Historic Waterway Fact Sheet – Click here

People, Explorers & Settlement


  • Aboriginal people arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago and reached the Murray-Darling River system about 40,000 years ago.

  • The earliest evidence of human occupation so far found in Australia has been located at Lake Mungo in Western NSW, not far from the Darling River.

  • Records indicate that Aboriginal people have been living along the Darling River for over 30,000 years.


  • The explorer Charles Sturt was the first white man to see the Darling River in 1829. He named his discovery after Governor Darling.
  • The floodplains of the Darling catchment were first settled by sheep and cattle pastoralists in the 1840s.
  • From 1853, river transport placed an important role in opening up western NSW.  River boats traveled up the Darling as far as Mungindi on the NSW/Queensland border.
  • Wentworth, Wilcannia, Tilpa, Louth and Bourke were major ports for the busy paddle steamer river trade in the mid to late-1800s.
  • The river trade reached its peak between 1870 and 1880 but declined as railways gradually took over.
  • The largest urban centre in the lower Darling catchment is Broken Hill.  Other major centre’s include Brewarrina, Bourke, Wilcannia, Menindee and Wentworth.