Online image collection

Balmain 1860 - 1910 Municipal Jubilee: Bob Wooley Butchery, Rozelle. The " New Model Butchery", occupied by Mr. Robert J. Wooley, situated opposite the then Rozelle Post Office, corner of Darling Street and Weston Victoria Road

We now have 4000 Local History images available on our online catalogue with more to come. They are a collection of images ranging from 1890 -2011 which have been donated, purchased and sourced from special collections and photographers. To search for Balmain historic photographs type in “Balmain”in the search window or try a specific search like “Darling Street”Library Catalogue

Photographed from the Balmain Post Office clock tower looking towards East Balmain, the Mort Dock and Engineering Company works and Ballast Point c.1955

Balmain 1860 - 1910 Municipal Jubilee: Balmain Fire Brigade Station, 391 Darling Street, Balmain.

Oral history @ the library

Oral history is the recording of memories of people’s unique life experiences. Often the only way to find out about the past is to ask someone who knows about it. Through oral history the past comes alive.


Since 1997 we have interviewing people to capture their memories of living and working in the area in earlier times. Interviews are conducted by volunteers, local history staff and oral historians that are funded through Leichhardt Council’s Local History Grants programme.  At present 120 interviews are held in digital format and will be going online later this year.


The Oral History Collection covers all parts of the Leichhardt local government area, which comprises the suburbs of Annandale, Balmain, Birchgrove, Leichhardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle. Between 1968 and 2003 the suburbs of Glebe and Forest Lodge also came within the Leichhardt area, so the collection includes interviews relating to those suburbs undertaken between 1997 and mid-2003.


Interviews have mostly been with people who have had a long association with the area. Some of them grew up in the area and went to school here and tell about their memories of childhood and growing up. Others worked in local industries and remember their working lives, working conditions, etc. Some owned small businesses in the area. Many interviewees have useful and interesting comments to make about social conditions in the area during the Depression, about jobs and industries which have now disappeared, and about local businesses and corner shops which are no more.


Hearing the voices of people who actually experienced the times they are describing makes history come alive in a unique and fascinating way. Their reminiscences greatly add to our understanding of the social history of the Leichhardt area, and in many instances, if these memories had not been recorded they would now be lost forever. People can often be much more interesting than documents, and they often have anecdotes to tell which will not be found in the formal records.

Oral history interviewees Molly Mc Sullea, Peter Flaherty and Howard Horwood


The Fishermen of Iron Cove

A collection of 12 interviews undertaken by oral historian Annette Salt in 2006 with the Italian fishing community of Iron Cove

Rozelle Hospital Project

11 interviews undertaken by oral historian Roslyn Burge in 2008/9 with former workers of Rozelle Hospital and its parent institutions Callan Park Mental Asylum and Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic.

Transforming the Local

20 interviews  by oral historian Paula Hamilton and community volunteers on social and cultural changes in the Balmain area since the 1960s. Interviewees included long-term residents and those who moved into the area in the1970s and 80s. More information on this project can be found at

Leichhardt’s Environment

10 interviews undertaken by the library’s local history staff and community volunteers on environmental change. Interviewees included bushcare and community garden volunteers, local environmental activists and Leichhardt Council staff such as planners and engineers.

With My Heart On My Sleeve – the Weroona Life Stories Project

11 interviews with residents of Weroona Nusing Home, Lilyfield.

Saving 2.6

Our current project exploring the experiences of local residents who fought to save Ballast Point  -a 2.6ha headland in Birchgrove- for community open space.

For more information on our oral history collection and projects contact us at or telephone 02 9367 9266

Greetings from Balmain 1 : Hannah Parkes and the White Bay paperseller..

Beatrice Bush, White Bay c1980. Photographer Barry Flakelar.

12 Balmain locals were asked to choose a photograph from our collection and invited to tell us what the image said to them. This week, Hannah Parkes on Beatrice Bush, the White Bay paperseller.

I must have been quite young, around seven years old I imagine, but I still very clearly remember sitting in the back seat while my mum and dad would buy their daily paper from ‘the paper lady’ ( I now know her name was Beatrice) on Victoria Road.

Mum and dad were insistent the paper had to come from her, so gaining access to the daily news relied on traffic light changes, traffic conditions and whether she was available for a sale. It could be quite a stress, but much more interesting for a kid than heading to the shop.

My Dad Roger said ‘the paper lady’ stood for the ‘dying of an era in Balmain’.

“What she stood for was a working class suburb. She was a character doing what she could to make it,” he said.

“She always wore Dunlop’s, she never looked angry, everyone tried their hardest to get their paper from her, even if it caused much consternation with the traffic. That would never happen now,” he said.

Hannah Parkes

Take a walk. .

The Heritage Group of Leichhardt District (HGOLD) has recently published a collection of historic walks in the area, compiled by Jeannette Knox and funded through Leichhardt Council’s Local History Grants Program. There are 11 walks in all: six in Balmain, 3 in Leichhardt and one each in Annandale and Lilyfield/Rozelle. Each one is accompanied by a map and there is historic detail about each suburb as well as about the buildings and other sites, illustrated with a number of photos.

Information is also provided about the duration of each walk and public transport connections to each area. The book is spiral bound for easy use while walking and there is space for your own notes at the end.

This is the ideal solution for people wanting to discover more about where they live, or for those outside the area who are interested in the history and heritage of one of the oldest parts of Sydney. Best of all, these walks can be undertaken in your own time, doing as much or as little as you like.

Exploring Leichhardt Heritage costs $20 and is available from the Balmain and Leichhardt libraries, the Customer Service Centre next to Leichhardt Town Hall, at Journeys Bookshop in Booth Street, Annandale and Shearer’s Bookshop in Norton Street, Leichhardt, and from the Balmain Association.

Further information about HGOLD is available at:

Air raid shelters, Balmain

Sunlight Oil and Soapworks (later Unilever) Balmain, c1928

Betty Sparnon grew up in Balmain and writes “we often played in the old air raid shelter near Unilever and I recently met another child of Balmain who remembers an air raid shelter under a factory opposite the Dry Dock Hotel. How can we find out more about these shelters?”

We searched our collection but haven’t uncovered anything that would assist Betty. If you have any information on air raid shelters around Balmain, contact us at and we will pass this information on to Betty.

Balmain To Glebe

Pictorial History Balmain to Glebe covers the suburbs of Annandale, Balmain, Birchgrove, Leichhardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle. Glebe, although no longer part of the Leichhardt municipality, is included for geographical and historical reasons. Each area has its own story of settlement, growth and development from Aboriginal occupancy to the changing face of suburbs in the 21st century. In that time span colonial estates and humble workers’ cottages gave way to subdivision as suburbs developed away from Sydney. Annandale, the Johnston family’s vast estate, was later planned as a model suburb. Balmain began with a rich maritime history and the creation of the famous Mort’s Dock. Birchgrove, another colonial estate, witnessed an engineering marvel with the building of the underwater tunnel from Long Nose Point (Yurulbin) to Greenwich. Threatened demolition and unsympathetic development brought about the creation of the Balmain Association (1965), the Annandale Association (1969) and the Glebe Society (1969) by concerned citizens who wished to save the intrinsic character of these areas.
Written by Joan Lawrence and Catherine Warne.

History Week 2009

Scandals, Crime and Corruption


Exhibition: BUSTED! A snaphot of crime in Balmain

Dates:September 5 – October 31

Cost: Free

Where: Balmain Library,

Balmain Town Hall building

370 Darling Street, Balmain


Family history BALMAIN Workshop:- you’ve done the research, now what?

Join genealogist Terri Kempe as she discusses techniques and strategies to use when writing up family histories and memoirs.

Date: Tuesday September 8

Time: 6.30pm

Cost: Free

Where: Balmain Library

Balmain Town Hall building

370 Darling Street, Balmain


BALMAIN Author talk: RAZOR by Larry Writer

book_razor_writer_web Date: Tuesday September 15

Time: 6.30pm

Cost: Free

Where: Balmain Library,

Balmain Town Hall building

370 Darling Street, Balmain


History Council History Week 2009

celebrating History Week 2008 – row, swim, sail, fish, bathe!

70 people joined us down on the waterfront at Balmain’s Dawn Fraser Baths – the oldest surviving tidal-baths in Australia- as we celebrated History Week 2008.

Heritage consultant Meredith Walker gave an illustrated presentation on the history of bathing pools around the Leichhardt and Balmain foreshores, and Leichhardt Rowing Club’s Barry Moynahan held our attention with his words and an image presentation exploring the history of the Club that was opened in 1886 by Sir Henry Parkes.

Meredith Walker has identified 9 bathing pools that have existed around the Balmain and Leichhardt foreshore since 1875.  We’ll be putting up some of her research into swimming baths here on LOCAL NOTES soon.