Today I’m off to Balmain. By ferry. I’ve cobbled together two walking guides and am looking forward to learning more about the history and architecture that awaits me.
A brief background. Situated on a small peninsula, water transport was important. The Balmain steam ferry service started in 1844. Balmain was an important industrial centre, predominantly working class. Then industry waned and more well off people moved in taking advantage of the proximity to the city and waterfront location.
My ferry pulls up at the Balmain East Wharf. A shining new space age looking structure, it reopened last year. The steel wharf contrasts starkly with the restored sandstone building behind it.
I walk along the foreshore of Illoura Reserve. The playground is deserted. A couple of people walk their dogs in the leash free area. From the wooden viewing platform, I look across to Darling harbour and step across large sandstone blocks past a tidal pool to Peacock Point.
Early Colonial Buildings
Walking and consulting my guide encourages me to slow down. To look closely and to see things that normally I would just walk past. I notice dormer windows, chimneys, the simplicity of the early colonial buildings.
Taking my time, I find projecting sills, cantilevered balconies, and simple mouldings. There are leadlight windows, an oriel window and a blind window. I follow a diversion to view simple sandstone cottages.
A PA announcement breaks the silence. Turning the corner, I discover the source. A cruise ship is in port. I didn’t know White Bay was so close.
Reading my notes as I continue my walk, I realize how many of the buildings around me have been saved by community action. The Balmain Association was formed in 1965 to maintain the historical value of the area. It is obvious that public pressure remains strong in Balmain. Perhaps something to do with the Trade Unionist roots? The Balmain branch of the Australian Labor claims to be the oldest in Australia.
A small lane takes me behind a row of houses. At intervals in the high fencing are what look like the backs of backyard dunnies, now probably used as storage. I think about the ‘dunny men’ and what their lives would have been like.
The simply built watch house on Darling Street initially a police lock up, later became home to the local policeman, his wife and 12 children.
Colgate Palmolive Factory
There are rather swish apartments at the end of Colgate Avenue in the old Colgate Palmolive factory building. All that’s left is the name and a couple of pieces of large machinery. Back in Darling Street I pass St Andrews church where the popular Saturday market is held. I remember buying my Christmas Puddings there.
The next section of Darling Street is more commercial. Cafes and restaurants are aplenty. These days apparently the street comes alive at night with young people enjoying the little bars and meeting places.
Stores with a difference
The interesting boutiques, and gift stores are useful for finding an unusual gift or item to add to your wardrobe. In The Source Bulk Foods, I find bins of nuts, chocolate coated goodies, muesli and even cleaning products. A hand written sign on the Hemp Seeds makes me chuckle aloud. “Not for human consumption. For cosmetic use only”.
Hill of Content Bookshop
The Hill of Content Bookshop is always worth a browse. There’s a little reading nook and a fabulous selection of books.
Just past the Unity Hall Hotel, I nearly miss the tiny shopfront of Adriano Zumbo’s first outlet. After his appearance on Masterchef, he and his macarons have become a household name. I leave with a couple of salted caramel macarons. Perhaps to have with tea when I get home?
Next to the police station I make a discovery not mentioned in either of my guides. The Glass House looks like a conservatory. Further investigation tells me that people meet there weekly to learn about and experience the rewards of edible gardening. I get the feeling that there is quite a sense of community in Balmain and the Glasshouse is but one example.
People band together to protect the heritage of a building, a sign announces community yoga instore. People greet each other in the street. They smile.
Dawn Fraser Baths
There’s one place I must visit even though it is closed. I make my way through local streets past the Riverview Hotel once owned by Dawn Fraser to the baths named after the swimming great. I can’t get in, but manage a photo from outside.
I pass Mort Bay Park and the remains of Morts Dock. More industrial heritage.
Reflections on Balmain
I’m going to miss my ferry from Balmain Wharf, but as ferries from Balmain East wharf are more regular, I retrace my steps down Darling Street. It really isn’t far. I’ve had a good walk. I’ve learnt a bit and as always love the sight of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House as we return to Circular Quay.
Balmain is 5km west of Sydney CBD
It is easy to get to Balmain by Ferry. Plan your trip at transportnsw.info
Guide 1:Balmain Architecture walks
Guide 2: Balmain walking tours
And one I found on my walk: Tom Uren Trail
Note: The Watch House can be hired for exhibitions and tours on Saturdays 12-3pm
Very interesting Joanne – thanks
Thanks Lindee. I’m having fun.
Really interesting and informative !
hi, I just found your site and would love to talk to you about a convent that was in Balmain in the 1800s I have a pastel drawing titled Convent School Balmain, by M.H.Gummings I have enquired at so many different sites and come up empty handed, and I am hoping you would know something about this time in early Balmain, thanking you for your time,
Hi Jutta, I’m not sure I can help but will email you.