The traditional Aboriginal population of the Paakantji people have been calling the area in and around Wilcannia home for some 40,000 years. Since white settlement, the town has been filled with buildings constructed from locally quarried sandstone. Wilcannia has a strong mining history, with both gold and opals discovered in the area.
The township reached its height in the 1880s. In 1879 the Red Lion brewery (it is no longer standing) was built at the northern end of Reid Street. Its great claim to fame was that it was the first brewery which the famous beer baron Edmund Resch built in Australia.
At this time Wilcannia became the third-largest port on the Darling River. In 1887, 222 steamers stopped there. The town was also at the centre of a number of coach routes which traversed Western New South Wales. Some of the coaches were built here.