History & heritage

Local history and heritage are important aspects of any community, and Kempsey Shire has a long and fascinating history of Aboriginal and European activity. 


  • The Thunggutti/Dunghutti people lived in harmony with the land for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers in the Macleay Valley. Read more about our Aboriginal culture & communities.
  • The earliest recorded European settlement was in 1827, when Captain Innes established a cedar cutting party on the Macleay River north of Euroka Creek.
  • In 1836, Kempsey’s first European settler, Enoch William Rudder, surveyed the area to establish a town. He named it Kempsey because the countryside reminded him of Kempsey in Worcestershire, England.
  • There are more than 100 sites of heritage significance listed in the Kempsey Local Environmental Plan 2013.

Notable places

Our history lives on in local places, spaces and stories. Visit these sites of historical interest found around the Macleay Valley.

Slim Dusty Centre

Australian country music performer Slim Dusty was born and raised west of Kempsey at Nulla Nulla Creek. The Slim Dusty Centre at Kempsey houses the Slim Dusty Museum, the local Visitor Information Centre, a travelling exhibition gallery, a cafe and gift shop as well as function and conference spaces.

Kempsey Museum

Operated by the Macleay Valley Historical Society, Kempsey Museum showcases the history of the Macleay Valley from before European settlement to the present day. The museum includes a pioneer cottage furnished with historical artefacts. 

Trial Bay Gaol

Just east of South West Rocks, Trial Bay Gaol was built between 1877 and 1886 to house prisoners constructing the Trial Bay breakwater. In 1903, the breakwater project was abandoned and the gaol closed. The site has since become a popular destination for visitors and is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. 

Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Built in 1891, Smoky Cape Lighthouse near South West Rocks is one of the oldest working lighthouses in Australia. 

Gladstone Conservation Area

Established in the 1860s, Gladstone is a river town 16km north-east of Kempsey. Passengers and freight were once despatched from Gladstone wharves for Austral Eden, the Belmore River, Kinchela, Kinchela Creek and other lower river areas. Gladstone has 19 beautifully preserved heritage buildings which house shops, art galleries and restaurants. 

Bellbrook Conservation Area

Bellbrook, 47km west of Kempsey in the Macleay Valley hinterland, is a small town whose origins date to the introduction of timber cutting in the area in the 19th century. The main street has traditional architectural forms from around 1900 to the early 1920s. The town has magnificent views into the valley and hills beyond.

National parks and reserves

The Macleay Valley’s national parks and reserves offer scenic landscapes, prolific wildlife and stunning vistas.

About 40 minutes north of Kempsey, Yarriabini National Park has a range of hikes, swimming spots and beautiful views. On a clear day, from the top of 498-metre Mount Yarrahapinni, you can almost see the entire Macleay Valley Coast.

At the foot of Mount Yarrahapinni, there is an artwork that uses traditional Aboriginal painting styles. This reflects the coming together of the Gumbaynggir and Thunggutti/Dunghutti communities, who share a common Aboriginal cultural dreaming story related to the creation of Mount Yarrahapinni.

More information