We arrived in Bourke on Friday 18 June 2021. Our first stop on arriving at the outskirts of the outback town of Bourke was the Historic Cemetery. This was a fascinating place to visit. The Historic part of the cemetery is the burial site of many of the districts pioneers. You can pick up a brochure that includes a map that guides you to some of the most significant graves. The most famous person buried here is Professor Fred Hollows. Fred was an eye doctor and became famous for his treatment of cataracts mainly working with indigenous and the poorer people in communities. Fred loved Bourke and its people and it was his wish to be buried in Bourke. His family have had a huge granite rock placed over his grave with his name engraved on it. It is their wish that people touch, climb and sit on the rock.
Other interesting graves are those of the Afghan Cameleers. These Afghan Muslims came to Australia with their camels and became an integral part of their communities. Camels could carry heavy loads for long distances. The cemetery even has a tiny corrugated iron building that the Afghans once used as their mosque. The Afghans are all buried facing Mecca.
In a far corner of the historic cemetery are the graves of a couple of Chinese men. These men created a market garden and supplied the town with fresh vegetables. They even went as far as Mt Hope with their horse and cart taking much needed fresh vegetables to that community.
One grave is the burial place of Sgt John McCabe who was badly wounded in a shoot out with the infamous bush ranger Captain Starlight at Enngonia. Sgt McCabe died a lingering death.
The historic cemetery houses many small graves of young children that show how disease and accidents were once the cause of many childhood deaths.
There is a row of white headstones that are the graves of some of the Sisters of Mercy nuns that once lived in Bourke.
I spent an hour wandering around this amazing place and on the way out I met the caretaker of the cemetery, a young Aboriginal man, and when I mentioned how neat and tidy the whole cemetery was he beamed with pride. He obviously takes his caretaker role very seriously.
Our next stop was the Historic Lock & Weir. This is out of town on the western side and the road is only tar for a little way and then becomes a gravel road for the last couple of kilometres. The road was awful. It was very corrugated and we did wonder for a bit if it was worth shaking our motorhome that much. We went very slowly and finally made it to the weir. This lock and weir was the first one ever built on the Murray/Darling Rivers and was built in 1897. The lock measures 59.5 metres between the gates and is 11m wide. The lock is no longer usable but the weir still functions as it did when built. We found some old pipes that were obviously once used to pump water from the river.
Back into town and our next stop was the painted water tower. The tower shows the image of one of Bourke’s most famous residents, Percy Hobson. The park that the water tower sits beside is also named after Percy and there is a plaque in the park commemorating his achievements.
Percy Hobson was the first indigenous Australian to win a gold medal for Australia at the Commonwealth Games. He broke the games record for high jump with a jump of 6’11” or 2.11m at the games in Perth 1962 and his record stood for 8 years.
He did all this while working full time in Bourke and doing his own training with the help of a coach in Sydney via correspondence. He would often take the train to Sydney, compete the next day then take the train back to Bourke so he could go to work. Amazing what an athlete!
Leaving the water tower we drove around the little outback town and admired some of the historic buildings such as the Post Office Hotel, the Western Lands Department building and the old Court House built in 1900 at a cost of 9,500 pounds.
We parked up near the Historic Wharf precinct and went for a walk. This area was being renovated and there were barricade fences up around the work site. The area is getting all new paving, bollards and landscaping. There is a new walkway along the river bank. This project is providing employment for local youth.
In a shed near the river is the Crossley Engine built in 1923 in Manchester, England, that has been fully restored by the Bourke Shire Council. It is an amazing piece of engineering and these engines were used for such things as electricity generation, water pumping and factory machine operation. This particular engine was used in the Sydney Power House from 1923 to 1938 to generate power for Sydney. It was later used at a Butter Factory in Coffs Harbour then at a Narromine property from 1949 to 1964 to pump water for irrigation.
Part of the historic wharf has been rebuilt and restored on the river bank. It is constructed from River Red Gum and has a staircase that leads to different levels so you could access your boat no matter what the river level was. The wharf is a fraction of what it was in years gone by. At one time the wharf had three steam driven cranes that would load over 40,000 bales of wool each year onto the barges and paddle steamers to be taken down river and exported all over the world. Bourke was once a very busy river port and saw boats of all sizes
Walking back to the motorhome we came across a lovely young couple walking to their 4WD and camper trailer that was parked in front of us. We got chatting and found they are at the tail end of a six week trip and were on their honeymoon. What a fabulous way to have a honeymoon. We told them that 43 years ago we borrowed my parents caravan and had a three week trip up the NSW north coast for our own honeymoon.
Our next stop was the Back O’ Bourke Exhibiton and Visitors Centre. We took advantage of their Dump Point and emptied our cassette and grey water tank before parking the motorhome in their large paved carpark and heading inside out of the cold.
The Exhibition commences with a 20 minute film in a theatre and as it had just started we had to wait for the next one. We bought our tickets for the next one and made use of the time by having coffee and a toastie at their cafe. They were both good.
We were called over when the next tour was to start and we entered the theatre to watch a short movie based on the Dreamtime stories of the local Aboriginal people of the area and the importance of the river they know as the Baaka (Darling). Once the movie finishes you move through the next couple of buildings that house a world class audio and interactive display of the history of the area around Bourke. During your visit you can learn about the riverboat era, the development of a pastoral industry, early conflicts with bush rangers, shearers and the cameleers, poets such as Henry Lawson and Will Ogilvie, Cobb & Co, the explorers, the wool trade and so much more.
The Back O’ Bourke Exhibition is a must see on any visit to Bourke.
For a small outback town with a population of only 1,200 people Bourke certainly has a lot to offer visitors.