Back in September 2020 when Dani and his old dad took the Outback Explorer train to Broken Hill we never got to see the last stop before arriving. By the time the train reached Menindee the sun had gone down and we saw nothing of that area. This time we were going to put that right.
Menindee – A Little History
The small town of Menindee sits on the Darling river about 110km south east of Broken Hill. It was the first town to be settled on the Darling river. The area also has several large lakes (some of which are dry) which when full form a huge oasis said to be 3.5 times the water of Sydney harbour .
The first Europeans arrived in 1835 when explorers were trying to plot the course of the Darling to its junction with the Murray river. By the mid 1840s large plots of land in the area were taken as pastoral land and farming began. The are then went through some troubled times with the local indigenous Barkindji people and the early settlers in regular conflict.
In 1859 a steam boat made a four day journey up the Darling from the Murray river. This proved that river trade was possible for Menindee and what was really just a stopover camp for explorers began to grow. In 1861 it was noted that the settlement had the following buildings: a store, a hut used by the police and (the essential) public house. The population at that time was recorded as “about fifteen” which included women and children.
It never ceases to amaze me how and why anyone would want to go to such a new and remote place back then. There were no roads or recognisable tracks and the railway was not built until 1927. Apart from the conflict with the original locals the sheer remoteness and harsh environment that these people had to contend with is amazing. The fact that those early settlers (as in many parts of the country) managed to overcome the harsh conditions deserves a lot of respect.
In 1862 the (then) colonial government made it a “town” and ordered plots of land to be put up for sale. The town grew slowly from that point. By 1878 the town was recorded as having a public hospital, Catholic church, two good stores, a post and telegraph office, Court house, Police station with associated buildings and about twenty cottages. It also had four public-houses! Yes that’s right. Four pubs!
The town and the sheep farming continued to grow – thanks to the water supply from the Darling river – until the railway arrived in 1927 with the line from Sydney to Broken Hill crossing the Darling at Menindee. The line eventually continued across the continent. From being a settlement with only a river to link it to other small settlements, it was soon possible to reach Sydney and Perth by train from Menindee.
Not only did we get to see the last stop of our train journey last year but we managed to catch a freight train stopping at Menindee station. These things are huge with so many carriages it needs several locomotives to pull the thing.
The town while still small seems to be doing fine. There are still a couple of pubs and pretty much everything else a small town needs. The town is also the gateway to the Kinchega National Park. The river, the lakes and the National Park all combine to attract tourists. There are several caravan and camping grounds in the area but the scale of it all means that tourists can easily be lost in the peace and tranquillity of it all.
Dost Mahomet’s grave was just outside town. He was one of a handful of camel drivers brought over from Afghanistan especially for those long expeditions by the early European explorers. He ended up staying in Menindee and working in a bakery.
The combined museum and tourist information office was worth a visit. Considering this is an outback farming community I was amazed to see some early forms of computer in the museum. The likes of which I had never seen.
This device was manufactured from as early as 1887 up to the mid 1970s and was the first commercially successful mechanical calculator.
While solitude may be easy to find, some parts of the lakes are very popular with tourists and day visitors from the relatively nearby Broken Hill. Certain lake shorelines can get quite busy with people bringing their boats, jet-skis and BBQs with them. For a relatively large working town like Broken Hill, almost 400km from the sea, the Menindee lakes are a great playground for several water sports.
Kinchega National Park
Crossing the Darling river to the south west of the town brings you into the Kinchega National Park. The meandering Darling river forms the eastern border of the park which covers over 44,000 hectares to the west of Menindee. As soon as you enter the park the roads turn to dirt roads but are easy enough to drive over when it is not raining.
With one of the lakes in the park called Emu Lake you would expect to see some of those flightless birds and sure enough you don’t have to wait long to spot them. We were lucky enough to see plenty.
There are several options for stop-overs in the Kinchega National Park. You can pitch your tent on the banks of the Darling River or even stay in the Kinchega Shearers’ Quarters.
A History of Sheep…
They say that no visit to Kinchega National Park is complete without exploring the beautiful, old buildings of Kinchega Station. The historic Kinchega Woolshed offers a glimpse into Australian pastoral history where in its heyday six million sheep were sheared. Now, a sheep shearing shed may not sound like much at first (certainly not to me initially) but believe me, it is impressive. And I am not easily impressed. The size, the history and the remoteness of this operation will definitely surprise you. At the height of its operations this place would have been amazing hive of activity with so many sheep being sheared.
Actually, I think this one deserves a separate post… Later…