132. The Wild West – Wilcannia 

We left our friends’ property at Euabalong West near Lake Condobolin with regret, it had been a lovely warm haven during some overcast chilly weather. We discovered a lovely old Dodge in one of the farm sheds, and Dave photographed the local birdlife.

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Rain is always welcome … although we discovered right in the middle of the puddle, more or less, was the best place for WiFi reception! Another good place was down the driveway.

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Saltbush – the farmer’s friend.IMG_8871

A couple of hours’ driving through light rain and past very green verges saw us in Cobar, THE gateway to the West. We bailed up in the Cobar Caravan Park, a very tidy well-laid out place with excellent facilities. As the weather sounded better at Broken Hill we decided to head straight off in the morning.

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It’s 261 km from Cobar to Wilcannia. I couldn’t wait. Wilcannia was the birthplace of my grandfather Dick d’Archy, whose father Frank ran “Cuthowarra” station for some years in the 1880s.

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Wilcannia was once an important port on the Darling – Murray River system. In 1859 Captain Francis Cadell and his steamer the Albury arrived, effectively beginning the paddle steam trade on the Darling. The system flourished for over 70 years.  River ports established included Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Tilba, Wilcannia, Menindee, Pooncarrie and Wentworth. The importance of the river for transport declined n the 1920s as new forms of transport emerged.

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The Darling River system itself is one of the largest in Australia – or was. it covers over one million square kilometres (14% of Australia) from its source in Queensland to its mouth south east of Adelaide. It is 3,370 km long, and was once an integral part of the lives of many Aboriginal people and continues to hold great significance to them.

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In recent years the river has become a shadow of its former self, due in part to multiple damming and water extraction by greedy cotton farmers in the north. Not to get into politics here, but the Government certainly has much to answer for. The beautiful Menindee Lakes south of Wilcannia are now mostly dry.

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These indicators show high the river once was – 0ver 11 metres.

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We heard there is to be a protest in the form of a (partial?) blockage of the bridge at Wilcannia on the 16-19 June. Sadly we won’t be there then, I would have liked to have supported the organisers. Odd of me perhaps as “Cuthowarra’” was some distance away from the river ….. but still, Frank d’Archy would have been dependent on the river for supplies and for shipping his wool to market.

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The town itself is now a shadow of its former self, but there are signs that it is reviving. Most of the graceful old buildings have been restored.

Granddad d’Archy would have collected his mail here…..

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…..  and others such as the Old Fuel Store Cafe recently received Heritage grants to help with restoration. We had coffee at the cafe on our way back from Broken Hill and I can attest to the quality of the coffee/chai and in particular the cold bread and butter pudding with cream which was served as a “cake” – very light with just the right amount of sugar and sultanas. Dave was happy with his Hummingbird cake too. Recent Heritage funding has greatly improved the streetscape outside the Cafe and around the Courthouse area.

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We filled up with diesel at the BP station off the main highway, an odd location perhaps but it is next to the remains of a river wharf. About six dogs guard the pumps at night. They were very friendly while the proprietor was around but I would not like to go near the place at night!

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On our return from Broken Hill we stopped in Wilcannia again and noticed the old Athenaeum (Library) and Museum building was open. Oh joy!

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But on enquiry we discovered the Museum had been closed and the building taken over by other organisations. We were directed to the nearby Council Chambers (another gorgeous old building, formerly a Bank) but the helpful clerk told us the Museum’s contents are now in a shipping container, “and probably full of termites”.

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The old hospital also received a visit. Established in 1879, I doubt Grandfather and his two younger siblings would have been born there, it would have been a full day’s journey from “Cuthowarra” in a  buggy.

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The old church of St. James ….

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An interesting carved stone in a park…

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I did not want to leave….. it is unlikely I will ever go that way again. Am I being maudlin dwelling on the past? I think not, I just want to immerse myself in some family history. I will be writing up about Wilcannia and its place in the family history at more length in my other blog, The d’Archy Chronicles.

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