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Kempsey and the surrounding Macleay Valley was first inhabited by the Dunghutti people. Kempsey’s first white settler was Enoch William Rudder. In 1836, he surveyed the land for a private town and named it Kempsey as the countryside reminded him of Kempsey in Worcestershire, England. Settlers were drawn to the area in search of the rich stands of cedar and rosewood.
Today, Kempsey is the commercial heart of the Macleay River valley and home to that famous Australian icon, the Akubra hat. Kempsey is a progressive town with a strong sense of community. Three historic walks, one each of West, Central and East Kempsey, have been devised to help people explore the town. Copies of the brochures are available from the Museum in the South Kempsey Park.
Many of Kempsey’s sons and daughters (or adopted sons and daughters) have achieved fame in their lifetime and brought great credit to the Macleay Valley. Slim Dusty, arguably Australia’s greatest country music performers, was born and raised west of Kempsey at Nulla Nulla Creek. His childhood home still stands surrounded by the magnificent scenery made famous in song by Slim and his childhood mate, Shorty Ranger.
Widely read author, Thomas Kenneally, spent most of his youth in Kempsey. His book, “A River Town”, is based in Kempsey in the early 1900’s and a plaque commemorating his links with the district can be seen outside Chaddies Store in East Kempsey where he lived.
World acclaimed architect, Glenn Murcutt, designed the Kempsey Cultural Centre in South Kempsey. This award winning building which houses the Visitor Information Centre and historical museum, is visited by thousands of architects from all over the world each year. The museum and settlers cottage have also won awards; ever changing displays and collections tell the story of the valley’s past and there is an active family history group and a research centre attached to the museum.
One collection that has received national attention is Angus McNeil’s glass negatives. Angus was a prolific photographer in the area from the late 1890’s through to the 1950’s. His legacy, over 250,000 glass negatives, provides an enviable photographic record of people, places and events in the Macleay Valley. And even Tommy Woodcock, Pharlap’s strapper, spent his youth west of Kempsey at Uralgurra and Bellbrook.
Aboriginal heritage and culture are very much a part of Kempsey today. The museum has an excellent display of aboriginal artefacts and an extensive file on local aboriginal studies. Visitors can wander through a traditional food tree park, buy authentic aboriginal art and craft or see bora rings, fish traps and middens.
One of Australia’s finest aboriginal artists, the late Robert Campbell Junior, lived and painted in Kempsey. His works hang in the National Gallery in Canberra, and in galleries in London, Italy, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. The valley is also home to many other talented artists and craftsmen and their work is displayed in galleries throughout the area. An information booklet "Handmade in the Macleay" gives an insight into these artists and craftsmen.
Shopping centres, restaurants, cafes and takeaways, 18 hole golf club, 2 bowling clubs, RSL club, 5 hotels, tennis courts, squash courts, gymnasiums, boat ramps, ten pin bowling alley, recreation centre, heated 5 pool swimming complex, archery range; pistol, shotgun, big and small bore rifle ranges; community halls, movie theatre ( open Friday to Monday only) horse racing track, greyhound track, churches; pre, infants, primary and secondary schools; full range of child care facilities; TAFE college; 110 bed hospital; Visitor Information Centre, picnic and barbecue spots, parks and lookouts.
Museum & settlers cottage, Angus McNeil glass negative collection, Wigay Cultural Park, art and craft galleries, cultural centre and Visitor Information Centre ( Akubra video can be viewed here), Rudder Park Lookout, Euroka Lookout, Rudder Park, Riverside Park, heritage walks, freshwater fishing, canoeing, horseriding.