New South Wales, Australia

Bourke court house.jpg
Court house

Bourke is located in New South Wales
Population: 2,145 [1]
Postcode: 2840
Coordinates: 30°06′S 145°56′E / -30.1, 145.933Coordinates: 30°06′S 145°56′E / -30.1, 145.933
Elevation: 106 m (348 ft)
LGA: Bourke Shire
State District: Barwon
Federal Division: Parkes
Mean Max Temp Mean Min Temp Annual Rainfall
27.6 °C
82 °F
13.0 °C
55 °F
354.7 mm
14 in

Bourke is a town and Local Government Area (see Bourke Shire) in the north of New South Wales, Australia. The town is located approximately 800 km northwest of Sydney, on the south bank of the Darling River. At the 2006 census, Bourke had a population of 2,145 and 815 or 33% of whom identified as Indigenous Australians.[1]


A Camel caravan in Bourke circa 1900

The location of the current township of Bourke on a bend in the Darling River is the traditional country of the Ngemba people.[2]

The first white explorer to encounter the river was Charles Sturt in 1828 who named it after NSW Governor Ralph Darling. Having struck the region during an intense drought and a low river, Sturt dismissed the area as largely uninhabitable and short of any features necessary for establishing renewable industry on the land.

It was not until the mid-1800s following a visit by colonial surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1835 that settlement of the area began. Following tensions with the local people Mitchell built a small stockade to protect his men and named it Fort Bourke after then Governor Richard Bourke. This first crude structure became the foundation for a fledgling community with a small number of agricultural and livestock farms established in the region shortly afterwards. The area truly started to flourish when its location on the Darling River had it recognised as a key trade centre, linking the nearby outback agricultural industries with the east coast trade routes via the Darling River.

Bourke was surveyed for a town in 1869 and soon established itself as the outback trade hub of New South Wales with several transportation industries setting up branches in the town. By the 1880s Bourke would host a Cobb & Co. Coach Terminus, several paddle boat companies running the Darling and a bridge crossing the river which would allow for road transportation into the town and by 1885 Bourke would be accessible by rail, confirming its position as a major inland transport hub. Like many outback Australian townships, Bourke would come to rely on camels for overland transport, and the area supported a large Afghan community who had been imported to drive the teams of camels. A small Afghan mosque which dates back to the 1900s can still be found within Bourke cemetery today.

As trade moved away from river transport routes, Bourke's hold on the inland trade industry began to relax. Whilst no longer considered a trade centre, Bourke serves instead as a key service centre for the states north western regions. In this semi-arid outback landscape, sheep farming along with some small irrigated cotton crops comprise the primary industry in the area today.[3]

Bourke's traditional owners endured a similar fate to indigenous people across Australia. Dispossessed of their traditional country and in occasional conflict with white settlers, they battled a loss of land and culture and were hit hard by European disease. While the population of the local Ngemba and Barkindji people around the town of Bourke had dwindled by the late 19th century, many continued to live a traditional lifestyle in the region. Others found employment on local stations working with stock and found their skill as trackers in high demand.

A large influx of displaced Aboriginal people from other areas in the 1940s saw Bourke’s indigenous community grow and led to the establishment of a reserve by the Aborigines Protection Board in 1946. The majority of indigenous settlers were Wangkumara people from the Tibooburra region.[4]

In 1962 local high jumper Percy Hobson became the first Aboriginal athlete to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal for Australia in Perth. The 5 ft. 10 in. tall Hobson jumped 13 inches above his height to win the event with a leap of 6 ft. 11 inches. While Hobson was urged by athletics administrators ‘not to broadcast his ancestry’, he was celebrated on his return to Bourke and greeted by a brass band playing “Hail the Conquering Hero”. Cathy Freeman was the next Aboriginal athlete to claim a Commonwealth Gold in Auckland in 1990.[5]

In Bourke today there are 21 different recognized indigenous language groups including Ngemba, Barkindji, Wangkumara and Murrawari.


The unsealed Bourke-Wilcannia highway links the two towns.

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.

Bourke is the original end of the Main Western railway line, before the last section from Dubbo was closed to passengers. The station opened in 1885, and is currently in use as a tourist information office.[6]

Cultural significance[]

Telegraph Hotel established 1875, now Riverside Motel

Bourke is considered to represent the edge of the settled agricultural districts and the gateway to the Outback which lies north and west of Bourke. This is reflected in a traditional east coast Australian expression "back o' Bourke", referring to the Outback.

In 1892 young writer Henry Lawson was sent to Bourke by Bulletin editor J.F. Archibald to get a taste of outback life and to try and curb his heavy drinking. In Lawson's own words "I got £5 and a railway ticket from the Bulletin and went to Bourke. Painted, picked up in a shearing shed and swagged it for six months". The experience was to have a profound effect on the 25 year old and his encounter with the harsh realities of bush life inspired much of his subsequent work. Lawson would later write "if you know Bourke you know Australia". In 1992 eight poems, written under a pseudonym and published in the Western Herald, were discovered in the Bourke library archives and confirmed to be Lawson's work.[7]

Bush poets Harry Morant (the Breaker) and Will Ogilvie also spent time in the Bourke region and based much of their work on the experience.

Bourke was mentioned in the trial of Bradley John Murdoch on November 24, 2005, as the place where murder victim Peter Falconio was allegedly seen, 8 days after his disappearance from near Barrow Creek, Northern Territory.

Fred Hollows, the famous eye surgeon, was buried in Bourke after his death in 1993.[8] Fred Hollows had worked in Bourke in the early 1970s and had asked to be buried there.

The Telegraph Hotel, established in 1888 beside the Darling River, has been restored and now operates as the Riverside Motel.[9]

In 2008, persistently high levels of crime in Bourke led to bans on the sale of alcohol.[10]


The town is served by 7 FM and 2 AM stations, and 5 TV stations.

The two local commercial radio stations are Rebel FM and The Breeze. Rebel FM broadcasts on 104.9 FM (MHz) with a new & classic rock music format. The Breeze broadcasts on 107.3 FM (MHz) with an easy adult contemporary & classics hits music format. Both stations are part of the Rebel Media group.

There are two regional community radio stations based in Bourke. 2WEB broadcasts on 585 AM. 2CUZ FM is the regional Indigenous radio station in Bourke. It broadcasts locally on 106.5 FM. Both station broadcast to a myriad of communities in the region. The local paper, The Western Herald, is also published on a weekly basis (every Thursday) year-round, except during a short break at Christmas.



External links[]

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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Bourke, New South Wales. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.