Brief History

1800 – 1830:  Early contact & Settlement

The valleys of the Paterson, Allyn and Williams Rivers, to give them their recently bestowed European names, were home to many generations of the Gringai people. From the early 1800s, and with increasing intensity after the late 1820s, large portions of land were granted to various individuals who moved up the valleys establishing farms and attempting to transform the landscape.

At the beginning of this period, exploration up the Hunter River from Newcastle saw Europeans go as far as the navigation on the Williams River. By 1812, a number of small grants were made around what became Clarence Town and Paterson. It was not until the 1820s that large grants began, at first along the navigable section of the Paterson and Williams Rivers.

By 1828, a lockup was established on the Paterson River and the first land grants began to be made higher up both the Williams and Allyn Rivers. In 1830, the ‘Limits of settlement’ for the Colony of NSW were defined and Durham County was one of the original nineteen counties within these limits.

1830 – 1860:  Churches & Schools {Top}
Grantees employing convict labour began to establish farms for sheep, cattle and crops such as wheat and corn. The heads of navigation on the Williams and the Paterson Rivers became the transshipment points for the produce of these farms. The William IV was built on the Williams River at Clarence Town – the first steamship built in Australia. In 1832, 90 acres were purchased on the Paterson River for a town site (Paterson) and in the same year the settlement of Erringhi changed its name to Clarence Town. Dungog and Paterson received Courts of Petty Sessions in 1833 and postal services were established by 1834.

The hanging of a Gringai man at Dungog in 1835 marked a period of conflict. A few years later, a barracks for mounted troopers was built at Dungog and blankets distributed to the Gringai. By the 1840s, four settlements of note – Paterson, Clarence Town, Dungog, and Gresford – were developing with a mix of government services (courts & lockups) and private businesses (inns & stores).

In the generation following the initial grants, a mixed farm economy developed in the three valleys based on a combination of convict labour and free settlers, with the convict element quickly dwindling after 1840 with the ending of transportation. The main crops were wheat, corn, and tobacco, along with sheep and cattle, while timber was also cut. The pattern for both Dungog and Gresford was set from this early time, with these towns positioned at the centre of prosperous agricultural districts supporting their existence and gradual growth. Their relative isolation from larger centres and the coast also kept them from developing faster, while the size of the Paterson/Allyn Valley relative to the Williams Valley is reflected in the relative size of these two service centres. Clarence Town and Paterson also acted as service centres for their districts, but thrived largely as river ports transshipping goods between settlements further up their respective valleys and the wider world.

National Schools (later Public Schools) were early established at Clarence Town, Glen William, Brookfield and Dungog. In 1852, the Hunter River New Steam Navigation Company was formed by mainly Dungog and Clarence Town based merchants, and a reading room was established in Dungog.

1860 – 1890:  Selection & Commerce {Top}
As population grew, local communities built their own churches and began to think in terms of wider culture and entertainment. Horse races, cricket and other activities were more frequently organised, and by the 1860s and 1870s so too were Mutual Improvement Societies, and later Schools of Arts, Masonic and Oddfellows societies. Outside government intervention was limited, with its main impact through the establishment of schools and education.

Throughout this first generation after European settlement, as the Gringai people themselves declined in numbers due to murders, disease and intermarriage, the European population was largely divided between relatively few large landowners and many tenants, along with some smaller landowners and those living in the towns. Agricultural production was overwhelmingly dominant, and for smaller farmers this meant mixed crops of wheat, corn and tobacco. For larger landowners, who described themselves as graziers, it was mostly beef cattle. Timber provided the main alternate manner of living off the land at this time, though beekeeping, fruit and vegetable growing, chickens, and a dairy cow would have supplemented most families’ incomes.

The first Selection Acts were passed as more churches, particularly Catholic Churches were built in the 1860s, and in 1867 Clarence Town received a Court House. Throughout the 1870s, many one teacher schools opened around the valleys, as population grew and government funded education expanded. In 1872, a School of Arts began in Dungog and gold mining at Wangat, and two years later the telegraph at Dungog. In 1878, Wade’s Cornflour Mill opened at Dungog and in 1880 both Clarence Town and Dungog received new Post Office buildings. In 1882, the last sizeable group of Gringai people was removed from the valleys to a distant mission. Two years later a Dungog branch of the Bank of NSW was established. In 1887, the first Dungog Agricultural Show was held and the following year both a Catholic School and the Dungog Chronicle were established in Dungog.

1890 – 1920:  Dairying & Technology {Top}
The agricultural landscape began to change with the rise of the dairy industry in the 1890s. From that period on, smaller farmers and tenants had a much more reliable source of income. At the same time, the population of the rural districts increased as selection enabled more to take up farming and as many of the larger estates were subdivided, with existing tenants also often becoming land owners. This coincided with a boom in the timber industry and the coming of rail (which demanded sleepers), creating a long period of prosperity for the entire district, even as the arrival of the railway in 1911 reduced the prosperity of the river ports of Paterson and Clarence Town.

In 1892, Dungog Cottage Hospital opened and the following year Dungog Municipal Council was formed. In 1901, Prime Minister Edmund Barton addressed crowds in Dungog in the year the first car made its appearance, while the following year Wade’s Cornflour Mill closed and moved to Sydney. In 1904, the telephone was installed at the Dungog post office and in 1906 Durham College opened and Wallarobba Shire was formed. The big event of the period was the coming of the railway through Paterson and Dungog in 1911, with its booming consequences for Dungog and dampening effect on both Clarence Town and Paterson. The following year the Dungog Electric Lighting Co was established and its Picture Palace opened. In 1913, the Williams River Navigation Steamship Co liquidated and in 1914 the Commercial Bank established a branch in Gresford. In 1920, the Dungog Memorial Town Hall was built and jointly occupied by the Municipal Council and the RSL.

1920 – 1950:  Tourism & Talkies
Dairying continued to grow as an industry, as motor cars and the railway made the delivery of milk to processing centres easier. Clarence Town and Paterson declined or stagnated, while Gresford and particularly Dungog boomed, added to at Dungog by the building of the Chichester Dam. In 1925, the Barrington Guest House was built and the Dungog and Barrington Tourist League founded. Cinemas began showing movies in all the towns, while the cinema in Dungog was renovated in 1930 in time for the talkies. Dungog received a sewerage system in the 1940, after much political controversy. Country Women’s Associations began to be founded, and tennis playing became very popular, as did dancing. During the Second World War as prices rose, dairy farmers first began to complain about the low incomes they were receiving.

The early 20th century brought an increasing range of technology – electricity, motor cars, cinema, lights, and telephones – which, despite the Great War and even the Great Depression, meant a long period of gradually improving standards of living for most. This is not to say that class differences did not exist or that many throughout the district did not continue to live in relative poverty. However, between the wars and for many years afterwards the communities of the Dungog Shire district maintained strong social institutions that provided a great many of the social supports required. Hospitals, baby health centres, new entertainment venues, churches, and schools were all provided and supported with funds from community organised activities.

1950 – 1980:  Closures & National Parks {Top}
The first proposed Tillegra Dam in 1951 was opposed by a community united behind its productive dairying industry. Before that proposal was withdrawn, in 1957, all the private hospitals in Dungog had closed and the year after Wallarobba Shire and Dungog Municipal Council merged into Dungog Shire Council.

Much began to change in the 1960s as women entered the workforce in increasing numbers and as the number of dairy farms began to decline. The resulting fall in the number of families, plus the increasing use to the motor car, led to nearly all the one teacher schools of the three river valleys closing.

Mains water came to Clarence Town in 1960 and in 1965 Tocal College was founded by the Presbyterian Church. In 1971, Dungog High School opened and the court houses at Paterson and Clarence Town were converted into museums. The creation of the Barrington Tops National Park further reduced the timber industry and on the Allyn River, the Pender & Foster Mill closed. In 1972, the last cinema of the district, the James Theatre at Dungog, ceased to show films. In 1978, the Upper Allyn company title village was created from the former saw mill workers’ village. In 1980, the last blacksmith in Dungog closed.

The bridging of the Williams River at Raymond Terrace and the growth of the two car family meant that the major centres outside the Dungog Shire district, such as Maitland and even Newcastle, were within an easy day’s travel. This resulted in the commercial precincts of all the major towns shrinking, sometimes to as little as a single general store and a garage. Clarence Town and Paterson fared the worst in this regard, largely maintaining themselves as commuter suburbs of larger centres outside of the Shire. The lack of employment opportunities for younger people also resulted in increasing numbers leaving the area once their education was completed.

At the same time, the improved transport that saw many leave also began to attract people to a quieter rural lifestyle. A period when smaller subdivision was allowed in the 1970s brought an increase in population density to specific areas. Since the 1980s, regulations have attempted to slow the subdivision of agricultural land, but while slower, much agricultural land has continued to been taken out of production for what has been termed ‘lifestyle’ use.

1980 – 2012:  Lifestyle & Dams {Top}
A second Tillegra Dam proposal was made in 1981 and again resisted by a united community. Smaller schools continued to close and even churches, with St Killian’s at Brookfield closing in 1982, the year the Barrington Tops National Park was listed as a World Heritage Area. The following year Dark’s General Store at Dungog closed and Clevedon Hospital at Gresford the year after that, replaced in 1985 with a Community Health Centre. Croll’s Mill at Dungog closed in 1987 and that year a Museum opened in the former Court House at Clarence Town.

While many younger people left the valleys as jobs in the timber industry and on farms disappeared, others in search of a rural lifestyle moved into smaller properties. Their need for agricultural education led to the annual Tocal Field Days. Other signs of outside influences on the three valleys are the Dungog Film Society and the annual Pedalfest.

The development of Clarence Town and Paterson into commuter suburbs began to add to their commercial faculties for the first time since the 1950s. In 2006, the Barrington Guest House burnt down, the same year a third Tillegra Dam was proposed, a proposal that split a community now even more anxious about its economic future.

Developments, both social and economic, continue, perhaps symbolised by the first annual Dungog Film Festival in 2007. In 2010, the third Tillegra Dam proposal was withdrawn as some businesses and long-term social institutions close. At the same time, new residents seeking ‘lifestyle’ changes continue to arrive, adult education was re-established in the district in 2012, and many now find jobs in the Hunter Valley to which they commute.