around the town, offers a number of suggested tours around the area. Of all these the short journey out to Fort Bourke Stockade is probably the most interesting.
Bourke Weir: opened in 1897 and was designed to maintain a reasonable level of water in the river near the town. The lock was nearly 60 metres long and 11 metres wide and was the only one built on the Darling. It was concreted and converted into a weir in 1941.
Bourke Cemetery: Bourke Cemetery has the graves of several Afghan camel drivers, as well as the corrugated-iron shack they used as a mosque. The local camel drivers once stationed over 2000 camels at a site just south of the town's present showgrounds.
Fort Bourke Stockade: ironically the trip out to Fort Bourke Stockade is actually more interesting than the reconstructed Stockade. About 15 km out of town the road passes around a wildlife refuge which is extraordinarily beautiful. The actual fort itself is nothing more than a few logs in the middle of nowhere.
As a major terminus on the coach line, Bourke has many Cobb & Co sites. These include the blacksmith's workshop and residence in Oxley St, which are largely unchanged. The workshop still bears the soot of its working days and a 19th-century grapevine can be seen by the house. The Carriers Arms Hotel (1879) was once a booking office for the coach service to Hungerford and Queensland and the old company foreman's residence can still be found in Hope St.
Other extant buildings thought to be connected to Cobb & Co are the Fitzgerald Hotel (1888) in Oxley St, the post office (1879), the Telegraph Hotel (now the Riverside Motel) and Bourke Cemetery. Other Cobb & Co related buildings have disappeared, such as Richardson & Bennett's wagon and coach factory, which became the Cobb & Co stables, Sam Doughty's livery stable, the City Coach & Buggy Works, and the Steam Coach and Wagon Factory.
Gundabooka National Park: Mount Gunderbooka (50 km) rises to 500 m among the rust-coloured cliffs, gorges and hills of the Gunderbooka Range. The region is of great significance to the local Ngemba people and the range has a history of ceremonial gatherings and rock art. Gundabooka is 50 kilometres south of Bourke, off the Kidman Way.
You can experience camping in the NSW outback at Gundabooka National Park’s Dry Tank campground. It's a great place for camping with tents, caravans and camper trailers. Dry Tank campground makes a terrific base from which to explore the park. Don’t miss the walk through mulga woodlands to nearby Little Mountain. From the mountain top, you’ll enjoy outstanding views of the Gundabooka Range. Gundabooka National Park is always open but may have to close at times due to poor weather or fire danger. Ph (02) 6830 0200.
The Darling River Run
The Darling River Run is a thin, winding line describing a travel route through the NSW outback. It is characterized by landscape, history, culture, literature and adventure.
Taken as a whole, or in its various component parts The Darling River Run route provides an opportunity to see the real Australian bush at towns along the Darling River. Experience some safe and easy off-road driving, connect with Aboriginal culture at iconic locations, and drench yourself in the history, and contemporary life of a part of the country that is central to the national psyche.