This article for small group tours senior couples and solo travellers exploring and learning about Southern New South Wales will often pass through Balranald, a rural town at the end of the Hay plain. This town, close to Mungo, is a curiosity with a history to Murray Darling basin and Burke and Wills is worth exploring on the West New South Wales tour and others.
27 Mar 21 · 9 mins read
The town of Balranald is located in the Riverina district of New South Wales, Australia, situated on the Murumbidgee River, near its junction with the Murray River. Once the end of the line, Balranald is now a place to stop over along the Sturt Highway between Sydney and Adelaide. It is known as the Gateway to Mungo National Park and is also close to the new Yanga National Park only 10km away. As the oldest settlement on the Lower Murrumbidgee River, records date back well before 1850. First settled in the 1840s, it grew to prominence and prosperity during the river-boat days a service port for the wool industry; and today it is surrounded by grain, sheep, cattle and viticulture industries.
This article explores the history and attractions of Balranald to assist Odyssey Traveller’s small group tours New South Wales. An Odyssey small group tour of NSW seeks to go into outback NSW beyond the pristine beaches and major tourist attractions often listed as places to visit in NSW, such the Hunter Valley, Coffs harbour, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Byron bay or Bondi Beach. These are part of a portfolio of Australian Outback tours offered by Odyssey for likeminded people who are curious about Outback Australia.
We enjoy a day tour of Balranald during two of our small group tours New South Wales. On our guided tour of Western New South Wales we visit the town after two days exploring nearby Mungo National Park. This small group adventure lasts 14 days as we journey from Dubbo to Dubbo, around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura.
We also visit Balranald during our small group tour of World Heritage sites and more in the Southern States. The itinerary over the 15 days is Adelaide to Adelaide, heading south east initially across Southern Australia to Victoria and Port Fairy. The group then continues up through central Western Victoria to Hamilton and then Naracoote and on into the lower part of the Murray Darling basin in Mildura, to Broken Hill and then back into South Australia to Adelaide via Burns.
Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, both tours of Balranald move in small groups limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers.
Designated an “obscure and miserable township” by a Sydney Morning Herald journalist in 1858, Balranald was about to become an important livestock-ferrying point and river port. The fording point on the Lower Murrumbidgee had been noted by Thomas Mitchell in 1836, and by 1848 the settlement was named by George James MacDonald, the first commissioner for crown lands on the Lower Darling District, after Balranald House, his birthplace on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
This area of great biodiversity with its network of five rivers, wetlands, extensive River Red Gum forest, abundant species of flora and fauna – was first enjoyed by the Muthi Muthi or Madi Madi people. The Murrumbidgee’s Aboriginal name means “big water,” or “overflowing”. Muthi Muthi country covers the Northern Riverina, reaches into far west NSW, and together with the Paakantji and Ngiyampaa (Ngemba) its people share custodial rights for Lake Mungo (also within the Balranald Shire).
In the early days of European settlement Balranald had languished when the Victorian gold-rushes had diverted traffic and trade along the stock-route across the One-Tree Plain between Booligal and Hay, formerly known as Lang’s Crossing, up-river of the Murrumbidgee-Lachlan junction. Then in 1859 Cobb & Co started a regular service to the town and the first punt was established.
That punt was used to good effect in 1860 when Balranald witnessed the twentieth campsite of the Burke and Wills expedition after it crossed the Murrumbidgee on its epic way from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. An axle from one of the Burke and Wills wagon’s is in the local museum.
Their progress having already been impeded by wagon breakdowns – not to mention the 20 tonnes of equipment – the explorers used the opportunity to shed some of their supplies, including 790kg of sugar, all the lime juice, some ammunition, an anvil and other spare tools. The terrain they were soon to traverse was slow-going, tussocky mallee country.
The Cobb and Co service and the river port business for the wool industry during the river-boat days brought prosperity, which can be seen in the town’s historic buildings like the little school-house, the former bank, the old A. Malcolm & Son building which now houses a delightful Museum at the Balranald Discovery Centre. One of the Old Gaol’s inmates was Ronald Ryan, the last man to hang in Australia in 1967. The Homebush Hotel on the Ivanhoe Road 27km north of Balranald was inaugurated in 1878 and is the last remaining Cobb & Co stop operating today.
Another historical site to visit is in the Church of England section of the Balranald Cemetery. It is the grave of Josiah Viles, who exercised an ancient profession, albeit in an idiosyncratic fashion. He was the town crier, who made sure he was heeded by firing a rifle when he needed to make an important announcement. His death in 1925 was much lamented.
The arrival of the railway in 1926 spelled the end of the town’s role as a river port, but Balranald is now surrounded by grain, sheep, cattle and viticulture industries. Since Balranald’s first squatter, George Hobler, started in 1846 a pastoral station called Pakee – an Aboriginal word meaning “wake up dreamtime” – the region’s diversity has become increasingly recognised. Other agricultural enterprises include both dryland and irrigated cereal crops, cotton and horticulture. The Balranald vineyard was planted in the 1980s on the old racecourse, and nearby seedless grapes and rockmelons are produced for export. The area’s white soil contains gypsum, a useful mineral for agriculture and industry. The Shire also boasts the largest pistachio nut farm in Australia.
Visitors to Balranald are invited to explore all aspects of the town and its region at the splendid Discovery Centre with its wonderful Interpretive Pavilion. As well as the Heritage Trail, there is a moving Military Commemorative Trail, and the amusing Frog Sculpture Trail pinpointing 18 frogs around town, which represent the endangered Southern Bell Frog or Growling Grass Frog. A swing bridge over the Murrumbidgee leads to a pleasant riverside nature walk, and aviation enthusiasts can inspect a replica of Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross plane. Sir Charles landed in Balranald for a short visit on 11 November 1933.
Sir Charles would have enjoyed the vista of Balranald’s five regional rivers: the Murrumbidgee, Murray, Lachlan, Wakool and Edward. The Lachlan River rises in the central highland 13km east of Gunning and flows into the Great Cumbungi Swamp near Oxley, west of Balranald. The Great Cumbungi Swamp is approximately 500 sq kms of wetland and floodplain for the Lachlan that joins the Murrumbidgee River to the south. By the time the Lachlan reaches Oxley it is already part of a delta that has seen off a number of branches, including Willandra Creek, that originally filled the series of lakes now part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area with Mungo National Park as its centrepiece, during the last ice age.
While Lake Mungo is a relic of life in Australia 30-50,000 years ago and became arid about 16,000 years ago, Yanga National Park, located just to the west of Balranald, is one of the state’s newest national parks. It is one of the most significant wetland habitats for waterbirds in eastern Australia and has supported some of the largest waterbird breeding colonies in Australia, and is home to the State’s largest known population of the endangered southern bell frog.
The Yanga NP includes the Yanga Homestead which was built around 1870 out of Murray pine. Yanga was one of the Riverina’s most productive pastoral stations. The woolshed was built in the early 1900s and, in its heyday, housed 3,000 sheep which were being shorn by up to 40 shearers, using blades not machines, at any one time. The homestead offers superb views over Yanga Lake which is rich in birdlife. The Yanga Shearing Shed provides an excellent introduction to 19th and 20th century shearing. The first telephone to be used in Australia was installed at Yanga station, to allow communications between the homestead and the shearers’ quarters. The installation was carried out by James Cromyn under directions forwarded from England by his uncle Alexander Graham Bell, an early developer of the telephone.
Yanga National Park lies within Lowbidgee, a very important wetland in the Murray Darling Basin, which includes the second largest River Red Gum forest in Australia. More than 60 species of waterbirds have been recorded in this area. The Lowbidgee Floodplain is located between Balranald and Hay and is part of the traditional lands of the Nari Nari as well as the Muthi Muthi. The area contains important Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, such as mounds, scar trees, ancestral burials and stone tools.
Finally, a few kilometres south of Balranald on the Adelaide road is one of the largest Solar farms in the Southern Hemisphere. There is a not a lot to see from the ground, but uphigh the scale becomes apparent.
Balranald Small Group Tours New South Wales
Odyssey Traveller visits Balranald as part of multiple tours including:
- Escorted small group tour of Western New South Wale Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, we move in small groups of limited to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers. We travel for 14 days from Dubbo around the Southern edges of the Murray Darling basin and up to the upper southern part of this complex river basin north of Mildura, before heading back East towards Dubbo via Griffith.Gain an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and features of the Murray Darling Basin through some spectacular scenery. The program skirts around the edges of the “Aussie Outback”, but is not an outback adventure for the traveller. Whilst the Murray-Darling begins in Queensland, by the time the river system reaches New South Wales it represents one the most complex river systems in Australia against which modern agriculture has placed substantial stress. We see the historic and contemporary evidence of this in the lakes around Menindee. and the many landscape changes including the Mallee, observing and learning about the river woodland galleries, arid lands, saltbush plains, agriculture practices; as well as the mining and railway history of Southern Australia
- Small group tour of Southern Australia, including World Heritage sites and more. Designed to make you re-think the way you see Australia, our tour focuses on the borderlands between South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Beginning in Adelaide city, our tour heads east to Port Fairy, before heading to the Budj Bim World Heritage Site, an important place of Aboriginal aquaculture. We then go on to Mildura and the mallee, touring the spectacular scenery of Mungo National Park on a day trip from Mildura, before heading to the outback city of Broken Hill. Finally, our tour takes us through South Australia‘s spectacular Flinders Ranges and to the mining town of Burra, before returning to Adelaide city.
Travellers with an interest in touring New South Wales may want to check out some of our other tours including:
- Small group tour: Broken Hill and Back. This off the beaten track small group tour enables the traveller to journeydeep into the outback NSW on a 13 day 3,200 kilometre round trip, tri state safari beginning and ending in Broken Hill , or ‘The Silver City’. It then tracks on North, just over in the Queensland border, up to Birdsville, before going deep into outback South Australia, and then heading up to Cameron Corner, corner country. Cameron corner is unique, it is the junction of the three states: New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. The tour heads south from here returning to Broken Hill.
- The Darling River Run Tour. This small group tour travels along the Darling, through amazing landscape settings that have shaped the country of New South Wales including the Mallee forests in Malle country. We visit Aboriginal sites of importance, stay at station homesteads, and regional historic hotels, meeting the people and encountering the wildlife of the Murray Darling Basin and learning of the riverboat history of the rivers.
- Small group tour to the Southern Highlands and Canberra. This tour takes you out of Sydneyand away from the beach culture to journey to some important cultural and natural attractions in the beautiful Southern highlands of regional New South Wales including historic Berrima, Kangaroo Valley, Bowral and the Blue Mountains.
- Small group tour of North East New South Wales. This 16 day tour stops at some of the memorable and iconic destinations and places to visit in New South Wales, completing the loop from our start and end destination, Dubbo. We explore the local culture in New England, the North Coastand the Orana regions of New South Wales, including historic towns of Armidale, Tenterfield, Yamba and Mudgee and sections of the mid North coast as well as inland areas. Travelers also time to explore with a local guide the National trust houses including the Saumarez Homestead and the Dundullimal Homestead and properties of Morpeth, Mudgee Rylstone and Gulgong which is home to around 130 National Trust-listed buildings.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
- Broken Hill
- Uncovering the Ancient History of Aboriginal Australia
- The Australian Outback: A Definitive Guide
- The Kimberley: A Definitive Guide
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Australia:
- Finding Mungo Man: the moment Australia’s story suddenly changed
- A 42,000-Year-Old Man Finally Goes Home
- Fish traps and stone houses: New archaeological insights into Gunditjmara use of the Budj Bim lava flow of southwest Victoria over the past 7000 years
- ‘A big jump’: People might have lived in Australia twice as long as we thought
- Mildura, Victoria
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From A$10,250 AUDView Tour
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Small group tour of New South Wales, Queensland & South Australia deserts, from Broken Hill. Learn about the history of the people who explored the deserts, from indigenous communities to Europeans, as well as Burke and Wills, visit White Cliffs, Birdsville, Marree. Explore the outback by motorbike limited to 8 riders.
From A$7,350 AUDView Tour
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From A$3,750 AUDView Tour
14 daysAug, Oct, Apr, May, Sep
The Darling River Run small group tour
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From A$9,750 AUDView Tour
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From A$3,995 AUDView Tour
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Small group tour for senior couples and solo travellers touring Australia. Travelling through the outback and visiting many of the famous sights as well as off the beaten track locations. Learn about the history of the people who explored the deserts, from indigenous communities to Europeans, as well as Burke and Wills, visit White Cliffs, Marree and far north Kakadu and the Kimberley.
From A$38,910 AUDView Tour
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Article for mature and senior couples and solo travellers exploring New South Wales on a small group tour with like minded people. Pooncarie is close to Mungo National park and Balranald. Situated on the Darling river there is an Aboriginal river history through kinship and songlines and colonial settlement to be appreciated.
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