Union 08 Shearers Union 02

Our Story

Few places can boast Bourke's history and national relevance and the surrounding district.

The Aboriginal fish traps nearby in Brewarrina are the oldest man-made structure on the earth, and our Aboriginal culture stretches back thousands of years. The landscape is one of the oldest on the planet, unaltered by unstable geology; the fragile sands and the species they support are a testament to the ages.

Great exploration expeditions punctuate European history in the region. Captain Charles Sturt and Sir Thomas Mitchell traversed the country to the site of Bourke itself, and the famously ill-fated expedition of Burke and Wills trod its tragic path through the back blocks of the region.

With exploration came opportunity, a new kind of adventurous spirit filtered into western N.S.W., with adventurers eager for fortune and fame. Sir Sidney Kidman and Sir Samuel McCaughey were just two of the great pastoral barons to stake their claim in and around Bourke and use its landscape as a hinge point for their respective empires.

When Australia sought to articulate its identity in the late 19th century, the writers of the day rushed to the Back O' Bourke to define the collective psyche of the land. In Bourke, authors like C.E.W. Bean and Henry Lawson found the kind of men that fitted the mould of frontier mateship, which Bean went on to codify in the Anzacs of WW1, while Lawson famously quipped, "If you know Bourke, you know Australia."

With necessity comes invention, and soon the Darling-Baaka was transformed into a super-highway to carry out all that the region was produced in an era of paddleboat history that was a hundred times more colourful than its parallels elsewhere in the country. Afghan cameleers and drovers traversed great swathes of overland routes to meet the newly formed railheads, with Bourke the end of the line for steam trains, with an important port and a thriving transport hub.

Within these broad themes are thousands of stories of shearers, unions, missionaries, miners, doctors and nurses, coppers and bushrangers, the wild, the ambitious, the sacred and the profane. Their stories are written into the very buildings of Bourke, and their characters are etched into the landscape.

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