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My passion is genealogy and family history. I host a podcast about Australian family history, Genies Down Under. In my day job, I work as a lecturer and a researcher in higher education, teaching pre-service teachers.

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

Walking in their footsteps Part 6: Bourke Hotels

Central Australian Hotel

This hotel was originally built in 1884 but burnt down and was rebuilt in the 1930s. It still resembles the old photos to an extent.

During the 1890 flood

Carriers Arms Hotel

This hotel was built in 1879. When the hotel was almost 30 years old, one of my great uncles, Perc NORTHCOTE, worked at this hotel around 1906. I bet the colours it's painted now are a bit different from those used in its early days.

This was apparently the hotel where Henry Lawson wrote a few of his stories but he used to refer to the hotel as the Shearers Arms. His poem, When the 'Army' Prays for Watty, was supposedly to have been written about one hotel owners, Watty Braithwaite. The Cobb & Co Heritage Trail website suggests this story about the poem's origins:

"Apparently, the poem was inspired by a time when Lawson walked past the pub and noticed Watty lounging in an armchair on the verandah (his habitual position), oblivious to the sounds of the Salvation Army singing and praying nearby."

The Carrier's Arms was also one of the Cobb & Co agencies.

Port of Bourke Hotel

This hotel was next door to the bike shop that one of my uncles, Walter John NORTHCOTE, owned and ran in Bourke in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. He was trained as a wheelwright and worked with bikes and coaches around the areas of Bourke and Nyngan.

In one of its earlier times, it was known as the Royal Hotel and this name can still just be seen, like a ghost sign, on the side of the hotel.

In January 1899, my great uncle, Walter John NORTHCOTE, and some of his mates decided to ride their bicycles to Sydney. Even today, the trek from Sydney to Bourke is no mean feat, so riding bikes back in those days must have been seen as a pretty big trek indeed.

Unfortunately, just a few months after this great trek to Sydney and back, a massive fire broke out in the bike shop in 1899, which also damaged the hotel and the shop, Hacketts, next door to the bike shop.

Walking in their footsteps Part 7: Bourke Churches

Walking in their footsteps Part 5: Bourke

For as long as I can remember, stories of Bourke have been discussed in our home, especially by my father's family members. Although it's taken me half a lifetime to reach the place, even though I was born and bred just a casual ten hour drive away from this NSW outback town, I loved being in Bourke. Here are a few pics of our short stay in Bourke.

Back O'Bourke Exhibition Centre

I just have to start this blog entry with a short explanation of this great new exhibition centre. It's well worth the $ they ask for entry to view all the displays which superb. They use contemporary techniques to illustrate Bourke's history; full of colour, loads of old photos of people and places in the area, lots of fun multimedia and a theme of cheekiness in some of the displays as well.

On entry to the centre, Henry Lawson's words greet you: "If you know Bourke, you know Australia". I'm not sure how true that is for everone but one thing's for sure ... for me, I do feel just a little bit more whole now that I've been to the back of Bourke and back again.

Great place to stay - Bourke Riverside Motel

If you like history, antiques, quirkiness, comfy king sized beds and friendly hotel staff, this is the place to stay. Every room is different. Lovely gardens, good restaurant, right near the river. The pictures speak for themselves.

Darling River, Bourke

The river was huge when we visited Bourke - at a depth of 12.9 metres. The gum trees looked like they were standing in water up to their necks. It was so wide when we visited that it wasn't possible to see the other side of the river bank.

Court House

With two of my great grandparents having sat in this court for bankruptcy in 1886 and 1890, a visit to the court house in Bourke was a must. Sitting inside this majestic old building, where my ancestors would have sat 120 years ago, helped me understand more fully what their lives were like. When I told one of the locals about my great-grandparents going bankrupt in Bourke in the late 1800s, he said, "Who didn't in those days?" Again, being in the place they lived brought some context and background to my ideas of what happened to them. It must have been a challenging place to survive and I think they had to take whatever job they could get their hands on to feed their tribe of nine sons. When her husband died at the age of 45, my great grandmother, Margaret NORTHCOTE (nee RILEY), was left with a big family to support. As far as we know, she worked as a boarding house keeper, a nurse and a midwife to get by.

Bourke Hospital

This is one of the places my great-grandmother worked in the 1880s-1890s, in the days when Dr Sides worked at the hospital. She is recorded as a nurse in the Australasian Medical Directory & Handbook of 1896.

This photo was taken around the time that my great-grandmother worked at the hospital. And below are photos that I took when I visited the hospital grounds. Although the old hospital building was renovated in 2001, it still resembled its earlier facade.

This blogpost is going to get too long if I inlcude all the places we visited in Bourke. So ...

Next blogpost ... Walking in their footsteps Part 6: More Bourke

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Walking in their footsteps Part 4: Gillawarrina to Girilambone

Gillawarrina, near Trangie

From old electoral rolls, I found out that my great-grandfather, William H NORTHCOTE, (and presumably his wife and family) was living in the district of Bogan in the police district of Dubbo, on the Macquarie River at a place called "Gillawarna" between 1881-1882, as cited on the electoral roll:

I couldn't find references to this place on the internet but found reference to a place called "Gillawarrina" in a book from our local library about the history of Warren, a town nearby. This led me to a map on the internet which led me to suspect that Gillawarrina was a property on the Macquarie River, just outside of Trangie.

Location of Gillawarrina (map)

So, while driving along a back road between Trangie and Warren, in the hope of finding this property, we came across a gate and a letterbox with the word "Gillawarrina" printed on them. This had to be the place where my ancestors lived and probably worked as farm hands.

We didn't disturb the owners of this place by driving through their gates but we could see an old homestead from the road that could possibly have been where my ancestors lived all those years ago.

This was a wonderful feeling, to stand on the roadside, near the entrance to this property, knowing that this was the place where my ancestors probably walked many times in and out of the gates.


We drove on through the Wambianna Road and reached the town of Warren. My ancestors lived here around 1871-1876.

My great-uncle, Percival Ernest NORTHCOTE, was born here in 1881:

Although I didn't know of any ancestors in the cemetery, I couldn't resist having a look anyway. One thing I have noticed about some western NSW towns is the wrought iron signage that seems to appear a lot in the cemeteries and towns. I suppose it lasts a lot longer in the heat and wind than other types of signs.


This was a tiny little railway town where my ancestors lived in the 1883-1884 period. They lived near the railway line. There were only a few houses near the railway line when we visited and a church, St Thomas'.


This town was much bigger than we expected. We travelled through it once on Sunday evening and once on Wednesday at lunch time when the place was quite busy. Great choice of places to eat with even gluten-free and vegetarian options in some cafes.

It seems that Nyngan was also a Cobb & Co coach stop in earlier years:


Yet another of my great uncles was born at along this trek from Sydney to Bourke. Arthur Francis NORTHCOTE was born in Girilambone in 1884.

The dirt is red and the grasses are soft green in this little place.

The old railway station is a shadow of its former self.

Next blogpost ... Bourke (Part 5)