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Balranald, NSW

Peaceful town on the banks of Murrumbidgee River

Balranald is located on the western edge of the vast Hay plain at a place once used to ford the Murrumbidgee River. Today it is a service centre for the surrounding irrigation district. It is a quiet town notable for access to the newly established Yanga National Park and popular with anglers who can fish in any one of five rivers all within 30 minutes of the town. The Heritage Park in Market Street concentrates the historic interest of the area with the old gaol, the school house and an historical museum.

Location

It is a comment on the flatness of western NSW that Balranald on the Murrumbidgee River is 60 m above sea-level although it is over 500 km from Lake Alexandrina. The town is located 853 km southwest of Sydney and 555 km west of Adelaide via the Sturt Highway.

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Origin of Name

It was a Scot, George James MacDonald, the first commissioner for crown lands on the Lower Darling District, who named Balranald after Balranald House, his birthplace on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. It was appropriate as the name in Gaelic means the place of the Ranalds who were a branch of the MacDonald clan.

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Things to See and Do

The Frog Sculptures
Always in search of a novelty to make the town distinctive, Balranald has opted for the Southern Bell frog. There are two frog sculptures cutting a huge log outside the Visitor Information Centre and there a Frog Sculpture Trail brochure which includes eighteen frogs around town including a pole dancing frog and a frog waiting for a bus.

Balranald Heritage Park
Many of the town's historic buildings - including Old Wintong Station homestead, the Old Gaol - are located at the Heritage Park in Sturt Street. The Museum is located in the old A. Malcolm & Son building at the edge of the park.On the corner of Court and Mayall Streets is the charming old bank building, now a private home.

Grave of Josiah Viles
A rare piece of local eccentricity. Australia has no history of town criers and therefore the grave of Josiah Viles, which is located in the Church of England section of the Balranald Cemetery, is worth visiting. Viles was an eccentric and much loved town crier who used to carry a rifle which he fired when he needed to make an important announcement. He died in 1925.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Five Rivers Fishing Trail
Within 30 minutes of Balranald you can be fishing in the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Wakool, Edward and Murray Rivers. The Visitor Information Centre has copies of the Five Rivers Fishing Trail. Ideal advice for anglers looking to enjoy the rich harvest of native fish which are added to the rivers by the local fishing clubs.

Yanga National Park
Located to the west of Balranald, Yanga National Park is one of the state's newest national parks. It covers 76,000 ha and includes nearly 200 km of river frontage. The main attractions are walking and water activities beside Yanga Lake. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parks?keyword=Yanga%20National%20Park for a comprehensive list of things to do in the park. These include: Regatta Beach which is ideal for swimming, boat and bird watching; the historic Yanga Homestead (built around 1870) was reputedly the largest freehold property in the southern hemisphere. One of the first telephones in Australia connected the homestead with the men's quarters. It was installed by Alexander Graham Bell's nephew. Today there is a free guided tour (check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/yanga-national-park/yanga-homestead/historic-site) of the stables, rose gardens and outbuildings each morning at 10.30; the Yanga Lake walking trail; the Yanga Lake Red Gum bird hide; the Yanga Woodshed which once housed up to 3,000 sheep; and the Yanga Lake viewing deck.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Balranald was originally occupied by the Madi Madi Aborigines, who called the area 'Nap Nap'.

* In 1817 John Oxley travelled down the Lachlan River reached a point 23 km upstream from the junction with the Murrumbidgee but was stopped by an impassible sea of 5-metre high reeds in the Great Cumbungi Swamp. He reached the false conclusion that "the interior of this vast continent is a marsh and uninhabitable". He turned round before he reached the Murrumbidgee.

* In January 1830 explorer Charles Sturt, approaching from the Murrumbidgee, rowed through the intersection of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers in a whaleboat. They passed the site of modern day Balranald and camped nearby.

* In 1836 Thomas Mitchell, also investigating the river system, camped at the ford that was to become the site of the future township. Mitchell was accompanied by an Aboriginal guide Yuranigh who preferred to be called John Piper. Two streets in Balranald, Yuranigh and Piper, have been named in his honour.

* The first runs were taken up along the river front in the early 1840s.

* The first settler was George Hobler in 1845.

* The town site came into existence because peddlers, shepherds and itinerants crossed the river and established a settlement of simple, rough shelters.

* The first store and the Balranald Inn appeared in 1848. The site was named Balranald that year. At the time it was hoped that the town would become an important river port.

* In 1850 a post office opened and the first district constable was appointed.

* The site was laid out and gazetted in 1851.

* In 1858 a Sydney Morning Herald article described Balranald as: "This obscure and miserable township situated on the Lower Murrumbidgee is here attracting a considerable share of attention as being one of those rowdy places for which the Australian bush in the interior has become so famous".

* In 1859 Cobb & Co started a regular service to the town and the first punt was established. It was becoming an important port.

* In September, 1860 the Burke and Wills expedition crossed the Murrumbidgee on the Mayall Street punt and camped on the riverbank in front of the Balranald Inn.

* In 1865 the first National School was opened.

* A new post office was built in 1871.

* By 1873 the town had a population of 350.

* A bridge across the Murrumbidgee was built in 1880.

* Balranald was declared a municipality in 1882.

* In 1888 a courthouse was built.

* The railway arrived in 1926. This was the end of the town's role as a river port.

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Visitor Information

Balranald Visitor Information Centre, 78 Market Street, tel: (03) 5020 1599 or 1800 444 043. Open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily.

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Useful Websites

Australian Heritage offers a good potted history of Balranald at http://www.heritageaustralia.com.au/search.php?state=NSW&region=104&view=509#a.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

5 suggestions
  • Is the lift structure at the caravan park part of the history of the river?

    Alex Anstee
    • The lift structure at the caravan park is from the original bridge beside the park. It dates back to the days of paddle steamers when the middle span had to be raised to allow the boats to pass through

      Mrs Joan Purton
  • Very RV friendly town. Beautiful little town with lots of quirky cool shops.

    Toni Fairbairn
  • Mungo National Park is also part of the Balranald Shire and tours to the area are run from Balranald.

    Mrs Joan Purton
  • I am very interested in the green frog photos I am going to write an article for a Spanish Community town and I am talking of the wonderful idea of try to preserve the green frog. I am need the photos of some of the frogs sculptures, please!

    Emilia Franklin