Historic town where Burke and Wills stopped on their journey to the Gulf.
Menindee is a tiny outback settlement which is famous for two things: it was the last place where the Burke and Wills expedition stayed before heading north into the unchartered outback and the Menindee Lakes are an inland wonderland and a vital source of water for the surrounding citrus orchards and vegetable farms. Menindee is also surrounded by some 20 lakes which exist in an inhospitable desert environment. The lakes are full of dead trees and surrounded by sand, saltbush and red soils. Nearby, on the shore of Menindee Lake, is the holiday resort destination of Sunset Strip - an inland watery retreat for people from Broken Hill.
Menindee is located 112 km south-east of Broken Hill; 155 km south-west of Wilcannia; 628 km north-east of Adelaide; 949 km north of Melbourne and 1083 km west of Sydney via Cobar and Wilcannia.^ TOP
Origin of Name
It is accepted that the Barkindji people, who moved up and down the Darling River, called the Menindee Lakes "minandichee" and this word, corrupted in translation, became "menindee", the name of the lakes and the town.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
The Heritage Trail
The Visitors' Centre has a heritage trail which directs the visitor to 19 sites, each with an informative signpost, which encompass the history of the town.
Kinchega National Park
The obvious starting point is to go to the Historic Woolshed and the Visitors Centre and get good maps to explore the entire area. There is a good map which can be downloaded at http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/~/media/Visitor/Files/PDF/Brochures/kinchega-visitor-guide-pdf.ashx.
To get to Kinchega: head south from Menindee on Yarlta Street, turn into Nora Street and follow the signs to Kinchega National Park. The road runs beside the Darling River, the shore of Lake Menindee and Lake Cawndilla. The 44,000 hectare park, the first New South Wales National Park west of the Great Dividing Range, was acquired in 1967 from land that was once part of the huge Kinchega Station.
(a) Flora and Fauna in the Park
The park has a diverse range of flora including river red gum forests where Aborigines used the trees to make canoes and baskets; black soil flood plains along the Darling River notable for black box and coolibahs and where mobs of kangaroos and flocks of emu are in evidence; and there is the vegetation of the red sandhills and sand plains which includes rosewood, belah, black bluebush, prickly wattle, blackbox and needle wood. This flora characterises the tall lunettes (crescent-shaped dunes) on the eastern side of the lakes which have been created by a combination of westerly winds and waves.
The sand lunettes have proved to be rich in archaeological material. Middens, hearths, stone implements and extinct animals including giant kangaroos, huge hairy-nosed wombats and extinct Tasmanian tigers have all been found. The large depressions of the overflow lakes have internationally significant waterfowl rookeries and are home to pelicans, spoonbills, egrets, cormorants and swans.
(a) Pastoral History
By 1881 Kinchega Station stretched from Menindee to the South Australian border. It covered one million acres and had 143,000 sheep. It was a symbol of the modernity of the outback: paddle steamers run by Samuel McCaughey collected the wool and took it to South Australia; the vast paddocks were irrigated by water pumped by steam engines; a bore had been dug in 1879 and bore water was supplementing water from the Darling; and local Aborigines were working as shepherds.
(b) Kinchega Woolshed and Homestead
Kinchega Woolshed has been listed on the Register of the National Estate. It has been estimated that six million sheep were shorn in the woolshed in its 92 years of operation. At its peak in the 1880s it had stands for 26 blade shearers. The remains of the woolshed and cemetery can be inspected. They are located near the Kinchega Homestead which was built of locally made bricks in the 1870s. It was subsequently used as an overseer's house and stockmen's quarters from 1872 to the 1940s.
(c) Other Attractions
Beyond Old Kinchega Homestead are the remains of the PS Providence which in 1872 left Menindee heading downstream. According to rumour all the crew were drunk and they forgot to fill the boiler which blew up killing a number of them. The remains of the steamer can still be seen where it was dragged from the water and it is believed the cemetery contains the remains of some of those killed on the Providence. Beyond the park's visitor centre on Tandou Road are the Cawndilla Channel and Menindee Lakes Lookout.
The park has a number of campsites and there are 34 camping sites along the Darling River. It is also possible to stay at the old shearer's quarters.
Morton Boolka picnic area is excellent for bird-watching and the woolshed picnic area has fresh water. There are a number of self-guided walks and some excellent drives - notably Lake Drive and the River Drive - through the park. For enquiries about bookings, fees and information pamphlets contact the National Parks in Broken Hill, tel: (08) 8088 3200. There is a downloadable brochure. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/~/media/Visitor/Files/PDF/Brochures/kinchega-visitor-guide-pdf.ashx. It includes a very good map of the key attractions. There is an entry fee and day passes can be paid at three pay stations.
The easiest access to Lake Menindee is the road into Kinchega National Park. Lake Menindee is one of a number of ephemeral freshwater lakes which include Lake Pamamaroo, Lake Weatherell, Lake Cawndilla, Lake Tandure, Lake Balaka and Lake Bijijie. These lakes make up the Menindee Lakes Water Storage System.
Other Attractions in the Area
Lake Pamamaroo and Main Weir
To the north of Menindee (see http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/~/media/Visitor/Files/PDF/Brochures/kinchega-visitor-guide-pdf.ashx for a good map) Lake Pamamaroo and Main Weir have become a popular recreational facility for the local people. Near the weir is a plaque on a tree which indicates the location of the Burke and Wills campsite after they left Menindee. The plaque records how on 19 October, 1860 the small party of Burke, Wills, Brahe, King, Gray, McDonagh, Patton and Dost Mahomet, 15 horses and 16 camels left the Pamamaroo camp and headed north. It was the beginning of their fateful journey.
On the road to Broken Hill, about 13 km north of Menindee before the interconnecting channel between Lake Menindee and Pamamaroo Lake, there is a sign to Copi Hollow which is a body of water developed for speed boats, sailing, swimming and water skiing. There is an attractive shoreline park with picnic facilities.
Where do people from Broken Hill go when they want to be at the beach? About 20 km north of Menindee on the shores of Lake Menindee is the amusingly named Sunset Strip. The small holiday community is made up mostly of inexpensive holiday homes. Many of the gardens are well-irrigated and most of the houses are on the shoreline.
Fishing in the Lakes
The lakes and the Darling River around Menindee are regarded as some of the best freshwater fishing spots in New South Wales with murray cod, golden perch, silver perch, carp, crayfish and catfish all available to challenge the fishing skills of the talented angler.
Cruising with River Lady Tours
One of the best ways of experiencing the river at Menindee, and getting a feel for what it must have been like to ply the river with paddle steamers carrying the wool from the huge properties to the north, is to take a cruise on the River Lady. The cruises start from the Main Weir at Lake Wetherell and offer a unique opportunity to explore these reaches of the Darling River. Tel: 0491 125 828 or 0428 581 112.
A Strange Tale About the Local Aborigines in 1935
On January 26, 1938, as the first rally against Australia Day was held, 25 Indigenous men were told if they did not perform the role of 'retreating Aborigines' in a re-enactment of the First Fleet, their families would starve.
Government officials had selected the best dancers and singers from Menindee mission in far-west New South Wales and told them they were required to perform cultural dances in Sydney.
What they were sent to take part in was a re-enactment of the landing and proclamation of Captain Arthur Phillip at the 150th Australia Day celebrations.
Ngiyaampaa elder Dr Beryl (Yunghadhu) Philp Carmichael, born and raised on the mission, was only three at the time, but her memory of the fear in the community never left her.
"Whether they were taking them away to be massacred or what, no-one knew. The community went into mourning once they were put on the mission truck."
The men returned a week later, but Dr Carmichael said it was many years until they would talk about their experience.
“They came back very quiet," she said. "It was only in the late 70s they started saying something about what it was like down there. We knew whatever happened down there really hurt them and we didn't question them."
It is speculated that part of the reason for bringing Indigenous people all the way from Menindee was because those in Sydney refused to take part.
In Sydney plans were afoot to hold a rally on Australia Day; the Aborigines Progressive Association would declare it a 'day of mourning'.
Aboriginal rights leaders William Ferguson and John Patten published the Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! pamphlet on January 12, 1938. In it they declared, "We do not ask you to study us as scientific freaks … the superstition that we are a naturally backward and low race … shows a jaundiced view of anthropologists' motives".
Those in power at the time seemed eager to keep the Menindee men well away from activists, keeping them locked away in police barracks.
The incident was detailed in a biography on William Ferguson, written by Jack B Horner in 1974.
Dr Carmichael said there had been whisperings of the movement on the mission, and a direct link to Mr Ferguson.
"Most people on missions couldn't read and write; that made it really hard for them to understand the government documents they were throwing around," she said. "Old Bill [Ferguson], because he knew his brother Duncan was back on the mission, he used to send messages back to him.
"But in the end the mission manager found that out, picked the old fella [Duncan] up in a truck and dumped him over the hill [outside the mission boundary]."
Mr Ferguson attempted to get word to the Menindee men while they were in Sydney but, as elaborate as they were, his efforts were unsuccessful. They were eventually allowed a closely supervised visit from two female relatives.
The men soon discovered their duties would include playing the part of Aboriginal people fleeing British soldiers.
While the activists may have gotten their message through to the performers, discouraging them from taking part in the re-enactment, the men were left with little choice.
Dr Carmichael said when it came to performing traditional dance, the men were troubled to find they would be led by an Aboriginal actor who did not speak their language or know their culture.
"The government unknowingly or knowingly put up a big Aboriginal, good looking fella as the leader of the dancers and they didn't even know him. He wasn't from Ngiyaempaa," she said. "That really devastated the people and they refused to dance. It was the toughest time of their lives, I think."
Eighty years on, as debate continues around whether January 26 is celebrated or mourned, Dr Carmichael said she was happy to have survived, even though she was sad about the past.
"We were brought up to tolerate a lot of things and to give thanks for being alive," she said.
"I'm just glad I survived with my culture intact and am alive to teach and pass it on. We should strive for peace, between all nations. We need to come together as people."
* Prior to European occupation the Darling River was the home of the Barkindji Aboriginal people who moved from Wilcannia upriver through Menindee and down river as far as Wentworth. They lived on fish and crustaceans and used bark canoes and elaborate stone fish traps. They had lived in the area for at least 35,000 years before the arrival of Europeans.
* The first European explorers into the area were led my Major Thomas Mitchell. They passed through the area in 1835. Mitchell travelled down the Bogan and Darling rivers to Menindee. He named the lakes Laidley's Chain of Ponds after the Deputy Commisary-General of New South Wales. The Barkindji called them 'Wontanella" meaning "many waters".
* Infamously Mitchell and his party were involved in the first massacre in the area. Only Mitchell's version of events still exists. He argued that two members of his expedition took a kettle for fresh water to the lake and some Aborigines tried to take it. One of Mitchell's party was clubbed and two Barkindji men was shot. The Aborigines fled to the water where a woman with a baby on her back was killed. Mitchell records that "a mournful song, strongly expressive of the wailing of women" could be heard and so they left the area very quickly.
* In 1844 Charles Sturt travelled up the Darling. He arrived at Menindee and then headed overland towards the location of the modern towns of Broken Hill and Tibooburra.
* So deeply antagonistic was the relationship between the Barkindji and European settlers that, for a number of years, prospective pastoralists and drovers avoided the area.
* In 1853 police were brought in to suppress the Barkindji. One technique used was to forcibly move the people to government missions at Menindee, Lake Cargelligo and Ivanhoe.
* The first settler in Menindee was Tom Pain who arrived in 1852 with his family. He opened the Menindee Hotel in 1853. Now known as Maiden's Menindee Hotel, it is considered the second-oldest hotel still in continuous operation in New South Wales. From 1896 to 1979 it was owned by the Maiden family. Menindee is also the oldest town on the Darling and the oldest town in western New South Wales.
* The Central Darling was officially surveyed and opened for tender in 1855. That year the explorer John McKinlay took up several properties, including 'Menindel' which was one of the first small frontage blocks along the Darling. This station later became Kinchega.
* In 1856 Captain Francis Cadell established a store near the hotel at Menindee.
* When settlers realised that the Darling River was navigable (and they could bring goods in and send produce out) they began to settle the area.
* In October, 1860 Burke and Wills reached Kinchega station on their expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. They stayed at the Menindee Hotel.
* Dost Mahomet, one of Burke and Wills's Afghan camel drivers settled in Menindee. He worked in the bakery of William Ah Chung. His grave is located about 1 km out of town on the road towards Broken Hill.
* A post office opened in 1861 and the settlement was officially named 'Perry'.
* The locals objected to Perry and in 1863 the town's name was changed to Menindie. Growth was initially slow but with the help of the steamers Menindee became an important river port and telegraph station. The boats were quicker and much cheaper than bullock trains although in drought periods the water level would sometimes fall so low the waterways became unnavigable.
* When gold was found to the north in the late 1870s and 1880s, labourers and station workers along the Darling left their jobs. This resulted in Wilcannia becoming the main river port in the region.
* Ah Chung's bakehouse was built around 1880 and is still standing in Menindee Street.
* By 1894 there were plans to establish a water storage scheme in the area.
* In 1918 the town's name was changed from Menindie to Menindee.
* Between 1949 and 1960 water storage was developed around Menindee. It now has a storage capacity is 1,794,000 megalitres, 3.5 times the volume of Sydney Harbour. The scheme provides regulated flows of water for irrigation and a pipeline runs from Menindee to Broken Hill providing the city with a regular supply of water.
* In 1999 the historic Maidens Menindee Hotel burnt down. It has been replaced by a modern building.^ TOP
Menindee Visitors Information Centre, 49 Yartla Street, Menindee, tel: (08) 8091 4274^ TOP
Maidens Menindee Hotel, 59 Yartla Street, tel: (08) 8091 4208^ TOP
There is a useful local website - http://www.menindeelakes.com/home.htm - which has useful information about local history, accommodation and attractions.^ TOP