Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission Site | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission Site

Item details

Name of item: Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission Site
Other name/s: Barwon Mission, Brewarrina Mission, Brewarrina Aboriginal Station
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Aboriginal
Category: Occupational site
Location: Lat: -29.9804968182 Long: 146.9661414800
Primary address: The Old Mission Road, Brewarrina, NSW 2839
Parish: Cato
County: Narran
Local govt. area: Brewarrina
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Brewarrina
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT22 DP755016
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
The Old Mission RoadBrewarrinaBrewarrinaCatoNarranPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

The Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission was the oldest institutional-type community in the state that was still managed in 1965. Brewarrina Mission was the first institution formally established by the Aborigines Protection Board as part of its policy to segregate Aboriginal people. Over the years, the Brewarrina Mission was used to house other Aboriginal people from Tibooburra, Angledool, Goodooga and Culgoa to form the reserve which operated between 1886 - 1966 and was one of the longest running reserve stations in NSW. During the reserve period many Aboriginal people died and were buried in the reserve cemetery. The cemetery is no longer used by the community its integrity is held high within the values of the Aboriginal people. The entire site of Brewarrina Mission including its cemetery is a significant place to the many Aboriginal tribes including Ngemba and Murrawarri tribe as a 'place of belonging'. The place retains its high integrity in its cultural, spiritual, social and historical values to many Aboriginal people across NSW.
Date significance updated: 21 Aug 06
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Construction years: 1880-
Physical description: Today there are no buildings standing. The cemetery is located within a large pasture and is enclosed by a fence which is need of repair. There are approximately 90 graves with 50 of those being marked by wooden crosses and headstones. Near the cemetery there are 2 small burial sites which were recently done in a reburial ceremony of returned ancestral remains.
Over the old mission area, approximately 16 small interpretation panels are scattered providing information as to what was once there. Remains of the rehabilitation centre are also on the site, including the concrete slab.
Date condition updated:13 May 04
Further information: The community would like to further improve the condition of the cemetery as it is need of urgent repair. The community would also like to further enhance the interpretation signage to include a driving trail around the signs to enable better viewing. The rehabilitation centre which is now demolished needs to be cleaned up and possibly a new shed could be built on the existing concrete slab.
Current use: Educational and Promotional uses for the teaching of Aboriginal cultural history
Former use: Aboriginal occupational site and cemetery, under Government control


Historical notes: The problem of the large group of Aborigines camping around Brewarrina seemed to the first Protector of Aborigines and to the Protection Board to be one of the most pressing in the State. In 1882 a census listed 151 Aborigines and 24 half-castes at Brewarrina many reported to be suffering from venereal diseases and addicted to the habits of intemperance. In 1885 the Protection Board removed the Aborigines to a reserve 2 miles from town but urged the need for a home for Aborigines in the area. 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. (Aboriginal settlements, pg 76)

The new Mission did not attract all the Brewarrina people. In 1891 only 41 and in 1897 43 people were recorded as residents of the mission. In 1897 the Board took over the mission from the Protection Association as they were making small contributions to the enterprise of the mission. During the 1920's and 1930's many Aboriginal people were brought in from places such as Tibooburra, Angledool, Collenabari and Walgett due to other stations were closed down. (Aboriginal Settlements)

Only a few families lived out on the reserve in 1882 and had their homes near the river bank. When Aboriginal people began to arrive or were relocated, the Aboriginal Protection Board built houses from corrugated iron with board or concrete flooring. When the Aborigines from Tibooburra were relocated to Brewarrina mission their houses were made of weatherboard and were located in 2 rows at the back of the mission, next to another 2 rows of houses for the Angledool people. The Mission Church was built by Duncan Ferguson from bush timber and corrugated roofing iron with an earthen floor. The church was used for Sunday school and funerals.

In the early period the Mission contained a Managers House, Butchers Shop, School, Church, small treatment-room and hall. The school never had proper teachers, and classes were taught by either the mission manager, mission managers wife, the clinic sister or even the bookkeeper. And missions schools only had to teach to the standard Grade three. The Education Department maintained a one-teacher school in 1965.

There was a girls dormitory at the Brewarrina Mission. Once girls reached the age of 13 or 14 the Aboriginal Protection Board would remove the girls from their families to house them at the dormitory. Here they were taught how to become maids and then sent out to stations to work.

The Mission had a number of Station Managers, and the Managers house was referred to as the 'Big House'. On the arrival of a new Mission Manager, the families were allowed to make a garden to grow their own vegetables and fruit. These included turnips, onions, cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and carrots. Everyone was required to grow orange trees, lemon trees and mandarin trees. And some stone fruit trees peaches, apricots and plums. (Over My Tracks, Crawford pg 74). The last Mission Manager was William Hopkins who died in December 1900. His grave site is within the Brewarrina Mission Cemetery.

The Aboriginal people were required to wash in sheep dip. Every morning each child was required to go to the Clinic to get pink eye drops and cod liver oil. A small lump of hard soap was allocated once a month. Twice a week meat rations were supplied from the butchers shop, the first would consist of enough to feed a family chops, lump of fat or kidney with fat, piece of liver and half a neck. The other would consist of 2 shanks and a kidney to feed for a week. On ration day once a fortnight a supply of vegetables such as potatoes, onions, sugar, tea leaves, rice, flour, salt, pepper, syrup and half a bar of soap. If the Mission Manager felt that anyone was making trouble on the station, everyone in that family had their rations reduced. To obtain more food, many Aboriginal peoples would fish in the Barwon River and gather mussels.

Water was pumped up from the Barwon River and reticulated to the houses but only some of them had taps inside the dwellings. Most had outside coppers and tubs for washing and bathing and only 2 had bathrooms .

The reserve was reduced from 4,638 acres to 638 acres in 1953 and only a few acres of this were used in 1965 for the station buildings and a small cemetery. In November 1965 11 small cottages and a school, a garage, a small treatment room, a hall, and the managers house and office remained.

The last burial at the cemetery was in 1971.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. (none)-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. (none)-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. All nations - living under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909-1969-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. All nations - imprisoning and detaining Aboriginal peoples-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Migration-Activities and processes associated with the resettling of people from one place to another (international, interstate, intrastate) and the impacts of such movements Emigrating from one district to another within NSW-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Communal forms of land occupancy and management-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Birth and Death-Activities associated with the initial stages of human life and the bearing of children, and with the final stages of human life and disposal of the dead. Operating and maintaining cemeteries and burial grounds-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Brewarrina Mission is the oldest institutional type community in the state. It is associated with the significant historical phase as being the first institution formally established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1886. While there are no remaining buildings left, the original cemetery remains within the mission site which maintains the continuity of the historical activity of an Aboriginal settlement.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The site of the Brewarrina mission and the cemetery is evidence of the occupation of Aboriginal people. The station was the oldest institutional-type community in the State that was still managed as such in 1965. Established in 1886, Aboriginal people were relocated 10 miles east of the town on the opposite bank of the Barwon River. The mission is associated with the removal of many Aboriginal people from their ‘homes’ from as far as Tibooburra, Angledool, Walgett, Goodooga and Collenanebri and relocating them to the Brewarrina Mission during the 1930’s. The girls dormitory was also significant as it was utilised by the Aboriginal Protection Board to house young girls who were forcibly removed from their families to be educated in domestic work and then sent out in NSW to work.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Brewarrina Mission has a strong and special association for many Aboriginal people for its historical, social and cultural values and is a place of belonging to those of the Ngemba and Murwarri tribes. While many Aboriginal people were removed from their traditional home lands and forcibly removed to the Mission, Brewarrina Mission remains an important part to the community’s sense of place.
SHR Criteria g)
Brewarrina Mission is highly significant to many Aboriginal people within NSW to their cultural heritage values. The area is able to demonstrate the principal characteristics of the many Aboriginal people who lived at the mission during 1889 - 1966. Being the site of the first Aboriginal Protection Board institutionised community the area has the attributes to demonstrate the way of life and customs of those who lived and died on the Mission. Although there are no physical buildings remaining, the original cemetery is all the remains and it is maintained by members of the community.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT, 1977


Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission

SHR No 1732

In pursuance of Section 34(1)(a) of the Heritage Act, 1977, I, the Minister for Planning, having considered a recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, direct the Council to list the item of environmental heritage specified in Schedule “A” on the State Heritage Register. This listing shall apply to the curtilage or site of the item, being the land described in Schedule “B”. The listing is subject to the exemptions from approval under Section 57(2) of the Heritage Act, 1977, described in Schedule “C”.

Minister for Planning

Sydney, Day of 2006


The item known as Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission, situated on the land described in Schedule “B”.


All those pieces or parcels of land known as Lot 22 DP 755016 in Parish of Cato, County of Narran shown on the plan catalogued HC 1964 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.


Standard Exemptions 1,2,4,6,7,8,12,14 and 17 only.
May 26 2006
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0173221 Jul 06 935813

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAdell Hyslop Site Visit - 28 April 2004

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5053415
File number: H04/00175/1

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