Wilcannia is a small town in the Far West (Outback) region of the Australian state of New South Wales, some 974 km from the capital Sydney. It is located where the Barrier Highway crosses the River Darling in an isolated, low-rainfall area of the state.
Founded in 1866 as a port on the upper Darling River, Wilcannia formed a base for European pastoral expansion into the region, previously occupied by its Aboriginal inhabitants, the Barkindji people. The name of the town is Aboriginal, reportedly meaning "a gap in the bank where the flood waters escape".
Be warned that the town has serious social problems, and doesn't have a friendly atmosphere; there are plenty of burned-out and boarded-up buildings. The local Aborigines are doing it tough, due to poverty and isolation, and unfortunately, it isn't always safe to be in the streets at night. Consequently, few people stay long. Most use Wilcannia solely as a place to stop for fuel and a bite to eat.
Most travellers arrive in Wilcannia by road along the Barrier Highway, a surfaced and well-used highway. Broken Hill is a couple of hours' drive west, and Cobar is a couple of hours' east.
A slightly more adventurous route is from the south, along the Cobb Highway. The Cobb is named for the Cobb & Co stagecoach service that travelled along the same general route in the 1800s, but it doesn't really warrant the name "highway", as it's unsealed most of the way to the tiny rail town of Ivanhoe, though sealed beyond that down to Hay. This road runs through some beautiful and bleak country, and passes through the surprising Manara Hills. The old telegraph line is still visible in places by the road, and it's likely that you won't see any other vehicles on the road at all.
It's also possible to approach Wilcannia from Bourke, to the north, along the back roads that parallel the Darling River. This route is completely unsealed and is even more isolated than the Cobb Highway. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is a good idea.
Many local roads are unsealed gravel only and can be hazardous or impassable after wet weather / flooding. Tel 08 8091 5155 for an up-to-date road condition report.
The town is very small, so it doesn't take long to see what there is to see.
The old bridge, a relic of the river's time as a transport route, is next to the highway, and is worth a look. In its day, the road deck was raised to allow shipping to pass underneath.
Wilcannia town centre has a fine selection of heritage buildings dating mainly from the period 1870-1890, when the town was in its heyday. There's a handsome court house, and the old sheet-iron theatre (now a store) opposite the petrol station.
You have a choice of places to stay in Wilcannia: there's the motel on the highway, and the caravan park just north of the town. Some locals recommend the caravan park as it's further from the town and its attendant social problems.
Wilcannia is a convenient base for exploring even more far-flung towns nearby, such as the opal-mining town of White Cliffs.