Brewarrina, New South Wales

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New South Wales
Brewarrina main street.jpg
The main street of Brewarrina, Kamilaroi Highway, with the Royal Hotel on the right
Brewarrina is located in New South Wales
Coordinates 29°57′36″S 146°51′40″E / 29.96000°S 146.86111°E / -29.96000; 146.86111Coordinates: 29°57′36″S 146°51′40″E / 29.96000°S 146.86111°E / -29.96000; 146.86111
Population 1,254 (2011 census)[1]
Established 1863
Postcode(s) 2839
Elevation 115 m (377 ft)
  • 787 km (489 mi) NW of Sydney
  • 378 km (235 mi) NW of Dubbo
  • 96 km (60 mi) E of Bourke
LGA(s) Brewarrina Shire
State electorate(s) Barwon
Federal Division(s) Parkes
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
27.6 °C
82 °F
12.7 °C
55 °F
412.2 mm
16.2 in

Brewarrina (locally known as "Bre") is a town in North West New South Wales, Australia on the banks of the Barwon River in Brewarrina Shire. The name Brewarrina is derived from 'burru waranha', a Wayilwan name for a species of Acacia, Cassia tree, "Acacia clumps", "a native standing" or "place where wild gooseberry grows".[2] It is 96 km (60 mi) east of Bourke and west of Walgett on the Kamilaroi Highway, and 787 km (489 mi) from Sydney. The population of Brewarrina in 2011 was 1,254.[1] Other towns and villages in the Brewarrina district include; Goodooga, Gongolgon, Weilmoringle and Angledool.


Brewarrina Court House
Plan of Baiame's Ngunnhu or Native Fish Traps

The town is located amid the traditional lands of the Ngemba, Muruwari and Yualwarri peoples. The area has a long Indigenous Australian history and was once the meetings grounds for over 5,000 people.

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 town was first known as "Walcha Hut" but this later changed to "Brewarrina".

In 1859 a stockman at Walcha Hut on the Lawson run was warned by Aborigines to release one of their women. He refused, and both he and the woman were killed. In retaliation, the settlers shot a large number of Aboriginal men, women and children in what became known as the Hospital Creek Massacre.[3] A memorial was erected by the local Aboriginal Land Council near the site of the massacre.[4]

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.[5] The town was formally surveyed and laid out in 1861 and proclaimed on 28 April 1863.[5]

The paddle steamer Wandering Jew 66 tonnes; 22 × 4.4 × 1.5 m. Built in 1866. Registered at Sydney. On 15 December 1914, Wandering Jew was lost due to a fire on Barwon River, Brewarrina.[6] "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".[7]

The 1870s were something of a boom time for Brewarrina. The courthouse was built in 1871.[8] 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.[5] 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 NSW State Heritage Register.[9][10]

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.[11] The local telephone exchange was established in 1913.[5] The town was surveyed in 1920.[12] Brewarrina was used as a location for the Australian silent film Moora Neya, or The Message of the Spear (1911).[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

In August 1987 Brewarrina erupted into a riot that was triggered by the death in police custody of Lloyd James Boney. On 10 August 1987 the Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced a Royal Commission into indigenous deaths in custody.[16][17]

Ancient Aboriginal fish traps[edit]

The Brewarrina fish traps 2008

Brewarrina's most significant feature is its Aboriginal fish traps. Known in the local Aboriginal language as Baiame's Ngunnhu. It is believed that Ngemba, Wonkamurra, Wailwan and Gomolaroi people have shared and maintained the traps for thousands of years. The age of the fish traps is currently unknown, they may be the oldest human construction in the world.[3] Locals claim that the traps are at least 40,000 years old and thus the oldest surviving human-made structure in the world.[18]

Consisting of river stones arranged to form small channels, the traps direct fish into small areas from which they are readily plucked. The traps form a complex net of linked weirs and ponds along 500 m (547 yd) of the river. They operate at varying water heights and can be altered to suit seasonal changes. People use their expert knowledge of fish species and the environment to maximise their catch.[3][19][20] Brewarrina Ngemba Billabong has been declared a World Conservation Union (IUCN) Category V and VI protected area. It was declared an Indigenous Protected Area in November 2010.[14] The ready availability of fish made Brewarrina one of the great intertribal meeting places of pre-European eastern Australia.[18]


Brewarrina has the typical hot semi-arid climate of north-western New South Wales, with hot summers frequently over 40 °C (104 °F), cool winters and generally dry all year round. Brewarrina's highest recorded temperature was 48.9 °C (120.0 °F) on the 19 December 1912, whilst its coldest was −4.1 °C (24.6 °F) on the 14 July 1997. The average annual rainfall is 412.2 mm (16.2 in).[21]

Sport and recreation[edit]

The townspeople of Brewarrina play a variety of sports. The town has a local Rugby Union club and team, the Brewarrina Brumbies. Rugby League is a very popular sport in Brewarrina, with the town sporting a number of different teams. Local players Alby Carr, Ron Gibbs, Les Biles, Isaac Gordon and his cousin Ashley Gordon played first grade in the National Rugby League. Netball is played weekly, with over 12 teams playing in the local competition. The Brewarrina Golf Club is renowned throughout the western region as one of the best 'oiled' green golf courses. Other major sports in Brewarrina include bowls, shooting, tennis and swimming. The river is also used for swimming and water skiing in the summer months.

The Brewarrina Circus Skills Training Project is a program, which trains local kids skills in circus acts and gives them the opportunity to travel across the country to places like Adelaide and Melbourne.[22] The Brewarrina Youth Circus was a partnership with the Brewarrina Council and Brewarrina Central School with objectives to increase school attendance. This program has also given particular kids the chance to travel overseas, with one girl travelling to South Africa to perform in the art of circus skills.[23]


Brewarrina is host to one of the most famous Rodeos in the far west of New South Wales, the "Barwon River Rodeo", which is usually held on the New South Wales Easter long weekend.

Brewarrina is also well known for its annual "Festival of the Fisheries", which celebrates Brewarrina's Aboriginal and European History. The event has sometimes not been held in recent years.

Other annual events include the local agricultural show, and the Brewarrina Races.

Especially noteworthy is the Brewarrina "Surfboat Classic", the only one of its type, in which canoes are raced up the Barwon River. This event usually attracts hundreds of spectators from neighbouring communities and even from the east of the state.

In April 2013, Brewarrina celebrated its 150th year since it was gazetted as a town back in 1863.[24]

Notable citizens[edit]


  • Gainmara Birrilee Pre-School
  • Brewarrina Central School K-12[28]
  • St Patricks Catholic School K-6[29]
  • Brewarrina TAFE[30]


  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Brewarrina (Urban Centre/Locality)". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  2. ^ "Brewarrina". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Office of Environment and Heritage. "Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps / Baiame's Ngunnhu". In one recorded incident in 1859 a stockman at Walcha Hut on the Lawson run was warned by Aborigines to release one of their women. He refused, and both he and the woman were killed. In retaliation, the settlers shot a large number of Aboriginal men, women and children in what became known as the Hospital Creek Massacre (Rando, 2007, p38). NSW Government. Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "Hospital Creek Massacre". Australian Monuments. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d The Concise Encyclopaedia of Australia. Horwitz Group Books pty ltd. 1979. p. 237. ISBN 0725505753. 
  6. ^ "View Shipwreck - Wandering Jew". Department of the Environment. Australian Government. Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  7. ^ "Darling River, NSW Maritime Archaeological Survey" (PDF). NSW Heritage Office. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Brewarrina". The most prominent building in the town is the Brewarrina Court House. It was built in 1871-72 and is a fine example of the colonial architecture of the time. Phoenix Group. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "Heritage and conservation register". NSW Roads and Maritime Services. Retrieved 20 December 2015. 
  10. ^ "1915 Barwon Bridge Photo". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 24 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "Brewarrina Station". Retrieved 24 May 2015. 
  12. ^ "1920 Survey of Brewarrina". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 24 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 21
  14. ^ a b "Brewarrina Ngemba Billabong". Department of the Environment. Australian Government. Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission Site". NSW Heritage and Environment. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  16. ^ "Aboriginal deaths in custody". ABC 7:30 Report 16 April 2001. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  17. ^ Boney, Brooke (1 August 2016). "What justice reinvestment can do for juvenile offenders". Nestled in besides the banks of the Barwon River in north-western New South Wales is the tiny town of Brewarrina. The 1,200 or so locals call it Bre. On Old Mission Road on the outskirts of town sits the first site ever established by the state government to segregate Aboriginal people from the rest of the town. ABC. Retrieved 26 January 2017. 
  18. ^ a b Tan, Monica (10 July 2015). "The fish traps at Brewarrina are extraordinary and ancient structures. Why aren't they better protected?". The people of Brewarrina proudly call their fish traps "the oldest manmade structure in the world". Guardian News. Retrieved 13 December 2015. 
  19. ^ Powerhouse Museum. "85/1286-721 Glass plate negative, full plate, 'Aboriginal fisheries, Darling River', unattributed studio, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1880-1923". Powerhouse Museum, Australia. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  20. ^ Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame's Ngunnhu), New South Wales
  21. ^ a b "BREWARRINA HOSPITAL". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  22. ^ "Brewarrina Circus wows Adelaide audiences". PM Archive - Tuesday, 9 March 2004 18:43:19. ABC Radio National. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "From circus skills to life skills" (PDF). The Regional Arts Fund in Australia. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  24. ^ "Be in Bre". Brewarrina Shire Council. Retrieved 22 December 2012. 
  25. ^ "Barker, James (Jimmie) (1900–1972)". National Centre of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  26. ^ "Brewarrina Boy". Australian Museum. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  27. ^ "Bush Queen of Brewarrina". Martyrs in The Struggle for Justice. The Koori History Website. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  28. ^ "Brewarrina Central School". NSW Dept of Education. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  29. ^ "Brewarrina St Patricks School". Catholic Education. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  30. ^ "Brewarrina TAFE". NSW TAFE. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Brewarrina, New South Wales at Wikimedia Commons