The Williams Valley in addition to its towns – Dungog & Clarence Town – also contains a number of small settlements. Over time these settlements have risen and declined, often leaving very little trace so that only the place names remain.1
The existence of these settlements was often due to the number of tenants on a specific estate, such as at Brookfield, or to the subdivision of a large estate. Once sufficient families settled in an area it might attract a one teacher school, a post office or even a shop or two.
Hilldale (Big Creek): Many existing settlements grew as the dairying industry grew in the late 19th century, such as Hilldale, which had a Union Church, a Public School, a shop with Post Office and a Community Hall. The wooden Union Church remains behind a new brick one built in 1957 at a cost of £2,500.2 The area around Big Creek, called Hilldale after 1905, was first settled by the brothers Albert and John Boyce at High Park.3 Other settlers included David and Elizabeth Parish, whose Cambridgeshire Church paid £30 to help send them to Australia in 1848, William Bucknell whose 2,560 acres was known as Elms Hall, and Joseph and Lenna Eyb, from Germany in 1853, who began with a 40 acre selection at Big Creek.4
However, with the decline in dairying, by 1990 both the school and the hall at Hilldale were closed and its last public building is the Union Church.5 The subdivision of a number of former dairy farms and the possibility of commuting from Hilldale to the Hunter Valley means that, today, the Hilldale district has a population as high or higher, than it did when it once supported its full range of public buildings.
Wangat: This village is perhaps unique in having had two manifestations, both of which are now abandoned. Originally a gold mining village, it was officially surveyed in 1888 and nearly deserted by 1902.6 The builders of the Chichester dam in the 1920s established a second Wangat village during the construction phase which has in its turn also been abandoned.
None of these smaller settlements can be said to have been planned. They were, however, managed, often through the committee of the community hall or perhaps the group who lobbied the Department of Education to set up the school. In communities of this size, most such groups and committees would have been composed of the same people.
Similar settlements also arose in the nearby Paterson and Allyn Valleys.
Allynbrook: Developed around Boydell’s Caergrwle Estate after 1836. In 1844, St Mary’s-on-Allyn Anglican Church was erected and a school, at first called Caergrwle was established in 1869. A hotel, wine shop and boarding house sprang up, also briefly a soap factory and, later, timber mills, with coach services stopping in the 1890s. As with many settlements it grew and then declined with dairying.7
Vacy: Was established on the estate of the Cory grant of 1824 by the tenants of this landowner in the years after about 1855. A Church of England Church (1849) was established, also a school (1859) and post office (1860), with most of the buildings strung out along the road passing between Paterson and Gresford. In 1926, the Cory estate was subdivided and Vacy ceased to be a ‘private town’.8
Summer Hill: Like Brookfield, this was a Catholic community made up at first of mostly tenants on a large estate, but unlike Brookfield the large estate owner in this case – Edward Kealy – was also Catholic. The settlement established a Church early (the third in the Colony), and later a Public School which operated until 1975.9 The original slab church was rebuilt in brick in 1913 and still holds services.
Sites of former settlements
Former halls, schools, post offices