Glebe’s History of Maritime Industry and Heritage of Terrace Rows and Italianate Villas

Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

Glebe Point Road is the heart of the inner west suburb that bears its name…a leisurely stroll from the Broadway end of the road reveals the variable character of Glebe itself. Close to the Broadway Centre are numerous eateries and coffee shops frequented by Gen X’s, Millennials and the occasional Zennial, three-quarters of which are university students from just across Parramatta Road at USYD. As we get closer to the other end (Glebe Point) there is a mix of elegant old houses, isolated groups of shops and a liberal sprinkling of backpacker lodges. This built-up urbanisation a stark contrast to the era before white settlement in the 18th century when the Glebe area was a Turpentine Ironbark forest inhabited by the indigenous Wangal and Cadigal clans.

‘Florence Villa’ 1883
The word itself, glebe (from glaeba (L), clod of earth), refers to an area of land devoted to the maintenance of an incumbent of the church. The colony of Port Jackson’s first governor, Arthur Phillip, set aside the land here for church purposes in 1789[1].

Sydney’s Broadway and Parramatta Road marks the eastern boundary of Glebe and the suburb extends west to Rozelle Bay, a body of water flowing into Johnstons Bay and eventually into Sydney Harbour. Rozelle Bay houses a bustling marina sitting on a strip of land incongruously known as “Glebe Island” (not an island!) which accommodates the old bridge that once linked Pyrmont to Glebe Island and Rozelle, which was replaced in the mid 1990s by the modernist looking cable-stayed new Glebe Island Bridge (name later changed to Anzac Bridge).

Although Glebe was subjected to waves of greed-fuelled demolition during the 20th century, heritage architecture still characterises a significant chunk of the suburb’s residential complexion. A representative sample of 19th century houses have been preserved despite the best efforts of developers and development-sympathetic state governments to jettison the old to make way for new dwellings and a network of freeways crisscrossing Glebe (see PostScript on Lyndhurst below)[2].

Early trends toward gentrification
The Church’s 1856 sell-off of some of its land in Glebe was the spark that started the suburb’s long spiral into an inexorable gentrification. A two strata society developed with Glebe Point (the bay end) becoming the location for many new homes of the urban gentry, these better-off citizens were clearly separated off from ‘The Glebe’ where the more numerous working class resided[3].

Terraced Glebe
By 1870 the terrace had become the dominant build form in Glebe. By WWI there was several distinct types of terrace – colonial Georgian, Regency, Victorian Gothic, Italianate and Federal style – standing side by side. Terraces were the optimal solution to accommodate Glebe’s rapidly growing population, having the virtue of economical outlays on land and building materials[4].

‘Bellevue’ (detail)
Italianate villas and cottages figure prominently among the residences of Glebe that have survived to this day, eg, Bellevue c1896 (Italianate Victorian home reprieved from the demolishers’ wrecking ball, today a cafe for walkers (with or without dogs) and cyclists on the foreshore)❈; other Victorian Italianate buildings including the Glebe Court House, the Town Hall and Kerribree. Many of Glebe’s finer buildings were the work of the leading architects of colonial New South Wales (such as Barnet, Blackett and Verge). For a time Glebe was known as the architect’s suburb.

As the early land use of Glebe was taking shape the foreshore was not considered suitable for residential development, opening the way for exclusive use for marine industry – and for sporting activity. Glebe Rowing Club has long had its position on Blackwattle Bay and Jubilee Oval, near the old tramsheds, was the home ground of Glebe Cricket Club in the Sydney Grade Cricket competition[5].

Industrial remnant: Crane on walkway
Timberyards in the foreshore dress circle
A walk along the foreshore from Blackwattle Bay reveals precise little of the suburb’s concentrated industrial past. Modern apartments sit hunched together close to the waterfront where once timberyards and sawmillers dominated the landscape❈. On the foreshore path a monument to those activities is a rusty old crane and winch…Sylvester Stride’s Ship-breaking Yard and Crane business used these devices to break up steamers to recycle metals. Most of the industry – which also included noxious industries like boiling down works and slaughterhouses as well as a distillery – were gone from the Bay by 1975. Hardy’s Timber Mill, an extended complex of building structures, was for a time converted into artists’ studios[6].

Remarkably, the small grassy stretch of foreshore known as Pope Paul VI Reserve was until the early eighties the only public access point on all of Blackwattle and Rozelle Bays. The papal appellation bestowed on the reserve derives from the lobbying efforts of right-wing Labor Catholic politicians in Leichhardt Council to commemorate the spot where Paul VI landed by launch during his 1970 papal visit of Australia[7].

Griffin incinerator
One item remaining on Blackwattle is Walter Burley Griffin’s Glebe incinerator dating from the early 1930s. An elegant building in the Art Deco style, in 2006 it was restored as an interpretative work with its once impressive chimney stack in skeletal form. The incinerator was one of a number in Sydney (and elsewhere) constructed by the famous Canberra Capital designer as a response to council’s need to find a more effective way to dispose of increasing amounts of consumer garbage۞.

PostScript: Georgian mansion with a varied past
A survey of Glebe’s history and heritage is not complete without noting one of its grandest, earliest and still extant old homes. Lyndhurst is a mansion with an exceptionally colourful history. The once impressive scale of the estate has been plundered by successive subdivisions over the years…if you visit it today by locating its street address (57-65 Darghan St) the big surprise is finding that the building’s back affronts the street! Lyndhurst was built in 1833 by colonial architect John Verge as a marine villa for surgeon and pastoralist Dr James Bowman, the son-in-law of wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur. In the last 100 years the Lyndhurst estate has served many purposes – from theological college to pickle factory to hospital to broom factory and in the 1960s and ’70s as the headquarters of the Australian Nazi Party (Australian National Socialist Party). Lyndhurst was one of the many great Glebe residences slated for demolition in the early seventies by Askin’s government, a fate it and many others fortunately avoided![8].

❈ the campaign to save Glebe’s heritage homes from corporate culling was spearheaded by the Glebe Society, formed by concerned local residents in 1969
today there is one remaining timber yard along the shoreline of Rozelle Bay, Crescent Timber, being actually in Annandale, adjacent to Federal Park
۞ hitherto the preferred methods of disposal were either piling garbage on to tips, burying it or carting garbage six miles out to sea on barges and jettisoning it overboard (only for the tide to return it to shore!), had met with growing public disapproval

[1] B & B Kennedy, Sydney and Suburbs: A History and Descriptions, (1982)
[2] eg, the vision of long-term Liberal premier of NSW Robin (Robert) Askin, born and bred in Glebe, was to turn the suburb into a network of freeways – fortunately for Glebe’s heritage integrity this was never implemented, ‘Sir Robert Askin’
[3] ‘History and Heritage’, The Glebe Society Inc,
[4] Solling, Max, Glebe, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011,, 03 Oct 2017
[5] ‘History of Glebe Foreshore parks’, (City of Sydney),
[6] ‘Timber Industry’, (Glebe Walks),
[7] ‘Pope Paul VI Reserve (interpretative sign)’, (Glebe Walks),
[8] ‘Historic Glebe Mansion Lyndhurst, Once Australia’s Nazi Party Headquarters, on Market for $7.5M’, (B Wong), 07-May 2016,

Anatomy of a Suburban Wharf: Fiddens Wharf – Timber, Fruit Plants and Day Trippers

Bushwalking, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

If you drive down to the end of Fidden’s Wharf Road on the western side of Killara, park on the edge of the bush land and walk down the old stone steps built by convicts, you will reach a reserve bearing the name Fiddens Wharf – there’s virtually nothing tangible left of the wharf itself (mainly just signs and old photos of it!). Today it’s a tranquil spot on Sydney’s Lane Cove River comprising a secluded sporting field and a riverside walking track popular with bushwalkers…but it also has had a busy commercial history that goes back to the early years of the Port Jackson European settlement.

Convict steps
The first governor Arthur Phillip in 1788 identified the north shore as a rich source of timber for the colony’s construction needs (house and ship building). This area of the Lane Cove River was especially abundant with woody perennial plants of great height. The saw-milling industry thrived around Fiddens Wharf and the river – first the Government Sawing Establishment in the 1820 and 30s and later was the Lane Cove Sawmill Company just up Fiddens Wharf Road*.

Fiddens Wharf was only one of three wharves on that part of the Lane Cove River important to the burgeoning timber industry and to commerce generally in the early colony. The other two close by were Fullers Wharf and Jenkins Wharf. The notorious waterman Billy Blue ferried passengers by punt from Sydney Cove to these wharves [Edwards, Zeny, Rowland, Joan, Killara, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,, viewed 15 Sep 2017].

Small vineyards grew up in the early 1800s, such as in nearby Fullers Park, with many orchards scattered along the river bank. Further south on the river sat the Fairyland Tea Gardens (later Pleasure Grounds), known for its picnics, swings, slides, Ferris wheel and a dance hall [‘A Brief History of Lane Cove National Park’,]

The eponymous wharf at West Killara derives from one Joseph Fidden, an ex-convict emancipated by Governor Macquarie. Fidden in 1813 was granted 40 acres of land stretching all the way from Fiddens Wharf Road west to Pennant Hills Road [‘Local History: Fiddens Wharf Road’, 17-Nov-2014, KGEX – Kuringai Examiner]. The information kiosk on the oval states that Fiddens never actually either owned or leased the wharf named after him…nonetheless up until the 1850s he was “reportedly known to row 3,000 tons of sawn timber with the tide down the river” to Circular Quay, and then “return with the tide, delivering supplies to farms along the way”.

Lane Cove River – view from the wharf site
With the bulk of the river’s tall timber hacked down by the 1850s, quantities of citrus plants were planted in their place with the yields transported from the wharf to the city for sale. The wharf’s commercial role as a goods transport hub diminished by the 1880s after Lane Cove Road was established as the “main highway” and route for delivering goods to the ferry at Blues Point (North Sydney).

The ‘public’ wharf did go by different names over the course of its working life…an 1831 survey reveals it was known as “Hyndes Wharf”, a reference to Thomas Hyndes, a local timber merchant of the day. The survey also listed huts and a garden on the location occupied by Joseph Fiddens and others. In the early 20th century another name for it was the “Killara Jetty” derived from the spot’s increasing use for recreation – at this time the wharf was a landing-place for picnic parties and campers. The Lane Cove Ferry Co brought “holiday excursionists” just prior to the Great War, with this local leisure activity continuing into the interwar period.

The construction of a weir on the river in 1937 meant that rowing boats could no longer reach the wharf from Figtree (Hunters Hill). The weir also permanently raised the river-level at the wharf (the remnants of some of the earlier versions of the wharf can be found submerged in the river). The Bradfield Jamboree in 1938 saw 10,000 scouts swarming all over Fiddens Wharf and its bush. During WWII the RAAF used the wharf and environs as a training camp.

PostScript: Killara, once the domain of saw-millers, was transformed in the 20th century into a garden suburb with large allotments, little commercial development and devoid of industrial sites [‘Killara’, (Ku-ring-gai Historical Society Inc),]. Today it is a leafy northern suburb marked by a mix of 1950s brick cottages and new, modern residences, golf courses and its “old money” inhabitants, although its diversified ethnic mix over the past 20 years give it less of the ‘whitebread’ character that it was once known for.


* the timber-getters employed by these companies were itinerant types who fashioned crude accommodation (hardly more than “lean-to’s”) in the North Shore bush [Edwards and Rowland]

La Perouse I: A Potpourri of French, Chinese and Indigenous Impacts; Bare Island and Happy Valley

Heritage & Conservation, Local history, Social History

La Perouse is a quiet little coastal suburb in Sydney’s south overlooking the entrance to Botany Bay. At the end of Anzac Parade where the grassy headland starts, the 394 bus loops round and stops at the bus shed before commencing its inward journey to Circular Quay. The sign on the side of the shed announces “La Perouse – Australia’s French Connection”.

The suburb, as most Sydneysiders probably know, derives its name from the French explorer, Jean-Francois de Galaup, better known as the comte de la Perouse. Lapérouse whilst on a scientific expedition of the Pacific landed here in 1788, building a stockade, an observatory and a vegetable garden in Phillip Bay (anticipating the later Chinese residents). Lapérouse’s men explored the bay area for six weeks before sailing off north to the Solomon Islands and disappearing from sight for good❈.

The Aboriginal connection
Today La Perouse is a pleasant day trip for picknickers, beach goers and bush walkers, and a haunt for scuba divers, snorkellers and fishermen. It is also part of the traditional lands of the Dharawal people, the clans of Gweagal and Kameygal, signifying over 7,500 years of continuous indigenous occupation in La Perouse/Yarra Bay[1]. From the 1890s until deep into the 20th century Yarra Bay was the site of an aboriginal mission.

Unsurprisingly some sections of the aboriginal community have taken umbrage at what they see as white society’s recent efforts to re-brand La Perouse with the “French Connection” tag – an emphasis which they see as taking some gloss off the significance of indigenous Australia’s unbroken bond with the area. A recent manifestation of a divergence of opinion on this has concerned the content and orientation of the Lapérouse Museum on the headland (formerly a cable station connecting the telegraph to New Zealand). The La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council’s position is that rather than solely telling the (six week) Lapérouse story in Australia as intended by the French-Australian community, the Museum should reflect an integrated history, ie, the French chapter of the La Perouse story is but one part in a much longer narrative of thousands of years of indigenous occupation and land use in the area[2].

At the beginning of the 20th century La Perouse started to move ahead as a place to live. Part of the drive came from Redfern counsellor and developer George William Howe. Howe with William Rose set up the Yarra Bay Pleasure Grounds. The pleasure grounds popularity benefitted from the tram line being extended to La Perouse in 1902. Howe built 72 huts for campers and fishermen, as well as refreshment rooms[3], a boatshed and stables to accommodate 150 horses. As a result weekend visitor and holidayer numbers from the city increased.

A form of Sunday sideshow entertainment at La Perouse developed and some aboriginals earned money from the emerging tourist industry by selling boomerangs and souvenirs such as decorative shell necklaces[4]. The other prominent sideshow element at La Perouse was the snake pit show which originated near the tram loop around 1909. By 1919 the show was run by George Cann, a curator of reptiles at Taronga Zoo. Cann the snake man’s performances drew crowds from the suburbs weekly. Cann continued running the shows until 1965 and created a dynasty of “snake men” with his sons (George Jr and John) maintaining the family’s snake pit shows until 2010 (when it was taken over by the Hawkesbury Herpetological Society)[5].

Another lure for visitors from the suburbs was a kind of cultural curiosity – a chance for many to view the “native inhabitants” of La Perouse (government practice had been to remove indigenous people from the more populated parts of Sydney). This weekly influx of tourists however caused problems for Aboriginal Reserve inhabitants (leading to restrictions on their freedom of movement – eventually they were confined effectively to the Reserve). After WWII the population of La Perouse underwent further diversification with many recent refugees from the Baltic States and other war-ravished places in Europe ending up living there[6].

Bare Island: The Russians are coming? … maybe not
Captain Cook took special note of this small, rocky bluff of an island at the point just off La Perouse in 1770 (giving it its name “small, bare island” in his journal). By the 1870s the British colonial authorities started to take Sydney’s security more seriously in the context of a perceived push into the Pacific from Tsarist Russia. Botany Bay had long been thought vulnerable as a “back door” entry point to Sydney for a hostile power⊗. To protect Sydney’s southern flank from a surprise Russian invasion, a fortification was built on Bare Island in the 1880s. The emplacements on Bare Island were supplemented by a second battery at Henry Head to the east of Bare Island, a small promontory jutting out from the coast. The Bare Island fort was part of a network of foreshore military installations built by the colonial government in Sydney to deal with a Russians menace that never eventuated❦.

Henry Head emplacements
Henry Head emplacements
Designed by the military engineer Peter Stratchley, construction was in the hands of colonial architect James Barnet. Unfortunately the construction was a shambles, the materials were of poor quality and the structure started to crumble before it was completed. Furthermore the fort’s armaments were out-of-date by the time it became operational. A Royal Commission ensued in 1890, finding Barnet culpable of incompetence and effectively ended his architectural career. By 1902 the fort was decommissioned and its defence role wound up within a few years.

Bare Is.
Bare Is.
By 1912 Bare Island had become (Australia’s first) war veterans home, housing retired military personnel from earlier wars that Australians saw action in (Crimean War, Maori Wars, Sudan, etc). It remained a veterans’ home until 1963 (except for 1941-1945 when the army re-occupied and re-armed it as part of the coastal defence against the Japanese threat – its guns however were never fired in anger during WWII). From 1963-1975 the fort was home to the Randwick (Council) Historical Society Museum. Since 1967 it has been administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (the eastern strip of the coast near the NSW Golf Club, part of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, has retained its dense bush land texture). The firing of live ammo from the fort’s 9 and 10 inch guns ceased in 1974[7].

La Perouse, Happy Valley, a refuge in the Depression
In 1929 La Perouse and its environs was still somewhat isolated from more central and built-up parts of Sydney. With the effects of the Great Depression hitting home in the early 1930s (pernicious levels of unemployment becoming the norm), many such affected people converged on La Perouse and Yarra Bay. Shanty towns shot up, the largest (c.3,000 occupants in 130 encampments) acquired the name Happy Valley (other camps for the poor went by names such as “Frog Hollow” and “Hill 60”). The occupants of Happy Valley scrounged the bush for materials to construct meagre huts which were hardly better than “lean-tos”유. Eventually there were calls for the squatters to be evicted, the well-heeled, socially-conscious members of the close by NSW Golf Club objected to their unsightly presence and the mayor of Randwick added his voice to the calls[8]. By 1938/39 the camps had been shutdown[9] and the state government had to create cheap public housing to cater for the unemployed.

The Chinese Presence
La Perouse with its ample supply of land established flourishing market gardens early in the colony. After the onset of the gold rushes control of the market gardens gradually shifted from European settlers to the Chinese. By 1900 La Perouse’s market gardens had largely fallen into the hands of city merchants from Dixon Street and Hay Street who were sponsoring low-paid labourers from China to do the work. By the 1920s the Chinese market gardens found themselves under pressure from large-scale agribusiness.[10]. Later when the unemployed came to La Perouse in the 1930s to live rent free in the scrub it was the Chinese gardeners and the local fishermen that they turned to for food to survive[11].

La Perouse as shown above boasts a rich and varied past, a “French connection” as the sign proclaims? … yes but the suburb is much more as well – an unbroken link of aboriginal custodianship stretching back to a Australia of an ancient age, a Chinese agricultural connection, a military installation of short-lived significance, a seaside pleasure grounds and a haven for the poor in time of economic catastrophe.

Bastille Day celebrations 2013
Bastille Day celebrations 2013

Postscript – the lingering French Connection:
The second European to be buried on the east coast of Australia[12] was a Frenchman, he was Pere Laurent Receveur, a member of the 1788 Lapérouse expedition. According to the La Perouse monument dedicated to his memory, he was a “Priest of Friars Minor and a scientist”. Lapérouse himself has a monument on the headland (constructed by the Baron de Bougainville in 1825 and funded by the French Republic). Every year on 14 July (Bastille Day) at La Perouse headland the local French community commemorates Lapérouse’s landing, replete with late 18th century French military uniforms, weapons and canons. The 2016 event included a dramatic touch of Napoleonic war re-enactment.



❈ Captain James Cook (1770), and later Governor Arthur Phillip and comte de la Pérouse, all visited this spot on the northern shore of Botany Bay. Phillip, arriving a few days before Lapérouse, rejected the peninsula out of hand as a possible site of settlement, declaring it a swampy, ‘unhealthy’ place and quickly moved on up the coast, deciding on Sydney Cove as the best place to found the colony
⊗ already, earlier in the 19th century local surveillance had been a priority … a castellated watchtower (at one stage used as a customs house) on the headland was built to keep an eye on smugglers in Botany Bay
❦ the other emplacements are (or were) located at South Head, Middle Head, Georges Heights and North Head
유 a lucky minority of the unemployed managed to secure one of Howe’s huts

[1] the Timbery family, members of which still reside in La Perouse today, can trace their descendants back to pre-European times, Julia Kensy, ‘La Perouse’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,, viewed 19 October 2016
[2] R Sutton, ‘La Perouśe’s unknown historical significance’, (‘SBS News’), 29-Nov-2012,
[3] all the huts were demolished in the 1960s, ‘Howe Refreshment Rooms’, Dictionary of Sydney,
[4] Kensy, op.cit.
[5] ibid
[6] ibid
[7] ‘Bare Island Fort’, (NSW Office of Environment & Heritage),; ‘History of Bare Island, La Perouse’, (24-Mar-2015),
[8] ‘Happy Valley, Chinese Market Gardens and Migrant Camps’, (‘At the Beach, Contact, Migration and Settlement in South East Sydney’), Migrant Heritage Centre of NSW, www.migration
[9] except for Frog Hollow an aboriginal camp which was closed in 1954, Kensy, op.cit.
[10] ibid. ; ‘Chinese market gardens’, (NSW Office of Environment & Heritage),
[11] the government’s contribution to the shantytowners’ plight was to provide one pint of milk per day provided by the Dairy Farmers’ Co-op, ‘Happy Valley, op.cit.; ‘Blast from the Past – HAPPY VALLEY’, LAPEROUSE – Social Change not Climate Change,
[12] the first was Forby Sutherland, a Scottish seaman on Cook’s 1770 voyage to Australia. Sutherland died and was buried at Kurnell in what is now called the Sutherland Shire, named in honour of the AB seaman, ‘Forby Sutherland’, Monument Australia,

Spa Town’s Historic Healing Waters

Heritage & Conservation, Regional History, Travel

A significant part of Budapest’s special appeal and charm lies in its plethora of natural hot springs. The “City of Spas” boasts something in the vicinity of 120 therapeutic baths … signifying a rich history of centuries of hydro-treatment and leisure for its citizens. Many of the thermal baths are a legacy of the Ottoman occupation. Király (King), Rudas and Csárzár (Veli Bej) were built as Turkish baths and still operate as such today.

imageThe Széchenyi Medicinal Baths are the largest in Europe and one of the continent’s most famous thermal pool complexes with a history dating back over 100 years. It reminded me of the old Ramsgate Baths 50 years ago, but with a liberal measure of grandeur and style about it✦. This place really brings the punters in, all ages and types. It is open every day of the year and I reckon some locals do come every day! Its function and importance to the average Budapester is more analogous with that of the democratic beach in Summer in an Australian coastal fringe city.

Széchenyi is very large … and crowded. It is hot, a landscape of cement and water littered with people either sunbathing or standing round in small groups in pools. Many pools in fact! Three large outdoor pools plus 15 smaller indoor thermal ones all up. The configuration of the outdoor pools is a conventional rectangular pool in the middle, bookended by two half-circular ones.

imageI liked the Baths’ architecture a lot – grand, very ornate with arched columns with the complex as a whole set in the middle of a pleasant city park which the baths share with a circus and an amusement park. On the left side of the pool, near the Pepsi sign, groups of older men, half-immersed in water, were busying themselves attentively in games of chess.

The water was warm to quite hot in parts, up to 38°! It was very refreshing and relaxing, especially when you perch yourself for a while under one of the water spouts in the shadow of classical sculptures. But I couldn’t stay in the open for long though … too many people, far too hot and the poolside areas lacked for shaded spots.

One avenue of escape from the heat and potential sunburn was to venture inside to one of the smaller (also crowded) thermal pools where the water temperature was a more tolerable 27°. The locker system in place in the Baths seemed haphazard, rows of lockers up and down different alleys and different floors. It was very antiquated, looked like it was designed in 1913, annoyingly cumbersome and detracted a bit from the experience. When you pay to enter they give you a plastic armband to access the locker (and your gear), the object is to try not to lose it during the water-bound activities.

imageIt was good to experience the environment of a typical Budapest thermal spring, even if I found the aesthetics of the baths more rewarding than the actual swimming, or more accurately, wading.

✦ the Széchenyi building complex has been variously described – from: looking like a Baroque palace to a “wedding cake” building.

From Buda to Pest and Back

Heritage & Conservation, Regional History, Travel

Staying on the Buda side of Budapest (at the Mercure) meant we had only a short walk up the hill to take in the views of Budapest from high up. Prominent on Várhegy (Castle Hill) as it is known is St Matthias Church where the kings of Hungary were crowned … just across the square from here is an imposing viewing terrace complete with towers overlooking the Danube.

Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion
Originally there was a fortification here that was part of the city castle walls manned in the Middle Ages by city fishermen, who following a 13th century raid from a Mongolian army, were responsible for keeping watch on invaders (hence the name “Fisherman’s Bastion”). The present, silver/white coloured structure has a Medieval appearance but is actually Neo-Gothic (dating only from the end of the 19th century). The impression it conveys is that of a fairytale castle, like something improbable you’d find in Disneyland (some visitors have noted the similarity to it of the Walt Disney logo). The staircase has interesting old wall relief-sculptures worthy of examination. Access to the terrace is free of charge but if you want to go up to the turrets for higher views there is a fee. Below the parapet the land drops away sharply into a pleasant park close to the river. The castle viewed by night, when all lit up, is at its spectacular best!

The commercial side
The commercial side
Whilst we were visiting the Bastion we went downstairs into the narrow, damp, aged basement and had a viewing of a doco recounting the history of Hungary. It was very informative, especially the story of “The White Stag”, a Hungarian creation myth about how twins, Hanor and Magor, founded the Hungarian nation by accident whilst out hunting the aforementioned white stag. The stag suddenly disappeared and the two hunters found themselves in a strange land where they met, kidnapped and married two Sarmatian princesses – thus uniting three peoples – the Huns, the Magyars & the Alans. The film was an enjoyable and educational diversion.

On our first full day in Budapest we did the drive-round on the “Big Bus”, giving visitors a concise snapshot of the scope and size of Budapest. One of the things you’ll easily notice from the top deck of the bus is the contrasting physical difference between the hillier Buda side (especially around the Castle District) and its expanse of parklands and the larger Pest side with its mainly flat contours. The commercial hub of the city is concisely encapsulated within Pest.

We did the combined bus/boat trip with a cruise down the Danube later on. The river cruise was the standout part of the city tour. It was ideal to take in the views on either side, lots of grand architectural sights (eg, the London-influenced Parliament building, the Disneylandish Fisherman’s Bastion, etc). Many of Budapest’s most impressive buildings are clearly visible from the river. The experience of cruising along the Danube here is superior to the equivalent cruise in Vienna (or for that matter to doing a river cruise in Prague).

The free walking tour was at least equally valuable in yielding insights into Budapest. Our 25-y-o guide was very helpful, took us to many of the attractions the Pest district has to offer. Vaci Utia, the main boulevard was basically an invitation for indulgent mega-shopping for gifts and souvenirs – coupled with countless rows of seating for outdoor eating. Of course we sampled the local sweet specialities like the apple strudel (there was a bit of a Viennese feel to the pastry shops and both places seem to be “sweet tooth” zones).

The architecture in Vaci was an interesting mix of old buildings with some ultra-new glass monoliths. We went past the famous (sic) MacDonalds’ fast food place … unremarkable looking but famous, our guide informed us, because it was the first one to open ANYWHERE in the Eastern Bloc. Such was the novelty of Maccas at that time (late 1980s) it was apparently THE place to be seen in Budapest. When it opened diners actually had to make reservations to eat there, and when they did, they turned up in their finest clobber!

Buda Funicular
Buda Funicular
The walking tour ended near the famous Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) and we walked over to the Buda side past the bridge’s ‘protective’ lions. This presented the opportunity to take a swift ride up the steep castle hill in the city’s funicular (Budavári Sikló), which reminded me of my experience ascending and descending Chile’s ascensores in Valparaíso.

Another mega-shopping place is the Grand Markets … old, multi-level hangar or gigantic barn-like structure, with merchandise ranging from fruit and veg, fish to clothing and accessories. Budapest has its own version of Aldi (Hofer) and more surprisingly a branch of the South African supermarket giant, SPAR!

I noticed that the local ‘fuzz’ wear cute if slightly ludicrous little red berets … to be honest though I doubt if the experiences of Syrian asylum seekers in 2016 found them to be at all ‘cute’.


the guide in recounting this anecdote added that because the opening of the first MacDonalds preceded by a short time the tumultuous fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, locals like to refer to the events thus: “the Golden Arches went up before the Hammer and Sickle was torn down” (a statement with lots of symbolic resonance given the weighty extent to which Budapest and other former Eastern Bloc cities have been westernised and commercialised in the period since).

Walama Redux: Ballast Point’s Cyclical Journey

Archaeology, Environmental, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

In the time of Aboriginal Australia, the indigenous clans which inhabited the Balmain peninsula, the Wan-gal and the Cadi-gal, called the chunk of land that juts out between Snails Bay and Mort’s Bay, Walama (meaning “to return”). And in a sense, that is what has happened to Ballast Point, once a bushy promontoryφ. From the earliest encounters of the First Fleeters’ with the Point, it has gone full circle from a spot of untouched natural beauty to a grimy industrial site and is now being returned to something reminiscent of its natural state, in time perhaps becoming a palimpsest of what it once was.

Ballast Point Park was opened as a two-and-a-half-hectare public space in 2009 (also called ‘Walama’ as a mark of respect for the traditional custodians for the area). The restoration of the Point as public land was a victory for the people of Balmain, achieved only after a long struggle of determined local activism and community support to overcome the commercial plans of developers and the vacillation of state governments.

Before I outline the details of the end-game for the Ballast Point story I should recount the headland’s history from the initial colonial contacts. The British settlers’ first use of Ballast Point seems to have been as a fishing and hunting spot. The name “Ballast Point” is derived apparently from the occurrence of rockfalls from the high point above the shoreline crashing to the bottom of the outcrop[1]. Ships having unloaded their cargo from Europe found the stones, small broken rocks, gravel, etc which accumulated on the shore ideal material for ballast for their empty hulls to give the vessels stability for the return journeys.

Display remembering 'Menevia'  which once occupied BP site
Display remembering ‘Menevia’ which once occupied the Ballast Pt site
Part of colonial surgeon William Balmain’s early land grant, Ballast Point passed through many hands in the first half of the 19th century including Fred Parbury, James Goodsir, Henry Smith, George Cooper and John Gilchrist (who subdivided it as ‘Glenelg Crescent’ but this enticed few if any buyers)[2]. Merchant and draper Thomas Perkins acquired the promontory in 1852. By 1864 Perkins had built and occupied a large two-story, sandstone villa on the headland, which he named Menevia§. For some years after it was built Ballast Point was known as Menevia Point. After Perkins’ death the mansion became a boarding house until after World War I.

By 1928 Menevia had fallen into disrepair and was up for sale. Balmain Council expressed an interest but public funds were tight at the time and it couldn’t afford to buy it. Texas oil company Texaco snapped it up. Texaco, who later merged with Standard Oil of California to form Caltex, used it as a depot to store very large quantities of petroleum (and later as a grease plant).

Old 1960s Caltex sign: 'Grease Plant'
Old 1960s Caltex sign: ‘Grease Plant’
Over time Caltex built 30 large storage tanks at what became known as the Balmain Terminal. However this large scale enterprise did not enhance the quality of life for local residents, with trucks coming and going through the narrow, congested streets of Balmain an ongoing irritant to those living in the, mainly humble, dwellings nearby[3].

Ballast Point became less important to Caltex after the company opened a new, larger oil terminal at Banksmeadow (South Sydney). From the late 1980s through the 1990s Caltex tried to prepare the way to unload its Balmain operations in a commercial deal, twice petitioning Leichhardt Council to have its land rezoned from waterfront industrial to residential, but without success. The local community in Balmain had formed an opposition group called Ballast Point Campaign Committee (BPCC) in the mid Eighties to save Ballast Point by returning the headland to public land. Leichhardt Council eventually supported BPCC in its actions[4].

The Walker Corporation (formerly McRoss Developments) sought to purchase the 2.6ha headland site from Caltex to build a 138 unit apartment complex, but the deal was blocked by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority’s (SHFA) compulsory acquisition of the land in 2002[5]. Caltex received nearly $14.4 million in compensation. Walker Corp was offered $10.1 million by the state government (as they had acquired an option on the land), which it disputed in the High Court of Australia as grossly undervalued (Walker Corporation P/L v Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (2008). Initially the developers were awarded compensation of $60M but this was overturned on appeal and the original amount of $10M reaffirmed[6].

The Menevia artefacts display cabinet (as it used to look!)
The Menevia artefacts display cabinet (as it used to look!)
After the SHFA took control of Ballast Point it took another seven years during which the Caltex site was remediated, followed by planning, designing and landscaping, before the post-industrial park was opened in July 2009. The design of the new park includes walls composed of recycled rubble enclosed in wire mesh gabions (cylindrical baskets), sandstone plinths, artworks commemorating the former industrial role, eg, Tank 101 (storage tanks) as well as reminiscences of Menevia – artefacts of the Victorian house excavated whilst the site was being remediated. These comprise domestic utensils (crockery, glassware, bottles, etc) mounted in a display case in the park. Unfortunately, recently the glass cabinet was smashed by mindless vandals and the archeological items have been removed.

Ballast Pt Park's Gabion walls: cylinders of recycled stones
BP Park’s Gabion walls: cylinders of recycled stones
The final form of Ballast Point Park has come in for some criticism from various quarters, especially from Paul Keating (who originally championed its creation) for “its lack of romantic verdancy” and the failure of the architects to erase all reminders of the past “industrial vandalism” of Caltex (as the ex-PM described it)[7]. Opponents of this viewpoint have attacked it as representing an attitude that seeks to ‘sanitise’ history by omitting the full story of the place’s industrial past[7]. With the full passage of time, they advocate, vegetation will bring this public park back to something like the wooden headland it was prior to European colonisation.

_ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _
φ At the time the British came in 1788, the pioneering settlers reported that indigenous hunters of the Wan-gal and Cadi-gal clans would hunt kangaroos through the densely wooden and bushy peninsula, driving them towards the north-eastern point of Balmain (down the hill into present-day Illoura Reserve) into a cul-de-sac at Peacock’s Point where they were able to trap the animals and easily kill them
§ The name ‘Menevia’ was apparently derived from a cathedral in Swansea, South Wales which bears the name

[1] Peter Reynolds,’Ballast Point’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,,viewed 15 May 2016
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] ‘Ballast Point Park Opening’, The Peninsula Observer, Vol 44 No 3 Issue 312 (Sept 2009)
[5] Ex-PM Keating, Tom Uren, et al, apparently influenced the Carr Labor Government’s decision to make the Caltex site a public space, K Legge, ‘How Paul Keating saved Barangaroo headland park on Sydney Harbour’, The Australian, 3 October 2015
[6] B Makin, ‘Ballast Point: from oil terminal to public park’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Oct 2005
[7] L Harding, ‘Ballast Point’, ArchitectureAU, 2 Jan 2012,

Balmain’s Legacy of Industry, Workers, Pubs and Architectural Heterogeneity

Archaeology, Built Environment, Heritage & Conservation, Local history

The Balmain peninsula, just to the west of Sydney’s CBD, has a long post-settlement history of European mixed land use, both as a magnet for industry and a place for workers and their families – and room also for those financially well-heeled enough to afford the pick of the land and a waterfront property with magnificent views of Australia’s finest harbour.

From the 1840s industry had started to make inroads into the Balmain landscape, and the types of enterprises were becoming many and varied. Over the next 150 years the suburb’s diverse industry has included power stationsφ, an English-owned colliery (from 1897) located just north of Birchgrove Public School, whose long-term productivity proved disappointing. After the mine’s closure in 1931 it produced methane gas until the early 1940s. Eventually houses were built over it and today an exclusive residential complex known as Hopetoun Quays sits atop the site.

Thames St Ferry Wharf, Mort's Bay
Thames St Ferry Wharf, Mort’s Bay
At Mort’s Bay a shipyard and dry dock (Australia’s first) was created in the 1850s, the shipyard similarly was not very successful, and the business eventually morphed into a maritime engineering enterprise employing in excess of 1,000 men. Thomas S Mort, the dock owner, created ‘Mort’s Town of Waterview“, a subdivision of land to provide housing for his dockyard workers[1]. There was also a ferry service built at Mort’s Bay c.1895. The Thames Street Wharf, with its distinctive curved shelter, transported between 20,000 and 24,000 workers to and from Circular Quay daily (it is thought to be the only Victorian era ferry still operating in the Sydney Harbour network)[2].

Colgate-Palm apartments
Colgate-Palm apartments
Other industrial enterprises on the peninsula included a saw mill at the end of Nicholson Street, owned by Alexander Burns, the location later taken over by the Adelaide Steamship Co which employed more than 600 men in its ship repair business; a coal loader; US soap and toothpaste giant Colgate-Palmolive with a factory employing over 140 operated in Broadstairs Street, later renamed Colgate Avenue (the Colgate building, which was known locally as “the Olive” is now renovated apartments)[3]. Interestingly, grimy industrial Balmain had no shortage of soap as a second company, Lever and Kitchen (later becoming Unilever), also manufactured soap and glycerol in a huge (10ha) plant near Booth Street and Punch Park. At its zenith Lever and Kitchen had a workforce of over 1,250, many of whom lived locally.

imageThe co-existence between home-maker and industry in Balmain has not always been an easy one. The peninsula developed as an industry hub and a desirable place to dwell more or less concurrently. Its proximity to Sydney Town made it attractive to industrialists and to the workforce. By 1846 Balmain housed 19.6 per cent of Sydney and was the largest residential area of the colony – predominantly working class as the workers in the main wanted to be close to where the industrial work was[4].

Notwithstanding the numerous working men (and their unpaid women folk) in the early days[5] there was also a significant middle class component, after all someone had to live in those magnificent Post-Regency and Georgian mansions. “Captains of industry” like Ewen Wallace Cameron and Robert (RW) Miller lived in such palatial homes on the peninsula, as did local developers and businessmen like Robert Blake and JJ Yeend.

The peninsula’s population in 1848 was just 1,337, however there was a spike in numbers over the remainder of the century reaching a straining 28,460 by 1895[6]. The working class parts of Balmain were clearly overcrowded and the suburb’s pattern of development disorganised and haphazard, eg, factories were springing up alongside workers’ modest houses and public schools[7].

Because of the historic heavy concentration of blue-collar industry in Balmain, a strong trade union presence (in particular the maritime industries with the Painters and Dockers Union) has always been part of the landscape. That Balmain/union nexus led to the formation of the Labor Electoral League (which changed its name to the Australian Labor Party) at the relocated Unity Hall Hotel (290 Darling Street) in 1891. The ALP has dominated state elections in the seat covering the Balmain area (in 1978 capturing 82.4 per cent of the two-party vote), although the current MP is a Greens politician, which continues the traditional left-leaning trend of peninsula politics.

Birchgrove, btwn Snails Bay & Long Cove: 1855 map
Birchgrove, btwn Snails Bay & Long Cove: 1855 map
Birchgrove in Balmain’s north-western point is thought of as the classiest area of the whole peninsula, well, not all of Birchgrove, just one street … actually just part of one street, Louisa Road, the end part. Birch Grove House, believed to be the first house built on the Balmain peninsula, was located at 67 Louisa Rd. It was constructed in 1810 for army regiment paymaster John Birch and demolished, sadly, in 1967. In the 1860s and 70s Hunters Hill developers, the Joubert brothers, subdivided Birchgrove land backing on to Snails Bay§. The estate was advertised as “a miniature Bay of Naples” but few of the villas were ever sold[8].

Home owners today in the exclusive bits of Louisa Rd (properties starting at well in excess of $3 million) include movie producers and directors, famous writers, members of platinum record-breaking rock bands, as well as the more mainstream common, garden variety” type of professionals. But it was not always so – 150 Louisa Rd at one time was the headquarters of the Bandidos bikie gang. After the 1984 Milperra Massacre involving rival Comancheros and Bandidos bikie gangs, the Bandidos members were turfed out of the 1897 Federation/Queen Anne house[9].

From pub to friendly society to medical centre
The houses in East Balmain don’t tend overall to match the price tags of Federation-rich Louisa Road, but they represent some of the best and most interesting, as well as the oldest, architecture in the peninsula. Darling Street, starting from East Balmain Wharf, is dotted with 1840s-1860s sandstone hotel buildings. Some are no longer functioning as pubs, eg, the Shipwrights Arms, 1844 (10 Darling St), the original Unity Hall Hotel, c.1848 (49 Darling St), the Waterford Arms, now ‘Cathermore’, 1846 (50 Darling St). These 1840s buildings have a plain Post-Regency style to them, simple stone and wooden roofs, clean lines with little or no ornamentation. The contrast is with the later Victorian buildings, such as ‘Bootmaker’s Cottage’ 1860 (90 Darling St) which is more ornate (if restrained) with stone quoins (corner blocks) plus a combination of stone and brick materials and elegant cast-iron balustrading[10]. The enhanced use of decoration and superior materials in the grander later Victorian houses, reflect the affluence of Sydney after the colony’s Gold rushes.

Datchett Street
Datchett Street
The extent to which Balmain had become an architectural zoo can be glimpsed from comparing Cameron’s Cove with its Victorian Italianate mansions like ‘Ewenton’ 1854-72 (1 Blake St)[11] with the delightful but ramshackled old timber cottages in little Datchett Street, a narrow, steep side lane-way just across the Cove. Some of the Datchett dwellings look a bit like holiday shacks and would not be out-of-place in a sleepy little backwater up the coast.

From the 1960s Balmain’s character began to change. A slow process of gentrification was occurring as property values rose and more people renovated their old houses. Industries moved out, partly because of a trend toward decentralisation, and partly because many were dying off[12]. The prospect of a waterfront home tantalisingly close to the CBD was a lure for many a “cashed-up” punter!

In the eighties and early nineties industrial areas of the peninsula were re-zoned as residential by a development friendly Leichhardt Council to the glee of developers like Leda Group who were free to carve out new middle class estates from the old Unilever site and the like. All of which meant the suburb became beyond the reach of most working class home-owners.

_ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _
φ strictly speaking, these two power stations, White Bay and Balmain (Cove), which book-ended the peninsula east and west, were located in Rozelle, but within the Balmain district
§ the Wan-gal (Aboriginal) name for the point jutting out from Birchgrove is Yurulbin which means “swift running waters” as it is the point of confluence where the two headwaters meet (Port Jackson and Parramatta River)

[1] LA Jones, ‘Housing the Worker’, (unpublished BA(Hon) thesis, University of Sydney), Oct 2011
[2] ‘History of Balmain Thames Street Ferry Wharf’, (NSW Transport),
[3] G Spindler, ‘A Sydney Harbour Circle Walk 2011-12’ (Historic Notes & Background), Apr 2011,
[4] ‘Wyoming’ (Balmain Italianate Mansion), NSW Office of Environment & Heritage,
[5] so much so the mainstream Sydney press in 1889 described Balmain with its 5,000 dwellings as “working men’s paradise”, Illustrated Sydney News, 11 Jul 1889
[6] ‘Balmain: Local History’, Inner West Council/Leichhardt Municipal Council,
[7] ‘History of Balmain’,
[8] ‘Wyoming’, op.cit.. Didier Joubert named Louisa Rd after his wife and the adjoining streets after his children
[9] Spindler, op.cit.
[10] ‘Humble to Handsome – Balmain Architecture 1840-1860s’, (Balmain Walks, Balmain Association Inc),
[11] ‘Ewenton’ itself is something of an architectural mélange with its mixture of Moorish arches and Georgian and Victorian features, ibid.
[12] eg, the 14 or so old shipyards of Balmain have all closed down, ‘Old Balmain: Paddocks and Shipyards’, Local Notes (2012),