Will ya stop at Wilcannia?
I remember many years ago when I first went through Wilcannia, at first glance it didn’t look like much or the most inviting town. I was there as a cameraman to film some television commercials for the Central Darling Shire and Wilcannia was one of the towns chosen to talk about and I wondered why? The theme for the commercial series was ‘Why I Love Where I Live’. We interviewed Pat, a lady from the BP servo in the back blocks of the town and at that time she truly loved the area and her town.
It was hard to believe that in the late 1890’s Wilcannia had a population of about 13,000 and even had 13 pubs. A multicultural township with English, Irish and Scottish, Portuguese, Chinese, German, Afghans and the Australian born sons and daughters of early settlers and convicts. It was the 3rd largest port in NSW until a massive drought in 1902 reduced the population of Wilcannia significantly. For 364 days the river did not flow, a record that still stands.
So … many years on, I am catching up on social media and see questions asking if it’s safe to stop? First impressions of driving in probably count for a lot of the queries, the boarded up and heavily shuttered buildings would certainly have something to do with it. But sorry to say, I reckon the aboriginal population in the town would worry those with some pre-conceived assumptions and fears.
Funny how lots of social media comments are ‘I heard this’ and ‘years ago we saw that’, I wonder how many have actually experienced anything bad in recent times, that is bad compared to other places in Australia.
How do we rate ‘bad’?
If something terrible happens to me, or a family member, or a friend, I consider it bad, so I would assume most people are the same, but there’s that word ‘assume’. I was bought up never to assume and never judge a book by it’s cover, or let a minority spoil everything for the majority. Broad I know, but I reckon a good base to live by.
Well after seeing a lot of these social media posts, my wife and I decided to stop to see if there were any issues and what sort of reception we would receive.
First impressions this trip were a bit different, a great looking sports ground on our right (a dump point nearby) then into town.
Sure some of the buildings need work, but we could see that was happening. Our fuel stop at the servo on the main street was uneventful, other that the highest price for unleaded on our journey. Perhaps we should have popped around the corner to see Pat at the BP, I believe the prices are considerably lower.
After getting some supplies at the supermarket (my wife tells me it was reasonably stocked), we set off in search of some good coffee, and on Reid Street, just across the road from a lovely little park (with heaps of signage and info about the area), we found a great place to get our coffee fix … Miss Barretts. (Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 3.30pm).
Going back to the commercials I shot years ago, the lady running Miss Barretts, Julie, truly loved where she lived (and the food looked pretty good as well). In fact she painted the ‘I parked at Wilcannia’ plaque on top of this post … and yes it’s for sale.
As we downed the coffee, we chatted to other travellers about the town and all agreed that on this day, there was nothing to fear and everyone, yes everyone, was welcoming and friendly.
But is it safe to do an overnighter?
We decided to look at the council run park, the Victory Caravan Park, just over the bridge, on the Cobar side of the river. Checked in with the caretakers and spoke to some of the caravanners, once again all reckon this is a top spot, with little trouble, cheap and cheerful. Good size sites and plenty of shade, right by the river.
Further down the highway, about 2km east of the town is Warrawong on the Darling Caravan Parks and Cabins (link below). Time was against us, so no visit to Warrawong this time, but from all reports a bit more up market than the local park and another top place to stay, so we’ll make that a must next time through.
I guess life (and caravanning) is all about making the right choice, so if you feel uncomfortable at all, then by all means move on. But before you do, check out the history, the river, the parks and the people. As I said earlier, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, look deeper into the community, we hope you will be presently surprised.
Wilcannia is on the Darling River, 965 km northwest of Sydney and about 580km northeast of Adelaide.