Passing Through Wilcannia

We were only passing through the small town of Wilcannia on our way from Cobar to White Cliffs. And that’s the problem. Too many people just pass through this town.

Wilcannia sits on the banks of the Darling river. It is an example of a once prosperous town that has gone into decline, with no sign of how and when it will recover. But the town definitely leaves a lasting impression.

A once thriving river port

Once Prosperous

It is easy to see that this was a once prosperous town. The buildings tell you that. This was a thriving river trade port town…..”Was” being the operative word. Wilcannia used to be known as the the “Queen City of the West” back in the early 1900s when the river trade transported goods down the Darling river, on to the Murray river and then to Adelaide. When the railways and roads arrived it was all over for the river boat transport industry and along with it the towns that had sprung up along the river routes also began to shrink.

Wilcannia Club Hotel
Typical sign of decay in towns like this
The original river crossing

There is a motel a petrol station – sadly mainly used by passing tourist to fill up and move on. A small supermarket seems to be the only place to buy anything – certainly the only shop that was open. There is also the Wilcannia golf club where you can get a cold beer and do all the usual gambling activities that seem to take over these places. But it is certainly not family friendly. We went in and were forced to sit in a crummy, dank, back room because Dani is underaged. Hardly the sort of place to entice families of tourists is it?

Even if you think your vehicle can make it, there are fines for travelling on closed dirt roads

Wilcannia Hospital

Basically that’s it. There was a nice looking café-cum-art gallery (see photos) but it was closed and there was no sign as to when it may be open. There is the Hotel on the main road junction but again not much sign of life.

Open or closed? Hard to tell in these towns.

The Sad State of Wilcannia…

…and other similar towns. It is hard to see what can be done to restore any kind of prosperity to places like this. Tourism would seem to be the only answer. But as we have seen in other remote or outback towns, there is nothing there to keep tourists entertained. No bars, cafes or restaurants on the main streets. Of course those types of business need tourists in order to thrive. It’s a classic chicken and egg situation…

The old bridge crossing
The Darling river was a trickle of the 11 metre depths it can reach (according to the water markers).
Police Station
Ever heard of “dinner Ale” (DA)? I had never heard that expression
Wilcannia Police station

I am not sure what the answer is, But I do know what the answer is NOT:
There is a lot of money being wasted by supposedly well intentioned groups. Any money thrown (away) at the projects these kind of groups operate would be much better spent setting up sustainable businesses that will attract tourists and keep them in the town. Invest in things that will make people want to spend time in the area rather than just passing through. The large local Aboriginal population needs real direction not political activism. I have a few ideas if anyone wants to discuss it.

Hope for the future?

On a more optimistic note however there is a fairly newly developed camp site on the other side of the bridge. There was also the time of year. Summer, especially school summer holidays, does not seem to be the peak time for visitors in this part of the world. Maybe it is a little more bustling at other times of the year? I would like to find out…

Wilcannia Post Office
Sadly not a pub. Or anything else that I could make out. I wonder why?
Wilcannia Court House
The Old River Front Warehouse

Despite the town centre being a little run down, the lure of the outback is all around. The huge Paroo-Darling National Park lies to the north and east – although too far out to make a real difference to the town’s decline. Without doubt the one thing you notice in Wilcannia is the number of well preserved (or recently renovated) old buildings. It would make a great film set with some wonderful examples of colonial architecture. It is quite an attractive town and could easily become a bit of a tourist hotspot.

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