The Macleay Valley is the heartland of the Dunghutti people, with remnants of their ancient culture remaining today. Extending from the eastern coast to the tablelands in the west, Dunghutti country encompasses Kempsey, Bellbrook, and the towns of the Macleay Valley Coast.
Dunghutti people were hunters and gatherers, who lived in harmony with the land. Their pattern of life was governed by sacred laws, handed down through countless generations.
There are significant Dunghutti sites remaining in the Macleay Valley Coast in remote areas – middens and a fish trap in the Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve and a Bora Ring at Richardsons Crossing just north of Crescent Head.
Along the creeks and on the tablelands of the Macleay River hinterland, stone implements have been found, as well as spears, boomerangs, shields, digging sticks, water and food carriers. Sacred sites were marked by scarred trees, and axe-grinding grooves have been found.
Earliest European settlement was recorded in 1827 when Captain A C Innes established a cedar party north of Euroka Creek on the Macleay River.
Today, Kempsey is the commercial heart of the Macleay River valley and is a progressive town with a strong sense of community. Many locals have achieved success, including country music singers Slim Dusty and Shorty Ranger, author Thomas Kenneally, photographer Angus McNeil, Pharlap strapper Tommy Woodcock and Aboriginal artist, the late Robert Campbell Junior. More recently, singer Joe Robinson and champion surfer Samantha Cornish have both experienced world-wide recognition.
The Macleay River Historical Society’s award-winning museum in the Val Melville Centre is an excellent source of historical information, photographs and artifacts. Housed within a building designed by the renowned architect Glenn Murcutt, the museum traces the Macleay Valley’s history from the time of Aborigines to today.