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Emu Plains, NSW

Historic town on the Nepean River at the edge of the Blue Mountains.

Since the 1960s Emu Plains has been part of the vast suburban sprawl that is western Sydney. Once a famous penal station and later a small village on the edge of the Blue Mountains, it has seen Sydney slowly spread further and further west so that now it is part of Greater Sydney. This means that the visitor needs to spend time finding the historic roots of this most historic of early European settlements. However the effort is worthwhile. Hidden amidst suburbia are one of the oldest pubs in Australia; the second oldest bridge; a beautiful historic church; a number of interesting ruins; and the wide Nepean River. It is a town which is worth the effort if you are interested in the early history of Sydney town and this outlying penal station.

Location

Emu Plains is located 58 km from Sydney's CBD via the M4 Western Motorway. It is only 30 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Another 'bleeding obvious' Australian place name. Emu Plains was named, no surprises for guessing, because the early explorers into the area noticed the large number of emus which wandered the plains on the eastern side of the Nepean River. Prior to Emu Plains it was known variously as Emu and Emu Island.

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Things to See and Do

St Pauls Anglican Church
Although it has been much altered over the years, this historic church was built in 1848 to a design by the famous colonial architect Edmund Blacket. Blacket's most famous designs include the quadrangle at Sydney University, St Andrew's Cathedral and St Marks at Darling Point. At the time Blacket was the Diocesan Architect for the Church of England. The building he designed was initially used as both a church and a school but in 1872 the school was removed and this also involved the removal of the church's original west window. To reach St Paul's turn north off the old Great Western Highway at Pyramid Street, just west of Emu Park, and then turn into Nixon Street. It is located in Nixon Street.

Arms of Australia Inn
The first section of the Arms of Australia Inn was built in 1826 making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, buildings in Emu Plains. Located on the old Great Western Highway (the main route to the Blue Mountains and Bathurst in the 19th century) most of the inn is thought to have been completed as early as 1833 although the first license was granted to John Mortimer in 1841. Not surprisingly it was a popular stopover and staging post for travellers before they began to climb into the Blue Mountains or travelled to Bathurst during the goldrush era. It was an important Cobb & Co stopping point and was used by travellers when the Nepean River was in flood. It is now a Museum with an extensive collection of local memorabilia. Agricultural equipment, early farmhouse paraphernalia, old grindstones, hand washing mangles, wood stoves, ice boxes, a blacksmith’s forge and general early farm equipment are on display. It s open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9.00am - 2.00pm and on the first and third Sundays from 1.00pm - 5.00pm and is located at the corner of the Great Western Highway and Gardenia Ave, tel: (02) 4735 4394. For more information check out http://www.nepeanhistoricalsociety.org.au/

Emu Plains Railway Station
There are two notable features of historic importance about the Emu Plains Railway Station. Firstly it is the site of one of the oldest railway stations in Australia with the original building being constructed as early as 1869. Secondly the current building, completed in 1884, is unusual because it is two storeys (how many two storey rural railway stations do you see?) It had the unusual feature of the station master's residence being located upstairs.

Lennox Bridge
Such is the importance and historic significance of this old bridge, reputedly the second-oldest in Australia, that in recent times sandstone steps have been built and the visitor can go under the bridge to inspect the remarkable stonework which has stood for more than 180 years. The bridge, which is now listed by the National Trust, was constructed by a team of twenty convicts under the supervision of David Lennox (1788-1873), a Scottish master mason who had trained with the great British bridge builder, Thomas Telford, before emigrating to Australia. The bridge was Lennox's first job upon his appointment as New South Wales Superintendent of Bridges. Work was begun in November, 1832 and the bridge was completed in July, 1833. The bridge is held up on a 3 metre radius stone arch and is about 10 metres above the gully floor. On the keystones were carved 'David Lennox' and 'A.D. 1833'. Both have been badly eroded. It was used continuously from 1833 until 1926 when a crack was found in it. It opened again to one-way traffic in the 1980s and remains a monument to Lennox's skills.

There is some debate about the status of the bridge with pedants arguing that a small bridge in Sydney's Botanic Gardens (just behind the cafe) is the oldest. It was built for Lady Macquarie to travel from Government House to her "chair" overlooking the harbour. If this is accepted then the bridge at Richmond in Tasmania is the second oldest and Lennox Bridge is the third although it can claim to be the second oldest stone arch bridge in Australia. The bridge is accessible from Emu Plains only by foot from the car park at the top of the old Great Western Highway. The road is one way. To drive there it is necessary to travel to Glenbrook, turn right at the lights after the Visitor Information Centre (into Hare Street), left into Levy Street, right into Glenbrook Road and right again into Mitchells Pass. The bridge is on Mitchells Pass.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Emu Plains was inhabited by Dharug people of the Blue Mountains and the Gandangara people who moved into the area down the Nepean River.

* The first European to site the modern location of Emu Plains was Watkin Tench, a Marine Captain, who explored the Nepean River area in June 1789.

* In 1813 Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, successfully crossed the Blue Mountains. On 11 May 1813 Gregory Blaxland recorded that the expedition had 'crossed the Nepean River at the ford on to Emu Island at four o'clock in the afternoon and proceeded by their calculations two miles through forest land and good grass'. It is now known that this was just to the the northern side of Victoria Bridge.

* A few months later, on 17 July 1814 William Cox with a gang of thirty convicts started to build the road across the Blue Mountains. The crossing over the river was completed on 25 July.

* In 1819, Governor Lachlan Macquarie established a farm (a convict agricultural station) which became one of Sydney's most infamous penal stations. In the convict ballad 'Moreton Bay' it gets a harsh mention:

I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie,
At Norfolk Island and Emu Plains,
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie,
At all those settlements I've worked in chains.

The agricultural farm included a Superintendant's house, barracks and accommodation for the convicts and was located near the current site of St Paul's Church.

* By 1830 the convict agricultural farm, which had previously specialised in grain production, had shifted to cattle. It was closed a year later.

* 1840 the Arms of Australia Inn opened to serve travellers on the road across the mountains. It became important as prospectors poured across the mountains to the goldfields around Bathurst and Orange in the 1850s.

*1868 - the first railway bridge across the Nepean River was completed.

* By the 1880s gravel was being mined on the western bank of the Nepean River

* 1914 - Emu Plains gaol was opened. It became an important source of vegetables for other prisons and government institutions.

* in 1955 the rail link to Sydney was electrified.

* By the 1960s Emu Plains had become a rapidly growing part of Sydney's western suburban sprawl.

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Visitor Information

Penrith Visitor Information Centre, Panthers Carpark, Mulgoa Road, Penrith, tel: 1300 736 836.

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Useful Websites

A very detailed history of Emu Plains is available for download at http://www.penrithcity.nsw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/Website/Planning_and_Development/Stage_1_Local_Plan/Penrith_Heritage_Study_2007/EmuPlains.pdf

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

8 suggestions
  • “Since the 1960s Emu Plains has been part of the vast suburban sprawl that is western Sydney.” Interestingly, an anomaly of Emu Plain’s amalgamation in to Penrith City Council in 1963 means Emu Plains is actually not part of the Sydney Metropolitan region and is in fact Country NSW. Prior to this date Emu plains was part of Blue Mountains City Council, and part of the country regions of NSW.

    Shawn.
    • While this is undoubtedly correct – in terms of government administration – it is clear to anyone who visits Emu Plains that it is now part of Greater Sydney lying, as it does, on the eastern side of the Nepean River and connected to the sprawl that is the outer Western Suburbs. This often happens when councils change their boundaries. I think of Emu Plains as part of Greater Sydney regardless of what the local councils claim. The same goes for Mollymook which, in my mind, is part of the New South Wales South Coast although it is part of the Shoalhaven City Council. It is clearly not in the Shoalhaven even though Nowra claims it.

      Bruce Elder
  • I have been searching for history about an Old Government House at Emu Plains. I presume that Government House Drive, Emu Plains was so named because a government institution once stood there.

    Patricia browne
    • The Historic Museum at Emu Plains is very good. I would suggest you contact them – The museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9.00am – 2.00pm and on the first and third Sundays from 1.00pm – 5.00pm, tel: (02) 4735 4394.

      Bruce Elder
    • I grew up in Old Government House at Emu Plains. More than happy to share information.

      I am sure readers would be fascinated to hear about the experience – if you would like to write a short description.

      Brian Mitchell
  • Bread baker at the time 1960

    Bill Holleman
    • It would have been late 1956 when my father bought the back house corner – Great Western Highway and
      Russell St (now service station). My first experience was sleeping between flour sacks on the floor of the dance hall (still standing – opened 1887). We filled hall with dividers to accommodate a large family. Used kitchen as kitchen; outdoor loo, outdoor laundry/bathroom. Bakehouse was still wood fired oven until 1960. New one built behind diesel fired oven. Completion of Warragamba Dam brought growth. Outside competition brought downfall to all such activities financially but hall still stands. There should be photos of hall in archives and some one should know more about all that activities to include history of such a great place EMU PLAINS.

      Bill Holleman
      • Don’t forget the corner shop run by the Hutchinson family, Miss McKeller who had the post office, Howell’s fruit shop, Kevin & Wilma Lee’s newsagency, Mrs Lee’s café, The Nepean Hotel, I have happy memories of growing up in Emu Plains. Living near my grandparent. Spending time on the dairy farm of one and the orchard of another.

        Kay Harrison (nee Bendell)