Emu Plains

Location: Where is Emu Plains?

Emu Plains, New South Wales, Australia is located on the western side of the Nepean River, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The suburb of Leonay is the southern boundary, with Emu Heights the western boundary. Along with the suburb of Penrith, Emu Plains is one of the oldest districts in the Penrith Local Government Area. It is situated in pleasant and peaceful surroundings enriched with the colour of jacaranda trees and autumn tones. Emu Plains has many historic buildings and sites to visit. Situated just five minutes drive from Penrith; Emu Plains is ideally located to all amenities.

33 45’00″S 150 40’00″E

Postcode: 2750 Population: 7944 (2006 Census) Distance from Sydney: 57.5 km
Land Area:7.92 km2 or 792 hectares Density:  10.03 people per hectare (2006 Census) Emu Plains NSW on Google Maps


  • Emu Plains General Cemetery :
    This cemetery is accessed through either Short or Nixon Street and lies on a knoll overlooking the Western Railway Line. The cemetery incorporates the churchyard of St Pauls Anglican Church. The original section was located to the east of the Church. In 1967, the whole cemetery was handed over to the administration of Penrith City Council. The most notable burial is that of Toby and Mary Ryan. Toby was a grandson of First Fleeters Anthony and Elizabeth Rope. Nepean Family History Society transcribed this cemetery in 1994.


  • Melrose Hall:  Cnr Great Western Highway and Park Street, Emu Plains, 2750.
    Ph: (02) 4735 4117.


Galleries & Museums


This art gallery was formerly the home and workplace of artists Margo and Gerald Lewers. The permanent collection is an important survey of the development of Modernism in Australian art from the early 1930s to the late 1970s. The collection focuses on abstraction and is represented by the Lewers and their contemporaries, including artists such as Ralph Balson, Yvonne Audette, Carl Plate, Frank and Margel Hinder and Tony Tuckson. The Gallery has three distinct exhibition spaces – a large purpose built gallery; the original homestead (c1900); and Ancher House, a fine example of domestic architecture from the 1960s. It is set on two acres of garden overlooking the Nepean River.

  • Arms of Australia Inn Museum: Corner of Great Western Highway and Gardenia Avenue Emu Plains, 2750.
    Ph: (02) 4735 4394. Open Sundays 1pm-5pm.


In 1976, the Nepean District Historical Society opened a Museum in the Arms of Australia Inn. This building dates back to 1841 and possibly earlier. It was an important stopping place for coaches and travellers on their way over the Blue Mountains and especially those going to and from the gold fields. The building was acquired by Penrith City Council and restored by members of the Society with Council and Government funding.


  • Nepean District Historical Society: Located in Arms of Australia Museum, Cnr Gardenia Avenue and Great Western Highway, Emu Plains, 2750; P.O. Box 441 Penrith, 2751.
    Ph: (02) 4735 4394.

The Society aims to promote and encourage the study of Australian history and in particular the history of the Penrith City Council area: to disseminate information on the history of the area through lectures, discussions, excursions, exhibitions and with the compilation of booklets; to attempt to secure the retention and preservation of buildings and sites of historical significance.

  • Nepean Family History Society: Located in the Old School Residence, Emu Plains, Lawson Street, Emu Plains. Postal Address: P.O. Box 81 Emu Plains, 2750.
    Ph: (02) 4735 3798.

The aims of the Society are to provide the family historian in the Nepean area with better access to genealogical records and related reference material. The Society helps members research their family history by providing a resource Library, knowledgeable guest speakers at monthly general meetings, quarterly journal Timespan and bimonthly newsletter Bullytin.


  • Nepean Valley Bridge (M4 Bridge) across the Nepean River.
  • Victoria Bridge across the Nepean River
  • Yandhai Nepean Crossing, a pedestrian and cyclist bridge across the Nepean River


Roads & Streets

Although the Great Western Highway cuts through Emu Plains, most through traffic uses the M4 motorway, south of the suburb. The Great Western Highway is used as a major local thoroughfare.
Russell Street named after Captain William Russell who married Sir John Jamison’s daughter. This street is a major connecting road between Old Bathurst Road and the M4 Motorway.
Old Bathurst Road the second road built over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst replacing Cox’s original road. Built by convicts, this road connects to Mt Riverview in the Blue Mountains.
Nepean Street was part of the original Cox’s Road over the Blue Mountains.
Punt Road was the western access to the punt (ferry) across the river before the bridge was built.
Beach Street named after William Beach, a sculler from Dapto, who in 1884 raced and beat world champion Edward Hanlon on the Nepean River.
Government House Drive</span> named after the Government House (later Dungarth) which was located close by and demolished in 1973.
Forbes Street named after Sir Francis Forbes who was granted land nearby.
Mortimer Street was named after John Mortimer who was licensee for the Arms of Australia Inn
Sheppard Street named after R.M. Sheppard who owned an orange orchard at Emu Plains.
Westbank Avenue named after the home (still in Nepean Street) of the Sheppard family.
Imperial Avenue named after a new variety of mandarin developed by Sheppard.

Historical profile

Origin of the place name – Emu Plains

Emu Plains is located on the west side of the Nepean River extending to the foot of the Blue Mountains. Part of this name (i.e. “Emu”) is thought to have originated with the sighting of emus there when the country was first explored by Europeans in the late 1700’s. A survey map of 26th August 1790 has the annotation “saw three cassowaries” marked near the ford. Early explorers often confused emu with cassowary. The locality was first known as “Emu Island” – the name thought to have originated with Captain Watkin Tench (1758?-1833), who first explored the region.

In Government Orders of 16 July 1814, Governor Macquarie referred to “Emu Plains (hitherto erroneously called Emu Island)”, which officially heralded the area’s change of name. And again in October 1814, George Suttor in his correspondence with Sir Joseph Banks, mentioned that the name Emu Plains had recently been changed from Emu Island. Up to this date the area had obviously been thought of as an island. The reason for this can possibly be explained by a contemporary observer, Barron Field (1786-1846), Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Field noted that Emu Plains had been called “Emu Island” because the plains had, at times, been turned into an island by the “washing of the mountains when the Nepean ……flooded”. Another more recent explanation (offered by the late local historian and resident Arthur W. Street) claims that the name Emu Island originated because the Nepean River was divided near Emu Ford, thus forming an island. The island, Mr. Street claims, has slowly disappeared through constant excavation of gravel for building purposes. A further resolution of the confusion is detailed in the book Emu Plains by Joan Steege, where she explores all the divergent theories regarding its naming.

Governor Macquarie established a government farm of 2,000 acres at Emu Plains in 1819. Here convicts cleared the land and grew wheat, maize, tobacco and other crops for thirteen years. Land was not available for private settlement until the early 1830’s, when a town named Emu was surveyed.

On 25 October, 1963, the Emu Plains area was transferred from the Blue Mountains City Council to Penrith City Council.

Emu Plains Convict Farm

The Emu Plains Government Agricultural Establishment – 1819 – 1832

The Emu Plains Agricultural Establishment operated from 11 September 1819 until 31 August 1832. It was established by Lachlan Macquarie to take the high number of surplus convicts in the colony as well as new arrivals. The agricultural station holds an important place in the history of convict administration in New South Wales, with hundreds of convicts processed through the farm. Some had just arrived on transport ships, some were reprocessed and re-educated in agricultural work, and some remained there to give service as overseers, gardeners, watchmen, butchers and clerks.

The farm played an important economic role in the Nepean district, providing a source for the sale of goods, the employment of clearing gangs and individual assignment of convicts to local settlers. It was ideally placed to not only benefit from its agricultural richness, but also to overseer movements of convicts, settlers and stock over the mountains.

Its first Superintendent was Richard Fitzgerald, an ex-convict of exceptional administrative and agricultural talent. He was well respected by the highest dignitaries in the colony like John Macarthur and especially by the early governors, in particular Lachlan Macquarie, who called him ‘this excellent man’. Fitzgerald set up the farm and remained as its Superintendent until February 1822. Constant criticism and legal challenges by Sir John Jamison of Regentville marred his time at Emu Plains. Commissioner Bigge, in his report, considered Emu Plains successful in its original purpose and was one of the best places of punishment in the colony. Macquarie thought that ‘Emu Plains succeeds even beyond my most sanguine hopes’.

Lieutenant Peter Murdoch was appointed in April 1822 and remained there until December 1824. He was a Scotsman and a friend of Sir Thomas Brisbane, the new governor. Murdoch implemented the changes suggested by the Bigge Report. Emu Plains was increased and at times held 500 convicts. Discipline and punishment were important aspects of convict administration during this period. Although Brisbane’s administration came under criticism for sending female convicts to Emu Plains, his purpose was founded upon his desire to employ the women productively. Brisbane thought Murdoch a most moral man. In 1823 a newspaper report stated that ‘The grandest sight that has ever exhibited itself in the colony, in harvest time, is the amazing field of wheat on Emu Plains…we shall not fail to notice the excellent discipline of this place, and the consequent wonderful reformation…of the most abandoned of the human family’. Murdoch left Emu Plains in December 1824.

After Murdoch, the Kinghorne family, father Alexander followed by his son James, were Superintendents of the farm from 1825 to September 1829. Alexander remained for just twelve months on the farm before his appointment as Civil Engineer of the colony. During his superintendence convicts performed the first plays at Emu Plains. Brisbane was impressed by the farm for it turned an ‘idle disorderly vagabond…[into] a regular industrious servant’. Emu Plains flourished under Alexander Kinghorne’s superintendence, which exhibited ‘a picture of comfort, regularity and discipline’.

James Kinghorne was appointed in February 1826 and remained there until September 1829. He oversaw a period of great production on the farm of wheat, maize and tobacco. The movement of great numbers of government stock were important aspects of the farms activities. In July 1826 there were 392 bushels of wheat in the granary, 4000 bushels of wheat in stacks, 6256 bushels of maize in the stores at the farm. Although under Kinghorne the farm was highly productive, it also went through one of the worst droughts in the colony’s history during 1827-1829. During this period, Emu Plains was responsible for supporting many of the agricultural and penal settlements in New South Wales especially Rooty Hill, Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island.

John Maxwell took over from James Kinghorne who replaced Maxwell at the Wellington Valley station. Maxwell had been Superintendent of Government Stock at Bathurst and Wellington Valley. By the time of his arrival in early 1830 the farm had gradually changed its focus from an agricultural to a stock station. He was responsible for all government stock in New South Wales. His primary responsibility was wider than just the station at Emu Plains. Problems with sharing the station with the Mounted Police led to his resignation.

James Smith, the Superintendent of the Grose Farm and Longbottom agricultural stations, replaced Maxwell in August 1831. Smith was to overseer the closure of the farm under the direction of Governor Richard Bourke. Bourke was an agent of change for he also was influential in the decision for Transportation to end in New South Wales. The final twelve months was tied up in deciding if and when the farm would be closed. From January 1832 Smith was struggling to maintain the station, even down to his lack of stationery. From June 1832 the wind-up fully began with the movement of stock and men from the station. A full inventory was undertaken, which included knives, forks, spoons and the three combs left on the station. This inventory was a sad reflection of its vibrant past and a reminder of just how important it was to convict administration in New South Wales.

Soon after the farm closed, H. F. White surveyed the land for a town. White followed the contours of the agricultural station, laying out the village and streets along roads and paddocks created by the convict farm.

Lorraine Stacker

Author of:
Chained to the Soil on the Plains of Emu: A History of the Emu Plains Government Agricultural Establishment, 1819-1832
Published by the Nepean District Historical Society, 2000.


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. Emu Plains also had extensive dairy farming and grape growing before residential development occurred.

Source: Phillips, H.,
Historic Blue Mountains, 1813-1938 .


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

Historical Timeline

Emu Plains

178926 JuneCaptain Watkin Tench set out to explore western-most parts of the colony
179026 AugustTench & Dawes explored the Nepean river and ‘saw three cassowaries’ – a precursor to naming Emu Plains
180612 SeptemberProclamation by William Bligh to prohibit crossing of the Nepean River
18088 JulyRebel Governor, Major Johnston, issued a land grant at Emu Plains to his son
181320 NovemberSurveyor Evans set out from Emu Plains to explore inland
181418 JulyWilliam Cox began construction of the road over the Blue Mountains
181514 JanuaryWilliam Cox completed first road over the Blue Mountains from Emu Plains to Bathurst
181526 AprilGovernor Macquarie’s tour over the Blue Mountains
18184 JanuaryJames ‘Toby’ Ryan born at Castlereagh, well known Emu Plains and Penrith identity
181911 SeptemberProclamation to set up a convict Agricultural Establishment with Richard Fitzgerald as Superintendent
182222 AprilScotsman Lieutenant Peter Murdoch appointed Superintendent of the convict farm at the resignation of Fitzgerald
182324 MarchTenders called for toll collector at Emu Ferry
1824DecemberAlexander Kinghorne appointed Superintendent of the convict farm at the resignation of Murdoch
182516 MayFirst performance held at the convict theatre of Barissa or the Hermit Robber, The Farce of the Mock Doctor or the Dumb Lady Cured, and the favourite Bombastes Furioso
1826FebruaryJames Kinghorne took over from his father as Superintendent at the farm
18266 OctoberLand grant to Francis Forbes, Chief Justice of the colony of 120 acres at Emu Plains (now Leonay) which he named Edinglassie
182910 SeptemberSuperintendent at Wellington Valley, John Maxwell became Superintendent at Emu Plains and Superintendent of Government Stock for the colony
1831AugustSuperintendent at Grose Farm and Longbottom government farms, James Smith appointed as Superintendent at Emu Plains
183220 MayVillage of Emu was laid out by the Government Surveyor
183231 AugustEmu Plains Convict Farm officially closed
18321 OctoberDavid Lennox appointed to work on “Lennox Bridge”
18418 JuneFirst licence of Arms of Australia Inn granted to John Mortimer
184513 AugustGovernment land was sold to Michael Hogan
18488 NovemberSt Paul’s Church School opened
185725 JulyBridge over Nepean River washed away in flood
1863Methodist Church built using the stones from Edinglassie house
186419 FebruaryMary Ryan died at Emu Hall and is buried at St Paul’s Cemetery, Emu Plains
186717 JuneFirst passenger train crosses Victoria Bridge
1868AugustFirst railway station opened called Emu on south side of Old Bathurst Road
187216 AugustSt. Paul’s Church of England consecrated
187319 MayEliza Bisset appointed as postmistress at Emu Ferry
187830 JanuaryEmu Plains Railway disaster. A Katoomba train carrying kerosene shale collided with the up train
1880CircaQuarry site opened on alluvial gavel pit on a bend of the Nepean River at Emu Plains
188520 MarchThe town of Emu was proclaimed
188622 NovemberA new railway station building and stationmaster’s residence opened
1887A Telegraph Office opened at the railway station using Morse code
1890At his Westbank farm, orchardist Richard Sheppard creates -by chance - a new variety of mandarin called the imperial
1896The Telegraph Office converted to a Telephone Office
189917 OctoberJames ‘Toby’ Ryan died at Woolloomooloo and was buried at Emu Plains. He was a well known Emu Plains & Penrith identity
19072 JuneNew Railway Bridge opened over Nepean River. Victoria Bridge becomes road traffic only
1914DecemberEmu Plains prison farm commenced
19294 JanuarySt. Paul’s Church Rectory was destroyed by fire. All church records lost
19308 AprilThe Mudgee mail train is robbed as it leaves Emu Plains station. The armed bandits steal £17,000
193421 DecemberMelrose Hall opened. Named after C.J. Melrose a famous aviator of the time
1956Electrification of the railway line between Penrith and Emu Plains
196329 MayNepean High School opened
196325 October Emu Plains transferred from Blue Mountains Council to Penrith City Council
197311 OctoberOfficial opening of F4 Freeway Bridge over Nepean River
197627 MarchArms of Australia Inn opened as a museum
19803 JulyOld Emu Plains Post Office destroyed by fire (formerly the Australian Arms Inn)
1981Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest is opened
198215 OctoberEdinglassie Retirement Village opened
198214 DecemberLennox Bridge reopened for traffic after major restoration
198628 JanuaryMcCarthy Catholic Senior High School (now Penola Catholic College) took in its first students
2018JulyPenrith Council calls for community suggestions to name the new pedestrian bridge across the Nepean River
2018OctoberThe pedestrian bridge is officially named Yandhai Nepean Crossing


For photos and more information on Emu Plains, search Penrith City Library’s catalogue using an All Resources search.


  • Hickey, Denise, Gerald and Margo Lewers: Their Lives and their Work, Grasstree Press, Mosman, 1982.


  • Synnot & Wilkinson and Recyclers of NSW, Paper and Glass Recycling Plant, Emu Plains: Environmental Impact Statement, the authors, October 1995.


  • Morris, L. and Davies, E. Community Services Needs of Emu Plains, Penrith City Council, Penrith, 1981.


  • Currey, C.M. Sir Francis Forbes, the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1968.
  • Gyford, George, Australian Arms Inn, Old Post Office, Emu Plains: Report, Nepean District Historical Archaeology Group, Penrith, 1984.
  • Gyford, George, Emu Plains Old and New Police Stations, Nepean District Historical Archaeology Group, Penrith, 1981.
  • Gyford, George, A History of the Emu Plains Railway Station 1868-1984, Nepean District Historical Archaeology Group, Penrith, 1984.
  • Kohen, J.L., An Archaeological Re-Appraisal of the Jamison’s Creek Site Complex, Emu Plains, the author, November 1984.
  • Long, Michael Reminiscences of a district veteran: Mr. Michael Long, JP Lambridge: an account of early days in the Nepean district, ed. by Colin Stevenson. Penrith City Council, Penrith, 1984.
  • Murray, Robert and White, Kate Dharug & Dungaree: The History of Penrith and St.Marys to 1860 , Hargreen Publishing, 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.
  • Parr, Lorna, Penrith City Library Oral History Project, 1997.
  • Stacker, Lorraine, Chained to the Soil on the Plains of Emu: A History of the Emu Plains Government Agricultural Establishment 1819-1832, Penrith, 2000.
  • Stacker, Lorraine Pictorial history: Penrith & St Marys, Kingsclear Books, 2002.
  • Steege, Joan Emu Plains (2nd ed.) Nepean District Historical Society, Penrith, 1977.
  • Steege, Joan and Eardley, Gifford, Emu Plains & thereabouts, Nepean District Historical Society, Penrith, 1980.
  • 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.