Brewarrina is an outback town situated at the point where the Barwon River becomes the Darling, located 810 km from Sydney and 98 km from Bourke, Brewarrina is 119 meters above sea level. It has a town population of about 1500 people with a further 1500 living on properties around the town.
The first settlers arrived in the district around 1839-40, with the first land owners being the Lawson brothers. In 1859 a riverboat called Gemini skippered by William Randell reached the town. This opened up the possibility of the town developing as a port and by the early 1860s it was recognized as the head of navigation on the Darling River.
The town was formally surveyed and laid out in 1861 and proclaimed on 28 April 1863, the same year Brewarrina had its first newspaper.
In 1866 the Brewarrina Police station opened with one senior constable and one constable until 1904 when there was one sergeant and four constables. One was a mounted constable who rode his horse to outposts to check if all was well and to hear any charges. This same year the Gongolgon Police station opened. This is a small town 28 miles south of Brewarrina and was the depot for Cobb & Co.
The 1870s were something of a boom time for the town. In 1873 the Mechanics Institute was formed. The following year two hotels, two stores and the Commercial Bank all opened and in 1875 a public school was established. All this development was largely due to Cobb & Co. who had a number of coach services passing through the town. There was a service from Byrock, one from Dubbo via Warren and, in 1874, a direct service from Brewarrina to Enngonia north of Bourke.
Brewarrina saw its largest recorded flood in 1890, there have been several floods since but with modern machinery to build levee banks the town is now fairly secure from floods.
Brewarrina is the first town in NSW to have two state heritage listings of Aboriginal significance…
The first, known as the Ngunnhu (noon-oo) to the local Ngemba people, are the Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps, which are estimated to be more than 40,000 years old, they lie on the bed of the Darling River just downstream from the weir. The traps consist of a series of stone weirs and ponds arranged to form a ‘net’. These fish traps are pieces of masterful ingenuity designed to trap fish and be sealed off so that the fishermen could catch and kill the fish at their leisure.
In 1901 R. H. Mathews wrote this description of the process:
'During the early spring months of the year, or at any time when there was a fresh in the river, the fish travelled upstream in immense numbers. The stone pens or traps had their open ends towards the direction from which the fish approached...as soon as a sufficient number of the finny tribe had entered the labyrinth of traps, the openings were closed by means of large stones which had been placed alongside ready for use...The natives next entered the pens and splashed the water with their hands or feet, thus frightening the fish into the smaller enclosures, where they were more easily caught.'
For the fishing enthusiasts, Bre ( as the locals call it) is a very popular area for huge Murray Cod, Yellow Belly, Brim and Catfish (and that’s not hard to believe considering the largest officially recorded Cod was caught in the Barwon River near Brewarrina and weighed in at 113kg). The pristine waters and abundance of fish present the angler with unrivalled opportunities at many easy accessible fishing spots along the river, including under the Old Barwon Bridge – famous as being one of only two surviving examples left of the first series of lift span bridges in NSW.
The Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission is also state heritage listed and was the first institution formally established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1886. This mission was part of the Aboriginal Protection Board’s policy to segregate Aboriginal people.
In 1882 a census listed 151 Aborigines and 24 half-castes at Brewarrina. In 1885 the Protection Board removed the Aborigines to a reserve 2 miles from town. In 1886 the Aborigines Protection Association established a mission on a reserve of 5,000 acres, 10 miles east of the town on the opposite bank of the Barwon River.
In the early days of the Mission, the structures were limited, containing a Managers House, School, Butchers Shop, Church, hall and a small treatment-room.
Mission schools had only to teach to a Grade three standard. The mission school never had proper teachers; classes were often taught by the clinic sister, the mission manager, mission manager’s wife, or even the bookkeeper.
The mission’s policy and the number of different languages groups within, meant that many people stopped using their language.
In 1936 the NSW Aborigines Protection Board demanded major amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act. These amendments gave the Board the power, for the first time, to confine Aboriginal people against their will. This mission is associated with the removal of many Aboriginal people from their ‘homes’ and the girls dormitory was no exception. It was used by the Aboriginal Protection Board to house young girls who were forcibly removed from their families at the age of 13 or 14 to be educated in domestic work, and then sent out in NSW to work.
The reserve was reduced from 4,638 acres to 638 acres in 1953 and In November 1965 11 small cottages, a hall, a school, a garage, a small treatment room, the manager’s house and office remained.
This mission was the biggest mission in Australia until it was closed in the late sixties and the last burial at the cemetery was in 1971.
Brewarrina is host to one of the most famous Rodeos in the far west of New South Wales, the 'Barwon River Rodeo', which is usually held on the New South Wales Easter long weekend. Brewarrina is also well known for its annual 'Festival of the Fisheries', which celebrates Brewarrina's Aboriginal and European History. Sadly, the event has sometimes not been held in recent years.
Other annual events include the local agricultural show, and the Bre Races. Especially noteworthy is the Brewarrina 'Surfboat Classic', the only one of its type, in which canoes are raced up the Barwon River. This event usually attracts hundreds of spectators from neighbouring communities and even from the east of the state.
The townspeople of Brewarrina play a variety of sports. The town has a local Rugby Union club & team, the Brewarrina Brumbies. Rugby League is a very popular sport in Brewarrina, with the town sporting a number of different teams. Netball is a popular sport and is played weekly, there are over 12 teams playing in the local competition.
The Brewarrina Golf Club is renowned throughout the western region as one of the best 'oiled' green golf courses. Other major played sports in Brewarrina include bowls, shooting, tennis & swimming. Brewarrina also has a very successful circus skills program, which trains local kids skills in circus training and gives them the opportunity to travel across the country to places like Adelaide and Melbourne. This program has also given particular kids the chance to travel overseas, with one girl travelling to South Africa to perform in the art of circus skills.
Brewarrina, on the wide Barwon River is an ideal place to fish. With the largest officially recorded cod being caught here, weighing 113 kilograms (250lbs), Brewarrina is always a buzz when "the fish are biting". The river is also used for swimming in the summer months, and is a great spot for water skiing.
Brewarrina's most significant feature is its Aboriginal fish traps. Known in the local Aboriginal language as Ngunnhu, the traps are believed to be at least 40 000 years old, possibly the oldest surviving human-made structure. Consisting of river stones arranged to form small channels, the traps directed fish into small areas from which they could be readily plucked. The traps were included in the National Heritage List on 3 June 2005  -the only such site in NSW outside of Sydney- with a current application for World Heritage Listing. The ready availability of fish made Brewarrina one of the great inter-tribal meeting places of pre-European eastern Australia.