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!