Government & Administration

governance and administration of public programs on all levels

It was common for the new European setters to describe this or that individual of the Gringai people as ‘King’ but there is little evidence that such imposed titles had any real meaning within the culture of the Gringai. The one hint of an authority structure that we have is the account of Charley stating that ‘he was deputed with others, by his tribe, to enforce the penalty’ on those who had broken Gringai law.1

For the European newcomers administration was provided by magistrates located at Paterson and Dungog.2 A nearly complete record of the outward correspondence of the magistrates at Dungog exists from 1834 to 1851 and provides a unique source of Dungog’s history and heritage. At first paid Police Magistrates, supplemented by landowner magistrates, did most of this work. After 1845, salaried Police Magistrates were replaced by local landowners acting as magistrates on a voluntary basis.3 An attempt to create District Councils such as the Paterson District Council in the 1840s seemed to have had little or no impact beyond road repair.4 Until 1893, and the formation of Dungog Municipal Council, nearly all administrative activity was of a self-organised nature dealing directly with various Colonial bodies, if not through the magistrates or the police. Roads were maintained by trusts or the District Council, schools by local boards supported by fundraising, post offices by local appointees, etc. Even after Municipal and Shire Councils were established, the police, as local representatives of State Government administration, often dealt with matters well outside law and order.

With land grants made and convicts assigned the government set up a variety of government services such as courthouses, police lockups, pounds, and barracks wherever it thought was necessary for the control of law and order. Dungog and Paterson received these services along with their magistrates early, while Clarence Town and Gresford obtained them much later. Postal services were at first run through the Clerks of the Court but later private agents were given these contracts to set up Post Offices within their shops, or in smaller centres by a school teacher or school teacher’s wife. Post Offices were established at Paterson (1834), Dungog (1835), Gresford (1841), and Clarence Town (1845), then Vacy (1860), Allynbrook (1866) and thereafter in the settlements as need arose.

The Magistrates were responsible not only for the administration of the police and convicts but also handled land sales, the granting and review of licenses for public houses, forwarded ‘Benevolent Society’ collections, distributed blankets to Aboriginal people, organised the census, and obtained statistics on wages & prices.5 As time progressed, the Bench of Magistrates seems to have acquired more roles such as acting as registrars of Births, Deaths & Marriages, inspectors of weights and measures, or of slaughter houses, though not all these tasks required a magistrate, sometimes being performed by the Chief Constable or other qualified resident.6

While the magistrates were in regular correspondence with the various colonial offices in Sydney, local residents, including the magistrates, would often appeal directly to the Governor on issues of concern, such as; on the ending of transportation, a Dungog petition to the Legislative Council not to be charged with half the Police expenses, a petition concerning the dismemberment of the Colony, and petitions concerning protection.7 The magistrate at Dungog it seems was at first responsible for settlers on the Allyn River, which runs parallel to the Williams, and these settlers wrote in 1836 to request they be allowed to deal through magistrates at Paterson rather than Dungog.8 Conversely in 1848, Clarence Town petitioned to be joined to Dungog for the purposes of court administration.9

As self-government and democracy developed, the holding of elections became a major public event. The first election for Durham in 1843 of Richard Windeyer involved magistrates and electors assembling at Paterson Court House and resulted in disputes and a riot leading to one death.10 A second election needed to be called in 1848 due to the death of Windeyer in which a Stephen Donaldson was elected over local Alexander Park, 107 to 77.11 The format of these early elections was that of a public meeting and a show of hands, with one candidate declared the winner. The loser would then generally demand a poll.12

The issues at this first election in 1843 according to one prospective candidate, Andrew Lang of Dunmore, were:

  • That a relatively low franchise is ‘the best means of elevating the great mass of society’,
  • That public expenditure is ‘susceptible to important reductions’ and the public service ‘better conducted than it is with fewer hands’,
  • That he favoured ‘religious liberty and no political distinctions on account of religion’,
  • That the ‘emigration of virtuous and industrious persons’ should be promoted, and
  • That it ‘would be neither politic nor patriotic to encourage the extensive importation of an inferior race’.13

Throughout the 19th century elections were run locally with prominent community members acting as returning officers, such as when James Boydell acted as such in the election of 1891.14 By this time public nominations had been abolished, but the selection in 1894 of Gresford as the principal polling place caused much indignation in the larger Dungog.15

By the 1890s, a prominent issue of the day was incorporation, with the Colonial government proposing local government. There was much local opposition due to fear of costs, especially on the part of farmers who felt they would end up paying the rates for town roads.16 Another issue was the slowness of the mails, with Dungog now receiving some 4,300 letters a year.17 But the most significant issue dividing the main parties was free trade and in 1891:

The Hon. J. H. Carruthers, Minister for Public Instruction, paid a flying visit to Dungog during the week, and delivered a very forcible and eloquent address on the advantages of freetrade, on Wednesday afternoon, in the Court House, to a very large audience, but I am sorry to say the hon. gentleman was not shown that respect which his position entitled him to, a few prominent and noisy protectionists making themselves very conspicuous by their hooting and yelling – one who, from his position and standing in society, should have shown a better example, being particularly remarkable for prompting a protectionist boniface to intercept by asking ridiculous questions.18

In 1901, Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister gave a speech from the balcony of the Bank Hotel, as Dungog was then part of his electorate. The giving of outdoor election speeches remained common until well after the middle of the 20th century, and in Dungog was generally done at what was known as Dark’s Corner – the corner of Brown and Dowling Streets.

The Colonial Government had been incorporating towns since the 1850s, but it was not until Dungog feared it would be incorporated with Maitland, if they did not organise something for themselves, that Dungog Municipal Council was established in 1893.19 In that year, the Municipality of Dungog was created with W A Lloyd as Clerk on £100 per annum and F. A. Hooke as Mayor. A poll was held on 14th July 1893 returning Hooke, Robson, Dark, Abbott, Bruyn and Jones. Issues of the day included the removal of stumps in the streets and general sanitation.20

It was not until 1906 that the Wallarobba Shire Council was established covering the rural areas of the Williams and Allyn Valleys, including Gresford (despite the Gresford district’s opposition to inclusion). Both councils met at first in the Dungog School of Arts until both moved into their own offices in Dungog. By this time, the magistrates were no longer responsible for State Government administration but the local police remained as a general instrument sending in reports on the local cinema, and other matters relating to state legislation and licensing. In Clarence Town, the Postmaster acted as the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Just after WWI, the returned soldiers and Dungog Municipal Council supported the building of a Memorial Town Hall, which the two groups shared for many years. A cottage, now the Police Station, was used by the Wallarobba Shire Council, and the Town Clerk seems to have kept separate offices for a time in Brighton Terrace. It had been thought that eventually the Municipal Council would take over the Memorial Town Hall as the number of returned soldiers dwindled. WWII meant that this was not to be and instead the new RSL Club took over the entire Memorial Hall and further accommodation had to be built for the Council.21

The Dungog Municipal Council had only just erected its new chambers in 1956 when the following year it was informed that its electricity operations would be taken over by Shortland County Council. The loss of revenues this entailed was felt to make the existence of this four square mile council unworkable and application was quickly made to merge with Wallarobba Shire. This the Wallarobba Shire Council agreed to, only requesting that Dungog representatives on a merged council be limited to two to Wallarobba’s six and that the name Wallarobba Shire be retained. Some opposition to the merger did come from residents of the Gresford district, their protests were, however, dismissed by a inquiry held by the Department of Local Government.22

Before the merger could take place, another local council, that of Lower Hunter Shire was dissolved and in 1958 Paterson and Vacy and their immediate surrounds were transferred to Wallarobba Shire. This was the first addition since Martin’s Creek had been added to Wallarobba Shire from Port Stephens Shire in 1923. Soon after this, Dungog Municipal and Wallarobba Shire Councils merged and to the dismay of many the new local government body was given the name – Shire of Dungog. The Minister for Local Government ignored the local preferences of many and simply followed a standard policy in naming the new Shire after the most prominent town. The then Shire President announced that: ‘We have been dealt a body blow in the name-change.’23

Little change in administration occurred in the generation that followed until the Local Government Act of 1990 transformed the structure of Local Government by shifting much authority away from elected councils and onto the newly created position of General Manager. For Dungog Shire in general, a most significant issue has been the reduction in State Government funding for roads when all roads within the Shire were declared local (as opposed to State roads). The resulting shortfall in revenue has greatly limited options for local administration since.24

Heritage Survivals

  • Magistrates’ Letterbooks, 1834 to 1851
  • Police Station (former Wallarobba Shire Offices)
  • Minutes Books of Wallarobba Shire and Dungog Municipal Council
  • Memorial Hall (former Dungog Municipal Offices)

1 Threlkeld, ‘Mission to the Aborigines, Annual Report 1835,’ Sydney Gazette, 16/7/1836, p.2.
2 Sydney Gazette, 26/12/1833, p.4.
3 Maitland Mercury, 19/3/1844, p.S1 & Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.81.
4 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.85.
5 Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook & Maitland Mercury, 25/4/1854, p.3.
6 Maitland Mercury, 13/4/1858, p.3 & Morning Chronicle, 21/11/1845, p.2.
7 Sydney Gazette, 9/5/1833, Maitland Mercury, 10/8/1844, p.2, Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.77, & Sydney Morning Herald, 9/7/1841.
8 Broughton, Boydell and Webber to Colonial Secretary, 20/8/1836 (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook).
9 Maitland Mercury, 23/8/1848, p.2.
10 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, pp.82-3.
11 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, pp.104-105.
12 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, pp.105-106.
13 Maitland Mercury, 21/1/1843, p.1.
14 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.168.
15 Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.171.
16 Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, pp.6-7 [1889, 1890].
17 Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, p.7 [1890].
18 Maitland Mercury, 27/6/1891, p.2S.
19 Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, p.9 [1892].
20 Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, p.10 [1893].
21 Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.48.
22 Dungog Chronicle, 26/3/1958, p.1 & 29/3/1958, pp.1-2, 6-7.
23 Dungog Chronicle, 30/4/1958, p.1 & p.4
24 Dungog Chronicle, 11/8/1993, p.4.