Top Sites In Balmain Sydney

History Of Balmain NSW

Balmain, located on the Balmain peninsula, is a charming community with fabulous harbour views. It’s located just 2 km (1.2 miles) west of Sydney’s central business district (CBD).  The peninsula was home to the Aboriginal Australian, Wangal and Gadigal people before European settlers arrived in 1788. In 1789, a smallpox epidemic devastated the Aboriginal population.

Balmain is named after a colonial surgeon who lived from 1762-to 1803.  Dr William Balmain received the land as part of a government grant in 1800 but sold it for 5 shillings the following year to settle a debt before returning to Scotland.

Initially used for farming, the land was subdivided in the 1840s and housing rapidly developed. Balmain’s modest buildings of timber, stone (quarried nearby), brick, and ironwork reflect the community’s blue-collar roots.

In the 1850s, following the Gold Rush, the colony’s economy boomed. Balmain became a major industrial centre with shipbuilding, metal foundry, boiler making, and engineering.  The Mort’s Dock and Engineering Company opened in 1855 and served the area for 103 years. You can now visit Mort Bay Park on the site of the former company.

By 1861, Balmain consisted of the well-populated East Balmain and the sparsely populated Balmain West. The architecture of homes built in the 1860s reflects the increasing prosperity of the colony. Many homes with Victorian and Edwardian architectural features are part of a heritage conservation area.

With its industrial base, Balmain was the birthplace of the trade unionist movement. The Australian Labor Party originated there in 1891.

 A coal mine opened in 1897 with the largest winding engine in the southern hemisphere. Development continued over the following decades with railway service opening in the 1920s and many immigrants arriving in the 1950s.

 When the Balmain industries declined in the 1960s, middle class families were drawn to the area because of its waterfront location and easy access to Sydney’s CBD. You can still find buildings that serve as reminders of Balmain’s industrial past.

 Balmain’s residences, many gentrified, now house a diverse population. This community has been home to a Governor-General, a Prime Minister and 3 NSW Premiers along with athletes, musicians, actors, activists and entertainers, and many others.

Things To Do When Visiting Balmain

  • Balmain is served by ferries with 3 ferry wharves, buses, and a network of roads that feed into three major roads: Darling Street, Montague/Mullen Street, and Beattie Street. The speed limit is typically 40 km/hr.
  • Take a walking tour up from the harbour and admire the elegant historic homes on Waterview Street.
  • Stroll along Darling St. popping into the boutiques, historic pubs, restaurants, cafes, galleries, and antique shops. You’ll also pass by the Post Office and Courthouse, Town Hall, the historic Westpac Bank, and the Balmain Working Men’s Institute. 
  • Soak in the Dawn Fraser Baths (established in the 1880s), a saltwater tidal pool that is cherished by local residents.
  • Take a quick ferry trip from Balmain Wharf to Sydney’s Circular Quay and then hop on a ferry to Goat Island to learn more about the area’s indigenous culture and convict heritage.