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The Birchgrove-Balmain neighbourhood

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Just 3.7km from the CBD, Birchgrove-Balmain is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Before exploring the neighbourhood, we stopped for great coffee at the historic Gladstone Store. It’s a corner shop which dates back to 1886, one of a row of eight quaint terrace houses with their characteristic wrought iron balustrades, dating back to an era when the suburb was home to heavy industry and dockyard workers.

Now the exclusive domain of the ultra-rich – celebrities, high-end executives, corporates and bankers – real estate in Birchgrove is among the most expensive in Australia, on par with the eastern suburbs. Neighbours include Tom Cruise’s co-star in the 2008 movie Cocktail, Australian actor Bryan Brown.

The area resonates with colourful history and holds some quirky records such as the largest number of restored pubs in Australia including the Unity Hall Hotel, 1888, where the Labour government was formed in 1919, and Birchgrove Oval where the first professional NRL game was played in 1908.

Birchgrove-Balmain area

Wharf Road is book-ended by two lovely waterfront parks – the Oval on one side and Ballast Point Park on the other. In the late 1700s, the latter was the source of ballast for ships returning unladen to Europe and for much of the 20th century, giant tanks stored crude oil there for Texaco, later Caltex. The prime waterfront point is now a public park with walkways, artworks, shade structures, wind turbines and Australian native gardens. Steel stairways, recycled building rubble walls and panels from the curved sheet steel of the largest fuel tank are reminders of its earlier life as an industrial site.

The historic Gladstone Store in Birchgrove

The historic Gladstone Store in Birchgrove

Now the exclusive domain of the ultra-rich – celebrities, high-end executives, corporates and bankers – real estate in Birchgrove is among the most expensive in Australia, on par with the eastern suburbs. Neighbours include Tom Cruise’s co-star in the 2008 movie Cocktail, Australian actor Bryan Brown.

The area resonates with colourful history and holds some quirky records such as the largest number of restored pubs in Australia including the Unity Hall Hotel, 1888, where the Labour government was formed in 1919, and Birchgrove Oval where the first professional NRL game was played in 1908.

Waterfront Parks

Wharf Road is book-ended by two lovely waterfront parks – the Oval on one side and Ballast Point Park on the other. In the late 1700s, the latter was the source of ballast for ships returning unladen to Europe and for much of the 20th century, giant tanks stored crude oil there for Texaco, later Caltex.

The prime waterfront point is now a public park with walkways, artworks, shade structures, wind turbines and Australian native gardens. Steel stairways, recycled building rubble walls and panels from the curved sheet steel of the largest fuel tank are reminders of its earlier life as an industrial site.

Ballast Point Park features reminders of its earlier life as an oil storage site

Ballast Point Park features reminders of its earlier life as an oil storage site

The Australians know how to preserve and showcase their history . . . turning an unsightly industrial oil storage site into a stunning sculptural art installation.

The boutique, café and restaurant culture is thriving in Balmain-Birchgrove. There’s no need to venture to the city to find outstanding eateries. We dined at a superb Asian restaurant called Blue Ginger and another night we had a delicious meal at the Italian Mantecato, hidden among houses on a suburban back street.

In Darling Street, Balmain, we found the ultra-chic boutique Zambelli men’s and women’s wear store. It’s superb – well worth a visit. The range of ties was so irresistible, my husband bought a couple . . . and he’s no shopper.

In Darling Street, Balmain, we found the ultra-chic boutique Zambelli. It’s superb – well worth a visit. The range of ties was so irresistible, my husband bought a couple . . . and he’s no shopper.

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About Author

Justine Tyerman is an award-winning New Zealand journalist, travel writer and sub-editor with 18 years' experience in newspaper and freelance work. She has worked as a news reporter, feature writer, designer of an award-winning Newspapers in Education programme and sub-editor on local, national, business, education and international desks.

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