Balmain, New South Wales

Sydney, New South Wales

Balmain from the Iron Cove bridge
Population 9,783 (2011 census)[1]
 • Density 6,520/km2 (16,900/sq mi)
Established 1836
Postcode(s) 2041
Area 1.5 km2 (0.6 sq mi)
Location 5 km (3 mi) west of Sydney CBD
LGA(s) Inner West Council
State electorate(s) Balmain
Federal Division(s) Grayndler
Suburbs around Balmain:
Drummoyne Birchgrove
Rozelle Balmain Balmain East
Rozelle Rozelle

Balmain, New South Wales is a suburb in the Inner West[2] of Sydney, Australia. Balmain is located 6 km west of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the Inner West Council. It sits on a small peninsula that juts out of Sydney Harbour, directly opposite Milson's Point.

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. Although these days the Green Party has much support from those who live in the area.


Darling Street around 1888

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 acres (2.2 km2) grant to colonial surgeon Dr 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 Bothwick Gilchrist before returning to Scotland. The legality of the land transfer from Balmain to Gilchrist for only 5 shillings was challenged by Balmain's descendents 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.[3]

Lever Brothers factory 1939

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.

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.

An electric tram at Darling Street Wharf in 1951

Lever Brothers Factory opened in 1895. A coal mine was opened in 1897 beside what is now Birchgrove Public School by English shareholders. From the bottom of the shaft a decline led down to a block of coal situated under the harbour between Ballast Point and Goat Island.[4] Balmain Power Station was erected in stages from 1909 and the Balmain Reservoir was built in 1915.

The opening of the railway in the 1920s further established and Balmain gained a reputation as a rough working-class area of Sydney.

The coal mine closed in 1931. 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.[5]

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.


According to the 2011 census of Population, there were 9,783 residents in Balmain. 63.5% of residents were born in Australia. The most common other countries of birth were England 9.6%, New Zealand 3.6% and Ireland 1.6%. 82.9% of residents spoke only English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Italian 1.2%, Greek 1.0% and German 0.8%. The most common responses for religious affiliation were No Religion 34.6% Catholic 24.0% and Anglican 16.5%.[1]

Commercial area

Balmain features an abundance of dining establishments, making cafe and restaurant culture very prominent within the area.
Balmain Working Men's Institute

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.


As an old suburb, Balmain has many heritage buildings. The following buildings are listed on the Register of the National Estate:[6]


Balmain Shipyard

Balmain has several ferry wharves that are serviced by the Inner Harbour ferry services. These wharves are located at Thames Street, Elliot Street and in Darling Street, Balmain East. Services run to Circular Quay. 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 40kph 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. Sydney Buses have now replaced these tram services. The Bus services that service Balmain are: 441 – Birchgrove to NSW Art Gallery via Rozelle and QVB, 442 – Balmain to QVB via Rozelle, 444/445 – Balmain to Campsie, 433 – Balmain to Millers Point.


Drinking establishments

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, 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.[8] 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.[9]

Pop culture

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".

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.[10]

Balmain was the setting for the Australian film The Sum of Us, which starred Jack Thompson, John Polson and Russell Crowe.[11]

The Pacific Hotel was used as the set for the Australian television soap opera E Street.

Parks and reserves

Public open space on the shores of Mort Bay on the Balmain, Balmain East border

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.

Sport and recreation

Balmain is home to the West Tigers rugby league club. The club was formed in mid-1999 by a merger between Balmain Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies in preparation for the 2000 season.[12] In 2005 the Tigers defeated the North Queensland Cowboys in the Grand Final to win the premiership.[12]

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 1 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 we now know it 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, because there were just not enough sporting grounds in Sydney, but with some reluctance, the Glebe-Balmain Club decided to change its name to the Drummoyne District Rugby Football Club.[13] 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[13] 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.[14]

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.


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.[15] Much of the suburb is a heritage conservation area and creative design is required to modernise the Victorian and Edwardian housing stock. In 2014 two adjoining houses rebuilt by architect Andrew Benn and designer Alice Penna of Benn & Penna won an Australian Institute of Architects (NSW) Architects Award.[16] In 2013 a contemporary Balmain house designed by architect Harry Seidler sold for $6m.[17] The Tom Uren House in Gilchrist Place was designed by Richard Leplastrier.

Notable residents

Henry Parkes Residence Hampton Villa

Notable past and present residents include:


  1. ^ Postcode 2041 covers the suburbs of Balmain, Balmain East and Birchgrove.
  2. ^ Combined population for all residents of postcode 2041.
  3. ^ Median house price for all properties of postcode 2041.


  1. 1 2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Balmain (State Suburb)". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  2. Australian Suburb Guide: Sydney Inner West Archived 26 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  3. The Book of Sydney Suburbs, Compiled by Frances Pollon, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1990, ISBN 0-207-14495-8, p.14
  4. Lawrence, J; Warne, C; A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe, Kingsclear Books, 1995, ISBN 0-908272-40-5.
  6. The Heritage of Australia, Macmillan Company, 1981, pp.2/35-2/37
  7. Eric Letts & Keith Lyons, "A Goodly Heritage", A History: 1853 – 1992, The Independent Press
  8. NSW Heritage Office; Riverview Hotel, Inventory Item. Retrieved October 2006.
  9. Davidson, B; Hamey, K; Nicholls, D; Called To The Bar – 150 Years of pubs in Balmain & Rozelle, The Balmain Association, 1991, ISBN 0-9599502-6-5.
  10. "McGooley". Classic Australia TV. 2005. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
  11. Matthew Potter. "Film Information: The Sum of Us".
  12. 1 2 "Rugby League History: Wests Tigers". Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  13. 1 2 "Drummoyne District Rugby Football Club". 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  14. "Balmain Dockers History". Balmain Dockers. Archived from the original on 25 April 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  15. Solling, M; Reynolds, P; Leichhardt: On the margins of the city, Allen & Unwin, 1997, ISBN 1-86448-408-X.
  16. Multigenerational family home in Sydney's Balmain wins architecture prize Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  17. $6m buys Harry Seidler-designed home in Balmain Retrieved 15 May 2015.
  18. "Geraldine Brooks: Australia's Pulitzer Prize Winner". ABC Local Radio. 2006-04-23. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
  19. "Rose Byrne, accidental star". The Age. 5 July 2003. Archived from the original on 7 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
  20. ^Lawrence, J; Warne, C; A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe, p39, Kingsclear Books, 1995, ISBN 0-908272-40-5.
  21. "Carlotta – Australia's Most Famous Les Girl...... At the cafe!". Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  22. "Dawn Fraser – Troubled Champion". Wesley Mission. Archived from the original on 3 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  23. "Paul Henry takes his parting shots". NZ Herald. 17 February 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  24. Australian Dictionary of Biography
  25. John Kerr. Matters for Judgement: An Autobiography. ISBN 0-333-25212-8.
  26. "Interview with Alex Lloyd". Reach Out. Archived from the original on 3 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-21.
  27. "Lyell, Lottie Edith (1890–1925)". Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  28. Murphy, Damien (28 January 2008). "He argued his way into papers and mags". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2009.
  29. Australian Dictionary of Biography
  30. Australian Dictionary of Biography
  31. "Matthew Mitcham Gets Popular Vote". Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  32. Frank Moorhouse. The Everlasting Secret Family. ISBN 0-207-15970-X.
  33. "Negus Media International – about us page". Negus International Media website. Archived from the original on 22 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-04.
  34. "Hampdon Villa". NSW Heritage Office. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  35. "Wayne Pearce biography". Wayne Pearce Advantage. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  36. "Josh Pyke- Heading to the Top of the Hill". Ninemsn. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
  37. "BALMAIN.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)]]. NSW: National Library of Australia. 23 February 1924. p. 16. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  38. Australian Dictionary of Biography
  39. "Tom Uren: Brief Biography". Australian Biography, National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  40. "Inaugural Dinner Wrap". Balmain Tigers. Archived from the original on 19 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-04.
  41. "Person Detail – Neville Wran". State Records NSW.

External links

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Coordinates: 33°51′32″S 151°10′45″E / 33.85895°S 151.17906°E / -33.85895; 151.17906

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