defending places from hostile takeover

Dungog has been involved in defence in a number of ways. The local Gringai people defended themselves against the influx of European settlers and it seems against members of other tribes or clans on occasion. In addition, along with all of Australia, the residents of the Williams River Valley participated in assorted international wars, with many from the district enlisting, and those who remained participating, in a variety of support activities before, and commemorative activities afterwards.

At least two occasions of resistance with violence by the Gringai people as a result of the settlement of their valleys by Europeans are clearly recorded. The first, in 1834, was when a camp was attacked and one of the intruders speared, and the other in 1835, when a totem was violated, and those seen to be responsible were attacked and killed at Rawdon Vale just outside the Williams Valley. In addition, at least one retaliatory attack by Williams River settlers associated with the 1835 killings is rumoured to have taken place at an uncertain location in the Barrington Ranges just to the north of the valley. Another possible massacre site at Black Camp is also spoken of locally, though with few details.1

Conflicts between the Gringai people and other Aboriginal groups also took place within the European period, as presumably they had done previously. The journal of Charles Boydell records one such conflict.2 In 1843, the ‘Paterson’ and ‘Port Stephens’ tribes are reported to have joined in a fight against those of ‘Maitland’.3 In 1844, those of ‘the Dungog and Gloucester tribes’ joined in an attack on those ‘of the Stroud and Booral tribes’.4 And again, in 1846, Dungog people are reported attacking those at Stroud.5

Regarding European settlers, mounted troopers were based for a time in Dungog at barracks that now form part of Dungog Courthouse. In 1842, the troopers at Dungog were one serjeant, two troopers and one dismounted trooper, with local landowner John Mackay supplying provisions at a reputedly high rate.6 While these troopers would have responded to any disturbances relating to the remaining original inhabitants of the Williams, Paterson and Allyn River valleys, their original role was to deal with absconding convicts and disturbances related to the newer inhabitants. However, on their withdrawal in 1848, many locals urged fear of attacks by ‘natives’ as a reason for their remaining:

Our mounted police have orders to proceed to head quarters at the close of the year, the station here being about to be broken up, … This is much to be regretted, on account of the longing of our black neighbours for fresh beef.7

It is apparent that loss of cattle rather than threats to life was the main concern by the middle of the 19th century. Once any organised threat from the Gringai people had passed, the involvement of the people of Williams River district in defence relates to their support for the many international conflicts that Australia as a whole has participated in, including maintaining and training armed forces. This involvement in such international wars actually began with the first land grants, with many grants being made on the basis of service in the wars against Napoleon. Such grants at nearby Paterson included Captain James Phillips (Bona Vista), Captain William Dun (Duninald), Lieutenant William Ward (Cintra and Clarendon), Lieutenant Commander Frederick Bedwell (Valentia), Captain John Johnston Cory (Vacy and Cory Vale) and in Gresford the Waterloo veterans, Thomas Rodwell and Thomas Handcock.8

The first war supported by those settled in the Williams Valley would seem to be the Crimean War with a patriotic fund in support of the war set up in 1854.9 The first war in which people from the Williams Valley participated directly, was the Boer War. Some of those returning alive received gold medals and some of those who did not were commemorated. Arthur Percy Briton Grey and Martin LG Grey, are commemorated in the gates of St Anne’s Church, Gresford and Alexander Eagleton in the gates at Clarence Town Park.10

Previous to the First World War, a local private school in Dungog, Durham College, had maintained a horse troop reputed to be the only one in NSW at the time. Also around this time the military were anxious for a place to train, and a permissive occupancy was proposed of part of the Dungog ‘Travelling Stock and Temporary Common’. A ‘large sum of money’ was proposed to be spent, some £109 for the 5½ acres.11 This set up a rifle range on which shooting competitions were common.

It was WWI, or the Great War, which saw large scale participation on the part of the residents of the Williams Valley. As many travelled outside the area to enlist, it is difficult to know how many from the district enlisted. However 234 AIF members are recorded as having been born in Dungog and 52 in Clarence Town, as well as numerous others in the various settlements.12 Not only did many enlist, but groups such as the Hands Across the ‘C’ and the Women’s Patriotic Fund were formed to raise money and sent material to the troops. On their return, Returned Servicemen Clubs were quickly formed, as were Ladies’ Auxiliaries – at Dungog known as the Wattle Club until 1967. In 1920, a Memorial Town Hall was built in Dungog and war memorials erected at numerous other locations.

Community groups commonly erected Honour Rolls to mark the names of those from their community who did not return as well as those who served that did come back. The dedication of one such Honour Roll in St John’s Church at Vacy on the Paterson River in 1918 is one of many:

The occasion was the important one of the dedication of an honour roll recently erected in the Church by the parishioners in memory of the men who have …. made the supreme sacrifice. The board, which cost £21, measures about six feet x two feet, is of polished cedar beautifully carved, is from Red Cross industries, Sydney, and is the work of returned soldiers. … the wife of the senior churchwarden … unveiled the tablet, which was covered with the Union Jack … At the close of the service the congregation adjourned to the local School of Arts, where a reception was given … and while refreshments were being partaken of, kindly provided by the ladies, short speeches were delivered … A few musical items and recitations were given and a most enjoyable evening was brought to a close with the signing of the National anthem.13

Clarence Town began with a memorial to the Boer War, then one to the First World War of a uniformed Digger that is now its central memorial, followed by a Second World War memorial playground. The WWI memorial was erected with community fundraising and, unusually for such memorials, was placed on private land when the community’s chosen design was considered too grand for a small community. The Clarence Town community purchased a private easement and placed its favoured design on it. It was not until the 1980s that Dungog Council assumed ownership from the descendants. Since 1988, this memorial has been the venue for an Anzac Dawn Service.14

A Dungog Troop of the 16th Hunter River Lancers had been formed in 1909 and between the wars participated in many training exercises, including winning the Lord Foster Cup (for machine gun troops) in both 1931 and 1932. Gresford also seems to have had a Light Horse Troop.15

During WWII, participation was similar, with many enlisting and others forming support organisations. An aspect of this war, absent from WWI, was the greater participation of the ‘home front’. This included troops being camped at the Dungog Showground, Paterson Park and other locations and many exercises taking place in the district. Local services were also required to help make armaments, such as garage workshops at Dungog and Paterson.16 In June 1942, a convoy of army jeeps went from Singleton to Dungog via the Barrington Tops.17

Men in occupations that did not allow them to enlist were required to join the VDC (Volunteer Defence Corps), which included regular meetings and field exercises. Various facilities were seen as possible targets and a guard was put on the Bandon Grove Bridge and the local mounted police officer, Constable Jack Bell patrolled the pipe line. The dam was also patrolled, mainly by employees of the then Works Department. The authorities were very concerned about dangers to the water supply and the Dungog Chronicle came under the eye of the censor for referring to it in an article; the editor was warned.18

After the Second World War further memorials were erected, including the Dungog Memorial Bowling Club and the Lych Gate at the Anglican Church. With an enlarged membership the Dungog RSL was able to raise funds to extend its Memorial Hall, eventually pushing out the Council offices to become the sole occupier.

Residents of the Williams Valley continued to provide participants in all the conflicts that Australia has been involved in up until that currently in Afghanistan.

Heritage Survivals

  • Dungog Memorial Town Hall

  • War memorials and Honour Boards

  • Rifle range (Dungog)

1 See the Gringai.

2 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, pp.216-217.

3 Maitland Mercury, 3/6/1843, p.2

4 Maitland Mercury, 13/4/1844, p.3.

5 Maitland Mercury, 21/10/1846, p.2.

6 Australasian Chronicle, 30/8/1842, p.2.

7 Maitland Mercury, 1/1/1848, p.2.

8 Brouwer, The Paterson at War, p.2.

9 Maitland Mercury, 21/3/1854, p.1S.

10 Brouwer, The Paterson at War, p.3 & Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, p.22 [1902].

11 A101; Rifle Range Dungog, 23/3/1907.

12 Mapping Our Anzacs – (accessed, 4/4/2012).

13 Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, pp.42-43.

14 Interview with Ian Lyall, 28/3/2012.

15 Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.6.

16 Brouwer, The Paterson at War, p.31.

17 Hartley, Barrington Tops, p.41.

18 SP109/3; Miscellaneous Newspapers – Dungog “Chronicle”, Department of Defense, 8/2/1943.