The name Bellingen dates back to August 1840, when the Commissioner of Lands for the Hastings District, Henry Oakes, recorded in his diary that he crossed the Bellingen River. It appears that he named the river after its aboriginal name. To the local Gumbaynggir people the area was Baliijin (which may come from Baalijin meaning quoll or native cat).
This is a copy of Hodgkinson’s “Aboriginals spearing fish on the Bellinger” from his 1845 book. The original is a watercolour believed to be in the National Library of Australia.
By 1843 cedar cutters had entered the valley to exploit the rich resource of timber available around the river and creeks. The intensity of their activities declined in May 1846, after the murder of two sawyers and one of their wives in April, and most cedar cutters left the area having discovered alternative sources of cedar further north.
The first land selectors did not arrive on the river until 1863 and because of navigational restrictions Fernmount became the principal village. However, Boat Harbour as Bellingen was first known, was selected as the site of the first court house and lockup, and shortly after the village site was proclaimed as Bellingen in October 1870.
This photo is believed to have been taken near Repton in 1906, and shows the Alma Doepel in the background as well as river traffic in mid stream.
The first public school in the valley was opened at Boat Harbour late in 1870 and as settlers spread further west along the river the village developed in the 1880’s when stores, a hotel, and churches were established, and by the turn of the century Bellingen had become the main town in the valley. The postal name Boat Harbour had preceeded Bellingen and continued to be used until 1890 when the official postal address was changed to Bellingen.
As detail in above photo shows (click to enlarge), the first half of the tree was cut through with axes. This gave a wedge-shaped cut on the direction they wanted the tree to fall. Then they would saw through from the other side, using wedges to stop the tree from swaying back and pinching the saw. All of this work would involve two or more men climbing up and cutting slots for their boards, then balancing a few metres off the ground on those 6″ wide boards and swinging razor-sharp axes, or wielding a 2 metre crosscut saw day after day.
The photo above shows Hyde St in 1910.
The establishment of the Raleigh Hospital at Bellingen in 1903, the first bridge across the river in 1911, and further development of the commercial centre firmly established the township as the hub of the Bellinger Valley.
Many thanks to Jim Allen, Pat O’Brien and Ian O’Hearn of the Bellinger Valley Historical Society Museum for photos and information.
For further information go to the Bellinger Valley Historical Society Museum, Bellingen Shire Council Grounds, 6655 0382