Dungog Shire was occupied by Koori people up to about 40,000 years before European settlement. The Kooris living in the area from what is now known as Brookfield to the headwaters of the Williams and Chichester rivers belonged to a tribe known as the Gringai, a sub-group of the Wonnarua people. The areas known as Paterson and Gresford were home to another branch of the Gringai tribe, with whom the Kooris in the Dungog district intermarried and interacted. Northwards, the lower Williams was inhabited by the Kattang tribe of the Worimi people, with a tribal boundary with the Gringais at a point approximately at the present locality of Glen William and a territory which extended through what is now Clarence Town, down the Williams River to the coast.
Historians indicate that at the time of white settlement Koori people were present in 'relatively large' numbers in the valleys of the Paterson and Williams Rivers. They were distributed over the district in local groups or 'urras' approximately 8 miles apart, in villages which consisted of 8 or 9 huts or families. Each 'urra' occupied a defined area of land.
The earliest anecdotal reports of the Shire's indigenous population date from 1801 and were supplied by the early explorers on the rivers. Most early settlers in the Shire undertook little in the way of documentation of the customs of the original indigenous inhabitants, although some documentation by the more observant settlers referring to hunting practices, customs and corroborees can be found until the 1840's.
The coming of Europeans to the Shire had a devastating effect on the local aboriginal population. Apart from the conflicts which arose between Kooris and whites, European diseases significantly reduced the Koori population. In 1835 McKinlay noted the sharp decline in the Koori birthrate, attributing it to factors arising from contact with Europeans. It is now accepted that by the 1830's Koori society in the Shire had been irrevocably changed and damaged. From this time the population of Kooris in the Hunter as a whole fell steadily and the distribution of the population changed.
The last survivor of the Gringai tribe, 'Brandy', died in Dungog in 1905 aged 75 years and was buried at St Clair, Singleton.
The policies of the NSW Aboriginal Board of Protection (established in 1883) were to have a significant effect on the Koori people of New South Wales in the early 1900's, however the indigenous population of the Dungog Shire had all but vanished by the time these effects were felt.
European settlement in all Planning Districts of the Dungog Shire was based on the movement of settlers further from the coast and the availability of land for agriculture. Continuing settlement resulted in the principal Shire towns being established along the Williams and Paterson Rivers in the early 1800's.
Terms of land tenure in the early days were vague. The land was not surveyed when initially settled and settlers did not know their exact boundaries when official surveying took place.
The Hunter Valley was closed to free settlement until 1825 because of its proximity to the penal colony at Newcastle. In 1823, the prisoners were transferred to Port Macquarie, and by 1825 exploration had shown that the Hunter Valley was not as accessible as first thought.The Williams Valley was opened up in 1825 by Governor Darling, with land granted according to settlers means, ability to carry out improvements and willingness to take assigned convicts. Free grants of land ranging from 329 and 2560 acres were made from 1823, or up to 9600 acres could be purchased outright.
The first land portions in the Shire were surveyed on the basis of a line extending due north from Maitland. Early grantees were military or naval officers or free immigrants. Most grants were of flat and undulating land, with vegetation consisting of open forest and grassy woodland. Mountains and hills were generally reserved as Crown Land, and these areas were for the most part not populated until after 1861, when the NSW Land Act made it possible to select portions of between 40 and 320 acres. Prior to this Crown Land could be leased.