Brewarrina is a small town with a population 1,651 in 2016 in Northwestern New South Wales. It is known for possibly having the oldest human construction anywhere in the world, with the fish traps being ten times older than Stonehenge, and suits travellers interested in a quieter, lesser known destination, rich in the 65,000 years of Aboriginal history of a sunburnt country.
The town is located amid the traditional lands of the Muruwari, Ngemba, Weilwan and Yualwarri peoples. Brewarrina has a long Indigenous Australian history and was once the meeting ground for over 5,000 people.
The first European 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 town was first known as "Walcha Hut" but this later changed to "Brewarrina".
In 1859, somewhere between 300 and 400 Aboriginal people were massacred by white settlers in an event known as the Hospital Creek Massacre, recollections of which vary. A memorial was erected by the local Aboriginal Land Council near the site of the massacre.
In 1859 a riverboat called Gemini, skippered by William Randell, reached the town. This opened the possibility of developing the town as a port, and by the early 1860s Brewarrina was recognised as the furthest navigable point on the Darling River. Brewarrina became a port for shipping wool to Adelaide via the Darling and Murray rivers. The town was formally surveyed and laid out in 1861 and proclaimed on 28 April 1863.
The paddle steamer Wandering Jew of 66 tonnes, 22 × 4.4 × 1.5 m, was built in 1866 and registered at Sydney. On 15 December 1914, Wandering Jew was lost due to a fire on Barwon River. "The Wandering Jew represents an earlier maritime era and provides a direct link to the riverine heritage of Brewarrina. Its colourful history and repeated damage by fire is evocative of the dramas associated with riverboat travel".
The 1870s were something of a boom time for Brewarrina. The courthouse was built in 1871. The Telegraph reached town in 1873. The Mechanics Institute formed in 1873. The following year two hotels, two stores and the Commercial Bank all opened, and in 1875 the Parish of Brewarrina was formed and public school was opened. All this development was largely due to Cobb and Co, which 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.
The Barwon Bridge opened in 1888, the previous method of crossing the Barwon River was by punt and pontoon. The impetus for Brewarrina bridge, was to capture the New South Wales wool trade from the river paddle steamers and direct it away from Melbourne and Adelaide to Sydney. It is a rare bridge because it, and the lift bridge at North Bourke, are the only surviving examples of the first series of lift bridges in New South Wales. The bridge has been assessed as being of state significance and is listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register.
In 1901 the Brewarrina railway line opened to Brewarrina from Byrock, on the Nyngan to Bourke line. The Brewarrina Line closed in 1974, and the wood-framed Brewarrina Station burned to the ground in 1980. The local telephone exchange was established in 1913. The town was surveyed in 1920. Brewarrina was used as a location for the Australian silent film Moora Neya, or The Message of the Spear (1911).
The Brewarrina Ngemba Billabong has a strong cultural history. From 1876 to 1967 the Ngemba Billabong was the Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission for local Aboriginal people whose land was taken for grazing. The entire 261 hectare property is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register. The Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission was the oldest institutional-type community in the state, it ran until 1965. Brewarrina Mission was the first institution formally established by the Aborigines Protection Board as part of its policy to segregate Aboriginal people.
In August 1987 Brewarrina erupted into a riot that was triggered by the death in police custody of Lloyd James Boney. This coincided with 10 August 1987 when the Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Brewarrina has the typical hot semi-arid climate of north-western New South Wales, with hot summers frequently over 40 °C, cool winters and generally dry all year round. Brewarrina's highest recorded temperature was 48.9 °C, whilst its coldest was −4.1 °C and the average annual rainfall is 412.2 mm.
Visitor information centre
- 1 Brewarrina Visitor Information and Exhibition Centre, 57 Bathurst Street (next to Memorial Park), ☏ . M-F 9AM-4PM. Local tourism office. Advice on nearly everything you could get from a visitor centre, plus general information for all of northwestern New South Wales.
The only way you can get in to Brewarrina is by car. From Brisbane, take the M1 down, and exit at B76, and continue following it for about 900km. You could also use the M2, A2, A39 and B76 from Brisbane which is a lot shorter in distance; but more winding.
From Sydney, you'd go the way you'd normally go to Dubbo, but then keep following A32 until Nyngan. Instead of continuing on A32, instead go straight onto B71 until Coolabah. From Coolabah, follow Arthur Hall VC Way, until Brewarrina.
However, it isn't too far from nearby Bourke:
But from here, you'll need to drive.
The town is pretty small; enough that you can basically walk throughout the town. It's mostly flat, but it can get quite hot in the summer. Taking the car out might not be ideal, since Brewarrina is quite an old town, and that means the streets are quite narrow. It's best to come to Brewarrina, and park your car, and only take it when you're going out of Brewarrina again.
Brewarrina is particularly known for its rich indigenous Aboriginal heritage. It's also famous for having the world's oldest human construction, anywhere in the world (most think this is ten times older than Stonehenge but the actual date is still unknown). While Brewarrina is often quite underrated for its rich Aboriginal heritage, that doesn't mean that it's not a tourist spot at all, but in fact, Brewarrina is quite popular with frequent outbackers, and it's a beauty in its own right.
- 1 Brewarrina Aboriginal Culture Museum. A museum that tells the story of the ancient and recent culture, which includes the telling of local artefacts, language, and fossils from the oldest continuous culture anywhere in the world. The place is quite underrated, but mainly due to its distance from major cities, unlike Stonehenge, where this is 10 times older than Stonehenge, but it's close to Southampton. While some might think you can catch dinner here, unfortunately due to the extensive effects of climate change on the Barwon, Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers in NSW, the fish here aren't safe to eat, and some are endangered due to the effects of climate change.
- 2 Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame's Ngunnhu). The age of these heritage-registered Aboriginal fish traps is unknown. It has been suggested that they are 40,000 years old, which would make them the oldest human construction existing today.
- 3 Ochre Beds. A sacred indigenous meeting site, just a little bit west of the fish traps.
- 4 The Historic Barwon Bridge, Kamilaroi Hwy. 24/7. One of only two remaining lift span bridges in NSW that allowed traffic to cross over the Barwon River. When built in 1889, it was deemed very sophisticated, and it required two people to wind a pulley mechanism to lift the spans, but was later modified in 1913 so it only became a one person job. This bridge is one of the most important bridges in Outback NSW, as this led to the commercial development of the Outback NSW in North West New South Wales and opened up the so called "backcountry" in the 1800s. If you're camping by the river, sunset and photography of the milky way can really be nice out here. All you need is a camera.
- Aboriginal Cultural Tour. Most say that a trip to Brewarrina is not complete without this tour, and there's great reason why. Firstly, unlike most Australian Aboriginal Tours, this one hour tour provides a tour right on the spot on where the Aboriginals historically met up. Instead of the usual history taught about WWI, and WWII, learn the real, true history of Australia without foreign influence from an Aboriginal elder at this tour. $20 for 18 and over. $10 for 15-17. $5 for 6-14. Children 5 and under: Free.
- 1 Four Mile Camping Reserve. While it may be a camping site, it's more popular for swimming and fishing. Many tracks will take you on to the beautiful reserves, where you can allow yourself to connect with the Barwon River. To get there, you need to go for a few kilometers by SUV on an unpaved road.
Many will wonder, what's actually unique to buy in a small tiny rural town with only a mere couple of thousand people. And the answer is quite different than you think. Since this town is rich in Aboriginal culture, there's a lot of authentic Aboriginal items you can probably not easily buy in big and major cities, or even major region cities like Dubbo or Wagga.
- 1 Brewarrina Visitor Information and Exhibition Centre, 57 Bathurst Street (next to Memorial Park), ☏ . M-F 9AM-4PM. Has some souvenirs, Brewarrina themed.
- 2 Gift Shop@Brewarrina Aboriginal Culture Museum. Sells authentic boomerangs, emu callers and much more authentic Aboriginal items.
Isolation and the general smallness of most rural towns hinder them from having abundant eating options. Brewarrina can get you lost in time though.
- 1 Bre Thai Food, ☏ . noon-8PM (Closed Sundays). Authentic Thai food in the middle of the NSW Outback.
- 2 Brewarrina RSL, 25 Bourke St, ☏ . noon-2PM, 5-8PM (closed Mondays).
- 3 Muddy Waters Brewarrina, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 391 040, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 4 Thulii Negmba Café, 109 Bathurst St, ☏ . M-F 7AM-2PM, Sa-Su 9AM-noon. The cafe's slogan, "Food with a native twist" has a good reason. The cafe was started by an indigenous Australian, and is one of the few eateries in Australia with some form of pre-European food sold.
There are only two pubs in Brewarrina, and the RSL also has some alcoholic drinks as well.
- 1 Hotel Brewarrina, 45 Bathurst St, ☏ , email@example.com. Has a bar and a takeaway dinner service.
- 2 Royal Hotel Brewarrina, 25-27 Bathurst St, ☏ .
Hotels and Motels
- 1 Hotel Brewarrina, 45 Bathurst St, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel Brewarrina is one of the three primary hotels in Brewarrina, which also provides a takeaway dinner service and a bar as well. It's one of the oldest buildings still in Bre, and has still remained in perfect condition.
- 2 Riverview Motel, 1 Sandon St, ☏ , email@example.com.
- 3 Royal Hotel Brewarrina, 25-27 Bathurst St, ☏ .
- 4 Beds on Barwon, Lot 2689, Burban Rd, toll-free: 1300 765 086. They also have camping if you want to camp or caravan sites for those who want to be a bit more adventurous. But they also have 4 luxury cabins for the relaxing.
- 5 Lynchies Cabins, 2 Bridge Rd, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
Campsites and Caravan Parks
- 6 Barwon Bridge boat ramp camping area. Both camping and staying in a caravan is permitted here. If you're going fishing, bring your boat here, because as the name of the place suggests, there's a boat ramp here. Free.
- 7 Brewarrina Caravan & Camping Park, 28 Church St, ☏ .
- 8 Four Mile Reserve, email@example.com. Fishing, kayaking and skiing? Oh yes, you've got the entire river for that.
Telstra has full strong 4G and 3G coverage in Brewarrina, with an approximate 20km radius out of Brewarrina. Optus and Vodafone have no coverage at all and thus, if you're using Optus or Vodafone, bring a satellite phone with you.
There's free Wi-Fi in the visitor centre.