Cranebrook takes its name from a pioneer farmer, James McCarthy, who was granted 100 acres (400,000 m²) of land in 1804 and named it "Crane Brook farm", after the abundance of cranes in the area. James McCarthy started a cemetery in 1804. After his four-year-old daughter died, he set aside some land to bury her in what became one of the first Catholic cemeteries in Australia.
Cranebrook's geography is hilly and so many residents on the western side enjoy views across the Nepean River to the Blue Mountains. Residents on the eastern side enjoy views across the ADI Site, an area rich in Cumberland Woodland and populated with many kangaroos.
In the eastern side of Cranebrook, The Northern Road separates Cranebrook from an area of land known as the ADI Site, around 15 square kilometres in size. Aspects relating to the sale and development of this land have been a strong local political issue. The south side of Cranebrook is bounded by Andrews Road and the north side of Cranebrook is bounded by Smeeton Road. Nearby is McCarthys Lane Cemetery, considered the oldest Catholic cemetery in Australia.