Balmain, New South Wales

From Academic Kids

Balmain is a suburb of Sydney, Australia. It was named for the pioneer surgeon William Balmain (1762-1803). It is located on a peninsula in inner Sydney, adjacent to Rozelle and Birchgrove, and is situated next to Iron Cove and White Bay.

Balmain was the early industrial centre of Sydney. Industries clustered around Mort Bay included shipbuilding, a metal foundry, engineering, boilermaking and a dry dock completed in 1855. In the 1920s the manufacture of railway and mining equipment completed the heavy industrialisation of Balmain.

Balmain boasted its own coal mine - a deep, gassy and watery affair that struggled to survive, supported mainly by its long-suffering, English shareholders, from its opening in 1897 to its final closure in 1931. The mine's shaft was located beside what is now Birchgrove Primary School. 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.

It was in this suburb, in 1891, in the meeting hall of the Unity Hotel that the Australian Labor Party was formed and first met. It is also the location of the White Bay Power Station; which was shut down, but not demolished, in 1983 and remains standing. Its future is still being decided.

The industrialisation of 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. The post-industrial gentrification of Balmain has resulted in a suburb of considerable charm and interest where the modest, pretty houses command prices that would not have been dreamt of by their original tenants. However, Balmain still retains a diverse mix of residents, due to the many Housing Commission unit block in the suburb.

Famous residents have included New South Wales state premiers Henry Parkes (18161896), often called the 'father of federation', and Neville Wran (who famously said "Balmain boys don't cry"); the infamous Governor-General Sir John Kerr, swimming legend Dawn Fraser and rugby league greats Dally Messenger and Wayne Pearce. Both Pearce and Wran attended Nicholson Street Public School, one of the oldest primary schools in the area. Balmain's colourful past should include mention of the notorious Balmain Nellie Boys - a house of ill-repute frequented by sailors, politicians and actors and staffed by local working boys.

For over 90 years Balmain was home to the Balmain Tigers (originally Watersiders), a foundation (1908) rugby league club. In the year 2000 the team merged with Western Suburbs Magpies to become Wests Tigers. Balmain is also home to a popular weekend market. Darling Street is the main street, extending from the Victoria Road thoroughfare in the suburb of Rozelle to the Balmain East ferry wharf. It contains a wide array of shops, bars, pubs and restaurants. Balmain has a 'village' atmosphere.

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