Bellingen is a small town (pop 2,721) on Waterfall Way on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. It is approximately halfway between the major Australian cities of Sydney and Brisbane. It is the seat of Bellingen Shire and has a mixture of valley, plateau and coastal environments.
The Bellinger Valley including Bellingen was first settled by Kooris - the Gumbaynggir People - long before European settlement. The first European into the Bellinger Valley was the stockman William Myles who arrived in 1840 looking for new valleys north of Kempsey and the Macleay River. The following year Myles, accompanied by Surveyor Clement Hodgkinson explored the valley and by 1842 there were cedar cutters at the mouth of the Bellinger River and sheep grazing in the valley. In July 1843 the first cargo of red cedar from the Bellinger valley was transported to Sydney. So determined were the local Aborigines to keep the cedar cutters and explorers off their land that they regularly attacked the cedar cutters camps and when Hodgkinson returned to the valley he was accompanied by members of the Yarrahappinni group who he hoped would explain his 'innocent' intentions to the locals. In 1845 it was estimated that there were 300 Aborigines living in the Bellinger Valley.
The growth of cedar cutting throughout the 1840s was dramatic with 20 pit sawers operating along the river by 1843 and, by 1849, the first timber vessel, the 'Minerva', being built by a shipwright named William Darbyshire. The cedar was hauled down to the river by teams of bullocks or horses. So rich was the area in cedar that it was estimated that over 2 million feet of cedar were being extracted each year.
In 1864 a site was set apart and reserved for the village of Bellingen. The town allotments were surveyed in 1869 and were sold by public auction at West Kempsey Court House on Sep 14 1870, the deeds in every case describing the land as in the village of Bellingen
In the 1890s, Bellingen was selected as the government centre of the valley, due to its location at the tidal limit of the Bellinger River and the availability of fresh water. A period of rapid growth ensued.
By the early 1900s, red cedar supplies were virtually depleted, except for those that survived in the inaccessible upper reaches of the Bellinger Valley. The cleared areas were turned into prime farming land and the valley became a dairying centre. The indigenous population had been decimated by disease and inability to move across the land to locate traditional food supplies, and many were killed in their bid to drive away the cedar getters and new settlers from traditional Gumbaynggir land. 'Black Jimmy' is reported to be the last full-blood member of the Bellinger Gumbaynggir People. Black Jimmy died in 1922 and is buried in Bellingen Cemetery. The Gumbaynggir People still live in the area of Bellingen.
The dairy industry crashed in the 1960s with the rise of the European Common Market, when export prices fell (with Britain no longer relying on Australian dairy products) and the margarine industry finally overcame laws restricting its production levels. Dairy farming still continues to a lesser extent.
Rainforest logging ceased altogether in 1975. Sclerophyll forest logging is still carried out, but to a much lesser extent than in the past.
In 1950, Bellingen came to national fame with the birth of the Sara Quads (Sara family quadruplets). From the 1970s until the present, alternative life-stylers purchased land in the area and built owner-built homes. Numerous intentional communities were established, many of which are still in existence. The rural lifestyle of Bellingen and surrounds has consequently diverged and is now a mix of traditional and non-traditional farming. Many of today's residents, such as artists, craftspeople, writers, musicians and horticulturalists, have established home-based activities.