Hungerford may be one of the few towns in Australia that requires you open a gate to cross the border. The towns is bridged by the New South Wales and Queensland border and the gate is part of the famous Rabbit Proof Fence - now the Dingo Fence.
Hungerford is commonly considered to be a Queensland town, and why not, the Royal Mail Hotel sits on the Queensland side as does the majority of the town. Consult a map or Google Earth and it's obvious that Hungerford plainly rests on the northern side of the border. However the town is officially part of the Bourke Shire and falls within the jurisdiction of New South Wales.
The Royal Mail Hotel is a classic outback pub. Built in 1873 the building is of timber and corrugated iron construction and lies on the red dirt plain which is broken by a short, lonely strip of bitumen. The main street, if you could call it that, is in reality the Dowling Track, once an important stock route and now an isolated back road that ties tiny settlements like Hungerford to the outside world.
The town was once a customs juncture, extracting a toll for stock being driven from one state to another. Cobb & Co stages used to stop here and the Royal Mail Hotel was a popular overnighter with it's comfortable rooms and outback ambience.
Hungerford was named after Thomas Hungerford, a pastoralist and politician who had been a Captain in the South Cork Militia in Ireland and had used the area as a camp. The Paroo River runs close and can either be dry as a bone or completely flooded.
Hungerford's great claim to fame is the attention the town received from bush poet Henry Lawson in 'While The Billy Boils'. Lawson made the 200km walk from Bourke to investigate the place. Apparently the town made no great impression upon him and he promptly walked back.
Lawson writes of Hungerford (1896) -
"Hungerford consists of two houses and a humpy in New South Wales, and five houses in Queensland…The country looks as though a great ash-heap had been spread out there, and mulga scrub and firewood planted—and neglected. The country looks just as bad for a hundred miles round Hungerford, and beyond that it gets worse—a blasted, barren wilderness that doesn’t even howl. If it howled it would be a relief.
We saw one of the storekeepers give a dead-beat swagman five shillings’ worth of rations to take him on into Queensland. The storekeepers often do this, and put it down on the loss side of their books. I hope the recording angel listens, and puts it down on the right side of his book.
We camped on the Queensland side of the fence, and after tea had a yarn with an old man who was minding a mixed flock of goats and sheep; and we asked him whether he thought Queensland was better than New South Wales, or the other way about.
He scratched the back of his head, and thought a while, and hesitated like a stranger who is going to do you a favour at some personal inconvenience.
At last, with the bored air of a man who has gone through the same performance too often before, he stepped deliberately up to the fence and spat over it into New South Wales. After which he got leisurely through and spat back on Queensland.
“That’s what I think of the blanky colonies!” he said."
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