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Nyngan, NSW

Town on the Bogan River on the edge of the NSW Outback

Nyngan is a rural service centre situated on the Mitchell Highway astride the Bogan River on the eastern edge of the Great Outback. The Barrier Highway starts at Nyngan and heads west to Cobar and Broken Hill and the Mitchell Highway heads north to Bourke. Wool, wheat and cattle are central to the local economy in what is a very productive pastoral and agricultural shire. In 1990 the town was devastated when the Bogan River burst its banks and spread across the low, flat plains and in the summer of 2012-2013 the temperature broke local records when it reached 47°F. Much of the appeal of Nyngan lies in its location. It is an ideal starting point for people wanting to explore the Macquarie Marshes, to learn about the fascinating history of shearing in the area and to explore the old Cobb & Co routes which contributed so much to the economic health of the region.

Location

Nyngan is located 572 km from Sydney via Dubbo, 204 km south of Bourke and is 173 metres above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

Thomas Mitchell explored the area along the Bogong River in 1835 and recorded that the local  Ngiyambaa Aborigines had a word 'nyingan' which he understood to mean 'long pond of water'. Other meanings including 'place of many streams', 'mussel' and 'crayfish' have been suggested.

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Things to See and Do

Mid State Shearers Shed Museum
Mid State Shearers Shed Museum, a disused railway goods shed, is located on the Mitchell Highway across the railway line from the town. It is open from 9.00 am - noon Monday to Saturday and contains an excellent collection of shearing memorabilia in a building which replicates an old shearing shed. Established by Dennis Nash and Frank Walsh, and manned by volunteers all of whom are retired shearers, it has an extensive collection of photographs, newspaper articles, letters and lots of old shearing equipment – shearing presses and stands as well as combs and even an old shearer's stove from Buckaroo Station.

The stories told by the shearers include amusing anecdotes, tales of shearing quarters, bad shearer’s cooks, problems with the owners, nostalgic tales of camaraderie, and the endless challenges of trying to shear sheep in impossibly hot and oppressive conditions.

Nyngan Museum
The town's historic railway station in Pangee Street, near Davidson Park, has been restored and converted into an historical museum. Its most impressive exhibits include the local mining industry (copper has been mined in the area since 1875) with samples of the ores and a model of the Girilambone mine, and a fascinating video of the 1990 Bogan River flood which, given the flatness of the terrain, saw the Bogan break its banks and inundate the town. It is a rare example of an entire town being literally drowned by a flood. The Army was called in and the townsfolk were evacuated. An Army Iroquois helicopter still stands outside the Museum in Railway Square. It was a gift from the Australian Government to the people of Nyngan to commemorate the occasion in April 1990 when 2000 people, nearly the entire population, were evacuated due to the breaching of the levee by record floodwaters,  The Museum is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - noon on Saturday, tel: (02) 6832 1436 for information.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Macquarie Marshes
The Macquarie Marshes lie between Nyngan, Coonamble, Walgett and Warren. The National Parks and Wildlife website explains their importance as "one of the largest remaining inland semi-permanent wetlands in south-eastern Australia and are of international importance. The nature reserve samples all the habitat types present in the Marshes and is a major waterbird breeding area, an important refuge for a large number of other wildlife species and has significant cultural values." while pointing out that "this nature reserve does not cater for day-visitors, or campers. Access is restricted to management and research personnel. However, when conditions are suitable, the NPWS runs guided activities around the reserve." It is advisable to check the National Parks website - http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/parkHome.aspx?id=N0449 - for more details or contact the Park Office on tel: (02) 6825 4364.

The marshes were first sighted by Europeans when, following the course of the Macquarie River in 1818, John Oxley and his party found that the river disappeared into an 'ocean of reeds'. It was speculated that this was the edge of the legendary inland sea of Australia, but when Charles Sturt arrived in 1828 and explored the river he found the marshes nearly dry. The Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve was created in 1971 and currently covers 19,824 hectares.

The NSW Government explains the value of the wetlands in terms of "The Macquarie Marshes are a relatively little altered part of a major land system within NSW; the Northern Alluvial Fans. The nature reserve is one of only two moderately sized conservation areas in NSW protecting a sample of this land system.

"The Marshes are geomorphologically and geologically unusual as an active network of inland braided streams and deranged drainage patterns. The Marshes are one of the largest remaining single inland semi-permanent wetlands in south-eastern Australia, and are still in a semi-natural state.

"The Australian Heritage Commission has listed the Macquarie Marshes on the National Heritage Register and the National Trust has classified the Marshes as a Landscape Conservation Area in the National Trust Register. The Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve has been included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).

By any definition the Macquarie Marshes are one this continent’s magical, but rarely explored, wildlife wonderlands. The waters, when they are flooding out across the plains, create a 200,000 hectare wetland which is known to be home to mobs of kangaroos and emus and an estimated 80,000 breeding pairs of colonial waterbirds. Birds seen on the marshes include brolgas, Australian white ibis, straw-necked ibis, glossy ibis, intermediate egrets and the endangered Australasian bittern, blue-billed duck, magpie goose, freckled duck and painted snipe.

To see the emus and kangaroos hopping and running through the marshes and reed beds is to feel as though you are participating in a David Attenborough-voiced wildlife documentary. With the sun sparkling off the shallow waters; the reeds and water couch dark green against the surrounding dry plains; and the red river gums edging the deeper streams this is a uniquely Australian wildlife experience.

In the next few years the wetlands are likely to become even more spectacular. The water legally set aside has been increased from 50,000 million litres to 160,000 million litres and it is expected that this will “improve the ecological health of the many thousands of native species, frogs, turtles, snakes, waterbirds, fish species, red gums, reed beds, and invertebrates that underpin the food web.”

Glimpses of the marshes can be obtained from Gibson's Way which links Quambone (54 km west) to the Macquarie Valley Way. Stop at Quambone for further directions and information.

If you want to fly over the marshes helicopter flights are available from Nyngan. Jack Carter’s Helicopter rides are organised on a private basis, take around an hour and fly over the southern end of the Macquarie Marshes. The rate is $650 per hour with the helicopter being capable of holding up to four people (that's $162.50 per person if there are four of you). Contact Nyngan Riverside Caravan Park, tel: 0428 322 037.

Cobb & Co Heritage Trail
The historic inland coaching company, Cobb & Co, celebrated the 150th anniversary of its first journey in 2004. The Heritage Trail now runs between Bathurst and Bourke and, if you are travelling north, you can get an excellent brochure and inspect a pristine Cobb & Co coach at the Bathurst Visitor Centre.

Cobb & Co's origins lay in the need to transport people during the goldrushes of the early 1850s. As the Heritage Trail website explains: "The company was enormously successful and had branches or franchises throughout much of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. At its peak, Cobb & Co operated along a network of tracks that extended further than those of any other coach system in the world – its coaches travelled 28,000 miles (44,800 km) per week and 6,000 (out of their 30,000) horses were harnessed every day. Cobb & Co created a web of tracks from Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria and Port Douglas on the Coral Sea down to the furthest reaches of Victoria and South Australia – in all there was a continuous line of 2,000 miles (3,200km) of track over eastern Australia from south to north with a total of 7000 miles (11,200km) of regular routes." (see www.cobbandco.net.au).

There is a downloadable 4 page guide which offers two tours from Nyngan:

Tour 1 - 250 km - Canonba, Buckiinguy, Willie Retreat and Coolabah loop. This is a full day trip which starts in Nyngan and proceeds through the remains of Canonba on the Duck River - it was a settlement which predated Nyngan and was once a thriving Cobb and Co coach terminal - it has remnants of a zig-zag fence, especially designed to allow Cobb & Co coaches to pass through stockyards without opening and closing gates; Buckiinguy which was owned by Cobb & Co and used as a breeding station for the company's horses - it was once owned by Cobb & Co. partner William Franklin Whitney, whose child is buried on the property; Willie Retreat on the edge of the Macquarie Marshes where there are the remnants of a some old stables and an inn; Monkey Bridge which was once the site of a pub used by coach travellers; the small village of Coolabah; and Girilambone where the General Store dates from the Cobb & Co days.

Tour 2 - 130 km - Canonba - Girilambone Loop - is a shorter version of Tour 1 but heads to the Bogan River where the coaches stopped before crossing the river and then it passes through Girilambone and back to Nyngan.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the district was inhabited by the Ngiyambaa Aborigines.

* In 1829 the explorer Charles Sturt reached the Bogan River although he did not come near the present site of Nyngan.

* The explorer Major Thomas Mitchell reached the Bogan River on 10 May, 1835 and camped near the present townsite.

* Squatters settled the area shortly after Mitchell passed through the district.

* A major massacre of Aborigines occurred in the area in 1842. During a prolonged drought some stockmen employed by the pastoralist William Lee set off from a station 16 km north of Peak Hill to search for water for cattle they were herding. They reached a waterhole to the north of present-day Nyngan where a large number of Aborigines were camped. The whites reputedly told the Aborigines that only those prepared to work could stay. When one Aborigine shook his fist at the stockmen he was strung up by the wrists and whipped. One of the stockmen was concerned at the signs of growing resentment and tried to convince the others to leave but, failing in his endeavours, he departed on his own. He looked back later in the day and noted birds of prey hovering over the site. He returned and found five badly mutilated bodies and one survivor with severe wounds. When the deaths were reported a police troop was sent to the area. It is claimed that three Aborigines were killed and three arrested but it is believed that hundreds more Aborigines were subsequently killed. When Thomas Mitchell revisited the area in 1845 he was surprised by the absence of Aborigines. On his 1835 expedition he had estimated a thousand to be living along the river. When word of the massacres reached Governor Gipps he cancelled William Lee's squatting license.

* The government cancelled all pastoral licenses beyond the Derribong run in 1845.

* Nyngan was gazetted as a reserve for water in 1865. The townsite was not reserved until 1880.

* Nyngan was surveyed in 1882 when the Dubbo-Bourke railway was under construction. The track arrived in Nyngan in 1883.

* Wheat-growing began in the 1880s. Prior to that the district had been used predominantly for cattle and sheep.

* Nyngan became a municipality on 17 February, 1891.

* A meatworks was built on the outskirts of town in the 1890s for the boiling down of sheep

* An experimental farm was established in 1910 to develop and improve local wheat cultivation.

* The town finally got a secure water supply in 1942 when water was relayed along a 62 km canal from the Macquarie River.

* In 1990 Nyngan experienced the worst floods of the century. 260,000 sandbags were laid on the established levee but the waters inundated the entire town, causing $50 million worth of damage. Two thousand citizens had to be airlifted out by helicopter.

* A sad byproduct of the flood was that Nyngan's role as a rail centre ceased with the cancellation of the rail service to Bourke.

* In the summer of 2012/2013, dubbed "The Angry Summer" by the Climate Commission, the temperature in Nyngan reached a new recorded high of 47°C.

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Visitor Information

Nyngan Visitor Information Centre, Old Railway Station, Nyngan, tel: (02) 6832 1052. Opening hours: every day 9.00 am - 4.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

The local shire website - http://www.bogan.nsw.gov.au/ - has lots of useful information about the district.

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Got something to add?

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

2 suggestions
  • Are there books available to read about the history of Nyngan?

    Marion Akkermans
  • My Great Great Grandmother who was from South Germany married a man from Kent England, surname Ashdown, in 1889 at the Nyngan Registry. Is the building still there? What is the address? And why would people migrate that far from home to go to Nyngan in 1898? Was it the mining?

    Deborah Ritchie