Kempsey (map) is a town and local government area located where the Pacific Highway crosses the Macleay River. Roughly 450kms north of Sydney and 15kms inland from the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Kempsey Shire has a population of approximately 27,831. The traditional inhabitants of the region are the Dunghutti people.

Enoch William Rudder is credited with founding the settlement. He arrived from Birmingham in 1834 and bought land on the southern bank of the river in 1836, at what was then the limit of authorized settlement (the boundary of County Macquarie). He was initially attracted by the red cedar but planned also to profit by selling parts of his land. He had riverside blocks surveyed and established a private town, with the first blocks sold in November 1836. He called it Kempsey because the surrounding areas reminded him of the Kempsey Valley in Worcestershire.

The main (and most flood-prone) part of Kempsey was founded by John Verge, sub-dividing a grant on the flood-plain opposite Rudder's settlement. In 1854 a government town was surveyed at West Kempsey and government facilities moved there when it became clear that no town would form around the police station and courthouse at Belgrave Falls. Rudder's settlement was re-named East Kempsey.

Kempsey is the seat of Kempsey Shire Council, which was formed in 1976 by the amalgamation of the former Kempsey Municipality and the Macleay Shire.

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