The traditional lands of the Worimi and Birpai tribes first became utilised by white people around 1823. At this time the new penal colony at Port Macquarie sent the convicts around the district to fell and transport local timber to build the growing settlement.
Soon after this, the Australian Agricultural Company leased almost a million acres of crown land encompassing the entire Great Lakes Region and surrounds. Their aim was to establish a variety of endeavours including the breeding of livestock and the production of wool and crops. When the land and climate proved unsuitable for these ventures, the company surrendered most of the land back to the crown in exchange for more suitable land elsewhere.
Timber cutters began to move into the region around the 1830’s in search of cedar, tallowwood and pine from the local forests. They followed the waterways around the lakes and used them to float timber back to the settlements. Saw mills were often the first structures to be built in these early townships.
When free settlers took advantage of generous crown land leasing opportunities around the 1860’s they attempted many different forms of agriculture. Again the land and climate worked against them; however the dairy industry did prove suitable and has since flourished. The fishing industry was established in the 1890’s by a few migrant settlers around the Tuncurry area. The name ‘Tuncurry’ is derived from the Worimi word for ‘Plenty of fish’ which is almost an understatement.
As the timber cutters moved northward the ship builders began to follow the developments to cater for the increased transport needs. Sailing ships and then steamers were used to transport timber and other local produce to Sydney. Punt services operated between Forster and Tuncurry for many decades until the adjoining bridge was eventually opened in 1959. As land transport options opened up in the first half of the century the ship building industry slowly declined. The last ships to be built at Forster were for the Ministry of Munitions around the time of the Second World War.
With much of the area now either developed or preserved as national parks, the timber industry is now confined to a few areas of state forest. Fishing is now the major industry of the region along with tourism.