2009 Conference – Introduction

2009 Makings of a City History Conference Introduction

Good morning and welcome to our 8th Makings of a City History Conference, this year entitled – Convicts and culture

A special welcome to:

  • Member for Penrith, Karyn Paluzzano
  • His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Jim Aitken OAM
  • Councillor and Mrs Ross Fowler
  • Director of Special Projects, Steve Hackett
  • Library manager, Colin Stevenson

I would particularly like to welcome and thank our speakers for their willingness to participate in our conference. We all share an interest in our City’s history and this is an opportunity to forge new paths of knowledge and research.

Our move to the Q Theatre this year has been the result of additional funds allocated by our Councillors. We thank them for their support and in doing so we have been able to increase the patronage of this conference by more than 70%. So, with our new venue and faces we have an opportunity to forge to new levels of research and to develop a deeper understanding of our local area.

We commemorate this year, among other things:

  • The 220th anniversary of the discovery of the Nepean Riverby Captain Watkin Tench and his exploring party. By observing the landscape, Governor Arthur Phillip surmised that a river would lay at the foot of the Mountains. Tench found that river stating that is was ‘as broad as the Thames at Putney’. Phillip named this river Nepean in honour of under secretary of state for the Home Office, Sir Evan Nepean.
  • The 190th anniversary of the establishment of the Emu Plains convict farm in September 1819. This farm played a pivotal role in the colonial history of this district and I will be speaking later today on its controversial theatre.
  • The 100th anniversary of the construction of the Penrith weir which was completed at the end of 1909, replacing the sandbag weir built in 1902. The weir provided Penrith with not only a permanent water supply, but also safer swimming and boating. With only a few alterations, it remains intact today.

Penrith Weir

  • The 100th anniversary of the construction of the School of Arts building in Castlereagh Street Penrith . The previous School of Arts building was in rented rooms in High Street. At its official opening in 1898, local Member of Parliament Samuel Lees spoke about the importance of education to a community stating, ‘If they had not the fine building of the Sydney School of Arts it did not matter. The institution itself was in the books and the people who read them ’.

Penrith School of Arts

  • The 60th anniversary of the amalgamation of our various municipal and shire councils from Penrith, St Marys, Castlereagh and Nepean to form Penrith Municipal Council on 1 January 1949.
  • The 50th anniversary of Penrith’s proclamation as a City in 1959. The major activity for the Council in 1959 was the construction of its new 17,500 square foot administrative building in Henry Street costing ₤110,000. On 14 November 1959 within a week of celebrations, the official opening took place and Penrith was proclaimed a City. The first Council meeting was held on 24 November. Staff moved into the building on 8 February 1960. The building was designed with a central circular foyer and the public could conduct their business with any department without having to leave this public area. At the entrance, the council crest, designed in 1953, was embedded in the floor. Although, Council did provide for the Library to be in this building, the needs of the still existent Electricity Department (before their transfer to Prospect County Council), and the Council’s principle that the public should be able to transact local government business in the one place, pushed the Library out of the new building before it moved in. On the first floor of this building, there was a public meeting room for civic receptions and rooms for the Mayor, Mayoress and Aldermen. The Council felt this achievement was due recognition of the progress that had been made in the preceding years. The Mayor Leo Spies, reported in his Mayoral Report for 1960, that in its first full year of operation as a City, Penrith had seen ‘a desirable increase in development and of course this has brought greater responsibilities’. In 1959, Council supervised the erection of 770 dwellings, 40 shops, 14 offices, seven service stations, three factories, two squash courts, two private schools, one hotel, one milk depot, one knackery, and one church, valued at over £2 million.

Penrith Council Chambers
First meeting


  • The 25th anniversary of the first of the City’s international friendship links. These began with Fujieda in Japan and now we have links with other cities in Japan, China, Korea and of course Penrith in England.

In recognition of these early colonial and cultural events in our history, we will today investigate the relationship between our convict and early colonial past and our cultural personality today. We are fortunate to have with us again this year Dr Carol Liston who will build on the thesis set by our keynote speaker. Carol has a knack of initiating thought-provoking discussion and I know she will do that again this year. Dr Roger Morris has also kindly accepted our invitation to speak on the establishment and history of mechanics institutes and schools of arts and place them into a local landscape. And Lindsay Allen will reveal some cultural treasures relating to public places and spaces held within the wonderful resources at State Records, located here at Kingswood. I will also be providing an update on the History of Penrith project at the end of the day.

Babette Smith has kindly accepted to be our keynote speaker. We are very fortunate to have her here today, as she must rush off to a wedding after morning tea. Our theme convicts and culture appear on the surface to be incongruous, but are they? Babette will investigate Australia’s birthstain and the legacy of convictism in our society. What did we remember or deliberately forget, and what was our cultural amnesia all about.

While we are here today, I would like to ask everyone to reflect upon the contribution made to local and family history research by Joan Reese. Joan, a dedicated family history researcher from St Marys, passed away just a few weeks ago. Up until her death, Joan trawled through the historical documents at State Records and over the years, published a myriad of microfiche indexes. Who has not heard of or used the Reese indexes? Her indexes of the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence have opened up to many of us an amazing the treasure-trove. I can speak from personal experience of the wonders that I have found through her dedicated work. Thank you, Joan!

A wonderful new resource at our fingertips now is the National Library’s Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program . It has enabled a great leap forward for researchers of local and family history. These newspapers, including the Sydney Gazette, Maitland Mercury, Brisbane Courier Mail and Hobart Gazette, have been scanned and indexed. Don’t be put off by the newpapers not being local either. Although, not included in this project, many reports from the Sydney Morning Herald were reprinted in regional or intercolonial newspapers. As one researcher put it: ‘It’s specifically Australian, doesn’t cost … and I have to say I’ve been having an absolutely great time browsing family names and locations. I cannot praise the project too highly. It’s given me absolutely unexpected views of what my families did throughout Australia’.

A quick search for a name, place or event reveals intriguing results. Here is one example. While writing about the Woodriff family for the Penrith book, I searched this database, just looking for whatever – and what did I find – in the Melbourne Argus for 1920 and 1921 – Mrs Margaret Gow of Woodriff Street Penrith espousing the benefits of Rexona soap! She even had her son’s photo published as well!

Locally, we have been working on new projects with the help of our volunteers.

  • Our Valuer Generals books from 1926 are a great resource and at times a little difficult to navigate, so we have started a street index project.
  • Another project has been the drawing together of all of our various land records. They have been collated, rehoused and indexed into an Excel database. Over 200 records are now accessible on local wills, indentures, land transactions, leases, deeds, contracts of sale. The majority of these records are original with the earliest dated 1823. This one is a conveyance document between James and Ann Landers and the O’Connell family in 1847. Still with its original seals attached. We have the list with us at our table and any document can be viewed in the Research Room. Thank you to volunteers John and Meg.
  • In the past year we have also amassed a great deal of photos of the headstones and memorials of our Penrith soldiers who have died overseas. In September last year I visited Gallipoli and photographed almost every memorial or headstone of our local soldiers. This would not have been achieved without the help and support of my friends on my trip, especially two enthusiastic young historians – Amber and Sicily . Co-incidently, at the same time I was in Turkey, Peter Welsh a retired history teacher from the UK contacted Vanessa. He had been taking photos of Penrith soldiers buried on the Western Front and offered them to us. We now have a lot of photos to add to our database and to put on the web. Also, former staff member Jan Herivel has visited Stan Colless’ grave in France .
  • Our biography and World War One files are being catalogued and now appear on our Library catalogue. Thank you to Lyn.
  • Pat, Pauline and our new indexer Cathey Shepherd continue to index the Nepean Times. Pauline is doing 1897, Pat 1914 and Cathey has started 1917. With the National Library’s digitisation program in mind – one wonders when will they do our Nepean Times?
  • Thank you also to Sue, Iris, Graham and Fiona – for helping, cataloguing, indexing, rehousing and immeasurably enhancing our Local Studies collections.
  • Pat, Greg and Christine – all Nepean FHS members are transcribing the Penrith Council Valuation books. They began with the first book in 1871 and are now at the beginning of the 1890s. This is also a searchable database which we can access now.

Congratulations are in order to the Nepean Family History Society for the release of their Timespan Index from 1981-2008. Our very own Pat Curry took on the task of indexing every Timespan issue and consolidating it. Timespan has always been a very useful local resource and it is even more so now with this comprehensive index. Nepean should also be congratulated for their Family History Fair held last year after the conference and on again tomorrow. Last year over 700 people attended with stall holders from around the state. You will also get the opportunity to see Alison’s presentation on the history of postcards tomorrow at 12 noon.

I would also like to thank our local and surrounding district societies for their contributions and events they put on throughout the year and for their publications on our City.

Again this year, I would like to thank my staff for their enthusiasm in making our conferences a success each year. Vanessa and Alison have done a great job in designing brochures and forms, promoting and setting up the conference in our new venue. Thank you to Alison, our conference convenor. We continue to evolve and improve this event, and this year there are quite a few new questions on our feedback form.

Our new trainee librarian, Cathy-lee is with us today, helping out along with Sharon, Chris, Ann Maree, Geraldine, Anna and Nathan.

Well, I hope you enjoy today and that you find it rewarding and thought-provoking. Our programme will bring you up to date with everything that is happening relating to local and family history within our City.

And, stealing a quote from Governor Lachlan Macquarie, your presence ‘succeeds even beyond my most sanguine hopes’.

Thank you
Lorraine Stacker
Information Librarian
Penrith City Library