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
ON THE BARCOO
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
BOOM IN HOTELS
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
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
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"
ROMANTIC WEST TOWN WILL BE 75 YEARS OLD
WILL BE EN FETE FOR FULL WEEK
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