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Pooncarie, New South Wales

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.

25 Mar 21 · 8 mins read

Pooncarie

Pooncarie is a delightful village in south-western New South Wales, Australia, sloping on the eastern banks of the Darling River along the route from Wentworth to Menindee and Broken Hill. Known locally as ‘The Port’, during the 19th century it was a thriving port town frequented by paddle steamers transporting wool downstream along the Darling to South Australia. Today it remains as an outback oasis situated amongst semi-arid outback surroundings rich in eucalypt woodlands. As the closest upstream town to the magnificent Mungo National Park, and sitting along the Darling River Run touring route, it makes for an ideal stopover for travellers to stretch their legs, grab a bite to eat, and share a yarn with friendly locals.

Odyssey offers easy, convenient and relaxed escorted small group tours to the many regions of New South Wales. There are important authentic Aboriginal sites, historic colonial towns, World Heritage National Parks, large multi-cultural cities and spectacular scenery, all waiting to be explored on one of Odyssey’s small group tours of New South Wales designed for the senior traveller, led by like minded people. This article explores the history and attractions of Pooncarie 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, 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 like minded people who are curious about Outback Australia.

Odyssey visits Pooncarie during our Darling River Run small group tour en route to the Willandra lakes regions and Mungo National Park as well other tours such as the very popular Far West New south Wales small group tour and others. This small group adventure tour travels along the Darling, through amazing landscape settings that have shaped the country of New South Wales. We visit Aboriginal sites of importance and 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. Led by a tour guide chosen for their local knowledge, this guided tour journey moves in small groups limited to 14 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers.

The Darling river in the far west of New South Wales. The third longest river in Australia.

Pooncarie’s History & Attractions

Pooncarie was once known simply as ‘The Port’. Situated on the eastern side of the Darling River between Wentworth and Menindee it was the perfect staging place for paddle-steamers. It also had the advantage of its wharf facilities being unaffected by flooding. Built on a series of sand hills, Pooncarie had a natural two-tier wharf, accommodating steamers when the Darling River was high or low. It forms part of the trading route up river to Menindee, Wilcannia and to Bourke in the New South Wales. Providing for the passage of wool and so much more in the colonial settlement of Australia. Pooncarie on the Darling river is part of the Australian river network.

The original small settlement of graziers and pastoralists called Pooncaree grew into a village, and was gazetted “Pooncaira” in 1863, believed to be a local Barkindji word meaning “large sandhill”. Soon it possessed a post office, police station, school, two hotels and was open for business. The name became Pooncarie at some stage, which is probably why some locals still just call it The Port.

In 1860 the Burke and Wills expedition made the little settlement their home for two weeks after reaching the Darling River near Tarcoola. Their 30th campsite since leaving Melbourne is well defined by the Pooncarie street names – Burke St, Wills St and Tarcoola St forming a ring facing the Darling River, right by Bilbarka Park.

Edward Jukes Grieg, Arrival of Burke and Wills at Flinders River, 1862.

When river freighting operations ceased, so did Pooncarie’s main raison d’être, and it reverted to being a peaceful village, except for one day each year in October, when the Pooncarie Cup is held at the racecourse, and attracts thousands of race lovers to the town.

A remarkable reminder of the river boat era still exists in Pooncarie: a heritage-listed paddle steamer shipwreck, the PS Rodney. Rodney was said to be one of the finest and most powerful steamers on the river. Not only does Rodney evoke a bygone epoch – the hustle and bustle of river ports, the patient navigation of twisting waterways, the stopping to collect fuel for the continuously wood-chomping boilers – but also the industrial and political background of the late 19th century.

The great struggle between maritime employers and employees and their respective organisations was becoming visibly and audibly dynamic by 1890. On one side was the Steamship Owners’ Association of Victoria and on the other the Mercantile Marine Officers’ Association. In July 1890 the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand had conceded a pay rise of one pound, following arbitration. Many of the owners had privately conceded that an increase in pay was justified and overdue.

However, the Victorian ship owners were less conciliatory, and in August the Marine Officers’ Association directed its members to give 24 hours’ notice to their employers. The strike quickly spread to seamen, wharf labourers, then gas stockers. Coal miners from Newcastle, Broken Hill and even New Zealand were locked out after refusing to dig coal for non-union operated vessels.

By September 1890, 28,500 workers were on strike. Even the pastoral industry was threatened by a secondary boycott of non-union shorn wool – the Queensland Shearers Union had already taken successful action the previous year. The campaign to break union solidarity was engineered by stevedore Alfred Lamb, a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, owner of one of the four main wool exporting firms, and vice president of the NSW Employers’ Union. He attended meetings of the Pastoralists Union of NSW, the Pastoralists Union of Victoria, organised a memorandum of understanding and agreements among wool shippers, shipping agents and shipowners. The battle lines were drawn.

During the strike military units were extensively used in New South Wales and Victoria. Armed troops were deployed to support the police in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and a number of other ports around Australia, as violence escalated against non-union labour and against the property of companies operating shipping, the mines, the wharves and ports.

The strike was defeated when the Marine Officers returned to work on the employers’ terms in November 1890, with Illawarra coal miners being the last workers to return to work in January 1891. A shortage of money to sustain the strike and a plentiful supply of strikebreakers eventually defeated the strikers. Wage cuts were introduced for everyone in the maritime industry, with wage cuts of up to 30 per cent. The defeat of the 1890 maritime strike, and the 1891 and 1894 Australian shearers’ strikes, set the Australian labour movement on a formal political trajectory.

In August 1894 PS Rodney was steaming upriver, transporting 45 non-union labourers to work in the wool sheds at Tolarno Station. When the steamer reached a woodpile two miles above Moorara Station up to 150 striking shearers commandeered the steamer and surrounds. Having moved the passengers and crew to the riverbank, bags of chaff in the fore and aft holds were torn apart, soaked in kerosene and set alight.

The Rodney was soon ablaze from end to end and let go down the river. Eventually the vessel burnt almost to the water line and was destroyed. The incident was described in the press as “the very worst outrage that has yet been perpetuated by shearers in these colonies”. An award was offered for the capture of those involved in the destruction of the Rodney, but no one was ever convicted.

Outside Pooncarie, a bit over an hour’s drive east, lies the magnificent World Heritage Mungo National Park, where geological and archaeological history reach back 50,000 years.

Mungo National Park
Mungo National Park, New South Wales.

Wentworth Small Group Tours New South Wales

Odyssey Traveller visits Walgett as part of our Darling River Run small group tour. This 14 day small group tour begins and ends in Sydney, travelling 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.

The Darling is referred typically as part of The Murray-Darling Basin traversing much of outback NSW. This basin is unique and contains much of importance in Australia’s Aboriginal and European heritage, from the earliest days of Aboriginal life, to the European exploration and then on to the present day. It could be considered to be part of the essence of Australia – the cultural and historical heritage of the people, the riverboat trade, station life and the life of the towns is revealed in so many places via the river system.

Travellers with an interest in touring New South Wales may want to check out some of our other tours including:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Small group tour to the Southern Highlands and Canberra. This tour takes you out of Sydney and 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 Western New South Wales. 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.
  • 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:

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 the Darling River.

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