The Widjabal people (of the Bundjalung nation) occupied this area for centuries before Europeans arrived to settle in the late 1870s.
When the white settlers came, sub tropical rainforest known as The Big Scrub clothed the hills and valleys. The Robertson Land Act of 1861 allowed selection of Crown land for farming and in 1880 Robert Mortimer Clunes arrived in the area, then named Ferndale, and selected land. Alfred Smith, an engineer who accompanied Clunes also selected land. Clunes soon left the area but Smith stayed and named the settlement Clunes.
By 1883 there were enough children in the vicinity to start a school.
The following families settled into the district: Beacom, Bushell, Charles, Collings, Cook, Cruddies, Dorrough, Dudgeon, Elliott, Fellows, Fowler, Fleming, Flynn, Fredericks, Garvan, Gay, Gibson, Ginns, Goulding, Graham, Gray, Grey, Hetherington, Higgins, Hindmarsh, Hull, Jarvis, Johnston, Kennedy, Kirkland, Lee, Malcolm, McGuire, Mackie, McKinnon, Marks, Marshall, Merrington, Nicholson, Noble, Northfield, O’Neill, Payne, Rose, Slattery, Somerville, Stewart, Trimble, Turner, Virtue, Walker, Walmsley and Weir.
Many of these families still have a strong connection with the area today.
Clunes was noted for its number of Churches due to Protestants from Northern Ireland, arriving from the South Coast and they soon cleared The Big Scrub to commence dairying. Within ten years they had established co-operative butter factories to process their cream. The Perseverance and Clunes Dairy Companies preceded the establishment of NORCO, initiated at a meeting in the Clunes Hall in 1892.
Dairying was the mainstay of the district economy until the 1960s. As dairying declined, the land was given over to cattle grazing, then macadamia nut farming. In recent years, a number of farms have planted coffee.
The village has supported a variety of businesses over the past century. The Store opened in 1878 and the Post Office in 1883 with Robert Graham the storekeeper as postmaster. Mr J C Stewart ran the Store from the early 1900s until 1945. Irishman Paddy McNiff started a bakery in 1897 which operated until 1963.The butchery has operated for over a hundred years, served by its own slaughter yards until 1972. Colin Johnston started the garage on the site of the blacksmith’s shop in 1948. The Shack formerly housed a saddlery which was operated from 1900 by three generations of the Hurst family.
In 2018 a remembrance feature was added to the Community site to signify the history of the area, the industries & the people who preceded us.