The area was inhabited by the Worimi and Birpai tribes and there are still numerous middens on the coast and on Broughton Island. The Aborigines were driven away when white settlement began in the mid-19th century with the arrival of timbergetting and boatbuilding enterprises and the establishment of small communities at Nerang, Bulahdelah, Neranie, Mayer's Point and Bungwahl.
In 1866 Rachel Henning preserved, in her diary, a record of her journey down the Myall River and a snapshot of the area: "It is quite unlike the deep, dry rocky river-beds of the North, but very beautiful in its own way, not very wide but very deep, so that the great timber-punts can go up and down it, and the banks shut in by very dense forest so that you cannot see any light through the beautiful vines hanging from the trees and dipping into the water. Then you turn a corner and come upon a bright little clearing with a settler's wooden house and a patch of maize and perhaps an orange orchard or a vineyard. Further on the forests shut you in again."
Boat traffic virtually ceased with the development of roads and there was relatively little economic activity in the area until sandmining began in the late 1960s leading to major struggles between conservationists and mining interests. Partially as a result of that conflict 15 000 ha of land was reserved as national park in 1972.