Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Life in the Macleay Valley - setting the scene

Having just come back from South West Rocks, this is the first of a series of short posts on the Macleay Valley.

They will be drawn especially from Marie H Neil's book, Valley of the Macleay. The History of Kempsey and the Macleay River District (Wentworth books, Sydney 1972), a book that I have to return to the South West Rocks library in the not too distant future.

Just to set the scene for those who do not know the Valley, it is long, narrow and relatively small, 11,241 square kilometers (4,340 square miles).

In the west, the Macleay River has its source along the eastern edge of the Northern Tablelands from Walcha to just north of Armidale, making for a reasonably large catchment area. In the south, the Valley is separated from the Hastings Valley by the Hastings Range, in the north from the Nambucca Valley by the Snowy Mountain Range.

In the east, the River flows out to the sea at South West Rocks, wandering through a 647 square kilometer (250 square mile) deltaic plane created by the River over thousands of years.

The Macleay Valley is an attractive place. The backing mountain ranges to the south, north and especially the east with peaks as high as 5,000 feet provide an attractive backdrop, while the Valley itself packs a variety of scenery into its small area.

The total population of the Valley (I do not have the most recent figures) is around 28,000, of which some 11,000 live in Kempsey, the biggest centre and the Valley's commercial hub.

There are a number of seaside villages on the coast of which South West Rocks (population now around 5,000) is the largest. The resident population of these, while still relatively small, has grown reasonably significantly over recent years.

Between Kempsey and the sea there are a number of smaller agricultural villages on the delta. This, in combination with the farms, makes for a varied human landscape.

The Upper Macleay is very different. Here grazing is the main activity in the generally narrow winding valley with small rural service centres at Willawarrin and Bellbrook.

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