RAHS 2018 Conference – Port Macquarie’s History & Heritage

Surveying the Past, Mapping the Present
Saturday 20 October – Sunday 21 October 2018

Port Macquarie, ca. 1840 by Joseph Backler (1813-1895). [Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales]

As most of our subscribers/followers will know, the 2018 RAHS Conference is being held at Port Macquarie this year. In 1905, previous RAHS President Frank Walker described Port Macquarie as ‘one of the most delightful holiday resorts in the State of New South Wales’ and was a place ‘saturated with historical associations’. [1] While Walker’s observation was made 113 years ago; the same could easily be said today as Port Macquarie is still known for its beaches, hinterland and various attractions. Correspondingly, Port Macquarie is an area rich in history – from the Birpai [2] Aboriginal peoples who occupied the area around the Hastings River for tens of thousands of years, to its naming by Surveyor-General John Oxley in October 1818 and its later establishment as a penal settlement.

Port Macquarie locals John Heath, Tony Dawson and Clive Smith will be providing more information on Port Macquarie’s early history at our 2018 Conference on Saturday 20 October.

Traditional Birrpai man John Heath, will discuss local oyster farmer, photographer and historian Thomas Dick ­– who from 1910–23 – took photographs of re-enacted scenes of traditional Birpai activities as he believed the Indigenous people were ‘dying out’ and sought to record their way of life before it was lost forever.

Retired university scientist Tony Dawson will explore the early estates of the Hastings as Port Macquarie was opened to free settlers in August 1830, with much of the land along the Hastings and Wilson Rivers taken up not long after. For the most part, relationships among the settlers were amicable, however disputes over fences and personal feuds occasionally disrupted the peace.

Retired archivist, Clive Smith will talk about the breaking up of the convict establishment at Port Macquarie. Having been established in 1821 as a place of punishment for secondary offenders, by the 1840s the character of the settlement and its inhabitants had changed markedly. Lists prepared to enable the Government to make a decision about the future of the settlement in 1846 enable us to survey the convict population at the time and possibly identify the last convict to be sent to Port Macquarie.

To learn more about our 2018 Conference, including workshops, tours and the full program and to reserve your spot, visit our Conference webpage.


[1] Frank Walker, ‘The Early History of Newcastle and Port Macquarie’, JRAHS, vol. 1, pt. 10, 1904-05, p. 204.
[2] As John Heath outlines in his book Birrpai: Beyond the lens of Thomas Dick, there are many variations to the spelling of Birpai and can include: Birpai, Biripi, Birrpai, Birrbay, Pirripaay. John Heath, Birrpai: Beyond the lens of Thomas Dick, Port Macquarie Historical Society Inc, Port Macquarie, 2018, p. 10.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply