Thursday, December 17, 2009

Getting into the Christmas Spirit!

The holidays are coming! Yay!! I know I need one!

It has been a rollacoaster year and some R&R is well deserved!
For some out there, Christmas is a lonely and difficult time and I think we should all do our part to help our fellow Australians in a period that should be a happy time. For the last two weeks, Santa came to Balmain and sat his chair at Loyalty Square for photos. Myself and the team at Sarah Lorden helped by becoming honorary elves for the day, giving out candy canes and collecting food and money for the Salvation Army. It was a great day where the kind citizens of Balmain helped raise over $500 in donations plus many boxes of food. Santa had his hands full too with over 140 children (and some adults!) posing for photographs.

I had a great time, skipping around in tight elf outfit that revealed a little bit too much, passing candy canes out to shoppers!

What am I doing over the break?
I will be spending Christmas with my family up at the Blue Mountains where I plan to get some awesome gifts (mum, if you're reading this, take note!)
I will also be off work for the month of January, indulging in some of my passions in outdoor adventure. On the cards is a summer climb of Mount Kosciusko, caving and canyoning in Jenolan Caves and a spot of white water rafting. I will be returning after Australia Day full of more stories and interesting info about Balmain and what I got up to in the break.

Next year, I will also be starting a new position within Sarah Lorden Real Estate as the assistant to Cherry Owen and if you are thinking of selling in 2010 you should make sure that you call Cherry or myself for an appraisal. We, as a team, will be a tour-de-force next year and it would be an honor to have you benefit from our future success!

I am wishing you good luck and success in 2010. In Chinese years, it will be the year of the Tiger which means it will be a very lucky and engaging year. The tiger protects us from dangers such as fire and burglary and because the tiger is a wanderer, it will be lucky in 2010 to decorate your home with pictures and artifacts of your travels and adventures.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I will see you in 2010!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Has the first home buyers grant really been beneficial to buyers?

It's no secret that the rite of passage of owning your first home in Sydney has become a near impossibility. A few years ago, the government created the first home buyers grant as an effort to encourage young buyers into the market. Initially, the feedback was positive but the results were not as progressive as the government had hoped. Last year, the government added an additional incentive - another $7000 to increase more first home buyers to the market. There have been a couple of positives and negatives with this move.

In 2008, the real estate market was at a lull. It was a period where stock was not only low, but so was selling. The causes of this have been attributed to the GFC and a general consensus that properties were over-valued in the Sydney market. There were complaints from renters too - rental vacancy rates were as low as 1% in many areas and the cost of renting increased by an estimated 20% in just 2 years. It was not only expensive to buy, but for many it was also becoming too expensive to rent. I remember as a leasing officer, one open house I held in Annandale - we had nearly 81 people through in a half an hour period and a line out the front door that went to the end of the street. Crazy times! The government's initiative to boost the first home buyers grant gave many buyers the opportunity to buy their first home. This was a good thing, rental rates eased, rental prices plateaued and coinciding with the record low interest rates, properties were beginning to sell again.

In 2009, the $14,000 grant and the record low interest rates made it one of the best times to buy in 40 years and the market quickly started to flood with buyers. However market stock did not grow very much in 2009. It took a while for vendors to let go of their assets in the wake of the GFC. So what began to happen was that the low stock, and high influx of buyers, fuelled by the first home buyers grant, resulted in housing prices starting to increase. It was the quickest market turn around that I had ever seen. It started as the best time to buy in nearly 40 years to suddenly switching and becoming one of the best times to sell in 40 years! Competition grew and many buyers were looking for a bargain gem, but so were a hundred other buyers in the same price range. Properties were going on the market with little or no competition and, because cut-off dates had been set for the grants to end in September and December, it enticed a flurry of furious bidding at auction pushing the housing prices up.

I can see many of you rolling your eyes with you're own experiences at auctions like these. You've paid for a building and pest inspection, you've worked out the finances and you turn up on the day ready to bid only to have someone else open the bidding at a ludicrously high price. At the end of the auction the property has sold for $70,000 more than what you were willing to pay for it.
I have heard may stories like this in the past year. I had one buyer say to me: "What is the point of having a $14,000 government grant when you buy the house for $70,000 more than it's value?" The answer: None.
The high house prices have knocked many buyers back to square 1 - unable to afford a house.

So what will happen in 2010?
Well the commonwealth bonus ceases on December 31st, and the $7000 Grant will remain until June 2010. This will take quite a bit of wind out of the sails in the buyers market. There has been talk that investors would fill that gap, but it looks like many investors have seen the high prices in the market and have stayed away, waiting for cheaper times. The interest rates will continue to climb, restricting peoples ability to finance their purchases and we are now seeing more stock coming onto the market. With all of these factors coming to a head in the first half of 2010, one can estimate that a probable scenario is a slowing of the market. The bubble may well just burst in a few months and we could start to see housing prices plateau in Sydney. Will they go down? If they fall, they won't fall by much, but there is a good chance that we are going to soon see an end to record sales prices in many areas.

So what should you do?
Stay informed and keep your eyes open. There are many other commentators out there who would disagree with my prediction, and they could be right, if I had a crystal ball I'd be out buying a lotto ticket right now! But the signs are pointing to a climax when the market will begin to turn and I believe it will be in 2010.
But back to the inital question: Has the First Home Buyers Grant really been beneficial to buyers? There can be no doubt that it did help those buyers who moved quickly to secure a property before the crowds and while prices were low. But for those who entered the market later, they found that the grant had too broad an appeal and buyers were wasting their money on building and pest inspections, loosing at auctions and leaving with nothing. It became a frustrating and upsetting process with little reward.

I welcome any comments or opinions on this article, including those of my professional peers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Origins of Darling Street

Everyone knows Balmain's Darling Street. It is the main life-line to and from the peninsular and is the most important and central road in the area. In this week's blog, we will explore the origins of Balmain's most important street.

The first land sale in Balmain took place in 1836. At that time, just 3 streets were marked on the peninsular - Nicholson St, Johnston St and Darling St. (a fifty foot dirt track leading from Balmain Road to where the wharf now stands). The origins of the dirt road that became Darling Street, was originally used as a thoroug fare by off duty soldiers from the prison on Cockatoo Island, from Birchgrove to Peacock Point, where they would embark on a ship into Sydney Cove. This worn track brought settlers whom settled, traded and enjoyed the security of the patrolling soldiers in the area.

Originally named after Sir Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales from 1824-1831, Darling Street went through a number of other name changes such as "Great Ferry Road," "Main Ferry Road", and "High Street". Before the trams, there were two Darling Streets in Balmain. From the ferry wharf to Loyalty Square (where the Woolworths now stands) the road was known as Darling Street then it forked at the Unity Hotel into Upper Darling Road - which is the path Darling Street today follows into Rozelle; and Lower Darling Road- what today is now known as Beattie Street.

Early settlers were attracted to settlement on Darling Street because it was "on a lovely elevation which partakes of the genial influence of the north-east winds, and the climate is mild and salubrious" - words like genial and salubrious are lost in today's real estate vocab which would probably read more like: "a rare opportunity to secure a prize piece of land with panoramic coastal views, gently kissed by welcoming north-east winds, and situated in a sunny and clean position. Don't miss this opportunity!"

Wow, times have changed!
Darling Street became one of the most progressive and popular streets in Sydney during the late 19th Century. In 1875, it was aglow with some of Sydney's first gas lamps and the shopping on Darling St was so popular that "you might imagine yourself in the city brilliantly lighted are the shops and stores..." It's popularity continued when trams were installed to carry commuters from the shopping district to the wharf in 1882.

To this day, Darling Street remains the most important street in Balmain. It is home to much of Balmain's history from the first wharf built on the peninsular, to the churches of St. Mary's Anglican and St. Thomas' Anglican to Balmain's first police lock-up at the Balmain Watch House.

A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe J.Lawrence & C. Warne 1995
Streets, Lanes and Places 1836-2005 - Balmain Association Inc 1994

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pubs of Balmain - Part 1

Balmain is an area of contrasting cultures - there is the cafe, art gallery and bookstore loving, intellectual Balmain and then there is the unionised, working class, pub loving Balmain. The peninsular has always had a deep love affair with Sydney's working class and the public house. I'm going to touch on a few facts of some of Balmain's pubs and some facts that perhaps you did not know. There are currently 24 pubs on the Balmain peninsular, many are some of the oldest in Australia.

Captain Cook Inn: Nicholson St, Balmain East. The very first hotel on the penninsula, built in 1842. It was only open for 3 years before it became a private residence for Capt. Nicholson (whom Nicholson Street is named after). It later became Durham House but no longer stands.

Rob Roy Hotel: Located at 25 Adolphus St, was a pub for 101 years until 1958. It had a reputation for harbouring unsavoury characters and was known to locals as the "Bloodhouse". It's location serviced the men working on the schooners docked in White Bay and when the drunks spilled out onto the private residence of Shannon Grove (now Ewenton St), the residents - a father and son team known as "The Ward Boys" would eject them, using a revolver. The Rob Roy also had a reputation for selling liquor on Sundays if you went around the back of the hotel. It is now a boarding house.

Dry Dock Hotel: Is the oldest hotel still operating and is located on the corner of Cameron and College Sts. It opened in 1867 and has been servicing patrons for the last 142 years. It's success has been due to it's location, being close to Mort's Dock and it's innovation. It was the first pub to have a beer garden and live entertainment in Balmain.

London Hotel: There are 9 hotels currently operating on Darling Street and the London was the first to open in 1870. It was originally called the Golden Eagle, then changed its name to the Circular Saw and then finally to the London Hotel. The noticable drop in the street level at the front of the London and the closing off of Jane Street was due to the tram line that was built past the pub in 1903. The original wood panelling still seen inside the pub today, was built in South Australia and then shipped to Balmain. It was also a favourite haunt of anti-establishment intellectuals like Germaine Greer and Clive James.

Royal Oak Hotel: Established in 1878 under the orginial name of Hollis Hotel, the Royal Oak's history is steeped in union connections. In 1887, The Slip, Dock and General Labourers Union was formed at the Royal Oak (then known as Clifford's Hotel). It is one of the few hotels in the area never to have had a verandah. In the old days, the surrounding area was all paddocked with grazing sheep, nowdays, the pub is buried around semi's, terrace houses and unit blocks. The Royal Oak has a great reputation now for an excellent selection of food and wine.

Davidson, B; Hamey, K; Nicholls, D; Called To The Bar - 150 Years of pubs in Balmain & Rozelle, The Balmain Association, 1991

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Balmain - Land of the Eora People

There has been many extensive works on the European settlement of the Balmain peninsular but little is know about it's original Aboriginal inhabitants - the Eora and Wangal People (Eora meaning "from this place").

The Eora People is the name given to the Aboriginal people who had resided on the coastal areas around Sydney before European occupation. They mainly lived in the area of what is now known as Leichhardt and Annandale, while the Wangal people lived within the Rozelle and Lilyfield area. Balmain and Birchgrove's original inhabitants were known as the Birrabirragal people. All spoke a dialect of the Sydney Basin Dharug language and have been estimated to have lived in Sydney for at least 10,000 years before European occupation.
The initial contact with European settlers was disastrous with an estimated half of the local Aboriginal population killed by Smallpox in the first eighteen months. Before Europeans settled in Balmain, the peninsular was used as an area for European game hunting with large hordes of Kangaroos, deer and other species driven in from the plains of Ashfield to be hunted.
There is little evidence of Aboriginal culture surviving on the Balmain peninsular. Most of the archaeological sites revolve around midden mounds in caves and coves around the bays, holding the remains of shellfish, the staple diet of the local Aboriginal people. Leichhardt Council has 16 identified midden sites including sites at Whitehorse Point in Elkington Park, Balmain and Callan Point, Rozelle. These sites have been estimated to be about 4,500 years old. There is also a sign at Yurulbin Point in Birchgrove recognising the traditional owners of the area.

The sign at Yurulbin Point reading: "Leichhardt Council on 8th July 1994 this point was renamed Yurulbin Point from its former name of Long Nose Point at a ceremony symbolising reconciliation between Aborigines/Torres Strait Islanders and the non-indigenous Australian community."

It is interesting to note that some of the Dharug language from the area has left it's legacy in English, with words like "Wombat", "Boomerang", and "Woomera" being incorporated into our vocabulary.
The local native fauna also suffered with the intervention of Europeans, many are now extinct like the nuwalgang - Magpie Goose and the Bulungga - Eastern Native Cat, a cousin of Tasmania's Eastern Quoll.

The Tasmanian Eastern Quoll, it's relative used to be hunted by the local Aborignial communities in Birchgrove.

It is unfortunate to conclude that European settlement forever changed the Balmain peninsular and virtually wiped out the local Aboriginal population for good. Sadly, today less than one percent of Leichhardt County's population is identified as being from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent.

Source: Leichhardt Council website
A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe J.Lawrence & C. Warne 1995

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

E-Street, pop culture and Balmain

Are you ready for a pop culture overload?

Here's a bit of interesting trivia! Did you know that the late 1980's- early 1990's show E-Street was shot in Balmain?

That's right! For those who were too young to know, the show was about a bunch of funky young kids in the late 80's- early 90's hanging out in the fictional suburb of Westside (actually Balmain), with a priest!

Balmain at that time played an important role in defining the shows agenda's through it's use of scenery. Remember Patchett's Pub and the Patchett family (three of them were killed by a car bomb in the 3rd series!)? Patchett's Pub was an actual pub known as the Balmain/Pacific Hotel, which had a colourful history in it's own right. The Pacific Hotel closed in 1991 at the shows end and is now a place of private residence, but in it's hey-day, the Pacific Hotel was known by locals as the "Opera House" because a local woman used to regularly visit the hotel and encourage sing-a-longs with the workers from the Colgate-Palmolive factory!

The Pacific Hotel circa 1930
The Pacific Hotel today, now a private residence

E-Street started the careers of many well known actors like The Mentalists Simon Baker (or as he was known back then Simon Baker-Kenny), who played a police officer. Marcus Graham was confined to a wheel chair, playing the iconic "Wheels" for 3 seasons, while the likes of Toni Perin, Tony Martin and Alyssa-Jane Cooke went on to establish well known Australian broadcasting careers.

The Mentalist's Simon Baker

Balmain in film:
One of my favourite Balmain cameo's is that scene in the Matrix films when Trinity drives her motorbike into an old power station and it explodes! That was the old White Bay power station on Roberts Road. It's still standing...barely!

Other well know areas used in television and commercials is the view of the harbour from Darling Street Wharf, the warehouses on Roberts Road and the Exchange Hotel on Beattie St, which recently featured in a beer ad. The 1994 movie The Sum Of Us starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson used the streets of Balmain to portray suburban Sydney.
Some famous personalities to reside in Balmain are: Former Olympic swimmer Dawn Frazer, journalist George Negus, singers Alex Lloyd and Josh Pike, actors Rose Byrne and Brian Brown and rugby stars Lote Tuqiri and Wayne Pearce.

Is there a piece of Balmain television or media history that you know about? I'd love for you to share it!
source: Called to the Bar, 150 Years of Pubs in Balmain & Rozelle - The Balmain Association 1991

The Balmain Reservoir

Buried beneath Gladstone Park is a 54m x 32m x 7metre deep man-made "water tank" know as the Balmain Reservoir.
commemoration of the area's early past
Balmain Reservoir under construction in 1913 - you can see the school bell tower in the background
In was built in 1915 by the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage and houses 11 mega litres of water to supply to the inner west area. It was built on the site once known as "Pigeon Ground" because, in the 1850's, pigeon shooting was a common sport in the area. Gladstone Park, which opened in 1890, had long been an established recreational area before the building of the reservoir. As the outcries of protest poured in about loosing the park, the Water Board buried the reservoir under ground and restored Gladstone Park to its normal state.
On top of the reservoir was built a bandstand, opened and commemorated by Major-General William Holmes (whom the road General Holmes Drive is named after). The remnants of that bandstand can still be seen today in the octagonal brick formation that encloses the park.

The bandstand at the opening in 1918

The bandstand today

In 1965, the Balmain Reservoir was made redundant by the commissioning of the Petersham Reservoir and now remains a backup water supply to the region. The Valve House, located on Booth St earned a National Trust of Australia Heritage Award in 2006 to ensure the site's preservation.

The now disused Valve House in front of Balmain Hospital

source: A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe J. Lawrence & C.Warne 1995

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Balmain Coal Mine

Many of you know that Balmain has a rich shipping history but did you also know that it was once the home to the largest coal mine in Australia?

Coal was first discovered 914 metres underneath Sydney Harbour in 1847. The coal seam ran upwards as far as Cremorne but Balmain was selected to be the first site to mine it. The surface of the mine was originally located next to the Birchgrove Public School and was in operation until 1931. In 1945 there was a gas explosion in the mine that killed three men who were trying to close it.

In 1900, 6 miners fell 91-metres to their death when an obstruction in the shaft wall became lodged with the bucket carrying them. Sadly, one of the men landed at the feet of his brother who was working below.

In 1987, the Mort Bay Housing Department built over one of the old mine shafts. There was fear that houses would sink, but those houses still sit on the shores of Birchgrove with no indication of any movement from the old shafts.

I'd love to hear your comments or stories about the Balmain Mine.
Until next week .....

sourced from A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe J.Lawrence & C.Warne 1995

The Balmain Grind's First Posting!!

Hello there and welcome to the first posting of the Balmain Grind.


I'm very excited about starting up this blog because it is mixing my two passions: real estate and history. Every week, I will be posting information about the happenings around the Balmain peninsular, some interesting articles on Balmain's colourful past or advice on the movements of the market. I would also like to invite anybody who is interested in the topics written to contribute their own opinions or stories to this blog. One of my aims is to build a community of people passionate about the area, both it's present and past.

I will start by introducing myself to those who don't know me.

My name is Daniel and I am 26 years old and have been working at Sarah Lorden Real Estate for the past two years. I fill the Buyer's Specialists position and it's role is to help buyers make the right decsions by being informed about market and real estate developments. Most of you have been receiving my Lifestyle emails that I send out every week and I'm hoping you are finding them helpful in your search to purchase. I plan to continue much of that real estate dialogue here on this blog. If you have any suggestions to improve the email I am very open to making it better.

Before working at Sarah Lorden (and yes, she is a real person!), I was working in Blacktown as a property manager which was a tough but great way to break into the industry! I also have an Ancient History and Classical Archaeology degree from Sydney University. Ok enough about me.

I was drawn to the Balmain area, like many of you have been, because of it's fantastic village vibe so close to the city and it's deep and rich historical culture. Did you know that Balmain was once the site of the deepest coal mine in Australia? Or that in 1801, 550 acres of Balmain was sold for just five shillings! It was a different real estate market back then!

I will be exploring these stories and more in future blogs. If anyone has a suggestion of a topic that they would like me to research and talk about please feel free to contact me. I look forward to reading your opinions and responses to my post!

If you are interested in subscribing to my weekly Lifestyle email you can email me on

Equally if you are looking to buy or sell in the market and would like some help, advice or recomendations you can contact me on my mobile: 0423 569 770 or 9556 9936. I'm always up for a chat!