There are three reasons to visit Emu Plains. I want to explore the Arms of Australia Inn Museum, visit the Penrith Regional Gallery and walk the other half of The Great River Walk as I walked the Penrith side when discovering that suburb.
Where is Emu Plains?
Located on the outskirts of Greater Sydney, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, Emu Plains is perhaps the furthest west that I’ll venture on my suburban Sydney discovery. Passengers on my train wear battered bush hats and weathered hiking boots. They carry maps and backpacks, well prepared for a day of walking in the Blue Mountains.
Emu Plains Railway Station
The old brick and sandstone Railway Station in Emu Plains is unusual. It is one of the few stations with a second storey. This is where the Station Master lived.
Leaving the station, I walk towards the Great Western Highway. The contrast between the old sandstone station and a modern single storey complex housing a medical centre, dentist and tax and financial services is stark. Historical Emu Plains has been encroached by urban sprawl, and it takes work to uncover the hidden treasures of this western Sydney suburb.
O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub
Nearby, O’ Donoghue’s Irish Pub, built in 1886, is an Historic Inn listed in the Blue Mountains History Highway Inns. Opposite the pub, a block of blond brick townhouses called Heritage Gardens gives a nod to the history of the area.
A bell sounds behind me and the cyclist nods as he passes on my right. This suburb has the feel of a small country town. The air is fresh, there is a calmness about the place and people smile and say “Hello”.
The Arms of Australia Inn Museum
The Arms of Australia Inn Museum is a restored staging post where Cobb & Co would change teams of horses and their passengers would rest and take refreshment. The Inn was almost demolished in the 1970s after years of decay. A concerted effort by Nepean District Historical Society, with help from Penrith City Council and local fundraising restored the building and developed it into the well-managed museum they run today.
A man mows the green lawn from his seat on a ride-on mower. Sprinklers arc back and forth while magpies enjoy a bath in the spray. I find Ted reading a book in one of the outer buildings. He tells me that after being “laid off from work” and unable to find other employment, he first volunteered as a handyman never expecting that in time he would be leading school groups and seniors on tours of the museum.
Inside the Museum
As part of the restoration, the Historical Society replaced the three layered shingle roof (as opposed to the easy option of a corrugated iron roof) which now gives an air of authenticity to the building. The walls are thick and the doorway low, and I duck my head to enter the long narrow museum.
Long lost objects that had slipped through gaps in the wooden floor were found including pieces of broken crockery, buttons, domino pieces and old convict nails. I rake my fingers through a dish of old marbles (stoppers from old glass soft drink bottles). They are surprisingly cool and almost soft to the touch.
One room is dedicated to communication, with typewriters, an old switchboard and wall telephone. School children really enjoy this room. They also find the school room complete with slate boards and wooden desks fascinating. Ted tells me that when seniors visit, they love being reminded of days past by the comprehensive display.
When planning my Emu Plains discovery, I decided not to visit Lennox Bridge, but a photograph in the museum prompts me to ask if it is easily accessible on foot. Apparently, it is. I’ll try to get there.
Suburban Emu Plains
Moving on, I cross The Great Western Highway and continue to Sheppard Road via Sheppard Lane. Here, a small strip of shops serves the local community. There’s a hairdresser, a grocery store and a spa. The newsagent, like many all over Sydney looks tired. Again, people greet me with a smile.
Many of the simple homes are brick, a few are cement-rendered and modernised. A gardener tidies edges with his whipper snipper and a contractor delivers parcels in this quiet suburban street.
The War Memorial
Back on the other side of The Great Western Highway I find the WW1 war memorial standing in a hedged enclosure in a beautifully kept park. Emu Plains appears to be a well-kept and well maintained (loved) suburb. I must admit, I am surprised.
I’m delighted to discover that a nearby sandstone building with a shiny new corrugated iron roof was once the Emu Plains Public School. I didn’t think I’d find it.
The Governor built the Emu Plains Government House as part of the Emu Plains Government Agricultural Establishment. This is where surplus convicts and new arrivals were processed and educated in agricultural. Now Lennox Village Shopping Centre stands on the site of Government House and the farm complex is a grid of suburban dwellings.
St Paul’s Anglican Church
St Paul’s Anglican Church is next on my list. A new blond brick Anglican Church initially hides the sandstone building from view. The quaint little church built from hand hewn sandstone has a fine bell tower.
Walking through the adjacent Emu Plains General Cemetery I reflect on how many of the deceased lived relatively long lives even though they were born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Looking for Lennox Bridge
Although the sun is beating down, I continue on to Lennox bridge, passing Dukes Cottage (formerly the original Post Office) and cursing myself for leaving my sunscreen on the bathroom shelf.
Green Gables Cottage Ruins
Down an embankment near the parking area is a monument to John Whitton, an early engineer in chief for the railways. Nearby a wire fence encloses the ruins of Green Gables Cottage (1867), a railway gatekeepers’ cottage severely damaged in a 1968 bushfire.
The Knapsack Reserve sign indicates that Knapsack Bridge is 850m away. I don’t read the sign properly and guess that this is Lennox Bridge. Continuing on, I hug the shade and ask a couple of walkers if they have sunscreen. One doesn’t but offers her water. Another does, but it is in her car.
Knapsack Bridge is another sandstone marvel with beautiful arches and views back to the city. The Steve Taylor Stair Challenge, at the opposite end of the bridge, encourages walkers to jog or walk up the 107 wooden steps. Recently firefighters trained here for their climb up the 98 storeys of the Sydney Tower Eye in full firefighting gear to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease. I later learn that Lennox Bridge is about 2km further on. Maybe next time.
The Nepean River
Back in the suburban area of Emu Plains, I pass another simple sandstone building, the now Uniting, once Methodist, Church. The wide streets are lined with old callistemon trees heavy with red bottle brush.
Reaching River Road and the Nepean River, I can see the Nepean Belle in the distance. The houses are fancier here. It stands to reason. They’re riverfront with the broad Nepean in front of them.
The Penrith Regional Gallery
The Café at Lewers on the grounds of the Penrith Regional Gallery is buzzing. It is fun finding these little out of the way cafés and I enjoy a much-needed cold drink and break from the heat before taking a look around the gallery. A modern exhibition “The Curtain Breathed Deeply” by Justene Williams isn’t really my cup of tea but the colourful geometric pieces by Leonora Howlett are more appealing. The exhibition changes regularly.
Before leaving, I stop to take a photo of the gallery through the garden. A gardener walks past saying “it’s good to see people appreciating the garden”. It is a beautiful garden.
The Great River Walk
Signs along the Great River Walk warn of snakes. The snakes are hiding, but numerous water dragons of all sizes scuttle across the path into the bushes on my approach. Ducks, moorhens and cormorants swim and feed along the rivers edge.
A man carrying a roughly hewn walking stick nervously asks if I have seen any snakes and is relieved at my reply.
You too should visit Emu Plains
My discovery of Emu Plains has come full circle and I wait for the next train thinking about how Emu Plains surprised me. It has a calm, welcoming feel about it and a museum and gallery well worth exploring as well as a few good bush walks. Take a day out to Emu Plains. You too may be pleasantly surprised.