Kempsey & District


Kempsey is an ideal stopping off point for travellers to feed the friendly geese on the banks of the Macleay River or stay for a few days and explore one of the most beautiful valleys in Australia.

The Macleay River meanders through the valley and provides an aquatic playground for sport such as skiing, canoeing, boating, fishing and sailing.

Fertile rural land, dense forests, crystal clear streams and quaint country villages create a natural tapestry as the valley stretches west to the Great Dividing Range and the magnificent of the world heritage Werrikimbe National Park.

Like many other agricultural rural towns, there is an airport to facilitate crop dusting and commercial flights. Kempsey is the host for the Bridgestone International Off Road Rally, which draws people from all around Australia.

Crescent Head

Crescent Head is a seaside village, 19 kilometres east of Kempsey. Famous as a great surfing beach, this picturesque town has something for every member of the family to enjoy.

North of Crescent Head is the Hat Head National Park stretching all the way to South West Rocks. For people looking for unspoilt coastal scenery, there is plenty of exploring to do and abundant birds and wildlife.

Crescent Head is a progressive community and, throughout the year, many events are planned for the pleasure of all. The Sky Show is held annually on the June Long weekend. It is a spectacle of kites and fireworks that is not to be missed.

The pristine beaches to the south are protected from development by the Hat Head National Park and other protected nature reserves. Great fishing, surfing, sailing, snorkelling, diving and a whole range of other activities can be enjoyed in this area.

Fantastic tourist attractions can be found here, the most popular of these is the Trial Bay Goal. Now unused, this gaol once housed many convicts that were used to construct a huge breakwall. The Gaol first opened in 1886 and later in World War I it was an internment centre for 500 Germans. Today it is open for you to browse through, and look at the Museum pieces and restored cells. At the base of the Gaol there is a camping and caravaning area near the waters of the beautiful Trial Bay.

Today, South West Rocks is not only an ideal place to holiday, it also has many attractions, including an Aquarium, fishing charter boats, the Arakoon State National Park, and Hat Head National Park.

South West Rocks is also a popular holidaying destination for keen divers, with the waters around the area being equal to that found anywhere on the coast of Australia.

The sporting and recreation facilities in South West Rocks are excellent. There is a 18 Hole Golf course, two squash courts, and a swimming pool. Fishing boats, wave skis, catamarans, boogie boards and push bikes can all be hired locally.

An historic walk has been designed so that visitors and locals can explore and learn about the history of the village.

If you really want to get away from the hustle and bustle, then Stuarts Point is the place for you. Nestled on the banks of the Macleay you can enjoy both the seaside and rainforest. A stroll across the footbridge takes you through the dunes and seaside vegetation to 11 kilometres of long white beaches.

Gladstone is situated off the highway on the road to South West Rocks. An historic town it has won numerous Tidy Towns Awards. The old Gladstone Post Office is just one of the heritage buildings. It contains a huge range of antiques and collectables. Sunday lunch is an excellent time to visit Gladstone. The aroma of delicious meals is enticing. The riverside location ensures peaceful, relaxing days.

Rollands Plains (Population 600) was first discovered in November 1824 by Captain Rolland. He was in search of fertile land to grow food and breed livestock, activities that are still carried on today.

During summer there’s plenty of cool swimming holes or you can bathe in the renowned Wilson’s River.

Telegraph Point is situated 20 kilometres north of Port Macquarie on the intersection of the Pacific Highway and Wilson River, and has been so named because the telegraph line between Port Macquarie and Kempsey crossed the river there. Roads inland from Telegraph Point, drive through some of the east coasts finest rural and mountain scenery.

The seaside village of Grassy Head is one of the district’s smallest centres, located the other side of Scotts Head – a great holiday spot for families. The beach is very safe for swimming and patrolled during the school holidays. It’s also a great surfing beach. Other water sports abound. There are kilometres of clean sandy beaches and dunes for walkers and joggers. The other side of Grassy Head is Trial Bay, with 4 wheel drive access, or you can try your hand at fishing from the beach or rocks. At the end of Millington Ave is the Macleay River and at times very good fishing. A handout on historical points of interest can be obtained from the Holiday Park Manager.

The magnificent rainforests of the Way Way State Forest and the Pines Picnic area are just behind Grassy Head, as is Yarrahapinni Lookout, with its breathtaking views.

  • On Grassy Head itself is a lookout with magnificent views and a memorial to “Alexander Mackenzie” who died in 1857.
  • At the end of Millington Ave are old stone steps leading up to the old flagstaff of the Pilot Station.
  • 4 Wheel drive access to Trail Bay and the North side of the Macleay River breakwall

The History of Grassy Head 1840-1998
Exploration and early settlement – Although Grassy Head was known to the aboriginals of the Macleay who held corroborees on the flat there is no evidence of any permanent settlement or use. Captain Cook sailed past Grassy Head in 1770, the first real exploration of the Macleay River began in 1817. ” In January of that year Commander White in the Brig “Lady Nelson”, was sent to investigate the Brig “Trial”, wrecked at what is now known as Trial Bay”. He found the entrance to the Macleay River. John Oxley the Surveyor General, in 1820 came to explore the River in the “Prince Regent”he entered the mouth of the River. The first real explorer of the Macleay was Captain Wright who in 1826 travelled down the river after travelling overland from Port Macquarie. He received valuable information and help on the River from an aboriginal named “Mooney”.

The River was first called Wrights, then Trial, New or MacLeay and finally the Macleay.

The first settler to Grassy Head was probably John Campbell Stuart in 1840 [after whom Stuarts Point is named] a Scottish Boat builder who “settled near Double Corner and built from pit sawn planks, sea going Barques”. Circa 1860 Edward F. Millington a Colonial Surveyor, after whom the main Street of Grassy Head is named, drew 3 maps of the proposed Township of Macleay River, one of these maps shows the Pilot Station. This Pilot Station may have been established as early as c.1840. This date could also be taken as the date of the establishment of the Village of Grassy Head for since this time there has been permanent settlement. Captain Howard R.N. mentions the Pilot station in his report of 1887 so certainly the Pilot and his boatmen must have been the next settlers to Grassy Head. He also mentions that in 1887 there was a Post and Telegraph Office.

A Macleay River Heads School was established at Grassy Head, in a building provided by the parents of the Pilot Station in January 1891. The Teacher in Charge was Arthur Wheaton, who had less than 20 pupils.This School was moved in the 1890’s to a site on Kinki Spur ( Haas’s farm) and a new building was completed on this site in 1899. The School continued on this site until c 1903 when it was transferred to the present site of the Stuart’s Point School and it name changed to Stuarts Point.

Grassy Heads has been known by many names Beach Port, North Head, Macleay River, Macleay River Heads and Double Corner. From the mid 1850’s until the disastrous floods of 1893 the Pilot and his boatmen and their families were the only settlers at Grassy Head. In January, 1886 the River changed course coming out at South West Rocks this new entrance was further widened by the flood of 1893. On the 31st May 1902 the Pilot Captain J.A. Jamieson his four boatmen William Sanders, Henry Tessier and the other two unknown] and their families were moved to South West Rocks.

1900-1941 The quiet years – Very little was left of the Pilot Station after it moved in May 1902, from the flat between Razorback and Grassy beach, close to the Razorback. There were remains of houses, at least one old fireplace and fruit trees. On the Razorback itself were the remains of at least two sets of steps and a crain of stones on the top of the Razorback the site of the flagstaff. At Razorback Point (the end of Millington Avenue) are still the remains of an old wharf.

Circa 1920 Ernie Tessier obtained a block of land and built a house where 12 Millington Avenue now stands. The old house was burnt down circa 1970 to make way for the new one, which is still there. The site also has an old well which supposedly never ran dry. It is now filled in.

The Reserve opposite was cleared and he planted the large Morton Bay fig tree. He may also have kept stock at this site. “Old Timers”, remember a surf carnival, a club house and a dressing shed on the beach. Horse races were held on New Years Day and the caravan park was administered by a trust of Banana Growers.

Circa 1936 Leslie H Rogers acquired a block at what is now 18 Millington Avenue, although the deed is dated April 16, 1941. He built a two bedroom timber house which stood until 1985 when his grand daughter and her husband built a new house on the site.

1941-1990 Village development – From 1941 until 1973 progress was slow, Jack Byrnes built a house at 20 Millington Avenue. Ferrie Greenwood built at the end of the Street and Ken Rogan constructed a house at number 8. Bill Buchanan bought number 14, a house built by a builder Eric Wilks. Two further old time residents lived on the Reserve. Jimmy Jones had a house near the amenities block in the bay area. Buck Sipple lived in the Surf Life Saving Clubhouse on the Caravan Park. Both died about circa 1970 and their residences were burnt down and removed. In January 1973 4 new crown blocks were auctioned in Millington Avenue and 5 blocks auctioned in the New part of Grassy head, taking to total number of house blocks to 19. About this time the caravan park was taken over by the Kempsey Shire Council and developed from 1975 until 1990 by Malcolm McIllwaine(Mackie). Electricity came to Grassy Head in 1952. Town Water in 1986. Garbage collection 1989 and Main Road sealed 1991.

Fishing stories – Grassy Head has always been renowned for its fishing, both beach and rock fishing (from the stones) and many fishing stories abound. The Tailor runs are not like they were, in fact, we have seen very few Tailor in the past few years. Some of the fish caught at Grassy Heads are bream, drummer, flathead, luderick, mulloway, rock blackfish, tailor, trevally and whiting.

Over 50 years ago Snapper were caught from the rocks on the Headland so Artie Smiles once remembered. A reef named by Oscar Rowe, Oscar’s Reef still exists 300 metres from the surf line half way down the beach toward Middle Head. Snapper were also caught there.
Grassy Head – Historical Points of Interest 1990
A folk History of Yarrahappini and Stuarts Point (Stuarts Point, 1984)
Shipping Days on the Macleay [Maritime Services Board, Port Sydney Journal, c.1975]
Macleay River – Report by Sir John Coode to N.S.W. Legislative Council 1891 with two maps and report by Captain Howard R.N.