Learning more about its history can help you understand the Inner West community. Take Balmain for example, which began life as a working-class suburb before it underwent gentrification in the 1970s. Here’s how you can celebrate Balmain’s history during Inner West History Week and every other week of the year.

A brief look at Balmain’s history

Balmain was named in honour of colonial surgeon William Balmain, who Governor Hunter granted 550 acres in 1800. It became a working-class suburb when the shipyards were developed on the foreshore and workers wished to live nearby. By the 1880s it was Sydney’s self-proclaimed social suburb, with the establishment of numerous sporting clubs and institutions. Post World War II, Balmain’s foreshore was dominated by large-scale industrial sites.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that it underwent gentrification as middle-class tertiary-educated professionals moved in and began renovating the working-class homes dominating the suburb. They were primarily attracted by Balmain’s close proximity to the CBD, harbour frontage and architecture. It was out with the old, including the industrial area, and in with the new.

Neighbouring Birchgrove was named after Birchgrove House, which Lieutenant John Birch built in 1812. The estate had several different owners before Didier Numa Joubert bought it in 1854. He’s who the suburb can thank for the current street pattern and consequently several street names. Like in Balmain, the 1970s saw Birchgrove transform following the demolition of Birchgrove House in 1967 to make way for units.

Today, Balmain and Birchgrove are undoubtedly considered among Sydney’s most desirable waterfront suburbs.

How to celebrate Inner West’s history

As the blog title suggests, one of the best ways to celebrate Balmain’s history is to take part in Inner West History Week. Last year, the theme was From the Ground Up and celebrated the grassroots local community groups that are dedicated to achieving outcomes that benefit the wider community…from the ground up.

Due to lockdown restrictions, the program included online exhibitions, interviews and lectures on a variety of topics that included:

  • Activism in the Inner West
  • Raising Multicultural Communities in the Inner West
  • Moratorium: When Sydney Filled the Streets to Stop a War
  • RUM: A Distilled History of Colonial Australia
  • Pioneering Consumer Activists Who Changed Mental Health
  • Deep Conversations: Telling History Through Country

This year, Inner West History Week will take place between the 3rd and 11th of September. The theme this year is Hands-On History and organisers invite you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. They want to focus on the fact that history doesn’t only happen in books. We often need to go out in the field to find different sources and audiences to learn more about the Inner West’s complex history from varied perspectives.

There are no restrictions in 2022, so the program will include exhibitions and lectures on the topics that range from Death by Demolition with Helen Carter and a Balmain Association exhibition to a Cooks River walking tour and Hands On Haberfield exhibition.

To sign up and for more information, head to the official website.

Talk a walk through Balmain’s history

If you’re keen to learn more about the local area’s rich past outside of History Week, we suggest doing an Inner West heritage walk or discovering its most beautiful heritage homes. Check out one of our previous articles for more information on the self-guided Balmain Walking Tour, which shows you Balmain’s progress from shipyards and industry to the bustling suburb it is today. You’ll also find information about the 2.3-kilometre-long Tom Uren Trail, which starts and ends at Thornton Park.

Can we help with your Inner West home?

Whether you’re ready to sell or need help to rent your investment property, we have the experience and local knowledge to make your property journey easier.

Looking for help selling your home or renting your investment property? Our team at Belle Property Balmain supports homeowners across Balmain, Balmain East, Birchgrove, Rozelle and Lilyfield. Feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation discussion or property appraisal.


Credit: Photo of Mort’s Dock Sydney NSW from City of Sydney Archives from the Graeme Andrews Working Harbour Collection.

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