Bourke, and the Back O’ Bourke

6 October

Odometer: 5080 km

We have made it to Bourke, about as outback as you can get in NSW. Back O’ Bourke is a famous Australian expression, describing somewhere being in the middle of nowhere. Well, there may not be much back of Bourke, but Bourke is a rather pleasant and well preserved little country town on the banks of the Darling River.

We are out of mining territory and into the pastoral lands of cattle and sheep raising and cotton farming. This is definitely Road Train country. For those not initiated, Road Trains are very , very big trucks carrying very long trailers, sometimes two trailers. They take the words “big truck” to the next level.

The drive on the Kidman Way from Cobar to Bourke is if possible even more boring than the Barrier Highway. Close to 200 km with nothing, no villages or localities. We put on an audio book as we are getting bored with out play lists.

A visit to Bourke needs to include a visit to the local cemetery, the Coolabah trees guarding a fascinating piece of Australia’s frontier history. Tales of bushrangers and drovers, cameleers and river boat men, lost children and local heroes.

Fred Hollows, famous for his eye surgery, is buried here. There is the row of tombstones for nuns from the local convent. The “afghan” men which are buried facing Mecca next to a small mosque. A young sergeant who was badly wounded by a bushranger in a shoot out, and who died “a lingering dead”. Two policemen that were killed when a heatwave caused a local barman to go berserk. A young man killed by lightning while taking sheep across to Queensland. Interesting epitaphs and statements, including “sheer isolation took its toll”, “found hanging in the bush” and “perished in the bush”….

There are a tragically large number of children’s graves; alone or with their siblings and parents. There were the three children who died in 1888 when horses shied and a wagon broke during a children’s day picnic. And large numbers of children who fell victim to a range of epidemics such as typhoid, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Life in the outback was, and still appears to be, more fragile.

Bourke also has a short but nice walking track along the Darling River and the old warf. It is a nicely shaded amble on the levee along the water front.

We visit the “Back O’Bourke” information centre to get some maps and souvenirs. There are apparently excellent country outback performances here, but we are a bit “touristed” out, so decide to soak up the ambience at our motel instead. It has a great garden with roses in full bloom, a lovely space to relax.

Just around the corner from us is a grand Victorian house, the 1888 Old London Bank, with full guest facilities for sale. Mike is quite taken, especially with the asking price (hold your horses Sydney-siders), only $420,000 for this. He sees himself as a future Basil Fawlty, putting Bourke firmly on the map of luxury lodges Australia.

A special mention here of the Morall’s Bakery, going for over 100 years in Bourke. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but they make the most amazing pies. They are on par with the Kangaroo Valley pies that we have tasted in Berry, very very early on in our road trip. They also serve a decent coffee and lovely cold refreshing soft drinks from Rice – Back O Bourke Cordials (splashe.com.au). You have got to taste them, their cola is better than the famous versions!

We have been on the road now for nearly 6 weeks and driven over 5000 km. We have reached the farthest outback NSW we will be going. We have seen amazing coastline, high country with snow and the red dirt of the Outback. The weather has ranged from just above zero to a sunny 35 degrees C right now.

We have discovered that phone reception in the outback is poor at the best of times, even with Telstra, and strangely weather dependent. That the best coffee is not necessarily found in the prettiest towns. That lunch time in the country is between 12 and 1. And that it pays to take the scenic route!

Business in country NSW is really hurting from the fires, drought and now the lock downs.

By trying to achieve our 10,000 steps each day, we have had some nice chats with the friendly locals, and send a legion of local dogs ranging from little terriers to wolfhound / pitbull giants in epifits.

The map shows our journey to date in bold, we have skirted the border with Victoria for some time, and are now close to the Queensland border. Heading back east next.

Black outline shows our 5000 km drive to date in NSW
  • Best Coffee: Morrall’s Bakery opposite the Bowling Club.
  • Accomodation: Riverside Motel, established in the 19th century, a lovely place with little cottages set in a beautiful garden alongside the river.
  • Tip: try the pies from the local bakery and have a cold drink (coldest beer in the West!) on the deck of the Port Bourke pub.

6 thoughts on “Bourke, and the Back O’ Bourke

    1. I know, we couldn’t believe the price! But then, a standard house only costs $115k here. Very tempted, but I think sanity prevailed in the end.

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