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Backtrack to the Outback
The Kidman Way is a remote journey stepped in culture and heritage inspired by legendary cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman
Words and Images by: Peter Guilty

Pioneering pastoralist, cattle king and philanthropist, Sir Sidney Kidman paved a path for a legendary Australian highway. It’s been well documented that the Kidman Way is named for his inspiring vision to open-up inland Australia.

Born on May 9, 1857 near Adelaide, Sidney left home at 13 with only five shillings and a one-eyed horse that he had bought with his savings. He quickly learnt to drove stock, worked as a stockhand and a livestock trader. Soon he was making good money trading and supplying services (such as transport, and butchers shops) to new outback mining towns like Cobar, Kapunda, Burra and Broken Hill.

Saving money, Sidney bought a bullock team, opened a butcher’s shop and store at Cobar copper rush and was becoming very successful. At the age of 21, he inherited 400 pounds from his granddads estate, which he used it to buy horses and cattle. In 1886, Sidney bought Owen Springs station, and extended his holdings into NSW and QLD, buying and trading on a large scale. Before World War 1 he was a millionaire, owning (or had a large interest in) land covering around 260,000 square kilometres (100,000 square miles).

Sidney Kidman had built a vast network of connected stations stretching from both the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Fitzroy River in Western Australia, down to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, and across into New South Wales. This strategic network allowed him to fatten cattle on the remote stations to the north, bring them down the lines between stations and to markets in the south. Starting from nothing, Sidney managed to build a huge pastoral business, with over a hundred cattle stations totalling in area of more than three per cent of Australia. His cattle routes followed the great inland river systems, and hence drought proofing his empire.

During World War 1, Sidney Kidman donated wool, meat, horses, ambulances and even fighter planes to the government. He also guaranteed the jobs of employees who went to fight in the war, and assisted the widows of those who didn’t come back. Sidney was knighted in 1921, and the Adelaide suburb of Kidman Park was also named after him. He passed away on September 2, 1935.

Officially opened on May 22, 1999 the Kidman Way stretches almost 800km through outback NSW (along Kidman’s stock routes) encompassing historic towns such as Bourke, Cobar, Hillston and Darlington Point. Fully sealed, it’s a key north south touring route through the centre of NSW.

It starts at Jerilderie, in the south, and officially ends at the near-desolate town of Barringun on the NSW/ QLD border.

After leaving Jerilderie (a keystone in the Ned Kelly story), the Kidman Way heads north through the productive farming town of Coleambally, past the largest solar farm in Australia and onto Darlington Point on the Murrumbidgee River; learn about the history of the punt and bridge.

Before heading onto Griffith visit the Southern Cotton Gin at Whitton, which provides visitors with an insight into the local cotton industry and the ginning  process. Tours are available 11am weekdays during the ginning season, April-September. Girffith is a green oasis, dominated by permanent plantings of citrus, vines, prunes and more recently almonds. The regional city of Griffith is a major hub for outlying areas and services a population of 52,000. Onto Hillston you pass mainly through mainly flat land and from Goolgowi to Hillston you enter wheat and grazing country. Hillston is situated on the banks of the beautiful Lachlan River that flows all the way from Forbes and Cowra towards the Murrumbidgee. It’s just 96km from Hillston to Mt Hope although you might like to take a few diversions in this fascinating country where cherry orchards andveggie crops march over red sand hills.

The Kidman Way continues 255km through Mallee and semi-arid woodlands on to Cobar, once famous for copper. Cobar is on the cross-roads on the Barrier Highway 161km north of Mt Hope. It’s a mining and grazing area but you’ll find all the supplies you need. Bourke is just 160km further north. Bourke is situated on the banks of the Darling River, a cotton growing area. The Darling River is the longest river in Australia and there’s some good camping on its banks all the way south-west to Menindee, another popular 4WD trek in itself called the Darling River Run.

From Bourke there are many different options for the 4WD. Take the Darling River Run back south; head west towards Tibooburra to enter Corner Country; head east towards Gilgandra and the Warrumbungles or continue north along the tarred Mitchell Highway into Queensland to join up with the Matilda Highway - from Cunnamulla that passes through central Queensland right up to the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba.

The Kidman Way is an interesting drive that is packed with agricultural, European and Aboriginal culture and heritage. You can visit the scene where bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang raided the local bank in Jerilderie; enjoy the wineries and restaurants  of Griffith, and learn about the true story behind the legend of the ‘black stump’. You can discover the rich local history at the copper mining town of Cobar, and then take a side trip from Cobar to the Aboriginal heritage site at Mount Grenfell, which has more than 1300 examples of rock art.

Explore Bourke, which is often considered by city folk to be on the absolute outskirts of civilisation - as in the legendary saying “Back O’ Bourke”. And take in the Aboroginal rock art at Gundabooka National Park.

A good pub marks the beginning and end of every great Aussie Outback drive, and the Kidman Way between Jerilderie and Bourke is no exception. At Cobar you will find the spectacularly beautiful iron lace verandah of the Great Western Hotel, which they claim is the longest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Whether you’re a family with pets, seniors, caravanners, campers or backpacking your way around Australia, you’ll return with fascinating stories and experiences from your journey. The Kidman Way is rich with hotels, motels, B&Bs, farm stays, camping and well-serviced caravan parks. You’ll find every thing you need to have a wonderful journey.

THINGS TO DO…

  • Book a visit to Altina Wildlife Park, a must-see while in th region located east of Darlington Point
  • Drop a line in the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Darling Rivers, and try your skill at catching a Murray Cod
  • Explore the region’s many cellar doors while near Griffith
  • Discover the main street of Griffith is lined with boutiques (dress and shoe shops) and Italian eateries
  • Mingle with the locals at a country race meet
  • Explore the many national parks along the Kidman Way – Toorale, Murrumbidgee Valley, Cocoparra, Gundabooka, Willandra – for great walks, birdwatching and native animal spotting
  • Discover Cobar’s history and culture at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre
  • Admire the panoramic views of the town and surrounds from Fort Bourke Lookout, located just 3km from Cobar 
  • Enjoy great Aussie outback pubs via the expansive Pub Trail which also takes in the Griffith wine district, Darling River area, and mining regions like Cobar
  • Unearth the stories at the Back O’ Bourke Exhibition Centre, a great tribute to the pioneers and their enduring spirit

BACK TO NATURE

Carathool Shire sits at the gateway to the outback in western NSW. On your journey through the area you will find many and varied agricultural industries as well as the towns and villages, including Hillston, Goolgowi, and Merriwagga which are all situated on the Kidman Way, while Rankins Springs and Carrathool are a short detour from the Kidman Way. All the towns and villages offer the traveller a laid-back and restful holiday. Nature takes centre stage in the shire with numerous national parks, nature reserves, and the natural landscape that supports a diversified agricultural economy as well as the abundant birdlife and wildlife around the area. The Lachlan River meanders through Hillston, with many places along the river to stop and explore. Merriwagga is home to the ‘Black Stump’ legend and memorial to pioneer women. Goolgowi sits on the crossroads of two highways not far from Gunbar and the William Jackson VC memorial. If birdwatching is your passion, Rankins Springs is home to varied birdlife including the black cockatoo. The Murrumbidgee River is close by Carrathool offering picnic areas for a relaxing break.

FAST FACTS: HILLSTON

Best lookout : Willandra National Park.

Key local industries : Traditional wheat & sheep; cherries; potatoes; almonds; broiler chicken farms; walnuts; cotton; olives

Walking track/town walk: Desatholon Park & Swinging Bridge in Hillston.

Building/monument of interest: Red Dust & Paddymelons Gallery 

Country pub(s) to visit: Black Stump Hotel – Merriwagga (highest bar in NSW with very tall chairs); Clubhouse Hotel – Hillston (unique resin bar).

A quirky/interesting stat: In February 1957 David McKay set an Australian speed record in an Aston Martin DB3S near Carrathool. He reached speeds of 143.19 miles an hour (230.44kmph). 

While in Hillston make sure you visit: View the correspondence between Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Robert Menzies regarding a gift to Sir Winston Churchill from the people of Hillston.

Key Events: Hillston Hook Line & Fishing Festival (end of August); Hillston Show (September 28); Springs in the Springs - Rankins Springs (October 19).

More info: carrathool.nsw.gov.au

FAST FACTS: COBAR

Best lookout: Fort Bourke Hill, where you can see for miles across the land, across the town, and stand on the very edge of a working gold mine.

Key local industries: Mining and pastoralism have been carried on for 150 years.

Walking track/town walk: The Heritage Walk takes in sites of interest, including beautiful historic buildings. The Federation Walking Track across the common has interpretation signs that give details of the history, and the plant and bird life. It can finish or start at the Newey, an old water reservoir that is now a birdwatching and recreation area.

Building/monument of interest: The Great Cobar Heritage Centre is a magnificent building that was originally the administration offices of the Great Cobar mine. It is a symbol of much of Cobar’s mining and social history. Outside the centre is the Stele, a monument to the discoverers of copper.

Country pub(s) to visit: The surrounding villages of Nymagee and Mt Hope each have a pub with oodles of history. Both were mining towns and now are welcome stop-overs for travellers. Further afield, Louth and Tilpa both have friendly pubs with locals who will tell you tall tales and true stories.

Key Events: Picnic races are held in May; and in December there is a Christmas street parade.

More info: visit cobarshire.com.au

FAST FACTS: DARLINGTON POINT

Walking track/town walk: Goanna walking track – starts at the Fig Tree Park, beside the Murrumbidgee River. Building/monument of interest: Located west of the Kidman Way on the Sturt Highway is the Tubbo Station Woolshed. Tubbo Station still stands as one of the richest and largest grazing and sheep properties in the Riverina. It was first established during the mid-1800s by a Scottish squatter John Peter, who managed successfully almost 20 runs, or over 740,000 acres, throughout this region by 1866.

Country pub(s) to visit: Punt Hotel.

While in Darlington Point make sure you visit: Book a tour at Altina Wildlife Park.

Key Events: Riverina Classic catch and release fishing competition in February; and Darlington Point Spring

Fair in September.

POWER OF ONE

Griffith, the agricultural powerhouse of the Riverina, is a cosmopolitan city with plenty of appeal. Mid-week the main street is buzzing with colour and activity, people shopping, lunching or grabbing coffee with friends.

While in the land of food production stop at the Sunday Rotary Market to meet the makers and stock up on fresh fruit and vegies, eggs, honey and crostoli. If you miss the Sunday market, look out for roadside stalls and keep some loose change handy for bags of oranges, pecans and asparagus, or stop by Dodemo Smallgood and sample local salami.

FAST FACTS: GRIFFITH

Best lookout: Hermit’s Cave - great view across the irrigated agriculture to the hills of Cocoparra National Park.

Key local industries: Griffith is the foodbowl of Australia – growing 95 per cent of Australia’s prunes; one of Australia’s largest wine regions; almonds; chickens; and the country’s sweetest navels. Walking track/town walk: Centenary Sculptures – admire the granite sculptures created in 2016 as a gift to the city and follow the path along the main canal to City Park – home to the tallest climbing frame in Australia.

Building/monument of interest: View the handcrafted textile curtain at the Regional Theatre.

Country pub(s) to visit: Yenda Hotel – a lovely verandah pub in the small country town of Yenda with local Yenda beer on tap – there is also a lovely mural to admire.

A quirky/interesting stat: Sixty per cent of Griffith’s population claim Italian heritage (hence the town makes very good coffee and biscotti). While in Griffith make sure you eat: Pizza, gnocchi, cannoli and gelato. Oh, and visit a winery or two for some great cellar door bargains.

Key Events: 8-9 June – Shaheedi Tournament (Sikh Games); 23-25 August – Griffith Little Italy celebrations; 13-26 October – Griffith Spring Fest – admire orange sculptures, open gardens, long lunches, paella by the sculptures.

More info: visit griffith.com.au

 FAST FACTS: JERILDERIE

Best lookout: Luke Park - either a view of Lake Jerilderie or Billabong Creek.

Key local industries (today): Agriculture.

Walking track/town walk: Ned Kelly Raid Trail - self-guided tour of the 16 sites visited by Ned Kelly and his gang in 1879

Building/monument of interest: Jerilderie Historic Residence – Historic Home and Gardens. This old grand building has been restored to its former glory with pieces from the Queen Victoria era and beautiful garden. Tours are available by appointment, contact Roy on 0499 849 320.

Country pub(s) to visit: Royal Mail Hotel -it’s one of the sites the Kelly Gang visited.

A quirky/interesting stat: Sir John Monash, honoured military commander, attended Jerilderie public school from 1874 to 1877. It was claimed as a lad, Monash met Ned Kelly and held his horse for him; a claim never denied nor confirmed by Monash, but doubted by future biographers of his career. 

While in Jerilderie make sure you visit: Lake Jerilderie: Whether for a picnic or walk around the lake to stretch the your legs.

Key Events: Australia Day fireworks at Lake Jerilderie in January; Jerilderie Working Dog Auction (last Sunday in February); Jerilderie Ned Kelly Show n Shine and Tractor Trek in May; Jerilderie Gold Cup Races in September.

AUSSIE FOLKLORE

‘Back O’ Bourke’ is more than a geographical location, it’s part of the Australian language, part of its folklore. As Henry Lawson wrote in 1892, “If you know Bourke, you know Australia”. Photographers, naturalists, historians, lovers of poetry, birdwatchers, visitors or just plain old Aussies wanting to discover their roots - welcome to the Back O’ Bourke.

Bourke Shire, at the junction of the Mitchell and Kamilaroi Highways and the Kidman Way, covers an area of 43,000 sq km and is home to approximately 2,600 people.

The shire’s main agricultural industries include cotton, cattle production, as well as a new small stock abattoir, and of course the wool industry, part of Bourke’s history since the 1860s.

To experience Bourke’s many attractions head straight to the Back O’ Bourke Exhibition and Information Centre. Here you’ll experience the area’s rich history through a world class presentation of audio visual interactive displays of the Australian outback, the early exploration, the poets, local bushrangers, the legends, and the conflicts.

While you’re there make sure you catch the Outback Show, during visitor season. A cracker of a show that will keep you entertained. Before you leave grab a Back O’ Bourke Mud Map Tours and head out on the many self-drive adventures.

Bourke – gateway to the real outback and the ideal stop along your journey of discovery of the Darling River Run, historic Dowling Track, Kidman Way, Matilda Country, Corner Country, Simpson Desert and beyond.

FAST FACTS: BOURKE

Best lookout: Mount Oxley.

Key local industries (today): Bourke Abattoir; farming and agriculture.

Walking track/town walk: River walk; walking trails at Gundabooka and Toorale National Park.

Building/monument of interest: Court House; Post Office; Gidgee Guest House; St Ignatius School, Church and Convent.

Country pub(s) to visit: Port of Bourke Hotel, Bourke; Shindy’s Inn, Louth; Fords Bridge Hotel, Fords Bridge; Mulga Creek Hotel, Byrock; Oasis Hotel, Enngonia.

A quirky/interesting stat: As Henry Lawson wrote in 1892, “If you know Bourke, you know Australia”. Percy Hobson - born and bred in Bourke - became the first Indigenous Australian to win a gold medal for Australia at the Commonwealth Games. Fred Hollows - famous eye surgeon - was buried in Bourke after his death in 1993. Hollows had worked in Bourke in the early 1970s. Nancy Bird Walton - Founded the remote air ambulance service in Bourke in 1935.

While in Bourke make sure you visit: Back O’ Bourke Exhibition &

Information Centre: Uncover Bourke’s rich history and engage in this world-class audio visual interactive display. Just 2km north of Bourke on Kidman Way. Open Daily 9am-5pm during visitor season.

Outback Show: Cracker of a show – All-Australian horsemanship at its best at the Back O’Bourke Exhibition Centre, Stockman’s Arena. Daily at 11am during visitor season.

Jandra Paddleboat: All aboard! Daily cruises departing from Kidman’s Camp, North Bourke. Bookings from the Back O’Bourke Exhibition & Information Centre. BYO drinks/nibbles. During visitor season.

Key Events: Back O’Bourke Easter Festival; Back O’Bourke Races; Bourke Fishing Comp; Enngonia Races; Louth Races; Bourke Show

More info: visitbourke.com.au

FAST FACTS: COLEAMBALLY

Best lookout spot: Coleambally Water Tower.

Key local industries (today): Agriculture, especially irrigation farming.

Walking track/town walk: Brolgal Place.

Building/monument of interest: The Bucyrus Erie dragline excavator, an amazing piece of construction machinery located in the Lions Park at the entrance to town. This excavator is one of four machines imported from the USA and used to excavate the main channels in the Murray Valley. After finishing the Malawa canal it was brought to Coleambally to commence the canal work in the local area. On completion the machine was driven to its present site. It is still in working order, and is commissioned when the Riverina Vintage Machinery Club hold their biennial rally in August.

Country pub(s) to visit: Brolga Hotel Motel.

A quirky/interesting stat: Coleambally is the newest town in NSW.

While in Coleambally make sure you visit: Sample the wine and olives from Yarrow Park – 6km north of Coleambally off the Kidman Way.

Key Events: Riverina Vintage Machinery Club Rally in August; and Taste Colembally – October 2020.

More info: murrumbidgee.nsw.gov.au


Tags: Griffith Kidman Way Cobar Broken Hill Burra Kapunda South Australia New South Wales Cattle Stations Hillston Forbes Cowra Griffith Wineries Fruit Lachlan River
Category: Features
Written: Wed 01 May 2019
Printed: May, 2019
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