Bourke, Outback NSW


It is not hard to agree with famous Australian poet Henry Lawson when he wrote, "if you know Bourke, you know Australia" (1882). The iconic Darling River town of Bourke is such part of the fabric of outback Australia and is mecca for those seeking the outback experiences.

More than just an outback river town, Bourke is region that, figurative, is demarcation between the outback and the east; anything further inland is known as the 'Back o Bourke' which is a colloquial term deeply etched in Australian vernacular meaning to be a long way away from anything.

On the contrary, and this is probably what Henry Lawson meant, the further inland you go, the closer you get to the true essence of Australia.

The origins of (European) Bourke can be traced back to the 1830's when inland explorer Major Mitchell built a stockade 35km downstream from today's Bourke. The stockade was required as Mitchell's encounter with local indigenous was somewhat hostile (unlike that of fellow explorer Charles Sturt).

The stockade was a base for tracking the Darling River. Originally known as Prattenville, Bourke later renamed in honour of then Governor of the Colony, Richard Bourke, and soon become an integral part of the inland transport system. Early pastoralists started to open up the interior of Australia as they saw the potential with cattle and sheep and this potential increased William Randell was the first person to take a paddle-steamer (The Gemini) up the Darling as far as Brewarrina in 1859.

The stage was set as there was a means to get the Australian Wool clip to the shipping ports at Adelaide (down the Murray) and Melbourne (up the Murray to Echuca).

By the 1890's, Bourke was a major port for the transport of the southern Queensland and northern NSW wool clip that was transported down the Darling to the Murray River and onto Adelaide for ship transport overseas. The Port of Bourke was the focus of the worlds wool industry with up to 80 riverboats servicing the region. The opening of the rail system in Australia and the unreliability of the river flow saw the gradual demise of the 'River Highway' by the early 20th century.

This was not the death knell for Bourke though and today it is a town that still, in essence, is the same it was back then; a town on the edge of the wilderness with great historical, cultural and geographic significance.

Located where the Kidman Way meets the Darling River, Bourke is the ideal access point for The Darling River Run.


Bourke Weather Outlook


Bourke Visitor Information

  • Bourke See & Do

    • Fred Hollow's Grave
    • Watch eagles soar at Mt Oxley
    • Ride the PS Jandra
    • Back O Bourke Exhibition Centre
    • Experience the Darling River
  • Visitor Information Centre:

    • Kidman Way, Bourke NSW 2840
    • Website
    • Telephone 02 6872 1321

Bourke - Touring & Experiences

Bourke - Accommodation


Driving to Bourke


There are many different routes that can be taken when driving from any of the capital cities to Bourke. The following is an overview of the routes from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide that may help you in planning your outback experience.

From Brisbane:

Warrego Highway > Mitchell Highway: Distance = 970km aprox

From Sydney:

The Great Western Highway >Mitchell Highway > Castlereagh Highway: Distance = 690km approx

From Melbourne:

The Kidman Way: Distance = 1,020km approx

From Adelaide: 

Barrier Highway > Darling River Run (Unsealed): Distance = 1,050km Approx


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