Dorrigo - Culture and History

Before European settlement the Dorrigo area was inhabited by the Kumbangerie (sometimes written 'Gumbaynggir' and 'Gumbaingiir ') Aborigines. It was the western extremity of an area which was bounded by Woolgoolga to the north and Nambucca Heads to the south.

It is widely accepted that the first European into the Dorrigo was an escaped convict named Richard Craig. Craig lived with the local Aborigines and, pursuing their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, wandered between the coast and the Dorrigo plateau throughout the year.

The first official European in the district was Land Commissioner Oakes who sited the mouth of the Bellinger River on the 3rd of August 1840. By 1841 timber cutters had entered the Bellinger River searching for red cedar. They set up camps and moved from one stand of trees to the next.

It was not until the 1860s that permanent settlement occurred in the district.

Over the years there has been some truly wonderful controversy about the naming of Dorrigo. For decades the official version was "At this time Major Edward Parke explored the Dorrigo Plateau planning to settle there. Major Parke had fought in the Peninsula Wars under a Spanish General named Don Dorrigo. He decided to honour this Spanish General by naming the eastern section of the plateau 'Dorrigo'."

Some sources disagreed with this explanation suggesting that the name 'Dorrigo' was an abbreviation of 'Dondorrigo' which was said to have been a local Aboriginal word for the stringy bark gum tree.

Then, in 2002, a group known as the Dorrigo Plateau Walking Together Group issued a firm press release insisting "We note on your Web Page that you make reference to a Spanish General by the name of Don Dorrigo as the antecedent for the naming of present day Dorrigo.

"For the sake of accuracy and consistency this information needs to be corrected.

The NSW Geographical Names Register records that the name has its antecedence in the Gumbaingiir language, the name of the indigenous people upon whose land Dorrigo stands, and it means 'Stringy Bark' (Dundurriga).

"Extensive research has also been conducted with the Spanish Military Archives in Madrid re "General Don Dorrigo" and they have confirmed that no such person ever existed.

"As a gesture of reconciliation and sign of respect to the local Gumbaingiir People you are invited to delete any reference to 'General Don Dorrigo' and source your information regarding the origins of the name Dorrigo from The Geographical Names Register."

Somehow this story stands as a wonderful symbol to Australian history. How did the story of the Spanish General ever get started? How could everyone have got it so wrong for such a long time? Are we so careless with our history that we would allow such a story to be perpetuated?

Anyway, to continue: Throughout the 1860s people settled on the Dorrigo Plateau. The cost of settlement was ten shillings a year for 40 acres and this attracted people eager to exploit both the wool and cattle prospects of the land and the rich stands of rosewood, silky oak, cedar, marble wood and Arctic beech.

By 1865 a track had been constructed from Dorrigo down the mountain to the Bellinger valley. This ensured access to the coast. Up to this time it had taken Dorrigo settlers up to six months to make the return trip to the coast.

The reputation of the Dorrigo Plateau as a place of great richness and fertility had spread so that by the early years of the twentieth century the area was being subdivided and hundreds of people were moving to the district. After the Great War farms were made available to soldier settlers. With few exceptions these farmers converted the area into a rich and productive dairy produce district. Cream was sent to Bellingen and then on to Brisbane and Sydney by sea. By 1906 Dorrigo had its own butter factory. By 1922 it had a bacon factory and by the 1930s there was considerable potato growing in the rich local soils.

Today Dorrigo is a quiet country town. Although it still exists, the timber industry has declined in importance. Dairying is still important. The area around the town is particularly attractive. There are a number of interesting waterfalls and bushwalks as well as numerous outstanding views across the Bellinger Valley.