Our History

The Dungog area was called by the Kooris 'Tungog' or 'Tunkok', meaning 'the place of thinly wooded hills' in the Awabakal dialect.

Indigenous History

Dungog Shire was occupied by Koori people up to about 40,000 years before European settlement. The Kooris living in the area from what is now known as Brookfield to the headwaters of the Williams and Chichester rivers up to the Manning River belonged to a tribe known as the Gringai who are a sub-group of the Worimi. The areas known as Paterson and Gresford were home to the Gringai, with whom the Kooris in the Dungog district intermarried and interacted. Northwards, the lower Williams was inhabited by the Worimi tribe who spoke the language Kattang, with a tribal boundary with the Gringais at a point approximately at the present locality of Glen William and a territory which extended through what is now Clarence Town, down the Williams River to the coast.

Historians indicate that at the time of white settlement Koori people were present in 'relatively large' numbers in the valleys of the Paterson and Williams Rivers. They were distributed over the district in local groups or 'urras' approximately 8 miles apart, in villages which consisted of 8 or 9 huts or families. Each 'urra' occupied a defined area of land.

The earliest anecdotal reports of the Shire's indigenous population date from 1801 and were supplied by the early explorers on the rivers. Most early settlers in the Shire undertook little in the way of documentation of the customs of the original indigenous inhabitants, although some documentation by the more observant settlers referring to hunting practices, customs and corroborees can be found until the 1840's.

The coming of Europeans to the Shire had a devastating effect on the local aboriginal population. Apart from the conflicts which arose between Kooris and whites, European diseases significantly reduced the Koori population. In 1835 McKinlay noted the sharp decline in the Koori birthrate, attributing it to factors arising from contact with Europeans. It is now accepted that by the 1830's Koori society in the Shire had been irrevocably changed and damaged. From this time the population of Kooris in the Hunter as a whole fell steadily and the distribution of the population changed.

The policies of the NSW Aboriginal Board of Protection (established in 1883) were to have a significant effect on the Koori people of New South Wales in the early 1900's, however the indigenous population of the Dungog Shire had all but vanished by the time these effects were felt.

European History

European settlement in all Planning Districts of the Dungog Shire was based on the movement of settlers further from the coast and the availability of land for agriculture. Continuing settlement resulted in the principal Shire towns being established along the Williams and Paterson Rivers in the early 1800's.

Land Acquistion and Appropriation

Terms of land tenure in the early days were vague. The land was not surveyed when initially settled and settlers did not know their exact boundaries when official surveying took place.

The Hunter Valley was closed to free settlement until 1825 because of its proximity to the penal colony at Newcastle. In 1823, the prisoners were transferred to Port Macquarie, and by 1825 exploration had shown that the Hunter Valley was not as accessible as first thought.The Williams Valley was opened up in 1825 by Governor Darling, with land granted according to settlers means, ability to carry out improvements and willingness to take assigned convicts. Free grants of land ranging from 329 and 2560 acres were made from 1823, or up to 9600 acres could be purchased outright.

The first land portions in the Shire were surveyed on the basis of a line extending due north from Maitland. Early grantees were military or naval officers or free immigrants. Most grants were of flat and undulating land, with vegetation consisting of open forest and grassy woodland. Mountains and hills were generally reserved as Crown Land, and these areas were for the most part not populated until after 1861, when the NSW Land Act made it possible to select portions of between 40 and 320 acres. Prior to this Crown Land could be leased.

Background and Ethnicity of the Early Settlers

In the early days of the colony, Governor Macquarie favoured a policy which allowed ex-convicts to become free settlers. This was no longer pursued after his departure in 1821.

With the opening up of the Hunter Valley soon afterwards the path was cleared for settlement of the Valley by a landed class. Many early settlers were wealthy or were ex-military or government personnel who used their influence to obtain grants of land.

Most original settlers in the Shire came from Britain. Scottish immigration began around 1837 - Scottish people settled in many parts of the Shire, particularly Dungog and Paterson Districts with a smaller number at Clarence Town. The significant number of Scots in the Paterson district created division between them and other settlers at one stage. Immigrants were sought from Germany by land holders in the Paterson valley to assist with the production of grapes and wines. These immigrants were indentured to farmers and were free to settle themselves later. A German farming community existed in the Paterson district for a time in the mid 1830's. There is evidence that a significant number of German immigrants eventually settled in the Brookfield, Clarence Town and Gresford areas.

An influx of Welsh immigrants occurred in the Gresford district at time of settlement.

Extract from Dungog Shire Council's Community Profile of Dungog Local Government Area 1999