Bourke, outback NSW

After our visit to the information centre at the Back O’Bourke Centre we knew we had made a good decision to stay here a few days and visit some of the historical attractions.

Back in town we parked down near the old wharf which dated back to the days in the 1800s when Bourke was a thriving river port for paddle steamers involved in the wool trade.

Information boards in the area detailed lots of statistical information about the port, the Darling River and local history.

Here’s Karen on the wharf high above the river.

Interestingly we found a photo of the original river steamer the Jandra. We had booked to take a river cruise on the modern namesake version of the same boat the next day.

Nearby we saw an old Crossley engine, which had formerly been used for electricity generation.

A short walk away we found this grand building. It had previously been a branch of the London Bank in Bourke’s glory days but is now a guest house.

Our appetite’s whetted we returned to our caravan for dinner, looking forward to seeing more the next day.

The helpful man at the Tourist Information Centre had given us a pamphlet for a self-guided walking tour of the cemetery. So we decided to start the day there. Among the first graves we found this one of a poet and author, Francis Brown.

Next we found a trio of graves representing a sad story. Three little kids of the Luscombe family who died of diphtheria, none of them making it to their fifth birthday. Just shows how tough it was living in Bourke in the 1800s.

Next however was a grave of an Afghan cameleer, who was a survivor of the highest order, living until he was 107.

He was in the Muslim section along with a small, old mosque. There were also sections for the early Chinese settlers and every denomination from Methodist to Catholic.

On the far side of the cemetery was the grave and memorial site for Prof. Fred Hollows, renowned ophthalmologist and humanitarian. In his early career he worked in the Bourke area in the 1970s. Stones in the shape of an eye encircle the site. He is buried under a massive rock, representing the lens in the middle of the eye. Quite a few others were here paying their respects to a man whose work, saving people’s eyesight, is now carried on in over 75 countries. It is surely the most visited grave in this fascinating cemetery.

We bought a few supplies for lunch on our way back to our caravan. After lunch we drove out to the Back O’Bourke centre where we left our puppy Mel in one of their kennels for the afternoon. This allowed us to head out to the wharf north of the town to take a cruise on the paddlesteamer, Jandra, with a number of other visitors to Bourke.

Once on board we hand sanitised and I climbed the stairs to look for empty seats. Whilst there I took a captain’s view of the river ahead.

Sadly no empty seats so back out the front we went.

As we set off we couldn’t help but notice the river red gums along the banks of the Darling River. The extent of their roots giving an indication of where the water level could reach at times.

As we cruised along peacefully we came to several bends in the river. On one of the bends a pelican was perched on a fallen tree branch.

Further along we came to a couple of bridges crossing the river, a rail bridge and a road bridge, side by side. I suspect we had driven over the road bridge on our way to the paddle steamer wharf.

About half an hour downstream the captain turned the boat around and we began our return trip. Here I am enjoying the relaxing cruise.

Further along I spotted a couple of caravans camped by the riverside. Such a serene spot.

As we neared the wharf I was again intrigued by the mass of exposed roots on some of the river red gums. Here’s a shot of one of the root systems and its reflection.

Once the paddle steamer had moored we disembarked. Here’s a couple of photos of the Jandra.

Back in our car we drove back to the Tourist Information Centre to pick up our puppy, Mel. She was allowed inside the Back O’Bourke Centre here. As we had time we went into their theatrette to watch a short animated film about the history of the area from an indigenous point of view. After that we made our way through the various rooms of the museum section. Lots to see about indigenous history and early colonial history. These models of paddle steamers had been intricately constructed.

Here’s shot of an information board of a poem about the life of a swagman by bush poet Will Ogilvie.

We made our way through the rooms over the next hour or so before heading back towards the Mitchell caravan park. As our fuel level was down and we would be moving north the next day we pulled in to refuel. The sign on the pumps reminded us of the role covid19 is playing, even out in the outback of NSW.

Once that was done we returned to the caravan and prepared an early dinner after a very enjoyable and interesting day. Spending time in Bourke is well worth it in our opinion.

The next day we had a longish drive of just under 500 kms. ahead of us.

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