Industrial History of the Penrith Region

An Abbreviated Industrial History of the Penrith Region

Quarrying | Tanneries | Brick Works | Dairy Farming | Vineyards
Timber Industry | Mills | Orchards | Coach and Waggon Works
Cattle Sale Yards | Munitions Factory | Conclusion

Introduction

The history of European development in the Penrith district has been shaped by three important factors: the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and its surrounding waterways, the Great Western Road and the Great Western Railway. Without these three, the economic development of the area would have been very different indeed. Although intensely agricultural in its initial development, the Penrith and St. Marys districts eventually had direct access to major markets and traffic travelling along both the Great Western Road and Railway. This enabled the area to expand and develop into other industries besides agriculture, a few of which have been highlighted below:

1. Quarrying
Sand, gravel and metal are the major extractive industries in the Penrith City area, with clay/shale extra being a lesser, though equally important resource for brick making and the building industry. Gravel and sand extraction began at Emu Plains as early as the 1880’s, both of which are still extensively mined from the active and relict alluvial flats of the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers. These are essential for the construction of houses, commercial and public buildings, roads, railways, airports and water and sewage systems. Crushed stone is even used in medicines, plastics paint and cosmetics.

Quarrying at Emu Plains c1960
Quarrying at Emu Plains c1960 [LCPH 2315]


Old Emu Plains Crushing plant c1950
Old Emu Plains Crushing plant c1950
[LCPH 2313]

The area 3km north of Penrith, known now as the Penrith Lakes Scheme and operated by a conglomerate of companies that combined their landholdings and quarrying operations in 1979 (i.e. Boral, CSR, and Pioneer International), is by far the largest extractive site in the area. This site supplies around 75% of Sydney’s sand and crushed aggregate requirements, including about 85% of the materials for ready mixed concrete.

[Article Source: Penrith Lakes Scheme brochure, August ’96]


2. Tanneries

The St. Marys district supported up to nine local tanneries at different times throughout the mid nineteenth century to the early part of the twentieth century. This industry appears to have been the first industry to be established at St Marys, taking advantage of the ready supply of water (from both creek and nearby springs), the availability of hides through the local cattle industry and the local supply of suitable tanning bark. By far the largest of these was Andrew Thompson’s Tannery, which in 1907 employed 26 employees and treated an average of 520 hides per week. Thompson’s Tannery closed in 1915 with his retirement. By the beginning of the Second World War the only tanneries operating in the district were those at nearby Werrington and Kingswood.

Sketch of Andrew Thompson's St. Marys Tannery 1906
Sketch of Andrew Thompson’s St. Marys Tannery 1906
[LCPH 241]
[Article Source: Annette Green, St. Marys Industrial Heritage Study (1987) Penrith: Penrith City Council]


3. Brick Works
Local brick works included the Penrith Brick Company at Copeland Street at Kingswood established in 1914 by Mr. Bert Jolley. The clay pits were on the adjoining Bringelly Road. Five kilns were built on the site, but two of these have been demolished and a third underwent demolition in July, 1986. No bricks have been made on the site since the mid 1970’s. Clay/shale extraction continues in the Mulgoa area today, which is used elsewhere for the production of bricks and ceramics.

Ruins of the Penrith Brick Company
Ruins of the Penrith Brick Company, which closed in 1976.
[Source: Kingswood Public School: Centenary 1892-1992 (1991)
Penrith: Kingswood Public School. pp. 2-3]


4. Dairy Farming

Before the 1920’s, local dairy farmers (especially around the Castlereagh area) either shipped their milk to Sydney or delivered it to the Nestles Swiss Milk Company at Windsor. In 1922, a local factory called the Nepean Co-operative Dairy & Refrigerating Society Ltd. was formed at Penrith. By the 1950’s dairying was one of the major industries of the Penrith and surrounding districts. The company was eventually taken over by United Dairies and by 1995, one third of the milk consumed by Sydney residents was being homogenised, pasteurised and packaged at the factory in Penrith.

Nepean Co-operative Dairy
Construction of the Nepean Co-operative Dairy and Refrigerating Society Ltd., circa.1922. [LCPH P066]
[Sources: St. Marys-Penrith: The Opening of the Electric Railway to the District (1955) Penrith pp.63-65 and Fairfax Sun 18 July, 1995 p.46]


5. Vinyards
The Penrith area has a history of fine vineyards, beginning as early as 1826 with the establishment of a vineyard on the property of Sir John Jamison at ‘Regentville’. Other vineyards followed, planted and managed by the Cox and Helleyer families in the Mulgoa area (both operating separately in the mid to latter parts of the nineteenth century). More recent twentieth century vineyards were run by the Michou family at St. Marys, the ‘Anschau’ and Vicary’s vineyards and wineries in the Luddenham area (the latter still operating) and ‘Leonay’ vineyard at Emu Plains, owned and managed by the well known Australian winemaker, Leo Buring, from 1923. The Orchard Hills area near Penrith, is another recent grape growing area still in operation.

terraced vineyards
Painting of terraced vineyards at Regentville, undated
[LCPH 110A]
[Article Source: Philip Norrie Vineyards of Sydney (1990)
Cammeray, N.S.W: Horwitz Grahame pp.116-135)


6. Timber Industry
This industry was one of the major employers of local men during the second half of the nineteenth century. These were employed as timber cutters, carters and saw millers, and in the heyday of the wood trade some 200-300 men are believed to have gained their livelihood in the area ranging from Kingswood to Rooty Hill. As an indication of the scale of the operation in the period around the turn of the century it has been noted that in July 1900 1,352 tons of firewood was sent from St Marys by rail….However it was highly susceptible to fluctuating market prices and weather conditions and did not always provide a steady source of income….. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the areas closest to the village [of St.Marys] were gradually cleared of their timber and the distances travelled by the wood-carters increased accordingly, but the industry continued to survive until the Second World War.

Firewood Factory and workers
Firewood Factory and workers, St. Marys. c1923
[LCPH B014]
[Source: Annette Green St. Marys Industrial Heritage Study (1987)
Penrith: Penrith City Council pp.21and 70-71]


7. Mills
One of the earliest mills in the Penrith district was a water-driven flour mill built on the banks of the Nepean River at Castlereagh by Mr. John McHenry in 1834. The mill was operated by a Mr. Bell, then by the Allen family until it was demolished in 1872. Another important mill was built by Sir John Jamison on his property ‘Regentville’, just south of Penrith. This mill, built in 1835, manufactured cloth and tweed. The mill was operated by the Rayner brothers from 1841-1844. The Regentville factory was working on and off until about 1875. The four storied brick building was a landmark near the banks of the Nepean River for almost a century until it was demolished in the early 1930’s. The Rayner brothers went on to operate their own mill at Emu Plains, using the old Police barracks building that had been part of the Government Agricultural Establishment. The factory produced cloth until December 1879.

Regentville Tweed Factory
View of Regentville Tweed Factory from Nepean River. c1908
[LCPH S19]
[Sources: Information on McHenry’s mill taken from an article in The Sun newspaper, 13 August, 1912, entitled: ‘McHenry’s Mill – An old Nepean landmark’. Other information from part of a 1986 Master of Arts (Honours) thesis by Eve Stenning entitled Textile Manufacturing in New South Wales 1788-1851 pp.130-145.]


8. Ochards
The alluvial flats immediately flanking the Nepean River were often used for widespread orchard growing in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, especially at Emu Plains and Castlereagh. Smaller orchards also sprung up around Orchard Hills, Colyton, Mulgoa and South Creek. Excess fruit was often used by two local pulp and canning factories that were established on Ropers Road at Colyton at the turn of the century. One of these, the Balgay Pulp and Canning factory (started in 1901 by the Methven family), developed as an important local industry which continued to operate until the mid 1970s. The Balgay Company handled peaches, pears and apricots and corn at different times of its operation.

Nepean River and Victoria Bridge
Aerial view of Nepean River and Victoria Bridge looking south, c1935
Note orchards on right hand side at Emu Plains. [LCPH S13]

[Sources: Annette Green St. Marys Industrial Heritage Study (1987) Penrith: Penrith City Council. p.80. Information on the ‘Balgay’ Pulp and Canning factory taken from local newspapers Nepean Times, 28 August, 1920 (p.6) and the Penrith Press, 11 December, 1974]


9. Coach and Waggon Workss
St. Marys developed into a major area for waggon building in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the earliest times, the main form of heavy land transport consisted of locally made drays pulled by teams of six or more bullocks yoked in pairs. Later, the St. Marys built Bennett table-top waggons became famous for their quality as heavy transports, and were capable of carrying loads of 10-20 tonnes. Waggons, like those built by the Bennett and Beasley family businesses at St. Marys, conveyed wool and minerals across the Cumberland Plain to Sydney.

Bennett Waggon Works
Bennett Waggon Works at St. Marys c1910
[LCPH 241]
[Source: Michael Martin On Darug Land: An Aboriginal Perspective: A Social History of Western Sydney (c.1988) St. Marys, N.S.W.: Greater Western Education Centre Collective. pp.19)


10. Cattle Sale Yards
Sale yards were first established in St. Marys by James Landers who started a cattle auctioneering business at the rear of his Oddfellows Arms Hotel on the Great Western Road near South creek in 1856. These and other small yards coped with the local sales of stock for the next thirty years, but in the 1880’s and 1890’s new yards were opened which were to become the focus for a major local industry. The first of these was located on the northern side of St. Marys railway Station and it was this site which was later enlarged as the railway cattle Sale yards. By 1888 the Jubilee Cattle Yards had been established on Mamre Road by William Fleming and in about 1890 John Perry established his Newmarket Sales Yard on the western side of Mamre Road…. The Jubilee Cattle Yards closed in about 1900, but auctions were held at the other two sites by various proprietors until the late 1940’s. The importance of the railway and Jubilee Yards ids reflected in the claim that for many years St Marys was the second largest stock mustering town in New South Wales, outside the metropolitan area (second only to Goulburn).

Railway Cattle Sale Yard
Railway Cattle Sale Yard, St Marys c1923
[LCPH C12]
[Source: Annette Green St. Marys Industrial Heritage Study (1987) Penrith: Penrith City Council pp32-33]


11. Munitions Factory

During World War Two St. Marys was chosen as the site for the manufacture of munitions. An industrial area, employing some 3,500 people was established north of the St. Marys railway line and west of Forrester Road. After the war, the buildings were leased and then sold to private industrial firms.

[Source: Heritage Study of the City of Penrith: Identification Sheets (Vol.3)
(2nd edition: 1991) Penrith: Penrith City Council. Ref No.SM-2]

Munitions Factory
Cartridge filling and shell assembly at the Munitions Factory, circa 1956 [LCPH MF-030]


Conclusion
Today Penrith remains an agricultural centre (including dairying, poultry-farming, fruit and vegetable growing, beef and turf farming) as well as a focal point for manufacturing industries. Its industries include the treatment of non-metalliferous mine and quarry products, saki production, the manufacture of aluminium foil, concrete and building materials, plastics, textiles, pharmaceutical, engineering and electrical products. Service industries include those of transport, storage, commerce and education. The recent redevelopment of the Penrith Plaza as a regional shopping centre, the expansion of the Nepean Hospital and the creation of the University of Western Sydney, Nepean at Kingswood have further diversified the city’s economic base. Recent decentralization of regional government offices, such as the Australian Taxation Office, has added new impetus to Penrith’s prestige as a business centre. The continued development of the huge Panther’s Club (i.e. Penrith Rugby Leagues Club), the multi-faceted entertainment and resort centre near the banks of the Nepean River, has helped initiate a boom in tourism to the area.

Cultural centres such as the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, the Lewers Bequest and Penrith Regional Art Gallery and the ‘Q’ Theatre provide additional depth to the City’s cultural life, complementing more commercial tourist sites such as the Museum of Fire and the natural beauty of the surrounding Nepean-Hawkesbury River, Penrith Lakes and the Blue Mountains. With its role as host city to the rowing and canoe venues for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Penrith’s continued growth as a regional centre and emergence to national prominence is assured.

Compiled by Colin Stevenson (1998)