History & Heritage


Council's Community Strategic Plan identifies the following actions in regards to Heritage: Nambucca Valley Council will actively support the preservation of our local heritage and will promote an understanding of and respect for the Valley’s Indigenous cultural heritage.

In 2013 Council sought resource assistance from the Office of Environment and Heritage to commence a heritage program. Council was successful in gaining funds to support the funding of services for a heritage advisor for three years (now concluded) and also the commencement of a Local Heritage Grants Program.

Our Grants program is now in its fifth year. Several heritage properties have benefited from having access to these funds and funding is available again for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 financial years.

Table of contents

  • Local Heritage Grants Program
  • History Walks
  • Heritage Listing
  • War Memorials
  • Heritage Publications and Photographs
  • Heritage Services
  • Conservation Services
  • A short history of some of our towns and villages

Local Heritage Grants Programs

Each year, Nambucca Valley Council, with assistance from the Heritage Branch of the Office of Environment and Heritage, offers small grants to property owners for maintenance works on older, heritage listed buildings in the local government area.

For the 2018-2019 financial year, there will be a total of $12,000 in the fund made up of a government grant of $6,000 and $6,000 from the Council.

This grant funding is used as an incentive to assist property owners of heritage listed items that are identified in the Nambucca Valley Council Local Environmental Plan and encourage as much positive work on heritage items in the area as possible.

Projects funded through this program may include (and not be limited to): conservation works and maintenance works projects; adaptive reuse projects; urban design projects that support heritage; interpretation projects; and conservation management plans.

Projects that are normally funded include:

  • repairing walls, verandahs, windows or roof plumbing on older buildings
  • repairing or reconstructing traditional front fences or other boundary work to protect older houses or sites
  • repairing and conserving older buildings, historic remnants or grave sites

Funding will not be provided for:

  • new buildings, extensions or unsympathetic work
  • routine maintenance (eg lawn mowing, gutter cleaning or carpet cleaning)
  • projects where adequate funding is available from the applicant or other sources
  • projects where substantial government assistance has been previously provided
  • projects where the applicant has yet to complete other assisted projects
  • new commemorative monuments or works
  • purchase of heritage buildings
  • relocation of buildings or work to relocated buildings
  • private headstones, unless there is no possibility of descendent support for the project.

The maximum level of funding per project will be generally limited to $4,000.00 and not exceed 50% of the value of the project. Greater funding may be made if the circumstances warrant it.

The property owner will normally be required to provide at least matching finance for the project and there will be cases where they may wish to contribute more to the project.

Below is an example of a successful project Bowraville Bank Building






Further information about this fund can be obtained by contacting Council’s Development and Environment Section on (02) 6568 0228 or email council@nambucca.nsw.gov.au


History Walks


Explore the country town of Macksville on the Nambucca River and take our History Walk, visiting historic Hotels and quaint riverside cafes.

Click here for Map(PDF, 5MB)


Visit historic Bowraville with its wide streets and historic buildings scattered throughout this lovely little town in the hinterland.  Take our History Walk on High Street. 

Click here for Map(PDF, 5MB)


Heritage Listing

New South Wales has two main types of heritage listings, known as heritage items and conservation areas. Heritage listings flag that a place or object has heritage significance.

Four main statutory lists contain heritage listings for places that are significant locally, state-wide, Australia-wide and/or world- wide.

The two statutory lists that are applicable to the Nambucca Valley are:

  • Nambucca Valley Council’s Local Environmental Plan - listing locally significant heritage places and conservation areas
  • The NSW State Heritage Register - lists our State’s most significant heritage places and objects known as items of state heritage significance

As physical links to Australia’s past, heritage places trace the transition of Australia from its ancient indigenous origins to a penal outpost of Great Britain to the advanced culture of today’s developed nation.

Why list?

Listing is the way our heritage places are identified and managed. This safeguards the environmental, economic and social benefits of these limited resources for present and future generations.

As with zoning, certainty is the driving reason for listing. By flagging our heritage places, listing gives owners and the community certainty about what is a heritage place. It provides advance knowledge about the approvals process, and confidence that future changes to listed places and surrounds will be sympathetic ahead of important decisions such as purchasing.

Early listing avoids the uncertainty, delays, unforeseen costs and unnecessary conflict that can result when heritage is identified late in the development process.

Listing is the established world-wide method for managing heritage. Before listing existed in NSW, community protests about widespread heritage destruction resulted in the building union ‘green bans’ of the 1970s. This saved the Rocks and other heritage places from demolition at the time and ultimately led to our State’s first contemporary laws for heritage listing in 1977, the Heritage Act.

What does listing mean?

By providing a balanced framework for managing change, listing keeps heritage places authentic, alive and useful. Australian heritage places are not inflexibly bound or ‘mothballed’ by listing. Listing will not stop all change or freeze a place in time. Listing is a beginning - the first step in protecting our significant places - not the end result. Statutory listing protects our State’s heritage places in three basic ways: recognition, approvals and support. Further information about heritage listing and what it means for you can be viewed in the NSW Government Heritage Listing Explained PDF document.


Conservation Areas

A Conservation Area is an area where the historical origins and relationships between elements such as the buildings and the street layout create an overall sense that is worth maintaining.

The purpose of a Conservation Area is to protect heritage and make sure that new development does not detract from the streetscape, landscape and character of the area.

There are two (2) Conservation Areas in the Nambucca Valley. These are:

Nambucca North Headland

Bowraville Conservation Area

Nambucca Headland Conservation Area

Bowraville Conservation Area

These Conservation Areas also contain individually listed heritage items.

Also located on NSW Legislation website - Nambucca Local Environment Plan 2010.

The following publication "Design In Context: Guidelines for infill development in the historic context" should be used when designing within the Conservation Areas of the Commercial and Village Precincts.

The publication sets out guidelines that aim to provide parameters by which architects and building designers can contribute to the future in a creative and inspiring way, while ensuring the special qualities of a heritage place are retained.

The guidelines do not seek to exclude the extraordinary but to improve the ordinary and encourage quality while demanding respect for the existing context.

A copy of this publication can be viewed on the NSW Government Environment and Heritage - Design In Context PDF document.


War Memorials

In the aftermath of the Great War, communities across Australia built war memorials to perpetuate the memory of those who served their country and who lie buried in foreign soil or beneath the seas.

War memorials are made of a variety of materials such as sandstone, trachyte, marble, granite, brick, terracotta, concrete, bronze, copper, timber and cast iron, either separately or in combination.

The common types include the First World War “statue” (typically a Digger on a plinth, and more rarely other types of figurative sculpture, in stone or bronze), the “obelisk”, the “cenotaph” and the column. We find memorial arches, gateways, fountains, halls and other utilitarian structures.

Post 1945 memorials come in an unlimited variety of designs and materials, from simple walls of remembrance to complex sculptural compositions. Many towns have both war memorials and an honour roll listing the names of those who served. Together they constitute a material record specific to our individual towns and localities.

There are more than 3,000 war memorials in NSW, and the NSW Government and the RSL (NSW Branch) are committed to documenting each of these memorials with care and respect.

The Register of War Memorials in New South Wales provides information and a search engine to help you find war memorials for veterans throughout NSW.

The Register can be viewed on the Register of War Memorials in NSW.

Three of the more prominent war memorials in the Nambucca Valley are:

  • Bowraville War Memorial on High Street
  • Nambucca Heads War Memorial on Riverside Drive
  • Macksville War Memorial on the River Street foreshore

Heritage Publications and Photographs


Over the years there have been many books and articles written and/or published about the heritage of the Nambucca District.

One book that tells the history of the Nambucca Valley very well is "Precious Memories – A photographic history of the Nambucca Shire" which was researched and compiled by historian David Dunne in 2001.

Others worth a look at are:

  • Valley of the Crooked River – European settlement on the Nambucca, by Norma Townsend, 1993
  • Valla Memories, by Brenda Gadsby, 1997
  • Tewinga – The first 100 Years, by Karl T. Hogg, 2008
  • Scotts Head – As good as it gets, by Buz Brazel, undated

These and many other publications about the Nambucca District, these can be viewed at the Nambucca Valley Libraries.


The Nambucca District retains an impressive collection of early photographs. While some photographs are in private collections the Nambucca Valley Libraries, the Nambucca Headland Museum – Headland Drive, Nambucca Heads, the Bowraville Folk Museum – 86 High Street, Bowraville and Mary Boulton’s Pioneer Cottage – 38 Gumma Road, Macksville also have photographic collections.

The Frank Partridge VC Military Museum at 29 High Street, Bowraville is also a wonderful resource.

Another source that is available to the public who are seeking early photographs of the Nambucca District is Picture Australia which is part of the National Library of Australia - Trove.

The Picture Australia service has been provided for use by all Australians, to discover our heritage as documented in pictures. Through a single access point, it is possible to search the image collections of many significant cultural institutions, without having to know where the images are held.

Heritage Services

Building and design professionals who have experience in heritage conservation work are invaluable to any heritage project. Heritage consultants, heritage builders and heritage architects are trained to offer a high degree of expertise in historic buildings and traditional construction. This is an especially important consideration if the building you are altering is a heritage item.

The NSW Heritage Branch maintains a database of conservation architects, builders, and suppliers of heritage services for you to find the right heritage expert for your situation. You can use it to search for a heritage practitioner relevant to your particular job.

NSW Government Environment and Heritage - Heritage consultants directory

Conservation Services

It is also advisable that the appropriate tradespeople and products be used in any heritage project.

To assist people in finding heritage tradespeople and products the NSW Heritage Branch maintains a database for you to find the right product or service for your situation. You can use it to search for a heritage product or service relevant to your particular job.

NSW government Environment and Heritage - Conservation products and services directory


A short history of some of our towns and villages – from the mid-1800s onwards


The first official town site for what we now know as Bowraville was located on the north side of the Bowra river at the furthest navigable point on the North Arm of the Nambucca River. Originally called Bowra the name was changed when the first postmaster reported confusion with Bowral. The site was on the main route from Bellingen to the Nambucca Heads, but it was too far from the jetty. The government appears to have bowed to the inevitable. The first official plan for the village, in 1871, established it on its present site, which included land owned by Joseph Conen.

By 1883 most of the larger suburban lots north of Conen’s land had been acquired by William Sullivan and the Gaddes. These two also owned smaller suburban allotments in or near George Street.

Growth in the 1880s was slow. New settlers were moving further up the river and the rural population was gradually increasing and by the 1890s when the rest of the country was experiencing a recession, the local population appears to have grown.

The new prosperity was largely due to the introduction of paspalum grasses in the district. This improved pasture led to the establishment of dairying and new rural wealth.

While George Street had been the focus for much of the town's early development a new bridge built in 1888 at the bottom of Cook Street had a dramatic impact on the town. Firstly, it gave easy access to the town to those farmers living on the north side of the river. Secondly, being the first bridge across the Nambucca, it drew new traffic to the town. Coupled with improvements to the road to Bellingen more traffic to Bellingen would now have passed through Bowraville.

Most importantly High Street was best placed to take advantage of this passing trade. While there was still considerable traffic on George Street, to and from the wharf, this traffic also proceeded along High Street.

The town saw the building of churches, stores, a bank and a school and the government consolidated its presence with the opening of a new Court House in 1899 and an official Post Office was erected next door in 1900.

Bowraville was described in an 1890 Illustrated Sydney News article as ‘a small silver mining community’. Early parish maps show silver mining leases in the hill's northwest of the township. But by 1909 “more than 30,000 bags of maize are shipped annually from Bowra wharf and about 2 million super feet of timber.”

The early twentieth century was the town’s most prosperous period. Dairying became the dominant industry in the district and in 1905 a co-operative was established.

Bowraville grew to become a service town for the farmers and timber getters, but it was also a coach stop on the coach road between Kempsey and Fernmount.

Bowra’s central location also saw it become the base for the Nambucca Shire Council which held its first meeting in 1915. Previously the district had been part of the Bellingen Shire.

Growth in the 1920s probably led to new residential subdivisions in the town and despite the recession of the 1930s and the town being overtaken by Macksville, Bowra still held its own.

The post-war years saw the final decline of George Street. The local wharf had long since fallen into disuse. The silting up of the river mouth in the 1930s, and improved road and rail transport saw the end of the river trade and High Street emerged as the commercial centre of the town.

While many changes have taken place over the years including the closure of businesses and fires that have destroyed many buildings Bowraville’s preserved and consistent 1920s streetscape has turned out to be one of its major assets.


Macksville is located on the Nambucca River, a river with a particularly dangerous bar at the river mouth and a river lacking extensive alluvial plains. The town was started at the junction of the river and at the convenient spot for crossing over the river, about fourteen kilometres upriver from the ocean, opposite Newry Creek. The first wharf was located where there was deep water adjacent to the riverbank and this probably influenced the location of the town. At this spot in 1882 Thomas Boulton built a pub (now demolished) on the southern side of the river and by 1891 there was a small settlement strung along the dirt track, later known and River Street and Princess Street. The 1891 census shows 118 people living in Macksville. A government wharf was established, the Court House built in 1892, Mackay’s Store was built in 1888, the Star Hotel in 1895 and the Primary School in 1897, all, except the wharf surviving today.

The river was the highway, to Nambucca at the ocean, Bowraville at the head and the lifeline to Sydney by steamboat and the occasional sailing boat. The trade to Sydney was timber, maize and vegetables and dairy products from the co-op. Macksville was the retail hub of the Nambucca Valley with William Burch building his two-storey shop in River Street, later leased to Reid and Fotheringham. They subsequently built their own general store next door in 1910, and a new store at the corner of Princess Street in 1919. Gradually the timber cottages in River Street were replaced by Shops.

The arrival of the railway in 1919 and the growth of importance of the motor vehicle brought a decline to the river trade. The town continued to grow to service its farming hinterland due to both the railway and the North Coast Road going through Macksville.


The export of dairy products through the excellent organisation of the co-ops brought prosperity to the North Coast. In the Macksville area the farming was concentrated on Jersey dairy cows run on farms of 100 to 200 acres, producing cream for butter for export to Sydney. The provided a lot of middle-income farmers who supported the growth of the town. Vegetable growing and other crop farming also continued.


From the 1920s through to the 1950s there was a rich social life in the town, centred around the cinema in River Street and the School of Arts in Princess Street. Musicals, dances and theatre were all held here. The river was used for recreation with regular regattas for speed boats, rowing, surfing and sailing boats. There was horse racing and trotting at the showground on the hill.


In 1931 the town centre changed again when the punt crossing of the river was superseded by the opening of the traffic bridge at Cooper Street. The main highway now went up Wallace Street with Princess Street being bypassed. Wallace Street was developed from 1915 onwards with the building of the Nambucca Hotel and other buildings following soon after.


By the middle of the 1930s there were four major banks, three large general stores and all the other shops and businesses that make up a country town.


After World War II a group of enterprising farmers formed the Midco Company which successfully processed and sold processed meat to the state. In the 1950s, Reid and Fotheringham’s general store employed over thirty staff.


From the 1960s, dairy farming changed from an emphasis on butter to milk. The cows changed to Australian Illawarra Shorthorns and the industry dwindled. The popularity of the motor car and truck transport reduced demand for rail. Young people started moving to the cities to find employment and the coastal towns attracted retirees. Supermarkets replaced general stores, and verandahs and verandah posts were removed from shopfronts due to the supposed danger of cars hitting them.


The town is continuing to look to reinvent itself in the light of the highway bypass of Macksville.


(Information taken from the Heritage Main Street Study Macksville, Jamison Architects Pty Ltd, December 1999)


Nambucca Heads

Early Nambucca Heads was based on sawmills and shipping, with many transients and businesses on a knife-edge between success and failure. The settlement was a collection of sawmill workers’ cottages scattered on the slopes overlooking “Log Hollow”, now Gordon Park, with the only building of substance being the Victoria Hotel established in 1887.


Work could be had at the number of sawmills in town but also doing other timber-related work such as splitting shingles from forest oak, splitting ironbark spokes for log trolleys or bullock carts and bagging wattle bark, to be sent to Sydney tanneries.


Nambucca Heads was the seaport that served the valley, but it was a port with problems. The bar was continually silting up and the river was notorious for the same. Ships were river-bound or wrecked causing delays and loss of life and goods, which slowed the early development of the valley.


Nambucca Heads was seen as just a place to live and work. Its beauty only began to be exploited in the late 1930s when more reliable transport in the form of the railway and better roads, brought holidaymakers.


(Information from “Precious Memories”, by David Dunne, 2001 – copies available for purchase from Nambucca Shire Council)