Thursday, April 15, 2010

suburb No 31: Balmain

Last week I suggested we might head north. So much for that. Pouring over a map of the suburbs, trying
to decide where exactly north I was going to take you, I started thinking about the bits of Sydney that
have been refashioned and given a second lease of life.

Mid-pour, I was gripped with a sudden urge to visit one of the city's most inspiring rebirths - Ballast Point
Park. Before I knew it, I was in the car driving west to Balmain (the neighbouring suburb to Birchgrove
where the park is actually located).

A couple of things. One, I have been to Ballast Point Park before - and Balmain for that matter.
But Ballast Point is so amazing, I really wanted to share it with you. Secondly, I should warn you that
there are images in this post that look alarmingly similar to those you may find on ... postcards.
And as you know, cliched postcard images are not what 52 Suburbs is about. But as soon as I started
snapping away, I realised it was going to be nigh impossible - silly even - to leave out shots of the
harbour, and its world famous bridge - Balmain is surrounded by water and right next door to the
landmarks Sydney is most well-known for. And although I love the small suburban stuff that no tourist
would probably think to look at, I have to say the big stuff ain't half bad either.

Balmain's past in 25 words or less: It was Eora Country before British surgeon Dr William Balmain
was handed the place. Sub-divided in the 1840s. Became very industrial around that time with a
large working-class living in tiny cottages and working in shipbuilding, boilermaking or Mort's Dock
and Engineering Company. Later produced railway and mining equipment - and in 1891, the Australian
Labour Party.

Fast forward to the late 20th century when it was known for its slightly alternative population,
with plenty of pubs, bands and markets. And now? Less herbal and more mainstream. But the housing
commission blocks remain as do the tiny workers cottages. It's just their price-tags that have grown

Part 1: From green to green - Ballast Point comes full circle

For most of its history, Ballast Point was a green headland occupied by the Eora. After the British arrived
great chunks of the sandstone landscape were removed to act as ballast for empty ships returning home.
In 1864, a British family built their home on the headland and in 1928, Caltex followed suit, building massive
structures to process and store oil-related products.

Finally in 2009, after 70 plus years as an industrial site and decades of struggle by the local community, 
Ballast Point was returned to the public as a park. Hence its aboriginal name, Walama, meaning
'to return'.

But this is no ordinary park. It respects its "rich layers of history" by incorporating much of its physical

past - fragments of the family's home as well as some of the tanks and parts of the massive walls from
the Caltex period. Aside from native plantings, it's also green in its use of recycled materials,
from the orange seatbelt 'shade cloths' to the walls made of recycled rubble.

Architects: mcgregor + coxall. Landscape architects: Context, Anton James Design and CAB Consulting. 

poetry on Tank 101


both have been adapted

of the Eora people

w is for working-class way back when

the afterlife

a park unlike any other


a city built on rubble

on the edge ('Delicate Balance', Robyn Backen)

framed and unframed

recycled, from industrial space to open space

orange shade structure pays homage to the Wests Tigers footie team

don't forget to recycle your tiles

shadow walking

on the bridge

beauty and the (beautiful) beast

i wish there were more parks like this one

Part 2: A morning ferry ride

I hopped on at West Balmain and hopped off two stops later at East Balmain. Note to self - go on more

ferry rides.

By the way, for the most part I couldn't bring myself to do the usual diptych, two shots side by side

thing, here - these images need all the width they can get. And what, too much coathanger? 
It may be the only time you see it on 52 Suburbs so just go with it.

a warm welcome

i like his office - great view

how can you not feel good?

rush hour :: 1

waiting for the ferry at high tide

pleasure before business

rush hour :: 2

climbing the ladder

Part 3: More water

you old seadog


old Sydney


a sinking sun

Part 4: Dawdling down Darling Street

The main strip, long, busy, peppered with heritage buildings here and there. You have to fight the
cafes and the kids on their scooters for the footpath. Most of all I enjoyed meeting Maurice,
a Salvation Army gentleman who also happens to be a photography enthusiast, happy to share his
envelope of snaps with anyone.

like a country town

keep your nut in a case


at the cafe

Working Men's Institute

another institution (painting by Phillip Suping Xu, Balmain Markets)

S stands for survival from the renovators

i bet AJ never baked crossiants

rock cakes

hit the road Jack

do you prefer to travel by Vespa or Plymouth?

ex-Olympian boxer

twinkle twinkle little star ... like a diamond in the sky

i'd like to live in a treehouse (design by Rose Colebeck, Balmain Markets)


can you see the lanterns in the tiles?

place of much red

a small price to pay to get back in the good books


purple prose

hippy vs hip

Maurice wears many hats

his photographs are his salvation

a long and winding road

beer o'clock in Balmain

Part 5: Two pubs

Just down the road from Darling Street are two pubs, the Exchange and Dick's Hotel, sat right across

from one another. They must both be doing okay though judging by the amount of renos each one
has had. Fortunately the touch-ups haven't been so severe that you can't recognise them. They still
look more or less the same as they've always done - but like a lot of aging stars, they both wear a
lot more black.

pub duel

The Exchange


c is for (Bentwood) chair

have you ever stopped to read the story?

Beauty in Balmain? Tonnes of it, enough to fill one of those empty ships that used to stop by.

See you next week - north, east, south, west? No idea at this stage but I've still got more than 600
suburbs to choose from so it's bound to be somewhere.


  1. Gorgeous shots as ever - love the two little red headed kids. Must check out that park

  2. Yet again nothing short of stunning Louise. Keep up the amazing work.

  3. Oh I love this post!!
    So much variety.
    I swear that Salvo fella looks like my Nan's brother!
    Especially love the boxer, the bits of tile stuck to the rock bit and those curly head kids.
    Just fabulous.
    Without sounding too sucky - you really inspire me in my photo-taking - thanks.

  4. I lived in Balmain for five years and you've just made me want to pack my bags and head back. There is no greater joy to be had in Sydney than on a hot Summer's afternoon to climb on the ferry at Circular Quay and travel home to Balmain...

  5. I used to work in Balmain in an old warehouse on the water. Your shots have brought back lots of nice memories, particularly catching the ferry to work every morning - it was such a beautiful way to start the day, even when the weather was crap - I loved sitting on the deck outside and feeling the wind in my face.
    You've got such a great eye - thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Love it!! Just found this via a rec. Wonderful photos, you have a great eye for catching the unusual. Also lovely text, makes us feel we are there and yet learning something at the same time. Off to catch other suburbs - wish I'd thought of this idea myself! Thanks very much indeed for your lovely site!!

  7. I do believe I am truly spoilt living in Birchgrove/Balmain - and now your photos back me up! I Love the spotty nutcase!!

  8. At last!I hoped you'd finally arrive here. Your photos are superb as usual and isn't that park amazing? I loved all the little remains of the houses encased in the walls. and that "sculpture" overhanging the water!
    There's nothing wrong with incorporating the coathanger - besides it's a bit hard to avoid here.
    I have suggested you blog to a Scottish friend- hope she looks.

    Yvonne Dodds

  9. You were worried that some of the scenes might look alarmingly like postcards? I wish postcards would look like your photos. Then I'd like them postcards more. " Rush hour" and "sea dog: stay in my mind- love the angles. "Shadow" reminds me to look at more than the obvious and notice the shadows too. Of course all of the photos give me such a sense of the place. Like you, I can never have enough ferry rides.

  10. Oh how I love Balmain!!! Even more now, after seeing it through your lense!

    Thank you!!

  11. Hello all! I finished up at 3am this morning after what seemed like another marathon edit and posting. Out of the house by 8am to do a morning's photo shoot. So by the time I got back, completely wiped. But I just had a nanna nap and am awake again to read all your lovely comments - so feeling doubly revived. Thank you so much and am so thrilled you enjoyed the ride.

    Louise x

  12. What inspiration! Loved your juxtaposition in the two handers. Will look forward to seeing more from you.

  13. Great work as usual, Louise. I read somewhere recently where some geneticist reckoned that red-headedness is somehow due for slow extinction over the next century or two. Wouldn't it be a shame not to have any more beautiful little red-headed kids brightening up the world! That was my favourite shot from another wonderful collection.

  14. Balmain Looks beautiful through your lens. Thanks for opening up Sydney to a local-Seva from Annandale

  15. Funny that I've been to Balmain many times (mainly for Adriano Zumbo's cakes) but never seen it from the ferry. Gorgeous pictures as always. Rock cakes is just brilliant!

  16. My bottom in Balmain is not in this blog entry of Balmain, you did take some pics of my skirt.Not to worry because I have gotten to see what beautiful snaps you are taking of each suburb!! Balmain looks particularly splendid on this day!! well done to you:)

  17. Judy - Glad to inspire!
    Jamie - Thank you - I actually thought the gorgeous red-heads were twins but on closer inspection realised they're brothers but not twins. Can't beat those curls and bright eyes.
    Seva - Thanks!
    foodwink - Take the ferry! I can't believe I've never caught one around that area, it's really the best way to travel.
    Peta - Oh, I know, and I did love your skirt (both night and day sides of it!) But I couldn't find a partner shot to do it justice. Thanks for being so helpful anyway and I'm glad you like the blog.


  18. I saw you that morning when I was taking the ferry to work :)

  19. gorgeous as always. thank you for showing us our city!

  20. Hey Louise - stunning! Love your attention to detail, sense of colour, the way you frame your shots and pair them up post-shoot. Would love to hear more about how you approach your photography, in particular the lenses you use, how you plan your shoots and approach your subjects. Keep up the amazing work - it's truly inspiring! Sam

  21. Hi Louise - I LOVE Ballast Park - on my list of under-recognised Sydney nooks and crannies. And it is such a great place for taking photos! Ferry trips are my favourite thing to do on a lazy day - and hopefully after this, many more Sydney people will realise the treasure on their doorstep.

  22. Love Balmain Great photo is Stannard Bros still there...

  23. what about coogee and photographing the coogee bay hotel which has a shocking pan attached for a fifteen storey tower so photograph coogee now incase it happens then we can remember it also wylies baths coogee worth seeing the different people and the pink backpackers r worth it to i liked the balmain shots used to live near there and went to school at balmain high so was good pics

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  25. Have just discovered your blog today and will definitely be adding it to my honour roll. It reminds me of Julia Powell cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking but so much more picturesque!

  26. That's funny, the red door 50 Darling St is where Anne Deveson used to live, I worked for her there.
    I have a lovely black and white photo of her with her dog at that door.

  27. hi Louise.

    i adore this post (and not just because i live close by the Balmain). it's just gorgeous. my favourite image is the half-pink Avondale. very fresh!

  28. Hi all
    Just catching up here with some of your comments. The pace of this project means I move on pretty quickly but I always return to posts where you've commented.

    Ellen - Coogee's Wylie Baths are lovely - and that 15 storey tower does sound horrible.

    The Princess & The Pea - Thanks, although her posts probably tasted better!

    Frances - Who's Anne Deveson? Nice red door.

    Lindsey - I love the way they painted right down the middle of Avondale!


  29. Wow, what an amazing post! I've just moved overseas after living in Balmain for 6 years - your shots capture it perfectly, waiting for the ferry on Balmain East wharf, squinting in the brilliant sunshine while on the boat, a beer at the pub on a weekend afternoon...the food, the flowers. Thanks so much, this post really made me smile xxx

  30. Couldnt choose!
    The afterlife
    a sinking sun
    c is for bentwood chair

  31. I'm with Sam, would love to hear some photography tips and what lenses you use. I'm so inspired by your blog! I'm really motivated to go on my own little adventure capturing my surroundings. Just don't know where or how to start!

  32. Judy - I will dedicate a post when all 52 Suburbs are done to my 'method' (!) and how I go about it all - there's been a few requests so happy to do that. But in the meantime, my camera is a Canon 5D Mk II and I use a wide angle 16-35 Canon L series lens. Love them both. Good luck with your adventure - just start looking at what interests you and how best to capture it as an image. Experiment!


  33. Hi Lousie!
    I have just discovered your blog!
    First thing I looked for was 'Balmain'
    You have given Balmain the justice it deserves!
    It is such a wonderful place to live!!!
    You got so much of the vibe and history of Balmain into your shots!!!
    You missed one :-( The Colgate Palmolive Building! Oh well.
    Beautiful blog, I will now start looking at all your other posts.

  34. You're photos are so lovely and I really like your blog (which I found by googling Balmain) so I subscribed :)

    I used to live in Balmain 15 years ago and I loved it. It was only because of work that we had to move. I miss the morning commute by ferry from balmain east to circular quay and a 10 minute walk to work, it beat taking the bus and the traffic jams coming off mullens street onto victoria road in the mornings. I'd love to go back and live there. I'm currently in the UK but I hope to get back to that part of Sydney to live but I might have to rethink that if the property prices are as high as I think they are.