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.
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.
It was also formerly the largest inland port in the world 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.
Things to see and do
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 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.
Gundabooka National Park (50 km): Mount Gunderbooka 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 go camping in the NSW outback at Gundabooka National Park’Äôs 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’Äôt miss the walk through mulga woodlands to nearby Little Mountain. From the mountain top, you’Äôll 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.
Paroo River in flood at Wanaaring. Photo: ABC
Wanaaring (195 km north-west): was established in the 1880s as a service centre to the surrounding stations, which it remains today. Situated on the Paroo River, it is 180 km west of Bourke. At the 2011 census, Wanaaring had a population of 195. Wanaaring is on the "Cut Line" road between the town of Bourke, and the desert village of Tibooburra.
Long distance travellers often stop at Wanaaring for meals or to refuel, and enjoy fishing and bush camping by the Paroo River. Yellowbelly and yabbies are caught in the river and it is possible to visit a local bee farm. There is also a modest local golf course, along with a hotel/motel, a general store and a campsite.
The grazing lands support cattle, sheep and goats. Honey is also produced. An all-weather air strip is located east of the village centre. There is an annual gymkhana and rodeo, which supports the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Flying Doctor provides essential medical aid to outback communities such as Wanaaring.
The Bathurst to Bourke Cobb & Co Heritage Trail largely follows old coaching routes established by Cobb & Co during the 19th Century. As you travel these roads today, you can imagine yourself back in the past - hear the cracking of whips, tramping of hoofs and the churning of wheels along dusty tracks.
Brief history: A stockade was built nearby by T.L. Mitchell in 1835 to guard against Aboriginal attack. He named it Fort Bourke after Sir Richard Bourke, the Governor of NSW. Its Aboriginal name is Nulta Nulta or Wertie Mertie or Wurmurtah, meaning high ground.
The stockade area was located some 11 km from the present town. The town was laid out in 1862 eleven km from the site of Mitchell's Fort Bourke. By 1881 it had become a prosperous port for paddlesteamers plying the river. The first bridge across the Darling was built in 1883.