St Clair

Location: Where is St Clair?
St Clair, New South Wales, Australia, is located on the eastern side of the Penrith Local Government Area. This suburb is bordered by Erskine Park Road on its east, the M4 Motorway to the north and Mamre Road along its western boundary. St Clair was a new housing estate established in the 1980s. Its history was largely rural until the new housing development. Its population has soared over the past ten years. St Clair is now a well established suburb with modern facilities with close access to the M4 Motorway, and a refurbished shopping centre. Considerable parklands provide open space for recreational activities.

33 46′ S 150 46′ E

Postcode: 2759 Distance from Sydney: 49 km
Area: 7.13 km2 or 713 ha St Clair NSW on Google Maps


The Aborigines of South Creek

The first inhabitants of the Sydney basin bounded by Port Jackson and Botany Bay in the east, the Blue Mountains to the west, north to the Hawkesbury River and south to Appin, had in common the Dharug language. Fourteen tribes or clans made up this language group and the people who inhabited both sides of South Creek were known as the Gomerrigal-Tongarra clan.

Unlike the Blue Mountains clans who used rock shelters, the Gomerrigal-Tongarra people lived in open camp sites along the creek in simple gunyahs. These were constructed from three leaning poles lashed together at the top and covered on two sides with bark. They had a habit of smearing mud on their skin to protect them from the effects of both weather and insects. In winter they wore animal skins to keep warm.

Very little is known of their cultural and ceremonial life. According to researcher and writer James L. Kohen, the Gomerrigal-Tongarra clan had rights to the ridges at Plumpton and the gravels of Eastern Creek. From these areas they used red silcrete rocks to make sharp flakes which were then fashioned into tools or used as barbs on spears. The MacLaurin family (who lived at Mamre)also asserted that the bodies of the dead were not buried, but wrapped in bark and placed on platforms elevated in the branches of trees.

There are no remaining rock carvings or marked trees in the area. Emily MacLaurin described a meeting place on South Creek at Mamre at a point where ‘…the Creek takes in a small stream from the west, the right bank of which reaches into the creek in a narrow finger’. It is thought that despite the arrival of the Rev. Samuel Marsden in 1804, ceremonies continued to be held at this spot for some time.

By 1816 however, the Gomerrigal-Tongarra, together with the rest of the Dharug clans, had been ravaged either by clashes with the settlers or by contracting European diseases. They became increasingly dependent on the settlers for their survival. Although they had always maintained a camp on or around the Mamre estate, the Rev. Samuel Marsden now sought to encourage them to work in exchange for food and clothing. He was obviously successful in this endeavour, as by 1835 the Quaker missionary James Backhouse wrote in his journal after a visit to Mamre that ‘…the South Creek Natives may be considered as half-domesticated, and they often assist in the agricultural operations of the settlers.’ He was also impressed by the fact that the wife of their Aboriginal guide – supplied by Marsden – could read, having been ‘educated in a school, formerly kept for the Natives, at Parramatta’. The next day, Backhouse travelled onto Penrith, his guide ‘another South Creek Black, named Simeon. His wife was killed, about two years ago, by some of those whom he termed “Wild Natives”…We tried in vain to persuade this man to accompany us to Wellington Valley; he did not like to go…These people are afraid of other tribes of their own race’.

Another visitor, Charles Darwin, passing through Mamre in January 1836, was impressed by the ‘…good humour and superior hunting skills’ of the Aborigines he encountered around Penrith.

History has given us sparse records indeed about the Gomerrigal-Tongarra people. As part of the Dharug-speaking Aborigines, their life-style was probably similar to others of the Dharug clans. They were hunter-gatherers over specifically defined territories, in this case, mainly the banks of South Creek; and they adhered to particular laws of kinship, marriage, sexual practice and burial which ensured the well-being of the clan. Men and women had particular roles in the clan which were clearly defined; children were given a totem name; traditional medicine was carried out by the ‘koradji’ or doctor; and, like all Aborigines they had a spiritual Dreaming.

The clash of European and Aboriginal cultures, despite original good intentions, meant that the Gomerrigal-Tongarra people and their culture was virtually destroyed within a century of
white settlement.

Origin of the place name – St Clair

This suburb’s name is a controversial one, as it has no historical links with the area. Originally it was the name given to a residential housing development established in 1970 by the Latex Finance Company, a subsidiary of the Cambridge Finance Company which went bankrupt in 1976. The whole area was formerly called South Creek and consisted of several large land grants. It was later, unofficially, known as South St. Marys, with the southern section being Erskine Park. The Land Commission of New South Wales acquired the land after the bankruptcy and extended the area to create a large suburb. The Geographical Names Board eventually made the decision in late 1981 to divide the area into two separate suburbs named St Clair and Erskine Park, rather than call the whole area Erskine Park as many people wanted.

Origin of the place name – Chatsworth

The original site of this neighbourhood of St. Clair was Chatsworth Nursery, a branch of Darling Nursery which had been established in 1827. The owner, Thomas Shepherd, developed an irrigation system utilizing water from Eastern Creek and the whole area was later covered in orchards. The nursery, famous for its camellias, was moved to Colyton and existed till the end of last century.

Origin of the place name – Ropes Creek

This watercourse, which forms the eastern boundary of the City of Penrith, was named after Anthony Rope who was a convict who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. He married a female convict, Elizabeth Pulley in May 1788. Rope learned bricklaying whilst working at Brickfields near Sydney and later moved to the Nepean District. In 1806, the Ropes were renting 48 acres on the Nepean and by 1820 had been granted 20 acres in the district. Anthony Rope died at Castlereagh in 1843. James “Toby” Ryan (1818-1899) was the grandson of Anthony Rope.

Historical Timeline

180412 AugustLand grant to W. M. Kent – Lansdowne Place
180415 AugustLand grant to Samuel Marsden which he named Mamre
18188 MayLand grant to James Erskine of 3000 acres which he named Erskine Park
182330 JuneLand grant to John McHenry of 1600 acres south of the Great Western Highway
1881Part of John MacHenry’s land is subdivided as the Mountain View Estate
1970Latex Finance Company (part of Cambridge Finance Company) name their new residential subdivision St Clair
1975The name submitted to the Geographical Names Board
1976Cambridge Finance Company declared bankrupt
1977Landcom (Land Commission of NSW) acquires the land owned by the Latex Finance Company. 2000 homes initially developed
1981Clairgate Public School opened
198117 MarchStage One of St Clair Shopping Centre begun
19813 JulySt Clair Shopping Centre opened
198213 JanuaryErskine Park suburb declared by the Geographical Names Board
198226 JanuaryBlue Cattle Dog Hotel opened
19825 AprilSt Clair Public School officially opened
198325 MarchSt Clair Community Centre opened


For photos and more information on St Clair search Penrith City Library’s catalogue using an All Resources search.


  • Feltham, Carolyn St Clair Estate and Erskine Park, n.d. – Penrith City Library LCVF – St Clair.
  • Murray, Robert and White, Kate Dharug & Dungaree: The History of Penrith and St. Marys to 1860. Penrith City Council, Penrith, 1988.
  • Nepean District Historical Society, From Castlereagh to Claremont Meadows: Historical Places of Penrith City Council, Penrith, 1997.
  • Parr, Lorna, A History of the Nepean and District Street Names, Nepean District Historical Society, Penrith, 1990.
  • Parr, Lorna, Penrith Calendar, Nepean District Historical Society, 1987.
  • Stacker, Lorraine, Pictorial History: Penrith & St Marys, Kingsclear Books, 2002.
  • Stapleton, E. South Creek – St. Marys – From Village to City St. Marys. St. Marys Historical Society. 1983.
  • Stevenson, Colin R., Place Names and their Origins within the City of Penrith, Penrith City Council, Penrith, 1985.
  • Stickley, Christine, The Old Charm of Penrith, 2nd ed., the author, St. Marys, 1984