Evans Head proudly announces that it was the first prawning port in Australia and prawns and fish are still mainstays of the local economy, supplemented by sugarcane, tourism and dairying. A substantial fishing fleet of 3040 vessels is moored at the mouth of the river on the far side of the Evans River Bridge.
Prior to European occupation the area was inhabited by the Bundjalung people and it is still recognised as Bundjalung country . The first European settler was Captain Thomas Paddon who first encountered the area during a lengthy beach walk when his coastal survey ship was unable to leave Ballina. He named the river and offshore reef Evans after the first lieutenant of his ship.
Along with others, Paddon scoured the local beaches for alluvial gold in the late 1870s. At that time Chinaman Beach was worked by some 300 Chinese miners and McAuleys Lead was established about 25 km from Evans Head.
Paddon settled at the river mouth, building a hotel from cedar logs washed up on the beach. He and his family later pioneered the application of scientific methods to oyster farming. Both his son, Jim, and his grandson, Evans, gained world titles in rowing. Jim became the first president of the local surf life-saving club and Evans pioneered the Australian prawning industry.
The area began to attract a few regular holiday-makers in the early 20th century, largely from Kyogle and Casino, and a store was opened at Evans Head in 1919. At the time, the only other buildings, amidst the dense heath, were a wine shop, two boarding houses and a few private homes. They were soon supplemented by a butchery and a bakery. The first public school was opened in 1920 and a community hall, built in 1921, was used for church services and motion pictures. A restaurant and banking facilities were established in 1925 and a post office c.1930.
The town grew rapidly when the RAAF established a bombing gunnery school in 1940 which, at its peak, had 1776 personnel. The bridge over the Evans River was built in 1962.