When you spend a few minutes taking in the historic buildings around Wilcannia you can quickly imagine the rich and vibrant history of this town. Once known as the ‘Queen City of the West’, Wilcannia was one of the busiest inland ports and third largest port in Australia. During the 1880s boom years, sandstone was quarried to create the beautiful buildings that today remain as a reminder of that prosperous era.
Australia has been inhabited by the aboriginal people for some 40,000 years. Lake Mungo to the south of Wilcannia and Mootwingi to the north-west give evidence of their long occupation. Because of this, the Aboriginal people have a unique place in our Australian society. The Central Darling area around Wilcannia was held by the Barkindji tribe, and many of the Aboriginal people living in Wilcannia today belong to that tribe. In 1835, Major Thomas Mitchell followed the Bogan and Darling rivers down to Menindee, during which trip he named Mt Murchison (later to become Wilcannia) on the Darling. Settlement along the river commenced prior to 1850, but it was 1855 before the Central Darling runs were consolidated.
Captain Francis Cadell’s steamer ‘Albury’ entered the Darling at Wentworth on 27 January 1859 and reached Mt Murchison in eight days. The township of Wilcannia was notified on 26 June 1866. In 1880 it had a population of 3000 with 13 hotels and was known as ‘the Queen City of the West’. Wilcannia became one of the major ports of the Murray Darling system. The paddle steamer trade flourished for 70 years. At the port of Wilcannia in 1887, 218 steamers and their barges unloaded stores weighing 36,170 tons, and 222 loaded wool and other produce weighing 26,552 tons.
In 1890, there were 90 steamers plying the Darling and at one time there were 30 steamers loading or unloading at Wilcannia. Eventually rail and road transport killed the river boats and Wilcannia lost much of its former glory. However, many fine buildings from its early days remain in good condition, making Wilcannia one of the best preserved historic towns in Australia.
There are several fine traditional craftsmen and your visit may be an opportunity to purchase some of their arts and crafts. Wander around town and take in the magnificent sandstone buildings, centre lift bridge and old wharf.