Poor to pretentious in one generation: Balmain
Standing outside the Unity Hall Hotel, in Darling Street Balmain, Jan doesn’t hold back. She stands for everything that Old Balmain was, working class, down to earth, unpretentious and with a village atmosphere.
Jan doesn’t like how the place has changed. To her Balmain used to be a “kooky” place, with a sense of community but now “we call it Yuppieville… it’s the people moving in that can afford the extravagant rents and the house prices.”
Further down the road at the London Hotel, you can still see the vestiges of the Balmain of yesteryear. It is buildings such as the London Hotel (built in 1870) hold an important place in Australia’s political and social history.
Billy Hughes began his rise to the Prime Ministership in the pubs of Balmain becoming the first President of the Waterside Workers’ Union, back in the day when Sydney was still a working port.
Former Premier, Neville Wran went to school in Balmain just down the road from the London Hotel. It was he who famously said “Balmain boys don’t cry”. Referring to a toughness that you needed to have growing up in this rough and tumble a working class area.
But the Balmain of old is slowly dying, as the area morphs into a cosmopolitan oasis for the “young upwardly mobile professional” otherwise known as the Yuppie.
In the last decade Balmain has been transformed as professionals have moved in displacing the Balmain of old. The result has changed Balmain into what might best be described as a natural breeding ground of the modern Yuppie.
A walk down Darling Street, Balmain, is instructive.
Within the same 600 hundred metres there a total are 8 coffee shops, 3 independent book stores and 7 Thai restaurants.
In the same stretch you can also find an assortment of high class clothing stores each with an increasingly unusual name, so from Pearl, you pass Artson, then Cando Kostula, Andiamo, and Stelitzia (which personally I think sounds like a disease you might catch…). Finally there is Zeblu which again sounds like something you might use to treat your Strelitzia.
It’s the shift in the shops of Balmain that people comment on when you ask them how the area has changed over the last few years.
Some might say that New Balmain feels a bit like it is imitating Melbourne with its coffee culture and designer shops.
As local resident Olivia comments “the coffee shops are sometimes 20 people deep and you’ll see people in there sitting on the milk crates, just posing”.
But is it that simple?
Is Balmain this pretentious suburb of elites made famous by Paul Keating’s description of the so called ‘Basketweavers of Balmain’ or do we label it because the suburb has come to fit a stereotype in our collective mind?
Does Balmain inspire a certain amount of tall poppy syndrome, where we label them pretentious because of a perception of success and superiority?
Certainly there aren’t many places in Australian where you can get the Balmain shopping experience. Clothes are one thing, where else can you get:
French Trimmed Pork Chops at $49.99 a kilo (slightly more than you’d pay at Coles or Woolworths)
Juniper Berries 2kg jar $70 (for those who don’t know these are apparently used for aromatherapy and for the treatment of asthma and sciatica)
Leng Zhu Dragon Ball tea at $22 a 300 gram bag (which has a unique favour as a rare white tea)
Natural Instinct Dishwashing soap $11.95 a kilo (apparently its organic which I guess is what you want in your dishwashing soap…)
And let’s not forget the Adrian Zumbo pastries (as seen on Master Chef) just ask these guys.
But does a taste for the finer, and dare I say weirder (i.e. organic dishwashing soap), things in life lead us to judge the people of New Balmain too harshly?
The days of Old Balmain died as Sydney changed from an industrial city, with its working port, into a modern metropolis centred on the service economy.
Thus, the emergence of ‘Yuppieville’ is really a reflection of the changes in Sydney over the last couple of decades.
And when you look past the designer shops and plethora of Thai restaurants you find that thing that most locals comment on is that today’s Balmain still retains the ‘village atmosphere’.
Just ask these guys…
What do you like about Balmain?
Alicia “I love how its easy going… its dynamic… there’s no pretenses you be what you want to be and come down to the shops in your pyjamas if you want… oh and its friendly…”
Olivia “It has a nice village feel, people say hello, they’re always friendly”
Leanne “the coffee shops, village atmosphere, close the city, really good views of the harbour and city, the people, its multicultural… it’s a bit of Melbourne”
Jen “what is there not to like? There’s a real community feel… its dog friendly”
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