Major Sir Thomas Mitchell (he of the cockatoo fame) had explored the Willcannia region in 1835 and had named Mount Murchison Station. Mitchell was known as a quick tempered individual who is reputed to be the last person in Australia to challenge and engage in a duel with pistols. His aggressive nature may have lead to conflicts with the indigenous people of the lands he passed through. Two aboriginals were killed by his party south of Wilcannia although Mitchell's records indicate his expeditions were attacked many times.
Pastoralists from Victoria were the first settlers to Wilcannia with some pioneers establishing 'runs' along the Darling River prior to 1850. A large contingent arrived by steamship in 1859 and set about entrenching themselves at the site of a woolshed and hut on Mount Murchison. This was to become the townsite of Wilcannia.
Lying on the northern bank of the Darling River in north west New South Wales the settlement quickly became a major river port. In 1880 thirteen hotels supplied 3000 residents while 440 steamers berthed at the port that year. Wool and produce weighing in excess of 26,500 tons was sent back down the Darling in 1887 alone.
Wilcannia was an important supply depot for the opal fields and gold mining towns further north. It prospered until the 1920's when road transport and the railway lines finally put an end to the paddle steamer trade.
The steamer era left Wilcannia with a legacy of fine old architecture built from sandstone which was sourced from local quarries. Eighteen structures make up a Heritage Walk around the town precinct taking you past grand buildings such as the Post Office, Anthenaem Library, London Bank Building and the old Courthouse.
The Barkindji Aboriginal people inhabited the Wilcannia region for 45,000 years prior to European settlement. There was initial resistance from the Barkindji as pastoralists began taking up lands around the Darling River. Today Wilcannia has a population of around 800 people with a large proportion descended from the ancient Barkindji people
Wilcannia hasn't been without it's problems during it's history. From early conflicts between the Barkindji and settlers to rabbit plagues, droughts, social issues revolving around alcohol and more recently the closure of the only supermarket in town. It is however an interesting place and well worth spending some time to investigate.
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