The Darling River Run: Part 1

9 to 11 September 2019

Lightening Ridge to Bourke, 309km

to Trilby Station near Louth, 127km

After our lovely warm morning bath in Lightening Ridge we set off again to start a route that would see us follow the Darling River, twisting and turning its way to the Menindee Lakes.

We had a quick stop for a brew beside the Barwon River again but this time at Brewarrina where we started an addiction to Vegemite and cheese flavoured Shapes snacks.

We continued west to find the Darling River and the town of Bourke which stands on the edge of the outback. The phrase back o’Bourke is slang for somewhere remote, a long way away.

We found Bourke to be, as we say, a little bit Naples – our shorthand for a bit edgy, the kind of place where you know something shady is going on but you can’t quite work it out. There was next to no one around. We walked through Central Park and found its grass covered in broken glass.

Amongst its heritage buildings it seemed that most of the shops were shut but we did find a well stocked hardware shop where we bought a small electric heater to use in the tent. It is still very cold at night. We also found a cafe serving fish and chips and got a takeaway to eat on the old wharf beside the river.

The Darling River looked fairly low to us from up on the wharf and it was hard to imagine the paddle steamers, like the Emma (who knew my name was so popular in Australia!), that went up and down the river carrying equipment and supplies to the new towns springing up along it.

We visited the acclaimed Back O’Bourke exhibition to find out more about the river and the town. Once again water, or rather its absence, was written large in its history.

Bourke was an important trading hub and a boom town for a very short period of time, its rise and fall dictated by the waters that flowed, or didn’t, into the Darling River.

The exhibition introduced us to some of Bourke’s residents like Abdul Wade, a prominent camel merchant who arrived in Australia in the 1880s, joining the cameleers helping to transport goods across the vast country. Known as “the Afghans” they weren’t actually from Afghanistan, rather northern India, now Pakistan. There were also stories of real hardship like that of Myrtle Perooz who was a white Australian sold by her alcoholic mother at 13 into a marriage age to an older Afghan. But also stories of triumph like that of Nancy Bird who got her flying licence in the 1930s aged 19 and later flew an air ambulance ensuring that nurses and doctors could quickly reach their patients in remote spots and also Percy Hobson who was first person of Aboriginal descent to win a Commonwealth gold medal in the high jump in 1962.

As we often find, the town’s graveyard taught us a great deal about the place. Life was obviously tough on young children in the Outback and it was sad to see the graves of so many at such a young age but two graves in particular intrigued us. Two headstones referred to Ida Warton and Arthur Payne having been “accidentally killed at the Bourke Children’s Picnic”. We needed to find out more. Incredibly an internet search produced a copy of a newspaper article from the time. Packed onto the back of a horse-drawn lorry, 40 children travelled to the picinc. The lorry was so full they all had to stand. A horse was startled and the children thrown from the back. Three, Ida, Arthur and Annie were dragged under the wheels. The accident must have had a very profound affect on the town as the paper reported that thousands of people attended their funeral.

Some in the graveyard lived much, much longer lives. The cemetery is also the final resting place of some of the camel drivers. Bye Khan is recorded as having lived to 107 years old. This seemed incredible to us and we wondered whether, like many in South Asia in those days, he hadn’t had a birth certificate and his age was more guesswork. The corrugated iron shed we found not far from these graves was the mosque used by the cameleers for their daily prayers.

In North Bourke we found Australia’s oldest moveable span bridge. Opened in 1883 it was used until 1997. Its middle section opened to allow the paddle steamer through and it had a long wooden section which curves towards the north shore. This was to allow the wagon trains from North Queensland to make the turn from the road to the bridge.

From Bourke we set off on the dust again following the river south west to spend a couple of days down on the farm…

3 thoughts on “The Darling River Run: Part 1

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