Bourke is a town and Local Government Area in the north of New South Wales, Australia. The town is located approximately 800 kilometres north-west of Sydney, on the south bank of the Darling River. At the 2006 census, Bourke had a population of 2,145, of whom 815 or 33% identified as Indigenous Australians.
The site of Bourke was first reached by British settlers in the 1820s and the town originally called Prattenville, was later named after Governor Richard Bourke of New South Wales in the 1830s.
Bourke was a port, where goods and passengers traveled by paddlesteamer along the Murray-Darling river system. However, the use of river transport declined when the railway reached Bourke in 1885. The railway closed in 1990 after flooding caused significant damage to the line. The railway station is now used as a tourist information centre.
In 1895 a heatwave killed 47 people in Bourke over a 13 day period. In that time the daily maximum temperature averaged 47°C (116.6°F).
Bourke can be reached by the Mitchell Highway, with additional sealed roads from town to the north (Cunnamulla), east (towards Brewarrina, Moree and Goondiwindi) and south (Cobar). The town is also served by Bourke Airport and has Countrylink bus service to other regional centres, like Dubbo. It was also formerly the largest inland port in the world for exporting wool on the Darling River. The countryside around Bourke is used mainly for sheep farming with some irrigated fruit and cotton crops near the river.
Bourke is the original end of the Main Western railway line, before the last section from Dubbo was closed to passengers.
Bourke is considered to represent the edge of the settled agricultural districts and the gateway to the Outback which lies north and west of Bourke. This is reflected in a traditional east coast Australian expression “back o’ Bourke”, referring to the Outback.
Bourke was mentioned in the trial of Bradley John Murdoch on November 24, 2005, as the place where murder victim Peter Falconio was allegedly seen, 8 days after his disappearance from near Barrow Creek, Northern Territory.
Fred Hollows, the famous eye surgeon, was buried in Bourke after his death in 1993. Fred Hollows had worked in Bourke in the early 1970s and had asked to be buried there.
The Telegraph Hotel, established in 1888 beside the Darling River, has been restored and now operates as the Riverside Motel
In 2008, persisent high levels of crime in Bourke led to bans on the sale of alcohol.
Additionally, the town is served by 7 FM and 2 AM stations, and 5 TV stations. There are two regional radio stations based in Bourke. 2 WEB broadcasts on 585 AM. 2CUZ FM is the regional Indigenous radio station in Bourke. It broadcasts locally on 106.5 FM. Both station broadcast to a myriad of communities in the region. The local paper, The Western Herald, is also published on a weekly basis (every Thursday) year-round, except during a short break at Christmas.