“Wow, you’re from Penrith! How long on the train is that?” is something I hear a lot at uni. My wellrehearsed answer is, “An hour, but only fifty minutes on a Blue Mountains express train.”
For me, Penrith is defined by its relationships to other places. Thirty minutes north or south becomes a rural road trip. Thirty minutes west and you’re bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. Thirty minutes east and you arrive in the diverse and developing cities of Blacktown and Parramatta. Double that and you’re in Sydney CBD.
What we call Penrith was violently stolen from the Darug, whose land stretched from the Nepean River (yandhai) to the Hawkesbury River (deerubbun), where they would trade with the Eora and Darkinjung. With the onset of colonialism, Europeans used Penrith as an outpost of the Blue Mountains.
As the sun sets over the mountains it casts a shadow over the suburbs, beginning in Penrith and spreading across the West until all of Sydney is cloaked in night. The Blue Mountains and Nepean River do not reside within Penrith’s geographical bounds, but connect Penrith to bustling suburbs, sparse but beautiful rural areas, and mountainous national parks.
The sunset is something I get to see often, but it’s a view that has changed over time. A housing estate has sprung up behind my house in the last few years. Travelling to uni takes me over the newly-constructed bridge over Penrith train station, the tracks stretching up the mountain into the sky.
I still remember the Penrith Public School song:
In the shadow of the mountain, by the broad Nepean side
Stands a school we will remember as we forward go with pride.
The song urges us to “remember” Penrith even while we are there, creating a preemptive sense of nostalgia that will only truly be felt after we leave. But resisting the pressure to leave for an Inner West sharehouse makes me feel that I am defending not just a place but an identity and a way of living.
We’re all like Penrith, the intersections in webs of relationships, without which we are little.