You are in: BourkeTo Places
Bourke was first discovered by explorer Charles Sturt in 1828, with Sturt naming the river running through the area the Darling River after NSW Governor Ralph Darling. Stricken by drought at the time, the land was arid and the river levels low, prompting Sturt to claim the area was largely uninhabitable and short of any features necessary for establishing renewable industry on the land.
With little to recommend the area, Bourke was not settled until the mid 1800s following a visit by colonial surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1835. Building a fort in the area, he named Fort Bourke after then Governor Richard Bourke. To protect himself from attack from the local Aboriginal people, it would become the foundations for a fledgling settlement with a small number of agricultural and livestock farms established in the region shortly afterwards. The area truly started to flourish when its location on the Darling River had it recognised as a key trade centre, linking the nearby outback agricultural industries with the east coast trade routes via the Darling River.
Bourke was surveyed for a town in 1869 and soon established itself as the outback trade hub of New South Wales with several transportation industries setting up branches in the town. By the 1880s Bourke would host a Cobb & Co. Coach Terminus, several paddle boat companies running the Darling and a bridge crossing the river which would allow for road transportation into the town and by 1885 Bourke would be accessible by rail, confirming its position as a major inland transport hub. Like many outback Australian townships, Bourke would come to rely on camels for overland transport, and the area supported a large Afghan community who had been imported to drive the teams of camels. A small Afghan mosque which dates back to the 1900s can still be found within Bourke cemetery today.
As trade moved away from river transport routes, Bourke's hold on the inland trade industry began to relax. Whilst no longer considered a trade centre, Bourke serves instead as a key service centre for the states north western regions. In this semi-arid outback landscape, sheep farming along with some small irrigated cotton crops comprise the primary industry in the area today.
Objects from the Powerhouse Museum collection
85/1284-753 Photographic negative, riverboats unloading wool at Bourke, glass / gelatin emulsion, photographed by George Bell (attributed), published by Kerry and Co, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1890-1900