History and heritage highlights in Penrith
Explore the region’s rich and colourful history.
Penrith has a rich and colourful history which is showcased in beautiful old buildings, structures and locations across the city. From the magnificent Nepean River and Victoria Bridge to the 150-year old churches, there’s fascinating stories behind some of the city’s most well-known landmarks and so much to discover about the people, places and events that have shaped Penrith.
Before embarking on your historical tour of Penrith, check out the newly refurbished Local History Research Room (open from 2pm-5pm) at Penrith City Library. The collection includes books, reports/environmental studies, magazines, newspaper clippings, maps and plans, land records, council rate and valuation records, photographs, manuscripts, personal and family papers, and oral histories.
After you’re finished researching the local area and you’re ready to hit the road and explore the city’s history and heritage, here’s a list of some of the most popular and interesting spots to visit:
Explorers Memorial Cairn
When three intrepid explorers Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth and William Lawson set out to cross the Blue Mountains for the first time in 1813, they had to start the journey somewhere. It turns out they began their exploration near Blaxland’s farm in Orchard Hills and in 1938 a Memorial Cairn as unveiled at this location to commemorate the starting point for the expedition. See the Memorial Cairn for yourself on Luddenham Road in Orchard Hills, and you’ll get a sense of the momentous journey these three explorers embarked on. Address: Luddenham Road, Orchard Hills.
Mamre Homestead began life as a barn in the 1820s on the estate of colonial chaplain, magistrate and pastoralist Samuel Marsden. It was the working farmhouse of a busy rural farm which included orchards, exotic pasture and other crops. The site is historically significant for its contribution to the early development of the wool industry in NSW (and Australia) with Samual Marsden one of the first to import and breed Merino Sheep. The homestead itself is a great example of a fairly intact pre-1860 colonial homestead, making it also aesthetically and archaeologically significant. Mamre Homestead hosts regular night markets and other events which allows visitors to see and experience the history of the site. Address: 181 Mamre Road, Orchard Hills.
Arms of Australia Inn
After Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson blazed a trail across the Blue Mountains, many others wanted to follow and The Arms of Australia Inn was an important stopping place for anyone travelling west. With the Blue Mountains ahead of them and goldfields on their mind, travellers would stop for a night and a drink (or two or three) and if the walls could talk, you could only imagine the stories the Inn would have. Built in 1826, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Penrith and it’s now a museum containing artefacts that were either used or manufactured in the local area and thousands of photos. Open for visits and tours Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays from 9am-2pm, and the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month from 1pm-4pm.
If you’re keen to see where some of the region’s First Fleet pioneers are buried, then you need to visit the historic Castlereagh Cemetery. The cemetery was the idea of Governor Macquarie who wanted to prevent settlers from burying the dead on their properties, and as such it’s one of the state’s oldest undisturbed burial grounds and includes graves of pioneering families and First Fleeters. The 8,000-square-metre bush cemetery contains approximately 64 monuments and several unmarked graves. The earliest monument still standing in the cemetery is that of Mary Ann Smith, who died in 1814. Address: Church Street, Castlereagh (near the East Wilchard Road intersection).
The beautiful Nepean River is Penrith’s most important natural asset and historically it has sporting, recreation, environmental, agricultural and Aboriginal significance. The Victoria Bridge and Penrith Weir are two visually stunning landmarks you can visit to get a sense of the rich history of the Nepean River. Victoria Bridge was built in 1864 and remains the main link across the Nepean River between Penrith and Emu Plains on the Great Western Highway; and the Penrith Weir was constructed in 1909 to provide Penrith with a permanent water supply and with a few alterations. Both provide amazing photo opportunities!
If you need help navigating your way through Penrith’s history, check out the Penrith Heritage Drive which includes the locations of all the above highlights as well as a map- handy! The Penrith Heritage Drive is approximately 50kms long and takes you to some of the oldest buildings, structures and locations across St Marys, Penrith, Castlereagh, Emu Plains and Mulgoa. There are 27 sites to visit, some are well known but others are hidden historical gems! Best of all, you can see and experience the rich history of the region from the comfort of your own car.