Historical Places
The Barrier Miner, Friday, November 3, 1939
With a history almost at times as tragic as it is romantic Wilcannia "Queen City of the West," which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its foundation from November 5 to 11 can claim an important link in the history of the development of the interior of Australia. It was following the expedition of Burke and Wills in 1860 that a start was made in the settlement of back country of the Darling and that Wilcannia grew in importance.

Some of the bitterness of the early pioneers is reflected in the following ditty which was well known to the -

"Wilcannia, city of wind .and dust,
Queen of the western plains;
Where man works for his daily crust,
And it seldom ever rains."

Between the bad seasons, however, came the good ones that gave fresh courage and new hopes to the struggling pioneers and brightened their outlooks.

The Burke and Wills expedition has been described as the most tragic and least effective expedition in Australian annals. The tragic story of Burke's impatience on reaching Cooper's Creek on November 11, 1860, after being guided over the country by William Wright, manager of a cattle station in the district, is known to all Australians.

Menindee, 100 miles below Wilcannia, was used as the starting base for the expedition.

Following their expedition a move was made to settle in the Cooper's Creek district and Wilcannia be-came the crossing and starting point for the pioneers. They were romantic days for the residents of Wilcannia, travelling stock and covered waggons (sic) stopping there before venturing into the little known interior. So few of the people of the cities today realise the courage and the spirit of those great people who have built Australia's position, but it is the same indomitable courage which marks the residents of the district even today.

When later the Paroo country was opened up and the Mt. Brown rush occurred (1880), Wilcannia's importance was even more evident. Millions of pounds was spent on stations and properties, on buildings, fencing, etc., and Wilcannia knew one of its richest trading periods.


John McKinlay, one of the leaders of the Burke and Wills search parties, is closely connected with the early history of the Wilcannia district. He penetrated the Barcoo district with Lake Buchanan as his base. This explorer claimed many of the frontages of the country through which he passed and either sold or presented them to his friends.

The lower sections of the River Darling were occupied very early, and as far back as 1849 there is record of stations such as Albermarie (owned by Phelps and Chadwick), while in the early sixties Culpaulin, one of the best known selections in the district, was owned by the McRaes. A lonely grave on the sand-hills holds the remains of one of the pioneer McRae Bros.

Although in the sand, the old Culpaulin homestead was flooded in 1864, and the occupants moved to higher ground.

It was in that year that the new town of Wilcannia came into .existence, only to be flooded by the rising Darling. Floods later caused further troubles.

Originally it was intended to build Wilcannia on the present site of Moorabin, then owned by Mrs. Jones. One of the first buildings erected in the town was the Five Alls Hotel, which was built by Mrs. George (a widow)
[should read McGeorge], later Mrs. Kenevan. It has now been replaced by the present stone building, the Wilcannia Club Hotel, which was built in 1879.

The name "Five All"' is derived from an old English hostel. It stood for:-

The Clergyman: "I pray for all."
The Lawyer: "I plead for all."
The Doctor: "I heal all."
The Soldier: "I fight for all."
The Farmer: "I pay for all."

Many are the stories that have been told by teamsters camped between this hotel and Mr. Murchison.

The township of Wilcannia was erected finally on the Mt Murchison run which then extended to Woytchugga Creek, where it joined Culpaulin and included Woytchugga lake (moonshape lake). Moorabin was the area now known as the Wilcannia Common.

One of the early owners of Mt. Murchison Station was Mr. Jamieson, who was the original owner of Mildura. It was purchased from him by Mr. Ross Reid and Mr. Barr Smith, of Adelaide, but in 1869 Mr. Reid sold out and an Adelaide syndicate with Mr. Barr Smith as principal shareholder took over the property.

The property then consisted of 3,000,000 acres, but a section of Tarella and Tonga were then included. Flood waters from Kallyanka Creek gave the owners trouble and a plank was erected near the old quarries to cross the creek. They were picturesque days with sheep feeding over the site of Wilcannia.

On one occasion sheep were even shorn on the site now occupied by Knox and Downs' wholesale yard.

Wilcannia had its first land sale in October 1S65. The first punt was built by a German, and although a very primitive affair, it was later sold to the Government.

One of the oldest landmarks of the town is the slab hut in Reid Street. It was used as a shepherd's hut and has been used as Courthouse and Post Office since. Later a building on the property of Mr. Robbins served as both Courthouse and church. The first magistrate was Mr. Morrisett.

No longer does Wilcannia know the days of prisoners being chained to logs outside the lock-up when there was no more room inside.


It was in the early nineties that Wilcannia had some of its most, picturesque characters. One of them was Jack Burgess, known throughout the length and breadth of Australia as a daring horseman, and clever stockman. Before the Wilcannia Bridge was built cattle
being driven to Victoria had to swim the river.

This was no easy task, as the cattle often became panicky in mid- stream and many were drowned, unless a stockman went among them and forced them to swim straight.

Burgess took hundreds of mobs across the river without a single loss, and his fame spread far and wide. His services were much sought after. He charged so much per head.

To assist him in his task Burgess had two animals known to all bushmen as "Jack Burgess' cow and calf". The "calf'" was actually a full-grown bull, but nevertheless the calf to the cow.

Burgess would send the cow across the stream and then the bullock would follow. Following their leader the frightened cattle would go into the water. Should they start milling in the stream Burgess would swim his well-trained stock horse among them and walking on their backs would flog them with his stock whip.

Another old identity who became almost as well known as Burgess was Joe Lee, a bookmaker, and his brother Sack. They had a monkey to draw the marbles from a barrel associated with a game. Teamsters favourite past time was telling stories about this famous monkey. Unfortunately most of them would not pass the censor.

In 1873 Wilcannia had its first newspaper. It was called the "Wilcannia Times" and was edited by a man named Webb. Seven years later the "Western Grazier" was published by Mr. J. S. Reid, who later founded the "Silver Age."


Between 1865 and 1881 13 hotels were built in Wilcannia. This marked the rush to Mount Brown.

Wilcannia's first store was a wooden framework covered with calico. Alexander Ross and Co. are believed to have been the first storekeepers. This firm consisted of Paddy Green, Joseph Becker, and Thomas Luke.

About the same time "Doakes' Buildings" were built, and then followed such business places as Vaughan and Brayley, J. R. Samuels and W. C. Palmer, Fish and Tewsley, Cramsie Bowden and Co., and Stone and Corney.

Among the early business people were the O'Donnell Brothers, who arrived in Wilcannia in 1871, and carried on a successful butchering business, later purchasing Willara Station.

Mr. Edmund O'Donnell was the first Mayor of Wilcannia, and also the first president of the hospital.

One of the early wine and spirits merchants was Mr. Tripp, a South Australian, who had charge of the loading of cargoes for South Australian steamer owners. He dug a cellar, which still exists, on the banks of the Darling and carried on the mixed business. In 1881 his business was taken over by A. Kirkpatrick and Co.

It is interesting to note that in the "Western Grazier" of July 21, 1881, the business houses of Wilcannia announced that they would in future remain open until 9 p.m. on Friday evenings, and close at 1 p.m. on Saturdays instead of 9 p.m.

It is estimated that at about this time shops carried stocks valued, at more than £30,000, indicating that years between 1870 and 1890 must have been the most successful trading period. Labor was plentiful and wages were high.

The Commercial and the A. J. S. Banks commenced operation about the same time, although the Commercial Bank had earlier opened a branch and then closed it. Other banks were later opened.

With money made available by generous donors, the Wilcannia Hospital was built in 1880.


In the late '70's a progress committee was formed, but this was replaced in 1883 by the Municipal Council. The town of Wilcannia itself is 24,000 acres.

The Sisters of Mercy arrived in Wilcannia in 1884 and opened their school in a stone cottage opposite the Church of England.

Tragedy has in some way linked most of the early parts of the West Darling. Mr. Chamberlain, a surveyor was engaged in 1881 to survey the boundaries of St. Anne's Station situated in Queensland on the South Australian border.

When he did not return as expected a search party was sent out. After enduring many hardships his body was finally found by black trackers. Mr. Chamberlain had undressed, tied his horse to a tree and lay down to die. The horse had broken loose and wandered to a well sinker's camp only 1 & 1/2 miles away.

Later St. Anne's was offered for sale at Menzies' Hotel, Melbourne, and £10,000 was refused. It was later made part of Nappa Merrie Station. This historical property was used as a depot by Burke and Wills.

In 1884 the water works, were opened following the raising of £10,000 by private loan. The Government later took over the loan.
"Back To Wilcannia Celebrations Begin On Sunday"
2013 Copyright Ruzsicska
Map of Township, date unknown

Some Notes on Wilcannia by J.E.P. Bushby 1866 - 1875, editor of the "Hillston Spectator" and released in 1976 by the Central Darling Shire Council

Map of Murray-Darling River Boat System