The original inhabitants of the Bundarra area, the Anaiwan who had ties to the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) . Significant sites associated with them include Kings Gap, Mt Yarrowyck and Bassendean.
It is not know who the first Europeans to arrive in the Bundarra area were but they were probably escaped convicts from Port Macquarie or Moreton Bay. Explorer Alexander Cunningham wrote of seeing evidence of cattle and a hut built with axes when he passed through the Bingara region in 1827.
What is known is that in the early spring of 1836 two young men, Edward Clerk and John Rankin, stopped on the banks of the river which would become known as the Gwydir River. The men had been searching for pastures for their mob of sheep away from the cold of the tablelands. Liking what they found here they took-up the land and called it “Bundarrah” from the Anaiwan language for the grey kangaroos which still abound in the area.
Shortly after another squatter, John Cameron, arrived with cattle and took up land to the south east of “Bundarrah” and named his property “Lochiel”. This name would be changed to “Abington” when Cameron sold the property in 1841. In 1837, another area was taken up between these two properties by William Smith and named ‘Laura’. Life for the squatter was lonely. In 1839 when Commissioner MacDonald visited there were three people in residence at ‘Laura’ and two at ‘Lochiel’.
The first European woman to arrive in the area was Edward Clerk’s 19 year old bride Mary Ann (née West) who arrived in 1840. However, after an encounter with some bush rangers it was decided the hut they were living in was not secure and Mary Ann went back to Maitland until Edward could build a more secure dwelling for his wife.
Gradually the population of the area grew as convicts, former convicts and assisted immigrants arrived to work on the properties. People were traveling north to take up land of their own. Seeing a need to provide services to these people, Edward Clerk started to develop the requirements for a village; somewhere to stay, eat and purchase supplies. He is renowned for importing the Megaethon, a forerunner to the modern tractor, to mill flower, saw wood and cut chaff in the village.
It was around this time that the village was surveyed and gold fever saw many of the property employees head to the gold fields of Rocky River near Uralla and further afield. Some returned having had no luck on the diggings and took up their former jobs; others were replaced by Chinese workers.
By the 1860s, there were two police officers in residence and the village had developed to a point where the slab timber buildings were being replaced by brick buildings. These bricks were made from clay found to the south of the village on Batt’s Flat. At the end of the decade, there were enough children were in the area to warrant the development of a school.
One regular visitor to the properties around Bundarra throughout the 60's was Fred Ward, aka Captain Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt was a bushranger who roamed the north of the state for six years. In 1865 he was joined by a local youngster named William Monckton. Monckton parted company with Thunderbolt in 1868 and went on to lead a respectable life and raise a family after spending 14 months in gaol for his crimes. In 1870 Thunderbolt was shot by Constable Walker at Uralla.
During the 1870's Bundarra continued to develop. It became a staging post for Cobb & Co.’s Bendemeer to Inverell service and the telegraph line from Bendemeer to Bundarra was completed. As it was the service center for smaller settlements which were springing up around the area due to the discovery of tin, more shops and services were being built.
Until 1881 the only way to cross the Gwydir River when the river was flowing was by boat but after many town meetings and newspaper reports this was made redundant with the building of a bridge. This bridge is a twin to the one at Bingara and was opened by Mrs Mary Clerk.
It was not until 1911 that a hospital opened in Bundarra. This much needed addition to the services came about through fundraising efforts of the locals. Unfortunately, retaining a resident doctor has been a challenge from the beginning. Edward George Jones, principal of the school from 1895 until 1920 also provided some medical services when a doctor was not available. Jones devised a system for teaching reading which was used by other schools throughout the region.
The twentieth century saw Bundarra flourish with a newspaper, three churches, three hotels, a chemist, picture theater, cafés, butchers, bank, a public school and a catholic school to name a few and a social scene which rivaled many larger centers. However, as time and technology processed roads were improved between Bundarra, Inverell and Armidale and services in these centers became easier to reach. Gradually, the services have closed here and many jobs have gone with them making it necessary for locals to travel out of town for work. Those which remain are determined to be the best they can be and make Bundarra the special place it is.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century we know where we have been and what we have done but we don’t know what tomorrow brings. Who knows what someone writing in a hundred years will have to say about us.