Bourke, Outback NSW

Outback Touring & Destinations

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"If you know Bourke, you know Australia" so wrote the famous Australian poet Henry Lawson in 1882. Although Bourke is a town, it is something that is etched in the psyche of Australia and is commonly used as a reference point to the start of the true Outback. 'Back o Bourke' is a colloquial term for something a long way from anywhere. But being a long way from somewhere is a relative term in Australia as something several hundred kilometres away can sometimes be referred to.

About Bourke

About Bourke

To the traveller though, the further 'out' one goes, the closer one gets to the real essence of the land; maybe that is to what Lawson was alluding. Early Australian explorers believed in the existence of an inland sea and the first explorer to test the theory was Charles Sturt in 1828, who, complete with boat, arrived at the area that is now Bourke and discovered the Darling River which unfortunately had no water in it at the time. Major Mitchell followed 1835 to continue Sturts work and set up a stockade to protect provisions for further exploration of the interior. Fort Bourke was the first European structure built in the area and formed the basis of the settlement. With the subsequent opening up of the Darling River and surrounding lands by the river trade, Bourke became a major port by the 1890's servicing southern Queensland and northern NSW, providing a hub for transport for the regions wool clip, which was shipped downstream to Wentworth and onto Echuca or Adelaide.

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 by no means spelt the end of Bourke and today it is a town that still, in essence, is the same as it was back then; a town on the edge of the wilderness with great historical, cultural and geographic significance.

Today, Bourke is a wonderful town set beautifully on the banks of the Darling with lots for the visitor to do and see. The recently completed 'Back 'O' Bourke' Centre is a state of the art exhibition and interpretive centre that is a 'must-see' for the visitor.

Things to do:

Mt Oxley

  • As you will be staying at Mt Oxley and have access to the best lookout around Bourke. Partake of Hi Tea on Mt Oxley you will be impressed.
  • Visit Mt Oxley - for ambience, flora and fauna, photography, painting & bushwalking. Sunset Supper Tours / Camp Oven Scones and Billy Tea Tours.
  • Also check out the craters atop Mt Oxley, a short walk from the facilities.
  • Bourke is joining many country towns by having regular Market Days throughout the year, at the Wharf. The wharf precinct is a very enjoyable spot on the banks of the Darling River.
  • Talk to us about activities at Mt Oxley and mud map tour of property


  • Add a visit to the Back O Bourke Gallery, coffee shops and gift shops and you can easily spend a few days.
  • Not to be missed Poetry on a Plate on Sundays, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Kidman’s Camp. A slow cooked dinner by the campfire, local storytelling, poetry and music by the Bard of Bourke Andrew Hull. (I have been to all the above, taken friends visiting and had a wonderful time, and thoroughly recommend everything.)
  • Unique and historically interesting town – spend a couple of days
  • Enjoy relaxing on the Jandra Paddleboat.
  • Learn lots about Bourke on the town tour with Stuart.
  • Phillip and Anne Marie of Back O Bourke Motel have purchased and renovated Bourke's Oxley Club –ie RSL Club. Naming it the"" Diggers on the Darling"" Restaurant. It is open from early morning offering good coffee, all meals, morning and afternoon teas. Please drop in, you will be very welcome. If you are interested in wartime memorabilia that was originally housed in the Club, it has been retained in the restaurant, for future generations of locals and visitors.
  • Add to this art galleries –the replica of old Wharf on Darling River- mudmap tours –a visit to Mt Oxley for sunset supper or picnic. You'll be amazed where the time goes.
    Driving East 45 minutes from the huts to Brewarrina visit the Aboriginal Museum - also has one of the few remaining original Greek Cafes and other things of interest, very easy day trip.
    Very easy to spend a few days away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Bourke Historic Cemetery. Many of the epitaphs tell of the tragedy that constantly stalked the western plains and back country- ''Drowned'' ""killed by lightning"' "Shot by police " perished in the bush". An hour spent browsing will take you back to the world of bushrangers, drovers, cameleers, riverboat men lost children and Denise' Great Great Great Grandparents James and Frances Reed. James and Frances were some of the first arrivals in Bourke in 1862. Much to my surprise they had license to Mountain House Hotel, 2 sitting rooms and 3 bedrooms at the point of Oxley’s tableland. Frances features frequently in volumes of History of Bourke. She witnessed first births and marriages at the town. She provided the tea party for the laying of the Church of England foundation stone in 1874. Extract from the Sydney Mail newspaper November 11 1871 a very interesting story on how butter was made in those days. Ask me about it when you come for a visit.

At the Back O Bourke Information Centre pick up a Premium Package which combines tickets for

  1. Back O Bourke Exhibition Centre
  2. PV Jandra –paddling down the Darling River
  3. Outback Show April to October 11am Tuesday to Sunday –Bullock Teams, Working Clydesdales, sheep dogs and wild horses, a very funny show.
  4. Back O Bourke Tours – departing the Little Birdy Cafe, Wharf Precinct 9.30am daily. The two and a half hour tours will take in Bourke's historic buildings, Fred Hollows grave at the cemetery, the Lock and Weir and a walk onto the span of the North Bourke Bridge, the Back O Bourke Gallery and possibly the School of Distance Education - before concluding at midday in time to see the Crossley Engine in action at the wharf.

Geology of Mt Oxley area is predominantly acid intrusive rocks with the mount itself mainly metamorphic rocks. The climate of the nearby town of Bourke is semi arid characterised by hot summers and mild winters Birds observed include striated pardalote, inland thornbill, yellow rumped thornbill, and southern whiteface. Chestnut –breasted quail thrush and pink cockatoo sited and are of concern for their conservation status. Pick up a copy of "The History and Mystery" of Mt Oxley at the Bourke Visitor Information Centre.

Mt Oxley and the Fred Hollow’s Connection:

Fred Hollows was buried in Bourke 17th February 1993.

“Did you know it is over 30 years since the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program kicked off Under Fred’s guidance? The Program travelled throughout rural and remote Australia. It was 4WD, tent flaps dust flies mud and heat. They visited over 460 communities and made countless road side stops at shearing and cattle camps, small stores and schools.
It was about bringing quality eye health care to everyone living outside the major urban centres of Australia.” A message from Brian Doolan CEO Fred Hollows Foundation.

We in Bourke were very privileged to have had the care from Fred for all the years that he visited. He loved the red dirt and the mulga, that has become his final resting place.

A dedication followed exactly 13 years to the day on Friday 17th February 2006. An Austrian sculptor Andreas Buisman found the 9 tonne piece of raw granite (pictured above) nestled in an outcrop of unassuming rocks on a property. He escorted the rock to the workshop of nearby stonemasons in Tumut. Over many weeks he transformed it into a living sculpture, the highly polished finish is very symbolic of the intra ocular lenses produced in Eritrea and Nepal.

The Granite sculpture is placed near the Obelisk in Bourke’s Cemetery. At the gravesite 60 boulders from Mt Oxley line the perimeter of Fred’s grave. They form the shape of an eye and Fred is buried in the iris. The Obelisk, a beautiful piece of sandstone was crafted by sculptors who attended the Broken Hill Symposium, also local friends were able to leave their mark.

To continue the connection Andreas had met Sandra, a lovely Austrian girl also holidaying in Australia. They wanted an unusual location, on a mountain, in the outback. They were married 10/12/06 on Mt Oxley. Lovely witnesses helped them celebrate, along with the ex-parish Priest from Bourke.

Since then Andreas' parents have been to visit. Sandra’s parents visited in March 2013

You are very welcome to come and see Bourke and Mt Oxley and the outback as Fred saw it. Visit his grave and the very interesting historical cemetery. Think about the work Fred did and the millions of people who are able to see, thanks to Fred and the Hollows Foundation.

Outback Beds

Outback Beds at Bourke

  • Rising from a perfectly flat landscape, Mt Oxley has outstanding 360 degree views, and showcases the abundance of wildlife, including Wedge-Tailed Eagles and Euros (Macropus Robustus), who inhabit the outcrop of the mountain. Photographers, birdwatchers and bushwalkers – the experience will be unmatched.

  • Staying with the Murray's on their historic 6th generation, 320,000 acre sheep station on the banks of the beautiful and iconic Darling River is described by many as their ultimate Outback NSW experience. Liz and Gary have raised their four children at Trilby, are passionate about their outback way of life and enjoy sharing their experiences and lifestyle with visitors to the station.

Getting to Bourke

Driving to Bourke

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Open Information on town or member by clicking panel on top left of map.

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 Beds 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


Travel & Touring

Bourke Touring Routes

  • How outback do you want to go? The Corner Explorer touring route is one for the adventurer. While this involves outback driving on unsealed roads, it is possible to do it in a conventional vehicle (although a higher clearance SUV is probably better). On trips like this, always phone ahead to get an update on road conditions.

  • Never been to the outback but really want to go? Then this touring route is the perfect way to get an insight and understanding of what makes the outback such a wonderful place to visit. The Outback Intro tour while take you to the ‘Back O Bourke’ and you will be able to do so easily and safely in a non-4x4 vehicle with your Outback Beds hosts expecting you every step of the way. After all, the Outback Beds motto is “travel in the outback with friends...

  • The Darling River Run is a journey of discovery along one of Australia’s most iconic rivers. Steeped in indigenous culture and pastoral history, an adventure along the Darling can include staying at any of the Outback Beds members along the river, and in the surrounding area when venturing away from the river to explore the wonderful Outback NSW. Like many parts of Outback Australia, the Darling basin is rich with Indigenous history, spirituality and living culture, as well as being an integral part of early European history and exploitative efforts of iconic Australians like Burke & Wills, Sturt, and Major Mitchell.

Visitor Information

Bourke Visitor Information Centre

Kidman Way, Bourke NSW 2840
Ph: (02) 6872 1321

Bourke Weather Outlook