The Red Centre and Beyond 2011 travel blog





The run from Cobar to Broken Hill took around 6 hours; it’s a long drive with not much to see. We crossed the Darling River at Wilcannia over the new bridge built alongside the original lift bridge. The Central Darling area around Wilcannia was held by the Barkindji tribe, and many of the Aboriginal people living in Wilcannia today belong to that tribe. In 1835, Major Thomas Mitchell followed the Bogan and Darling rivers down to Menindee, during which trip he named Mt Murchison (later to become Wilcannia) on the Darling. Settlement along the river commenced prior to 1850, but it was 1855 before the Central Darling runs were consolidated.

Captain Francis Cadell’s steamer ‘Albury’ entered the Darling at Wentworth on 27 January 1859 and reached Mt Murchison in eight days. The township of Wilcannia was notified on 26 June 1866. In 1880 it had a population of 3000 with 13 hotels and was known as ‘the Queen City of the West’. Wilcannia became one of the major ports of the Murray Darling system. The paddle steamer trade flourished for 70 years. At the port of Wilcannia in 1887, 218 steamers and their barges unloaded stores weighing 36,170 tons, and 222 loaded wool and other produce weighing 26,552 tons.

In 1890, there were 90 steamers plying the Darling and at one time there were 30 steamers loading or unloading at Wilcannia. Eventually rail and road transport killed the river boats and Wilcannia lost much of its former glory. However, many fine buildings from its early days remain in good condition, making Wilcannia one of the best preserved historic towns in Australia. Wilcannia is a mere 2000km by river from the port of Goolwa, and it’s a mere 1000 km upstream to Bourke… Remember you would have been travelling at around 15km/hour and burning around 3 tonnes of firewood each day. They were strong people in both body and mind in that era….

It’s an isolated part of the country….

We reached Broken Hill 30 mins early due to the time difference so the shops were open, bought a few supplies and retired to the van for a savoury scone and tea…

We will explore tomorrow but I still have a few signs to read in the caravan park, the current owners must have recently acquired a printed and laminator; signs are everywhere offering such helpful advice as “ Ensure your valuables are locked in a cupboard at night”, “do not leave anything unattended” etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum…. I’m sure there is a sign instructing me on how long to brush my teeth and which way to turn the taps off…..

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