The Darling River (Paakantyi: Baaka or Barka) is the third-longest river in Australia, measuring 1,472 kilometres (915 mi) from its source in northern New South Wales to its confluence with the Murray River at Wentworth. Including its longest contiguous tributaries it is 2,844 km (1,767 mi) long, making it the longest river system in Australia.[1] The Darling River is the outback's most famous waterway.[2]

Darling River
Aerial view of the Darling River near Menindee
The Darling is a major tributary of the Murray-Darling system
Native nameBarka (Paakantyi)
StateNew South Wales
CitiesBourke, Wilcannia, Menindee, Wentworth
Physical characteristics
Sourceconfluence of Barwon and Culgoa Rivers
 • locationnear Brewarrina, NSW
 • coordinates29°57′31″S 146°18′28″E / 29.95861°S 146.30778°E / -29.95861; 146.30778
 • elevation119 m (390 ft)
Mouthconfluence with Murray River
 • location
Wentworth, NSW
 • coordinates
34°6′47″S 141°54′43″E / 34.11306°S 141.91194°E / -34.11306; 141.91194
 • elevation
35 m (115 ft)
Length1,472 km (915 mi)
Basin size609,283 km2 (235,245 sq mi)
 • average100 m3/s (3,500 cu ft/s) approx.
Basin features
River systemMurray River, Murray-Darling basin
 • leftBarwon River, Little Bogan River
 • rightCulgoa River, Warrego River, Paroo River

The Darling is in poor health,[3] suffering from over-allocation of its waters to irrigation,[4][5] pollution from pesticide runoff,[6][7] and prolonged drought. During drought periods in 2019 it barely flowed at all. The river has a high salt content and declining water quality. Increased rainfall in its catchment in 2010 improved its flow, but the health of the river will depend on long-term management.[8]

The Division of Darling, Division of Riverina-Darling, Electoral district of Darling and Electoral district of Lachlan and Lower Darling were named after the river.


The flood in the Darling, 1890, oil on canvas by William Charles Piguenit

Aboriginal peoples have lived along the Darling River for tens of thousands of years. The Barkindji people called it Baaka[9] or Barka, "Barkindji" meaning "people of the Barka".

The Queensland headwaters of the Darling (the area now known as the Darling Downs) were gradually colonized from 1815 onward. In 1828 the explorers Charles Sturt and Hamilton Hume were sent by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Ralph Darling, to investigate the course of the Macquarie River. He visited the Bogan River and then, early in 1829, the upper Darling, which he named after the Governor. In 1835, Major Thomas Mitchell travelled a 483-kilometre (300 mi) portion of the Darling River.[10] Although his party never reached the junction with the Murray River he correctly assumed the rivers joined.

In 1856, the Blandowski Expedition set off for the junction of the Darling and Murray Rivers to discover and collect fish species for the National Museum.[11] The expedition was a success with 17,400 specimens arriving in Adelaide the next year.

Although its flow is extraordinarily irregular (the river dried up forty-five times between 1885 and 1960), in the later 19th century the Darling became a major transportation route, the pastoralists of western New South Wales using it to send their wool by shallow-draft paddle steamer from busy river ports such as Bourke and Wilcannia to the South Australian railheads at Morgan and Murray Bridge. But over the past century the river's importance as a transportation route has declined.

In 1992, the Darling River suffered from a severe cyanobacterial bloom that stretched the length of the river.[12] The presence of phosphorus was essential for the toxic algae to flourish. Flow rates, turbulence, turbidity and temperature were other contributing factors.

In 2008, the Federal government purchased Toorale Station in northern New South Wales for $23 million. The purchase allowed the government to return eleven gigalitres (2.4×10^9 imp gal; 2.9×10^9 US gal) of environmental flows back into the Darling.[13]

In 2019, a crisis on the Lower Darling saw up to 1 million fish die. A report by the Australia Institute said this was largely due to the decisions by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on instructions from the New South Wales government. It said the reasons for those decisions appeared to be about building the case for the new Broken Hill pipeline and the Menindee Lakes project. Maryanne Slattery, senior water researcher with the Australia Institute; "To blame the fish kill on the drought is a cop-out, it is because water releases were made from the lakes when this simply shouldn't have happened.[14]

A worse fish kill occurred in 2023. Millions of dead bony bream, golden perch and silver perch, and Murray cod flowed down the river at Menindee.[15] The cause was low oxygen levels and high temperatures.[15]



The whole Murray–Darling river system, one of the largest in the world, drains all of New South Wales west of the Great Dividing Range, much of northern Victoria and southern Queensland and parts of South Australia. Its meandering course is three times longer than the direct distance it traverses.[16]

Much of the land that the Darling flows through are plains and is therefore relatively flat, having an average gradient of just 16 mm per kilometre.[17] Officially the Darling begins between Brewarrina and Bourke at the confluence of the Culgoa and Barwon rivers; streams whose tributaries rise in the ranges of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales west of the Great Dividing Range. These tributaries include the Balonne River (of which the Culgoa is one of three main branches) and its tributaries; the Condamine [which rises in the Main Range about 100 km inland from Pt. Danger, on the Queensland/New South Wales border], the Macintyre River and its tributaries such as the Dumaresq River and the Severn Rivers (there are two – one on either side of the state border); the Gwydir River; the Namoi River; the Castlereagh River; and the Macquarie River. Other rivers join the Darling near Bourke or below – the Bogan River, the Warrego River and Paroo River.

Darling River at Louth

South east of Broken Hill, the Menindee Lakes are a series of lakes that were once connected to the Darling River by short creeks.[18] The Menindee Lake Scheme has reduced the frequency of flooding in the Menindee Lakes. As a result, about 13,800 hectares of lignum and 8,700 hectares of Black box have been destroyed.[18] Weirs and constant low flows have fragmented the river system and blocked fish passage.

The Darling River runs south-south-west, leaving the Far West region of New South Wales, to join the Murray River on the New South Wales – Victoria border at Wentworth, New South Wales.

The Barrier Highway at Wilcannia, the Silver City Highway at Wentworth and the Broken Hill railway line at Menindee, all cross the Darling River. Part of the river north of Menindee marks the border of Kinchega National Park. In response to the 1956 Murray River flood, a weir was constructed at Menindee to mitigate flows from the Darling River.

The north of the Darling River is in the Southeast Australia temperate savanna ecoregion and the southwest of the Darling is part of the Murray Darling Depression ecoregion.

Population centres


Major settlements along the river include Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Tilpa, Wilcannia, Menindee, Pooncarie and Wentworth. Wentworth was Australia's busiest inland port in the late 1880s.[2]

Navigation by steamboat to Brewarrina was first achieved in 1859.[17] Brewarrina was also the location of intertribal meetings for Indigenous Australians who speak Darling and live in the river basin. Ancient fish traps in the river provided food for feasts. These heritage listed rock formations have been estimated at more than 40,000 years old making them the oldest man-made structure on the planet.[2]


Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote a well-known ironic tribute to the Darling River.[19] To quote another Henry Lawson poem:

The skies are brass and the plains are bare,
Death and ruin are everywhere;
And all that is left of the last year's flood
Is a sickly stream on the grey-black mud;
The salt-springs bubble and the quagmires quiver,
And this is the dirge of the Darling River.

— Henry Lawson

He also wrote about the river in The Union Buries Its Dead and "Andy's Gone With Cattle". Other bush poets who have written about the river include Scots-Australian Will H. Ogilvie (1869–1963) and Breaker Morant (1864–1902).[20]

The Australian band Midnight Oil wrote a song called "The Barka-Darling River" for their album Resist, drawing attention to the negative effects of cotton farming on the environment and people connected to the river.


See also



  1. ^ "(Australia's) Longest Rivers". Geoscience Australia. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Sally Macmillan (24 January 2009). "Darling River townships offer historic route". The Courier-Mail. Queensland Newspapers. Archived from the original on 12 June 2012. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  3. ^ "Challenges facing the Murray–Darling Basin". Murray-Darling Basin Authority. 24 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  4. ^ DAVIES, Anne (3 August 2021). "NSW exceeds Barwon-Darling water allocations in first year of compliance after regime overhaul". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  5. ^ McCORMICK, Bill. "Murray-Darling Basin water issues". Parliamentary Library. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  6. ^ "Two thirds of farmland at risk of pesticide pollution". University of Sydney. 30 March 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  7. ^ Nearmy, Tracey (24 October 2019). "Thirst turns to anger as Australia's mighty river runs dry". Reuters. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  8. ^ "Anger grows in Australia as the Darling River dries up". 23 October 2019.
  9. ^ Volkofsky, Aimee (13 May 2020). "Indigenous community sets up camp on Darling River to avoid coronavirus risk in overcrowded homes". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 July 2020. The Darling River, known locally as the Baaka, is central to Barkindji culture
  10. ^ Baker, D. W. A. (1967). "Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792–1855)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-522-84459-7. ISSN 1833-7538. OCLC 70677943. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  11. ^ "Blandowski, William (1822–1878)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-522-84459-7. ISSN 1833-7538. OCLC 70677943. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  12. ^ "Algal Blooms". CSIRO Land and Water. 28 January 2011. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  13. ^ Franklin, Matthew (9 January 2010). "Wong slaps down critics of $23m Darling River water purchase". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  14. ^ "New South Wales government largely culpable for fish kill, report finds". The Guardian. 18 January 2019. Archived from the original on 28 March 2023.
  15. ^ a b Ormonde, Bill; Stonehouse, Greta (18 March 2023). "Millions of fish dead in the worst mass kill ever to hit Menindee region, in NSW's far west". ABC News. Retrieved 23 December 2023.
  16. ^ "Surface Water Resources". Murray Darling Basin Commission. 29 October 2006. Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  17. ^ a b "The Darling River". Central Darling Shire Council. Archived from the original on 15 February 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  18. ^ a b "Menindee Lakes". Discovering the Darling. Murray Darling Environmental Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 April 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  19. ^ Lawson, Henry. "The Darling River". Classic Reader. Retrieved 28 May 2008.
  20. ^ "The Darling River". Bourke Shire Council. Archived from the original on 16 February 2011. Retrieved 31 January 2011.