For the Traditional Owners, travelling through the Darling catchment appeared to present few problems. Walking and canoes were their principal forms of transport.
It was not until white settlement, that transport was seen as presenting great challenges. Overcoming these challenges laid the framework for some of today’s transport links and also played an important role in creating the heritage of the Darling River communities.
Walking, horses and wagon drays were the first modes of white settler transport, followed quickly by riverboats. However, the Darling presented more of a challenge for navigation that the Murray River. Settlement was far-flung, the river winding, the flow erratic and it contained numerous navigation hazards. In 1859, the first paddle steamer steamed up the Darling delivering cargo and returning with wool.
The river trade was complimented by camel trains that were very useful in this vast and arid landscape. Camels were first introduced into Australia in the 1840’s to assist in exploring the inland. Between 1840 and 1907, between 10,000 and 20,000 camels were imported from India.
These camels and the Afghans suffered great hardship and sacrifice to help open up the catchemnt and bring supplies to the distant communities. The Muslim section of Bourke’s cemetery and the mosque is a reminder of the men and women who tracked across the vast catchment with camel trains carrying goods and products to and from Darling River settlements.
The 1880s marked the beginning of the end for river trade as roads and railways were built. The camel trade lasted into the 1900s but by then had played a significant role in the white exploration and settlement of inland Australia.