Today, when we think of suburbs such as Balmain, chances are we think of a beautiful place, with a reasonably affluent community. Yet Balmain, just like so many other suburbs of Sydney, has had a rather chequered history.
The suburb known as Balmain began to develop in the 1830s, and by the 1850s a true suburb had been established. Balmain residents relied on the waterway, and steamers, ferries and other boats not only as a means of transport, but also as a form of work, and ship yards were plentiful along the foreshore. More people moved into the suburb, often workers in the shipyards, and the increasing population brought about much progress, with schools, a hospital, Churches, shops and even a hospital being built to service the growing community. Clubs were also established, focussing on rowing, swimming, bowling and cricket, while institutes like the Balmain School of Arts were also built. In fact, by 1880, Balmain was viewed as the leading social suburb.
Balmain’s fortunes were set to change rather drastically. By the late 1880s Balmain was extremely overcrowded and the suburb itself was also organised very poorly, with factories and houses standing side by side. People began to move out, and trade closed down, until by the early 20th century Balmain was occupied by a much poorer class of people. In fact, by 1933 nearly 40 percent of the people living in Balmain were unemployed, which was at the time double the NSW average. This all changed again in the 1970s, when new owners moved into the suburb, gentrifying the old homes and recreating the reputation of Balmain in general. By 1990, Balmain was back to being one of the most desirable suburbs in Sydney.