Bellingen, New South Wales

Bellingen is a small town 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.

New South Wales
Sunrise at Bellingen
Coordinates30°26′S 152°54′E
Population3,074 (2016 census)[1]
Elevation15 m (49 ft)[2]
Location547 km (340 mi) from Sydney
LGA(s)Bellingen Shire
ParishNorth Bellingen
State electorate(s)Oxley
Federal Division(s)Cowper
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
46.0 °C
115 °F
3.0 °C
37 °F
1,517.3 mm
59.7 in


The township lies on the Bellinger River. In 1841, Government surveyor Clement Hodgkinson visited the area.[3] When naming newly discovered places, he preferred to use existing native place names rather than foreign ones, so he used the Gumbaynggir name for river, "Billingen" as the name of the area. The name has also been reported as meaning "clean water", "winding river", "quoll" and "cheeky fellow". Originally, Bellingen was pronounced "Billingen", where the "ng" was pronounced as in "sing".

When it came time to write the word, the Aboriginal voice and the European ear combined to give a spelling of "Billingen", "Billengen", "Bellengen" or "Bellingen". European usage has altered the original pronunciation to the current "Bellin-jen".

To further confuse the issue, a draughtsman who was compiling the Colony map from original documents misread Hodgkinson's final handwritten "n" as an "r"; meaning that the Bellingen River officially became the "Bellinger", while the town retained the correct name of "Bellingen".[4]


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.[5] 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[4]

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.

Heritage listings

Bellingen has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:


According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 3,074 people in Bellingen.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 4.0% of the population.
  • 78.8% of people were born in Australia. The next most common country of birth was England at 5.2%.
  • 89.8% of people only spoke English at home.
  • The most common responses for religion were No Religion 46.9%, Catholic 13.1% and Anglican 12.5%.[1]


Owing to high rainfall and its proximity to the valleys of the Bellinger and Kalang rivers,[7] Bellingen is known for its frequent flooding.[8] Tallowood Point near Bellingen often has the State's highest annual rainfall. the Bellingens Lavender Bridge also gets flooded often

Climate data for Bellingen RSL
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 42.4
Average high °C (°F) 29.8
Average low °C (°F) 17.8
Record low °C (°F) 11.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 183.5
Source: Bureau of Meteorology[9]


Bellingen was one of the filming locations for the 2003 comedy film Danny Deckchair, written and directed by Jeff Balsmeyer. Bellingen was also the notional setting of the book Oscar and Lucinda written by Booker Prize winning author Peter Carey. The film version of the novel Eucalyptus was scheduled to be filmed in Bellingen as well before it fell through.

Bellingen has a strong affinity with the arts and is home to numerous festivals: historically the popular Global Carnival (often known simply as " The Global"), the Bellingen Jazz and Blues Festival, and the current Camp Creative, the Bellingen Music Festival (classical music), Bello Winter Music and the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival, held for the first time in 2011. The first and original festival, an annual event, was the Azalea Festival, which included a procession of floats, the local brass band and pipeband, and various community organisations marching down Hyde Street to the cheers and applause of the spectators.

Bellingen also hosts the twice yearly Plant Fairs as a fundraiser for the Bellingen Environment Centre. These fairs attract thousands of visitors to the town and the 70+ stall-holders provide information and sell bushland-friendly Australian native, food-bearing and landscape plants and heirloom seeds, garden equipment, furniture and supplies to provide local food, and habitat for native birds and animals.

Tourism has been encouraged in recent years by the cafe, market, festival and motorcycling culture. More recently, there has been an annual meet for Harley Davidson enthusiasts riding from Queensland and regional NSW. This annual meet has been organised by a local motorcycling enthusiast which sees riders converging at the Diggers Tavern for accommodation and then riding the scenic roads in the region.


Notable residents


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Bellingen (Urban Centre)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  2. "Bellingen Post Office". Climate Averages for Australian Sites. Bureau of Meteorology. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2006.
  3. Nunn, H. W., "Hodgkinson, Clement (1818–1893)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 19 March 2019
  4. "The Bellingen and Urunga Museums". Bellinger Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  5. "Advertising". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 28 July 1843. p. 3. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  6. "Hammond and Wheatley Commercial Emporium". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H00186. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  7. "Bellingen Shire Council – Management Plan 2005 – 08" (PDF). Bellingen Shire Council. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 7 November 2009.
  8. "Bellingen hit by floods yet again". ABC News – Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 7 November 2009.
  9. "Bellingen Post Office". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
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