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Aboriginal fishing traps in the Darling River at Brewarrina
 

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
 

Christ Church
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 Barwon
 

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 process:

'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
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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