The first white settlers who arrived in the district around 1839-40, named the settlement “Walcha Hut” but this was later changed to “Fishery” and, finally, to “Brewarrina”. In 1859 a riverboat called Gemini, skippered by William Randell, reached the town and by the early 1860s Brewarrina was recognised as the furthest navigable point on the Darling River. The town was formally surveyed and laid out in 1861 and proclaimed on 28 April 1863.
The 1870s were something of a boom time for Brewarrina. The Mechanics Institute was formed in 1873. The following year two hotels, two stores and the Commercial Bank all opened and in 1875, a public school was established. All this development was largely due to the development of Merino Wool production in the Brewarrina area which is still the main industry in the Brewarrina shire today.
Brewarrina is situated where the Barwon River flows through what is thought to be the oldest man-made structure on earth. The Brewarrina fish traps are estimated to be 40,000 years old and are a great example of human ingenuity. Brewarrina was one of the great inter-tribal meeting places of Eastern Australia for Aboriginal people and the shire is home to the Ngemba, Muwarrari and Yualwarri peoples. The fisheries, or Ngunnhu, sustained thousands of Aboriginal people during the tribal gatherings held prior to European settlement. No one knows exactly what the word “Brewarrina” means. There are five competing interpretations of the name, several of them mutually exclusive. The most common translation is “clumps of acacias”; others are “where the gooseberry grows”, “fishing”, “acacia clumps” and, perhaps the most plausible, “place of gooseberries”, coming from “warrina”, meaning “place of”, and “bre” or “burie” or “biree” meaning “gooseberries”.
One of the most important events in the history of Brewarrina occurred when the first train departed on 2nd September 1901. The railway was made possible after a petition for the construction was forwarded to the Minister for public Works, Mr. John Lackley, in September 1881. The railways replaced the river trade on the Barwon/darling river carrying large quantities of wool.