150 Years of Penrith City Council
- Written by Teela Griffin Penrith City Council (02) 4732 7777 (02) 4732 7958 email@example.com https://www.penrithcity.nsw.gov.au 601 High St Penrith NSW 2750 Australia
On Tuesday 18 of July 1871, Penrith Council met for the first time. The meeting was chaired by the elected mayor, James J Riley, and there were eight elected aldermen present. This year marks 150 years since this historic beginning.
Penrith holds a unique place in the world: where a global city meets rugged mountains at a mighty river. Our lifestyle is second-to-none. We embody innovation and economic momentum; yet at the same time, we value our wide-open spaces and access to nature. We embrace everything this lucky country has to offer us.
The lands we call home have seen agricultural pastures for animals, a penal colony, a vast factory producing ammunition for far-flung wars; these lands have been sacred country for the Dharug people for thousands of years. Our City has been home to convicts, who were deported from England and incarcerated at Emu Plains, then made to work in iron-gangs to build the treacherous Zig Zag Road, now known as Old Bathurst Road. Even female convicts were incarcerated at Emu Plains.
There have been many firsts: the first successful expedition by European settlers to cross the Blue Mountains set off from South Creek in Orchard Hills in 1813. The first notable bushranger gang became active around Penrith and neighbouring districts: John Donohue and his gang of bushrangers terrorised our area until he was finally shot by a soldier in 1830.
Penrith's Pivotal Position
Its location in this pivotal position on the Western Road ensured that Penrith City became instrumental in the history of NSW. It was the construction of the mighty Victoria Bridge, which we still use today, that allowed for the gold fields west of the Great Dividing Range to open. As the gold rush unfolded, the amount of traffic into and through Penrith increased exponentially, with hoards of hopeful miners travelling west to try their luck, and many inns, hotels, shops and services springing up to cater to them.
The coming of the railway and Penrith station in the late 1860s were inextricably linked with our district’s development. As the area grew in economic importance, the desire for local government began to stir. It took many petitions from local landowners and residents expressing their desire for a voice in matters affecting them – along with many counter petitions arguing against it – until, on 12 May 1871, the district of Penrith was proclaimed a municipality, announced in the NSW Government Gazette the following day. The population of the Penrith township at that time was 836.
Early Local Government
At the time only men could be elected to Council, and once elected they were called aldermen. The first Mayor was J.J. Riley, a prominent man who lived on a 2,000 acre property at Mulgoa where he bred fine sheep and thoroughbred horses, who served as a local magistrate for over 30 years. Among the other eight aldermen were a local butcher, two publicans – one of whom built the Red Cow Inn – a storekeeper, an Irish farmer and a bootmaker. The local undertaker was appointed clerk.
They set about building the frameworks of a local government, passing bylaws and introducing improvements to increase public safety, health and wellbeing. At the time there were very few well-formed roads in our district, so installing kerbs and guttering was one of Council's first tasks. They negotiated to receive half the funds from the toll over the Victoria Bridge. And more bridges, drains and culverts were put in place to deal with the drainage problems that plagued the district, which often led to life or death situations.
“Cleanliness combined with good drainage is one of the best preventatives,” as written by The Nepean Times in 1884. Outbreaks of diseases like typhoid, diphtheria and scarlet fever were often deadly, particularly in the lower lying areas, and more so when residents would leave rubbish in holes and gutters. Sanitary conditions would rapidly improve once Council enacted a series of bylaws to address these problems.
Lineage of Innovation
There is a long lineage of innovation in our City: in 1890, Penrith became the first town in the Sydney Region to connect to electricity. With much fanfare, Penrith switched on street lights and made electricity available in private homes, only the third town in NSW to do so after Tamworth and Young.
In the early 1920s, when residents were still burying or burning their household rubbish in the backyards, Council introduced a regular garbage collection service. Waste was taken to a former garbage tip within Penrith Park, and used to build up low-lying grounds. The inspiration for this came from Sydney’s Centennial Park, which also used rubbish to build up lower areas. This new garbage removal service improved air quality and the health of residents.
Council has always been a strong supporter of sports in our district, championing the establishment of Nepean Rowing Club in 1928. Council’s donation of 15 pounds for the establishment of the club caused a stir at the time, leading one alderman to quit in protest, but Council argued that nothing could bring crowds to our River like rowing could.
Over time, Penrith and our neighbours joined together: in 1949, St Marys, Castlereagh and part of the Nepean Shire amalgamated, joined in 1963 by Emu Plains and Emu Heights. As Penrith expanded, our sense of civic pride grew too – a perfect example of this was the centenary celebrations in 1971.
The 100th anniversary of the municipality of Penrith was honoured with City-wide fanfare, the likes of which we don’t see anymore. To kick things off, the Mayor fired a pistol into the air. A procession of floats representing 120 local organisations paraded through the streets of St Marys and Penrith. A ball was held at Penrith Leagues Club , plus an elegant garden party took place at the beautiful Combewood homestead. An aquatic carnival on the Nepean River featured canoe races and a demonstration by ‘kite-man’ who flew above the water. The Nepean District Tennis Association set a new world record for endurance tennis, with a single game lasting for 50 hours. A picnic day at Penrith Showground featured amusement rides, novelty races and a parachute jumper. As the celebrations continued, crowds flocked to art exhibitions, concerts, a flower show, BBQs and fireworks displays. A banner commemorating 100 years was displayed on the front façade of the Council Chambers, which inspired the banner hanging above the entrance to the Civic Centre today.
As we look ahead to the next 150 years – in which Penrith will become a global City in our own right, with world-class parks, well-connected employment hubs and a quality of life second to none – we acknowledge the achievements of our past and of the people whose shoulders we stand on.
Celebrating 150 Years - Get involved
A panel speaker session with local historians to shed light on the history of the Penrith LGA since it first became a municipality with just 836 people in 1871, was strengthened by the inclusion of St Marys, Castlereagh and parts of what was then the Nepean Shire in 1949, and Emu Plains and Emu Heights in 1963 – when the lifestyle and economic heartland that is the Penrith LGA as we know it today was finally formed.
Speakers: Beth Moore and Craig Werner, Nepean District Historical Society
Norma Thorburn, St Marys and District Historical Society
Location: Penrith City Library Theatrette, 5.30pm RS LIBRARY SPEAKER SESSION - JAMES BROADBENT / RICHARD WARD: POTPONED
SPEAKER SESSION: DR JAMES BROADBENT, FRIENDS OF FERNHILL AND THE MULGOA VALLEY, AND THE NEPEAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL GROUP - POSTPONED
The diversity of natural and cultural heritage sites in the historic Mulgoa Valley make it one of the Sydney basin’s richest surviving areas – and it’s right on our doorstep! Come along and hear about the history of this unique and precious landscape, and the efforts that are being made to preserve it. We’re pleased also that the Nepean District Historical Archaeological Group will join this speaker event, presenting a display of historical artefacts that have been found in the Penrith LGA.
Speakers: Dr James Broadbent AM, Friends of Fernhill and Mulgoa Valley
Richard Ward, Nepean District Historical Archaeology Group
Location: Penrith City Library Theatrette
Time: 6pm to 7pm
Lorraine Stacker wrote the book on Penrith’s history – literally. Hear some of the stories that shaped our LGA from Penrith’s leading historian. Then go behind the scenes to learn about some of the events and actions that shaped Penrith Council from a long-term former Council employee and local historian, Jim Mason.
Speakers: Lorraine Stacker, Jim Mason
Location: Penrith City Library Theatrette
Time: 5.30pm – 7pm
Library 150 Years Historical Display