|Aboriginal fishing traps
in the Darling River at Brewarrina
Attractive town on the banks of the Barwon-Darling River
There can be few more charming outback towns in Australia
than Brewarrina. With a town population of about 1500 and a
further 1500 living on properties around the town it has
just the right number of people to give it a sense of
purpose and stability without losing the lazy rural
character which hasn't changed for decades. The wide main
street, the old style pubs, the easy lifestyle, the
beautiful parks by the Darling - Barwon River, the local
newspaper produced fortnightly by the local Chamber of
Commerce and the historic court house and Anglican Church
make it much more than just another country town.
Located 810 km from Sydney and 98 km from Bourke,
Brewarrina is 119 metres above sea level.
No one knows exactly what the word 'Brewarrina' means.
There are five versions all of which have some claim to
accuracy. The most common is 'clumps of acacias' then there
is 'where the gooseberry grows', 'fishing', 'acacia clumps'
and, perhaps the most plausible, 'place of gooseberries'
coming from 'warrina' meaning 'place of' and 'bre' or 'burie'
or 'biree' meaning 'gooseberries'.
The first settlers arrived in the district around
1839-40. The first people to own land where the town now
stands were the Lawson brothers who had two holdings - one
called 'Walcha' and another called 'Moona'. The first name
given to the settlement was 'Walcha Hut' but this later
changed to 'Fishery' and finally to 'Brewarrina'. In 1859 a
riverboat called Gemini skippered by William Randell reached
the town. This opened up the possibility of the town
developing as a port and by the early 1860s it was
recognised as the head of navigation on the Darling River.
The town was formally surveyed and laid out in 1861 and
proclaimed on 28 April 1863.
The 1870s were something of a boom time for the town. In
1873 the Mechanics Institute was formed. The following year
two hotels, two stores and the Commercial Bank all opened
and in 1875 a public school was established. All this
development was largely due to Cobb & Co. who had a number
of coach services passing through the town. There was a
service from Byrock, one from Dubbo via Warren and, in 1874,
a direct service from Brewarrina to Enngonia north of
Bourke. The number of people moving through the town at this
time would have been considerable and would have given rise
to the increase in stores and hotels.
Things to see:
|Christ Church, Church of
England on Bathurst Street
One of the most interesting buildings in the town, the
Christ Church, Church of England on Bathurst Street, was
opened on 11 May 1879. It was almost certainly designed by
the famous architect Edmund Blacket (who designed the
Quadrangle at Sydney University). One book on Blacket
describes the church as 'a small Blacket rural church with
long lancet windows and central west buttress with bell–cote
of the Raymond Terrace type' suggesting that Blacket had a
standard range of church models which could be easily
modified for differing circumstances.
|The Old Bridge on the
Old Bridge on the Barwon
The Old Bridge on the Barwon was completed and opened in
1889. It still stands today and is well worth a visit. Take
the sign off the main street (Bathurst St) which says
Walgett - Goodooga, pass over the billabong and the river is
a few hundred metres further on. The bridge could be raised
and lowered to allow the steamers which plied the river to
pass underneath its road span.
Aboriginal Cultural Museum
Located at the corner of Bathurst and Darling Sts, the
Museum seeks to represent the stories of the local
Aboriginal people through a range of displays. The Dreamtime
Theatre looks at local legends and stories, there is a large
photographic display dating back to the 19th century, a
mission display which indicates what life was like on an
Aboriginal Mission (complete with original furnishings), a
stone and wooden artifact display, and a shop selling
souvenirs, gifts and artifacts. The Centre aslo conducts a
two-day cultural awareness training package and tour, which
can be individually tailored. It is open from 9.00 a.m. to
5.00 p.m. weekdays, and on weekends by appointment, and
there is an entry fee, tel: (02) 6839 2868.
Aboriginal Stone Fisheries
Of all the attractions the town offers none can compare with
the stone fisheries on the bed of the Darling River just
downstream from the weir. The fisheries are pieces of
masterful ingenuity designed to trap the fish and to be
sealed off so that the fishermen can catch and kill the fish
at their leisure.
In 1901 R. H. Mathews wrote this description of the
'During the early spring months of the year, or at any
time when there was a fresh in the river, the fish travelled
upstream in immense numbers. The stone pens or traps had
their open ends towards the direction from which the fish
approached...as soon as a sufficient number of the finny
tribe had entered the labyrinth of traps, the openings were
closed by means of large stones which had been placed
alongside ready for use...The natives next entered the pens
and splashed the water with their hands or feet, thus
frightening the fish into the smaller enclosures, where they
were more easily caught.'
Such was the success of this process that Brewarrina
became a gathering point for Aborigines from all over the
area. In her book Old Days, Old Ways, Dame Mary Gilmore
records: 'two of my uncles said they once witnessed what
they reckoned were five thousand blacks assembled (at
Brewarrina), and people who were older said that before the
massacres began there were even larger gatherings.
Visitors wishing to read more about the Aboriginal
Fisheries should purchase a copy of Aboriginal Heritage:
Aboriginal Fisheries of the Darling & Barwon Rivers by Peter
Dargin. It is available from the newsagent or the Settlers
Museum. Also available are Outback Heritage - a collection
of reminiscences about the Brewarrina area and Elaine
Thompson's A Brewarrina Teamster in which Jack Green
recounts his life as a teamster working around the Bourke -
Brewarrina area. There is also a Brewarrina Town Tour map
available from the local council.
Brewarrina Court House and Settlers Museum
The most prominent building in the town is the Brewarrina
Court House. It was built in 1871-72 at a total cost of
£1717/6/9 and is a fine example of the colonial architecture
of the time.
In the old Bowling Club is the newly established Settlers
Museum with its interesting displays of artifacts from the
history of the area. It is fighting against adversity as the
major historical collection of the area was destroyed by
fire in 1981. It is only open by appointment.
Narran Lake, to the north-east of town, is one of
Australia's largest natural inland lakes and has an
abundance of animal and birdlife. It is an ideal location
for birdwatching but there are no facilities and it is on
private property so access is by prior arrangement only, tel:
(02) 6828 9340. The roads are not the best and are
definitely not to be attempted in wet weather.
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