Balmain is a suburb in the Inner West of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Balmain is located 2 km (1.2 mi) west of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the Inner West Council.
Sydney, New South Wales
|Coordinates||33°51′32″S 151°10′45″E / 33.85895°S 151.17906°E|
|Population||10,454 (SAL 2021)|
|Elevation||49 m (161 ft)|
|Area||1.5 km2 (0.6 sq mi)|
|Location||5 km (3 mi) west of Sydney CBD|
|LGA(s)||Inner West Council|
It is located on the Balmain peninsula surrounded by Port Jackson, adjacent to the suburbs of Rozelle to the south-west, Birchgrove to the north-west, and Balmain East to the east. Iron Cove sits on the western side of the peninsula, with White Bay on the south-east side and Mort Bay on the north-east side.
Traditionally blue collar, Balmain was where the industrial roots of the trade unionist movement began. It has become established in Australian working-class culture and history, due to being the place where the Australian Labor Party formed in 1891 and its social history and status is of high cultural significance to both Sydney and New South Wales. Today, the ALP contends with the Australian Greens for political prominence in Balmain, and Jamie Parker of the Greens holds the State seat of Balmain.
Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by indigenous Aboriginal Australian, Gadigal and Wangal people. Stories from early settlers in the area tell of how the local indigenous people used to hunt kangaroo by driving them through the bushy peninsula, down the hill to Peacock Point at the east end, where they were killed.
The area now known as Balmain was part of a 550-acre (2.2 km2) grant to colonial surgeon William Balmain (1762–1803) made in 1800 by Governor John Hunter. A year later, Balmain transferred his entire holding to settle a debt to John Borthwick Gilchrist before returning to Scotland. The legality of the land transfer from Balmain to Gilchrist for only 5 shillings was challenged by Balmain's descendants and further development of the area was blocked. The area subsequently became known as Gilchrist's place, though court documents refer to the area as the Balmain Estate.
During the many years of legal challenges, the land was leased for farming and cattle purposes. In 1814 the adjacent homestead of Birchgrove was sold to Roland Warpole Loane, a merchant and settler descended from a family of English landlords. One hundred acres on the adjoining Balmain estate were leased to Loane.
In 1833, Gilchrist transferred power of attorney to Frederick Parbury. When Loane's lease finally expired in 1836 and the land retrieved from his possession, Parbury commissioned surveyor John Armstrong to sub-divide the land into six parcels. Three parcels were sold to Thomas Hyndes in 1837. The area was rapidly sub-divided and developed during the 1840s and by 1861 had been divided into the well populated eastern suburb of Balmain and the sparsely populated western area, extending to the gates of Callan Park, known as Balmain West.
The peninsula changed rapidly during the 1800s and became one of the premier industrial centres of Sydney. Industries clustered around Mort Bay included shipbuilding, a metal foundry, engineering, boilermaking and the Mort's Dock and Engineering Company works which opened in 1855—in 1958 Mort's Dock closed and is the site of Mort Bay Park. Increasing industrialisation at Balmain created a demand for cheap housing. This was satisfied by the dock owners selling small blocks of land to entrepreneurs who then built tiny cottages and rented them to the workers. The Balmain Reservoir was built in 1915.
Lever Brothers Factory, owned by the British parent company, opened in 1895.
A coal mine was opened in 1897 beside what is now Birchgrove Public School by an English company. The winding engine was said to be the largest in the southern hemisphere. However, with the endless labour disputes, Sydney Collieries Limited took over ownership. A further new shaft was sunk in 1904. From the bottom of the shafts a decline led down to a seam of coal situated under the harbour between Ballast Point and Goat Island. Because of the availability of the coal, Balmain Power Station was erected in stages from 1909. However, there were major industrial disputes in the 1920s and calls were made by some shareholders in 1928 to close the mine. The following year the colliery still employed 299 miners. By 1930 the colliery owners had given up and it had been taken over by the Balmain Coal Contracting Company, established by the Miner's Federation to keep the pit operational, to no avail as disputes continued. On 13 Oct 1930 the Miners' Lodge declared the mine "blacked" as well as the manager, whose dismissal they demanded. The colliery closed in 1931. In 1933 it was proposed to extract natural gas for commercial use from the now disused mine. In 1936 calls were made for the Sydney City Council to take over the mine to no avail. One local waterman who benefited from the Balmain coalmine was Bob Miller, who resided at 102 Glassop Street. He purchased a small tug and barge and secured a contract to remove the mine tailings, which he on sold to local councils as fill for a handsome profit. This was the beginning of the 'R. W. Miller' industrial conglomerate. By 1924 his family had moved to Louisa Road.
The opening of the tramway in the 1920s further established Balmain and it gained a reputation as a rough working-class area of Sydney. A large influx of immigrants boosted Balmain's population in the 1950s.
Gentrification of Balmain began in the 1960s as industry waned. Balmain's desirability to the middle class was due in part to its waterfront location and proximity to Sydney's CBD. The Balmain Association was formed in 1965.
Increasing property values and waterfront development continued to push the suburb's remaining industry out. In 1996, the Lever Brothers site became a series of apartment complexes with a handful of original buildings preserved. The power station was demolished in 1998 to make way for apartments. However, many aspects of Balmain's industrial past have been retained as heritage.
Balmain has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:
- 1 Blake Street: Ewenton
- Booth Street: Balmain Hospital Main Building
- Glassop Street: Dawn Fraser Swimming Pool
- 12b Grafton Street: Hampton Villa
- 37 Nicholson Street: Waterview Wharf Workshops
- Thames, Mort, College, McKell, Cameron, Yeend Streets: Mort's Dock
- 2 Wells Street: Louisaville
According to the 2016 census of population, there were 10,453 residents in Balmain. 61.9% of people were born in Australia. The next most common countries of birth were England 9.1%, New Zealand 3.3%, Ireland 1.5% and United States of America 1.5%. 79.6% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Italian at 1.3%. The most common responses for religion in Balmain (State Suburbs) were No Religion 41.2%, Catholic 22.3%, Not stated 12.5%, Anglican 11.4% and Presbyterian and Reformed 2.1%.
Darling Street, Balmain's main thoroughfare, features boutique shops, quality restaurants and cafes alongside old drinking establishments. Landmarks on this street include the Post Office and Court House, alongside Balmain Town Hall, the historic Westpac Bank, Balmain Fire Station and Balmain Working Men's Institute. Other commercial developments are scattered throughout the suburb. The headquarters of the NSW Water Police moved to Cameron Cove in Balmain in late 2007.
Balmain has several ferry wharves including Thames Street Balmain serviced by the Cockatoo Island ferry services, Elliot Street, Balmain West and Darling Street, Balmain East serviced by the Cross Harbour ferry services. Services run to Circular Quay. Transdev Sydney Ferries' maintenance and repair base is at Balmain Shipyard.
Balmain's road network feeds into three main roads—Darling Street, Beattie Street and Montague/Mullen Street. These streets have limited speeds, typically 40 km/h and are all single carriageway with parallel parking. Due to the geography of the peninsula, all of these roads feed into Victoria Road and the Western Distributor.
Trams once ran all the way down Darling Street to the Wharf at Balmain East. Due to the very steep incline at the bottom of the street, the trams used a complex 'dummy' counterweight system constructed under the road surface. The trams were pushed up the steep hill by the dummy, and rode the dummy on the way down to safely descend the hill. Transit Systems bus services that service Balmain are: 441 – Birchgrove to Art Gallery of New South Wales via Rozelle and QVB, 442 – Balmain to the Queen Victoria Building via Rozelle, 445 – Balmain to Campsie, 433 – Balmain to Martin Place.
Balmain is home to many historic hotels, including the Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Cricketer's Arms Hotel, Dick's Hotel, Dry Dock Hotel, Exchange Hotel, Forth & Clyde Hotel, Kent Hotel, Unity Hall Hotel, London Hotel, Mort Bay Hotel, Norfolk Pines Hotel, Pacific Hotel, Royal Oak Hotel, Shipwright's Arms Hotel, Star Hotel, Town Hall Hotel, Volunteer Hotel and the West End Hotel.
The Riverview Hotel is a heritage-listed corner building built in 1880 in the Arts and Crafts style. Between 1888 and 1913 the pub was named Bergin's Hotel after the publican Joseph Bergin. Australian swimming champion Dawn Fraser was publican of the Riverview from 1978 to 1983.
Numerous phrases have been used to describe the suburb and its inhabitants, including "Balmain boys don't cry" (former NSW Premier Neville Wran at the Street Royal Commission); "You can take the boy out of Balmain, but you can't take Balmain out of the boy" (Unknown); "There are only two types of men in this world: those who were born in Balmain and those who wish they were" (a Police Commissioner of New South Wales). Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating commented on the suburb's gentrification by using the term "Basket weavers of Balmain". Until the 1970s, older Balmain people would refer to "going to Sydney". The Post Office/ Court/ Police building and vicinity was generally referred to as the "Town Hall", with the Post Office clock often called the Town Hall clock. This was probably due to the Post Office & Court Building being built in between the earlier Town Hall & Town Hall Hotel.
In the mid-1960s Balmain was the setting for the popular Seven Network situation comedy series My Name's McGooley, What's Yours?, starring Gordon Chater, John Meillon and Judi Farr.
Balmain was the setting for the 1994 Australian film The Sum of Us, which starred Jack Thompson, John Polson and Russell Crowe.
The former Pacific Hotel (from 2019, now converted into a residential property) - as well as several other locations in Balmain - were used extensively as the set of the Australian television soap opera, E Street.
Parks and reservesEdit
Balmain has a number of parks including Gladstone Park, Birrung Park and White Bay Park. The wider peninsula has many more parks in close proximity, particularly along the foreshores. In earlier times Punch Park was the goto place for park footy (rugby league), though it was always referred to by the boys then as Punch's Park
Sport and recreationEdit
Balmain is home to the Balmain Tigers district rugby league football club that is now represented in the NRL by Wests Tigers rugby league club. The club was formed in mid-1999 by a joint venture between the Balmain Tigers and the Western Suburbs Magpies in preparation for the 2000 season. In 2005 the Tigers defeated the North Queensland Cowboys in the Grand Final to win the premiership.
The Balmain Rugby Football Club, founded in 1873, took part in the very first competition structure and in fact winning their first premiership in 1875. Players lost fighting in World War I forced the club to merge with the Glebe "Dirty Reds" RUFC in 1919, to form the Glebe-Balmain RFC. As a merged club they had enormous success during the Twenties, winning four premierships. In 1931, as a depression project, Drummoyne Oval, as it is now known, was constructed on the site of a small oval which Glebe and Balmain had used for junior matches since 1892. To ensure longevity of tenure, and because there were just not enough sporting grounds in Sydney—with some reluctance—the Glebe-Balmain Club decided to change its name to the Drummoyne District Rugby Football Club. It did so without giving up its long-held traditions, the scarlet jumpers of Glebe and its world-famous tag, "The Dirty Reds" and the black and gold of Balmain, colours still worn proudly by today's players in their socks. Drummoyne Rugby Club is still in existence and still upholds it proud history and traditions.
The suburb is also home to the Balmain Australian Football Club, a founding member in 1903 of the Sydney Football League.
Balmain is also home to Balmain FC, who are a semi-professional football club, playing in the National Premier Leagues NSW 3. In 2015 they qualified for the Australia-wide FFA Cup Round of 32 and were drawn against A-League club Melbourne Victory FC in which they were defeated 6–0 in front of 5,000 fans at Leichhardt Oval.
Balmain Sailing Club is located in nearby Birchgrove and is home to the annual Balmain Regatta.
Balmain Rowing Club was formed in July 1882, and still occupies its original White Street location. The club adopted black and yellow colours from its formation, which soon became the district colours. The great Illawarra sculling champion Bill Beach had a close association with the club and wore their black and gold colours in competition.
The post-industrial gentrification of Balmain has resulted in a suburb of considerable charm and interest where the modest, pretty houses command high prices. However, Balmain still retains a diverse mix of residents due to the Housing Commission unit blocks in the suburb. Much of the suburb is a heritage conservation area and creative design is required to modernise the Victorian and Edwardian housing stock. In 2013 a contemporary Balmain house designed by architect Harry Seidler sold for $6m. The Tom Uren House in Gilchrist Place was designed by Richard Leplastrier.
Notable past and present residents include:
- Sir Harold Alderson, sports administrator
- Peter Bonsall-Boone, LGBT rights activist
- Edgar Britt, jockey
- Geraldine Brooks, author and journalist
- Rose Byrne, actress
- Clive Caldwell, RAAF's highest scoring fighter ace of WWII
- Thomas Coutts, whaler, pastoralist and mass murderer
- H. V. Evatt, jurist, judge, lawyer, politician, parliamentarian and writer
- Carlotta, entertainer
- Dawn Fraser, former champion swimmer and politician
- Caroline Grills, serial killer
- Billy Hughes, 7th Prime Minister of Australia
- Archie Jackson, Australian cricketer
- Sir John Kerr, 18th Governor-General of Australia
- Alex Lloyd, singer/songwriter
- Lottie Lyell, actress
- Padraic McGuinness, journalist
- Lenny McPherson, colourful Sydney identity
- Dally Messenger, rugby union & rugby league
- Robert W. Miller (businessman), Industrialist, shipping, mining & brewing
- Matthew Mitcham, diver
- Frank Moorhouse, author and screenwriter
- George Negus, journalist and author
- Nick Origlass, former Trotskyite mayor of Leichhardt Municipal Council
- Henry Parkes, 7th Premier of New South Wales
- Wayne Pearce, former professional rugby league footballer
- Josh Pyke, musician
- Norman Selfe, engineer
- Fred Spofforth, Australian cricketer
- Frank Sponberg, Australian rugby league player
- Rick Springfield, singer-songwriter and actor
- John Storey, 20th Premier of New South Wales
- Tom Uren, former Whitlam Government Minister
- Neville Wran, 35th Premier of New South Wales
- Malcolm Young, musician
- Sir Thomas Henley, KBE, Member of NSW Legislative Assembly and Mayor of Drummoyne
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