Jessica Schumann seeks out the iconic in Bourke and stumbles upon some cultural delights on the way.


Bourke is the gateway into south-west Queensland and the far west of Outback NSW, where green pastoral lands abruptly stop, settlements are few and the country is flat, brown and alluring.

Located789km north-west of Sydney, easy-going Bourke sits at the top of Gundabooka National Park, a region of figurative segregation between Outback Australia.

The iconic town holds a sense of prosperity and is a geographical hub for wool, cotton and citrus. Vast lands rich in natural heritage and human history make way for pastoral, irrigation, and tourism industries that have kept the country town thriving since it was established on the banks of the Darling River in 1861.

With a beautiful and raw natural beauty, summertime temperatures soar well above 40 degrees, but a cruise along the Darling on the PV Jandra paddleboat is one way to cool down and take in the ancient red river gums, wheeling cockatoos and the constantly changing plant life on offer in the semi-arid inland. Built locally by the Mansell family, owners of Back O’ Bourke Fruits in 2000, the sound of the paddles slicing through the water is as therapeutic as the journey itself, as the replica vessel meanders along the bends and bows of the river; the first paddleboat to be launched on the Darling in 70 years.

Once ashore, wander over to the Back O’ Bourke Exhibition Centre; an elegant museum showcasing the people and landscape that have not only contributed to the life of Bourke but also the history of Australia.

Following the legends of the back-of country from both indigenous and settler perspectives, visitors can uncover Bourke’s stories of early exploration, poets and local bushrangers through interactive displays that seek to shed light on how the various cultures of the area impacted on the development of the town.

But it’s the newly opened Back O’ Bourke Outback Show (daily Tuesday to Sunday between April and October) that  brings to life the town, revealing the real essence of the Outback.

Steeped in the yarns, tradition and unique sense of Aussie humour of a bygone era, the show demonstrates the cooperation between man and animal with sheepdogs the station mainstay, a talking camel and draft horses that keep the arena harrowed and watered.

But it’s the indulgence of relaxing beneath the birth of a Coolabah tree under a starlit sky and a slow-cooked meal at Poetry on a Plate on the banks of the Darling (6.30pm Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) that will cap off your visit to Bourke.  Just be sure to leave room for dessert.

Huge properties sprawled across the harshness of the red, barren land are mixed with national parks, such as Gundabooka and Toorale, offering vantage points of inspiration to writers, poets and photographers alike, that are sure to leave a lasting impact on all who visit the deeply etched ‘back of Bourke’.

More information

For accommodation options and other ways to make planning a trip to Outback NSW easy, visit NSW National Parks.