DR PETER REYNOLDS:
Balmain is located just west of the Harbour Bridge, close to the central business district. And down here at the east end is where settlement began in Balmain, from 1836. Beyond the Harbour Bridge are Sydney Heads.
Captain Phillip led the ships of the First Fleet, on one of which was William Balmain. He was the surgeon of the 'Alexander' convict transport. And the fleet arrived at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. And, thereby, we can make claim to William Balmain as a founder of the nation.
After 1836, the light industry developed around the water's edge. There were many, many boatbuilders who simply bought a piece of land with a water frontage, and with the rocky hillside, they could cut their seawall, or their boat ramp, out of the stone of the hillside, build their stone house, repair or make their boats on the waterfront. And that was multiplied over and over again around the water's edge.
Heavy industry began with the opening of Mort's Dock in 1855. And that became a mammoth industry. And towards the end of the century, the numbers of people employed were second only to the NSW Railway, which was the largest employer of labour in Australia during that period. The really massive industries got away at the turn of the century, into the 1900s. The Balmain Coal Mine was sunk on the Iron Cove waterfront with the idea of bunkering the ships with coal for their boilers straight from the mine into the ship.
With the larger industries and people living so close together, it became a close-knit community, usually centred on the workplace. In 1908, when the Balmain Rugby League Football Club was formed, those players were workers. And when they were injured, if they were badly injured, the families didn't eat for a week or so until the hat was passed around to provide them with some sort of food.
To talk about significant buildings, we could start with the Balmain Watch House
, which began as a lockup. Any serious crimes would be sent into town. And that was built as a single-storey building in 1854. Ewenton
is one of the 11 or so houses on the Blake estate, which was bought by Robert Blake in 1837. When Blake sold the estate to Ewen Wallace Cameron, Cameron commissioned the Balmain architect James McDonald to add another storey and the magnificent oriel window. The combination of strange Victorian building with a fairly sedate Georgian building is just amazing. And there is not another house like it in Australia.
In the 1880s, there were 40 pubs opposed by five temperance societies. One of them, it was the current London Hotel
. The 40 pubs were considerably reduced by the Licensing Reduction Board when came a change in the act, so that there could only be a certain number of pubs in a community. And also, those pubs became unprofitable. The breweries transferred the licences out to a more profitable area. But if you think of the six o'clock swill and then look at the London Hotel, the London Hotel is open till all hours, and you can get fine food and fine wine and everything. WOMAN:
And I think, in Sydney, there are only two kinds of people - that is those who were born in Balmain and those who wish they were born in Balmain. DR PETER REYNOLDS:
The gentrification got under way in the middle 1960s, at the time of the founding of the Balmain Association, because of the proximity of the city to middle-class professionals. Gentrification is a two-handed thing. It can be very modest, as I'm speaking of. And later, in the '70s and '80s, when buckets of money were thrown at owners for people to buy in here, it became then the resort of yuppie Trotskyites and chardonnay socialists. Other industries were becoming unprofitable and they were finding that they were far too confined in their space to expand, so they simply sold up and moved out.
So here was all this redundant land - and waterfront land - just ripe for large development. That's why you get, around Iron Cove Bridge, these massive housing complexes. The physical characteristics of Balmain have been maintained through historians publishing the importance of it, then heritage advisers assessing the significance of it, and large conservation areas being created, particularly around the waterfront. And the closer you are to the water, the more expensive. So, in a sense, the waterfront is like a mortgage belt.
People are attracted to Balmain simply because it's great. Wonderful water views, interesting houses, changing vistas, hilly topography, so you're always getting a change. But above all, I think, it's the proximity to the city. Five to seven minutes in the ferry and you're at the hub of the Circular Quay railway, and it's just wonderful.