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Bourke’s population – can we stop the drift?


Increased employment opportunities in farming and abbatoir work are expected to bring more people to Bourke. Photo TWH

Bourke’s population has fallen at each census count since the year 2000.

And without further investment in job-creating industries, the population is expected to continue falling.

With the eagerly anticipated reopening of the North Bourke goat abattoir this year, and the recent revival of the cotton and grazing industries following drought, the outlook for Bourke has improved.

Throw in some local mining activity, and things could be looking good for Bourke for the next 10 years.

And as we recover from the COVID lockdowns, the local tourism industry is experiencing a resurgence of city dwellers exploring the outback.

A local abattoir, cotton, other irrigated crops, grazing of sheep, goats and cattle, plus tourism – have all brought people to Bourke in the past, and have kept people in jobs.

These core industries have also stimulated business activity in the Bourke township, and supported services like schools, housing, churches, sporting clubs, health services and local government.

However, the 2021 census results show that more people have drifted away from Bourke, Brewarrina, and other outback towns.

At the beginning of the millennium drought in 2001, the Bourke Shire population was 3,951.

At the 2006 census, as the drought raged on, the Bourke Shire had lost some 702 people – a reduction of 18% in five years, leaving a population of 3,249.

A further 381 people were lost from Bourke Shire from 2006 to 2011 (12% reduction), and another 234 people in the five years from 2011 to 2016 (another decline of 8%).

Between the census of 2001 and the census of 2021, the Bourke Shire lost 1,562 people. This drift away from Bourke represents a 40% reduction in population over 20 years, leaving a Bourke Shire population of just 2,389 people in 2021.


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