EXPLORING SYDNEY: Inside Notre Dame, Mulgoa – Sydney’s top secret abandoned zoo

It’s not widely known that the hills of  Mulgoa in Sydney’s semi-rural outskirts hide the magnificent remains of what once was the largest privately owned zoo in the world. The secrets that lay behind the top secret walls of a once opulent 80s style mansion & its impressive grounds cannot be understated – so much so that I have kept these photos private until now. The reason for deciding to publish them is in the hopes that this site will be preserved despite it not falling under a heritage listing, as it is currently under threat of demolition by its foreign investors. After much consideration, I feel this is an important site that Sydney has a right to see. As such, ShhSydney has refrained from photoshopping/editing this photo series, so that this place can be recorded in its original state, as it was in 2016.

Notre Dame site back in its heyday: Images sourced from Google – while countless pics of El Caballo Blanco are available online, there are far fewer of Notre Dame even though it was occasionally open to the public.

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To start, we must go back to a time in Sydney’s past when there were no laws prohibiting the wealthy from owning/trading in exotic and dangerous animals, from at times exploiting countless loyal workers who devoted their lives caring for & training animals – some of whom were allegedly witness to cruelties that their bosses committed against the animals they helped to train/care for, in the name of sport, celebrity and their own amusement.

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While many Sydneysiders will reminisce fondly about the now lost El Caballo Blanco amusement park, it is much more difficult to find those who remembers its sister site Notre Dame, or anyone willing to speak about its owner, the infamous  & eccentric self-made millionaire Emmanual Margolin. Margolin made his fortune from several used car dealerships in Melbourne, before selling up & moving to Sydney. He bought the El Caballo Blanco Spanish dancing horse amusement park in Narellan & created his own private zoo at his estate in Mulgoa.

After several years of research & speaking to former workers who prefer to remain anonymous, I can only conclude in my personal opinion that Margolin was an immensely wealthy yet ruthless character, with a penchant for French provincial antiques & stuffed exotic animals. It’s said his mansion was decorated with countless animal skin rugs, heads of African animals, ivory & gold.

Margolin was renowned for shamelessly flaunting his wealth – every corner of his extravagent residence dripped with decadence, he & his wife drove matching gold Rolls Royces, ensuring they turned every head in Western Sydney, wherever they went. He was rumoured to be quite the ladies man & a real charmer, with a fiery temper who was not to be crossed. At times he was said to be kind to his workers, especially the top tier horse trainers/riders, who were allowed to party after hours at the Notre Dame manor – no doubt those parties back in the 80s were a real treat to attend (!)

The vast collection of (live) exotic animals he kept at his private residence included monkeys, lions, leopards, Spanish Andalusian horses, elephants & exotic birds, plus more. They were said to be less beloved pets & more live property to proudly show off & on occasion slaughter at his own whims, lest they not perform to his exceedingly high expectations. It’s said that some of the animals that were slaughtered were fed to the big cats.

Emmanual Margolin passed away in 2012 of motor neurone disease, at the ripe old age of 83. His lavish Notre Dame zoo & El Caballo Blanco were sold off to foreign investors & El Caballo Blanco has recently been demolished to make way for a new housing development. Notre Dame still remains, it’s abandoned ruins looked after by a dedicated family of caretakers.

I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame on two separate occasions – the second of which included a private tour of the full site, thanks to the generous (and reclusive) caretakers, who took kindly to a gal’s genuine love of the history hiding behind the walls of Notre Dame.

The grand entrance gates

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Inside the gates of Notre Dame are countless  decaying cages, pavilions, multiple residences & arenas that have been claimed by the nature that surrounds them. Evidence of Margolin’s immense wealth & penchant for decadence is clear, with many abandoned antiques still remaining & collecting dust.

Outside the front manor at the gates – was once Emmanual’s housekeeping staff residence. As the story goes, Emmanual refused to pay for the palm trees seen planted at the front in a ‘V’ shape, as he had requested they be planted in a different pattern.

 

Inside the housekeepers quarters:

 

Margolin’s magificent mansion – note the ‘M’ on the front entrance doors. We did not enter the main mansion as it’s currently inhabited by one of the caretakers. (what a man cave!). The aspect from the front of the manor overlooking the hills of Mulgoa points directly towards Sydney’s CBD – a perfect view for NYE fireworks. The flat rooftop contains a once grand outdoor entertainment area complete with a pool, aviary & now overgrown gardens. The caretakers insisted it is now sadly too dangerous to enter the rooftop entertainment area.

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Spanish horse stables:  The dancing horses were undoubtedly the star attractions of the show. Note the faded image of the horse & caption “The Andalusion Dancing Stallions”. Behind the stables is an impressive horse training arena which we did not explore, due to fear of snakes & other creepy crawlies…The stables are surrounded by a large circular driveway, presumably to allow for horse-drawn carriages & cars to turn with ease.

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The old arena next to the mansion: Note the priceless postcard I was gifted by a friend & former employee of Emmanual Margolin, which shows Margolin (right) and an old famous actor (name now forgotten) on horseback outside the very same gates of the arena!

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Remains of the animal enclosures: While many cages are still visible, others have now been almost completely reclaimed by nature. It’s rumoured that one of the many celebrities who visited Margolin at Notre Dame was Michael Jackson, who’s infamous Neverland Ranch was inspired by his time there & his people sought advice from Margolin about the logistics of owning & operating a private zoo. Another story is that truth behind the local urban legend of Sydney/Blue Mountains ‘Penrith Panther’ originated  right here, when Margolin released his prized pet panther into the surrounding bushland…

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Outside the grand guesthouse:

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Inside the guesthouse: Note the once opulent 80s features, complete with an indoor squash court (!), bar, antiques & old taxidermied animals which Margolin was an enthusiastic collector of stuffed inside cupboards.

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The guesthouse as it once was: (photos courtesy of Notre Dame Mulgoa FB page). Note all the amazing antiques & valuable collectibles which Margolin was infamous for.

Other remains: Notre Dame’s buildings, signs & various features which show evidence of what was once the largest privately owned zoo in the world. Note the sign below shows just some of the attractions & facilities available at the zoo…

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Gardens & grounds: The Japanese feature gate were the entrance to a large koi fish pond & Japanese themed garden, now inaccessible due to overgrowth.

 

Notre Dame is now sadly owned by foreign investors, so its long term future looks bleak. The property is looked after by a very private group of caretakers & we do not recommend anyone visit this place, as they can & do call the police on any unwanted intruders. We were given special permission to access this place, so please enjoy this photo series & do not attempt to gain entry yourself.

There are just some of the many photos taken during the expeditions to Notre Dame, it would be impossible to post them all here. Also these are just some of the sites on the property & must stress that we were only able to see & capture a small part of the site’s remains. While most of the animal enclosures are in a ruined state, we saw many buildings & facilities that while overgrown, would still be functional with a little TLC. It’s my personal dream that this place be turned into an animal sanctuary & rehabilitation centre – I can’t stress enough just how deeply Notre Dame has touched me & how priveliged it feels to have been able to document this derelict, yet still decadent site. Hope Sydney folk will find this photo series as enjoyable as it was to take them.

Much love Sydneysiders

XO Gia @ Shhsydney

 

 

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EXPLORING SYDNEY: The ‘Drummoyne Boys’ gang – Abandoned clubhouse at Inner West Sports Club

Kids who grew up around the inner west suburb of Drummoyne during the 90s probably heard of, or in some way encountered the Drummoyne Boys gang – AKA ‘DB’. Back in the day when teenagers still got rolled for Sony Discmans, these little lads were like hyenas. On their own, they weren’t so bad and could sometimes even be kinda cute, in a weird way…but in a small pack, they were known to be an unsavoury species to avoid.

While DB’s dangerous reputation was no doubt bolstered by the bragging of teenage boys, I still got a huge kick out of accidentally discovering their top secret headquarters recently. Being completely oblivious that Drummoyne Boys gang still existed today, stumbling upon their hideout and learning their legacy still lives on today gave me a great nostalgia rush and a big belly laugh. Being one of the few (if not the first) female to tread on their territory was definitely fun experience 😉

According to Urban Dictionary, DB is in fact a real gang and their reputation around town is:

“A street gang based in the Inner Western suburb of Drummoyne, Sydney. Better known as a bunch of stupid lads with nothing better to do than buy champion pants and make up funny handsigns that sort of say ‘DB’, the Drummoyne boys are best know for such shocking, gangstarific crimes as: 

  • Graffitiing Walls 
  • Starting fights with little kids
  • Drinking alchohol (but making sure it’s a barcardi breezer or something)
  • Shoplifting

…don’t have official colours, although anything from InSport should do you just fine. Oh and don’t forget your nautica hat either.” 

DB’s lair is located inside an abandoned sports facility. baggsing it as their own by scrawling ‘DB lives here’ and intimidating threats all over the walls in texta. DB’s foreboding warnings look juvenile, so I guess these lads are pretty young and the new generation of the crew.

However, any site that could potentially show evidence of the old Balmain Tigers rugby league club signage is of significant historical importance to Australian sports and Sydney’s community. So sorry DB, sometimes exploring means treading on some toes to capture an important Kodak moment.

Hopefully the boys didn’t mind me busting in on their hideout for the sake of our mighty Balmain Tigers. DB’s design choices and decorating ideas complement the roaring tiger at the front entrance pretty well, I reckon 🙂

You don’t have to lurk inside for long to see these boys are living it up in their multimillion dollar bachelor pad. Upturned mattresses and tables scatter the main entertainment areas, two poker table sit proudly in two separate playing rooms and the kitchen is looking grimy because no girls are allowed in there to give the tabletops a thorough wipedown. It makes me wonder what their bedrooms look like…

While the grotty gang are certainly lax about their living standards, it’s more mess than downright gross. I’ve seen abandoned places in much worse states than this, so it’d only take a few days cleaning to tidy up the interior.

Structurally, the building itself is still in fairly good condition – with some TLC and a spring clean from DB, its retro vibe could be quite charming. The site is currently zoned for recreational use only, so you’d think the inner west community would support this place reopening one day.

Unfortunately the reason why yet another Sydney entertainment venue is unlikely open up again one day is due to a development proposal underway to build – you guessed it – a high rise residential estate. so it looks likely that Drummoyne residents will soon lose this once enjoyable local playhouse and watering hole for good.

Am amazed that DB still exist and wonder if the today’s teenager around the inner west side still like to loiter at Drummoyne Maccas, Sutton Place newsagent and the cricket oval. It’s a pleasant surprise to see that at least some of Sydney’s youth are still exploring outside and mucking around old school style, rather than holed up indoors all day on their iPhones 😉 They’re just having a lark, as kids are known to do and not hurting anyone by hanging out here for the time being, at least.

My unauthorised clubhouse tour brings back fuzzy memories of a few faces from that 90s era DB crew – I wonder if they grew up to be gangsters, or embraced the inner west hipster life. Am unsure whether they’ll be happy about this post or hate me now. But I hope they’re honored their time as temporary caretakers of this venue is valued as a little slice of Sydney history – at least to me.

XO Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Abandoned Magic Kingdom Amusement Park Adventure – South West Sydney’s forgotten playground

Following recent rumours that Magic Kingdom was dead to the developers and had now been destroyed, of course I had to head out to Lansvale and investigate things for myself. Luckily, apart from one mysteriously missing slide, can confirm everything else seems to be there, albeit partly underwater!

Magic Kingdom amusement park opened in the 70s and was in operation until the early 90s, closing a few years after Wonderland opened. Since then, it’s been known one of Sydney’s most infamous abandoned amusement parks. This original ad from 1987 shows footage of the park during its heyday – it’s almost entirely unrecognisable from the wild marshland and dilapidated ruins that remain today.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Magic Kingdom twice now. My first visit in mid-2013 was on a warm winter day, when the threat of snakes seemed less of a concern. When I recently returned in summer 2016, the weather was humid and stormy but the patchy rain was light enough to still explore.

Unluckily though, I lost all but one of my photos from my original 2013 adventure due to an iPhone-related mishap. The silver lining to this sad tale is that the single photo I still have left is of the Giant Slide – the park’s hero attraction, which was sadly stolen recently. Plus on my 2nd trip in 2016, I was also lucky enough to personally meet the owners and get the inside scoop on the site development plans 😉

Magic Kingdom was actually the first place I ever officially explored and documented, before starting ShhSydney. While other thrill seekers were known to climb right this rusty 70s era ride and slide down as an exploring rite of passage, vertigo kept me strictly on the ground! As the only surviving photo, this image holds particular sentimental significance to me…

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As soon as I pulled up the Alfa, could tell that some small changes were about – A sign at the front gate said cleaning was in progress and can confirm the new owners done a fine job of clearing pathways obstructed by branches and removing all that lame witchy/ satan worshipping graffiti that was on the ground in 2013. Sure it’s fun to play silly buggers in abandoned amusement parks, but don’t blame them for scrubbing that lot off!

Piles of new looking building supplies were stacked up near the far end of the block, making it seem like the redevelopment was about to kick off soon. However, the owner’s son said there’s no set plans as yet and his old man bought the place on a whim when driving past one day. They’re still weighing up their options, but say the site is still zoned as an amusement park – so it’s not impossible to hope that they might consider incorporating a playground into the new development.

I didn’t get to explore the toilet block the first time, because I was too apprehensive to enter. Exploring was new to me and was paranoid about spiders and other creepy crawlies lurking in the dark.

This time, I made sure to head there immediately. Much of the block was trashed, but thankfully no spiders about so managed to get a few shots of the inside. The girls was filled with rubble and old tables, but the boys was in much better condition in comparison.

Around the perimeter there was a wasps nest to be wary of, but still managed to walk around the outside. Some good art pieces here and grass growing out of the tree stumps, which was a nice touch.

The highlight of my 1st expedition was of course the golden Giant Slide, plus the adjacent stage. The mural of quintessentially Aussie cartoon Ginger Meggs with the faded Pepsi ad was such an awesome backdrop against the long wavy slippery dip.

It felt so odd walking around the spot where the Giant Slide once stood so proudly above the flat plain. The rusted scaffolding that once supported the towering structure was completely gone, you’d never know it was there except for a few concrete markings on the ground. The adjacent stage still remained, albeit looking worse for wear. Large pieces of broken mural were now propped up against the side of the stage and spotting small pieces of the backdrop scattered around the area was a bittersweet game to play – I made it my mission to find every piece possible.

The owners say the Giant Slide strangely vanished awhile back, so they had absolutely nothing to do with its disappearance. In fact, they didn’t mind one bit as it saved them the job of having to pull it apart themselves! So looks like Magic Kingdom’s biggest attraction has been nicked and its current location unknown. How these thieves were actually able to dismantle that massive thing and transport it out of there remains the biggest mystery…

Back in 2013, I was seriously spooked by the old waterslides – the twin half pipes were becoming covered by encroaching grass and vines, which had grown over most of the faded blue half tube pipes. Only the end section of the slide were visible from where I stood, at a safe distance from the murky rectangular shaped pool at the bottom. Tall reeds poked out of the dark, uninviting water and I wasn’t at all keen to get any closer.

The 1st exploration also way too frightened to cross the rickety wooden bridge over the swamp, so never got a decent shot of that other iconic Magic Kingdom attraction – the Big Boot. The Big Boot is a throwback to that nursery rhyme ‘There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.’ It sat large, yet stout on a small island surrounded by palm trees and a rickety wooden bridge. I steered well clear of the tropical themed island and stuck to safe distance shots from the other side of the swamp.

This year, I couldn’t get anywhere near the waterslides due to flooding. Can’t say I was too disappointed not to see those up close again. I managed to get a zoomed shot from across the new lake, which was enough for water-phobic lil’ old me!

The old bridge was now completely underwater, so still no access to the infamous Big Boot – I don’t see how this could be accessed without a boat or raft, really… The land would have to dry up before I ever get up close to it.  The large palm trees were still clustered on the tiny island, giving the horizon an exotic flavour.

The canteen and ticket booth block were still as trashed as I remember, but got some better shots of them now. Looks like a few more wall pieces and cheeky tags have gone up since 2013 too, which just adds to the grungy effect.

Parts of this building still show evidence of fire damage, from a small blaze that occurred prior to 2013. Next door to the decaying canteen/ticket book is an area which looks like was part of the race car track, with overgrown weeds growing through the side walls and bursting out of the cracked cement.

The new family owners actually had no idea about Magic Kingdom or its legacy until I told them about it –  they thought it was just ‘some kind of playground’ and were pretty puzzled about the occasional explorers they catch trekking out around the property. They’d been wondering why anyone would bother coming here in the first place, so at least now they’re aware why others have an interest in their recent purchase.

While the future of Magic Kingdom still remains uncertain, a development proposal is not yet confirmed. Until new plans are approved, I’ll keep on hoping that this offbeat adventure destination could one day return to an enchanted oasis for everyone to enjoy once again.

XO Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Finding Funland Abandoned Amusement Park of Warragamba Dam

Sydney does a lot of things well – but sadly, we don’t have a good track record at running amusement parks. Out of all the old attractions of yesteryear, today only Luna Park still stands. It seems our original adventure destinations are cursed – while the new localised version of Queensland’s Wet ‘N’ Wild franchise has been successful so far, it doesn’t have the same sense of quaint charm and we can’t exactly claim it as our own idea!

Although Australia’s Wonderland is hands down the most well known of all our lost theme parks, scattered around Sydney are the remains of other forgotten ‘fun lands’ that weren’t as iconic – some forgotten smaller playgrounds still survive, left abandoned and allowed to return to nature over the decades. While more modest fair-style rides than rollercoasters, they’re definitely still exciting (and sometimes scary!) to explore…

I accidentally discovered ‘Funland’ when visiting Warragamba Dam. Just a generation ago, visiting this impressive man-made structure was a popular picnic spot for families and on the weekends you can walk across the wide concrete dam wall. Only about 1 hour from the CBD, I was curious to check out Sydney’s primary water reservoir for myself and play tourist in my own city. Little did I know that by going out to Warragamba, would get two adventures in one daytrip!

Unfortunately am not known for my early starts, so arrived too late to walk across the dam wall and see the full wide span of this impressive structure which was slightly disappointing. But it was still really enjoyable to see the huge Lake Burragorang and learn that it was named after the town that was flooded to create it! The river system that runs through the valleys surrounding the lost town of Burragorang are said to feel a little bit like Kakadu, however this entire area is now a no-go zone and highly patrolled by the Sydney Water Catchment Authority. Despite the tight government-run ship, visiting the dam that supplies our city’s clean drinking water and the well-kept picnic garden surrounds was both informative and enjoyable.

Warragamba village on a late Sunday afternoon is pretty much all shut, but walking around the loop-shaped town centre set on a large communal park roundabout is still a pleasant stroll. There’s lots of original retro signage and structures from a bygone era, which are fun to spot. It’s a shame that several town shops have closed down now, with vacancy and for lease ads in a fair few windows. It makes me wonder about the long term sustainable future of the town, now that it’s all it’s main attractions are long gone…

The sleepy town of Warragamba was a really enjoyable day trip. It’s well worth heading out there to see the dam, have a picnic and appreciate the slow pace of this cute little village that’s relatively close to Sydney and an easy day trip, if you have a car at least!

The little known wonder that is ‘Funland’ appeared unexpectedly – a glint of the red train carriage appeared like a mirage in front of me as I exited the Warragamba Dam complex. Pulling the Alfa over immediately by the roadside, I did a slow, obvious lap of the perimeter. The rural area of overgrown bushland was clearly hiding a diamond in its rough exterior.

I found an easy entrance to the property and while slipping through, several cars driving down the road slow down slightly at the sight of my bright red car by the country roadside. It doesn’t bother me being spotted, because if anything untoward should happen to me out in the wilderness they might remember me and be a key witness 😉

After a few metres of thick bush and black burnt-out mounds, it’s obvious that squatters were once here. From the looks of things, their camp hadn’t been inhabited for some time and they probably had some sort of power generator source, because of the electrical equipment.

It never ceases to amaze me how grubby squats can get. Just because you’ve gone bush is no excuse for such a slovenly campsite, c’mon, guys! Seriously, this place could still be cute if someone tried to clear it up a bit…

Further into the field, I came across this clapped out old ute and squealed with joy – the Datsun ute is one of my favourite dream rides! Unfortunately this once sunny yellow Datsun is now owned by the vines, but he must’ve once been a beauty. Not sure about the age of the old cash register in the driver’s seat, so unsure if it was used during the park’s operational days.

Dotted all around the property are the remains of rusty old rides like merry go rounds, swing sets and a small ferris wheel. It’s hard to tell what some of the rides originally were and am unable to find any photos online of Funland open back in the 70s, so not quite sure what they all once were. Needless to say, none would be safe to play on or anywhere near today!

Unfortunately not much exists about Funland online, so there’s precious little about its history that I can tell you. Have read on internet forum chat that the park originally launched as ‘Funland’ in the early 70s and later changed its name to ‘Adventureland’ or ‘Amusementland’. The venue went out of business around the late 70s, likely due to the greater commercial success of nearby African Lion Safari and Bullens Animal World.

As this modest amusement park hasn’t been as well documented as others of its era, it looks like Funland was one of the earlier casualties of Sydney’s dying adventure attractions. It simply wasn’t open long enough for many people to have visited it and made memories there, plus can’t have been as exciting as the nearby commercialised African Lion Safari and other exotic creatures at Bullen’s Animal World.

Another reason why Funland isn’t well known might be its close proximity to the African Lion Safari park. It’s actually on the same block of land as the Bullens brothers owned commercially advertised attraction, so it could easily be mistaken for being part of it – in fact, when I found Funland I spent my whole exploration believing it actually was African Lion Safari and sang the catchy theme song to myself the whole time, to take my mind off the constant fear of snakes & wasps!

It wasn’t until researching later that I learnt this was actually the even more mysterious Funland. This unexpected twist is just another reason why exploring gets under my skin…sites seen and photos snapped can take on new meaning and reveal information about a place later on. Even after visiting a place, it can still manage to surprise me. Sometimes don’t have a clue what I’m even looking at, especially rusted and disintegrating man-made objects that have so beautifully been returned to bush.

Nature has now claimed Funland as its own and Sydney’s idea of adventure has certainly evolved in the 21st century – but for us underground urbex oddballs, our old abandoned amusement parks are still the ultimate in entertainment for the big kid within.

XO

Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Behind Abandoned Balmain Tigers Leagues Club – Derelict Rozelle development

A sad state of affairs for both Balmain Tigers & the inner west Sydney community

Who doesn’t want the Balmain Tigers to return to their spiritual home in Rozelle, right? The financially-strapped club is on the brink of collapse and the Tigers are adamant they can’t survive much longer without reopening the leagues club. Having already suffered the shame of merging with Wests in 1999, saying goodbye to this foundation footy team for good would be a great loss for Sydneysiders. So Leichhardt Council and site developer Rozelle Village – for the love of rugby league and the good of the inner west community, can you two please just compromise?

The abandoned iconic Victoria Rd venue has been officially vacant since 2010, after the Tigers received notice to vacate to make way for the new NSW Government metro transport project. Since then, those plans was scrapped and the cash-strapped club infamously sold the property for $1.00 (yep, one dollar) to the Rozelle Village developers. In exchange for this deal they agreed to help with the Tigers’ $23 million debt, build them a brand new clubhouse within a new development and provide ongoing financial assistance to the ailing business. Over the years Rozelle Village has purchased several properties sandwiched between the club and carpark, in their efforts to get the large-scale proposal pushed through. The boarded up buildings and grungy exterior have left the stretch between Darling St and the Bridge Hotel looking increasingly bleak.

Since the site’s closure, neither the Council or the developers have been able to reach an agreement on the proposed scale of the new project, which was to become an ambitious combined residential, commercial and entertainment precinct.  The abandoned building is now completely derelict – an infamous urban wasteland (read: urbex explorer wonderland) thoroughly vandalised by local youths, stripped by thieves and on occasion housed by the odd group of squatters. It’s become a popular underground spot for the Sydney art scene, with several pieces from well known street artists appearing on the carpark walls.

Although I always see beauty in the abandoned,  even I’ll admit that this place has become an eyesore on the horizon of Darling St Rozelle. The row of tagged up buildings acquired by the developer look well out of place with the rest of the quaint suburb. Quite frankly, it’s not out of order to say this situation has been an ongoing insult to the fine heritage of both the Balmain Tigers Club and the whole inner west side.

While I’ve enjoyed exploring and photographing this notorious secret Sydney spot a few times now, I hope this situation is resolved so the Balmain Tigers can come home before they’re forced to call it quits. It’s a shame a place tied to Sydney’s heritage allowed to deteriorate like this. It would be incredibly sad if Sydney lost another of our historic rugby league clubs to the history books…

Leichhardt Council VS Rozelle Village – the lowdown

The ongoing saga has been rumoured to be a dodgy development deal, with whispers of corporate fat cat corruption involved in the approval of the building’s sale. This fateful decision has allowed Rozelle Village to take control of the property and plan construction of two gigantic skyscrapers – so huge at one point that Airservices Australia warned they would encroach onto Sydney’s airspace! Leichhardt Council claims the structure will overshadow the low-rise heritage inner west area and is against community interest. It’s demanding the towers be reduced to a height that Rozelle Village claims will make the project unable to turn a profit.

This seemingly neverending status quo has left the once mighty Tigers in a frustrating and vulnerable state of legal limbo since then. After the latest public mediation hearing held at Rozelle Village’s offices in December 2015 failed to reach an agreement on the issue, the Tigers have now well and truly missed the deadline for their contractual agreement with Rozelle Village. This clause which officially expired on 29th November gave the club first rights as leaseholder of the new site, plus a discounted rate on rent.

As the developer is no longer under any legal obligation to the Tigers, This failure to pass a decision on the latest proposal has left club in very precarious position, because if they’re booted out of the building they have literally zero funds to lease a premises elsewhere. With no power against these competing community VS commercial interests, the Tigers are essentially a financially weak and contractually helpless animal at the mercy of bureaucracy. Rozelle Village developer Ian Wright says “We’ve made no secret that we’re going to sell [the site]…if we sell it to someone after November 29, that buyer has no obligation at all to the Balmain Leagues Club.”

In 2015 Rozelle Village escalated an appeal to the NSW Land & Environment Court, requesting it determine the case. In an game of legal-style jinx, Leichhardt Council has retaliated by also requesting a hearing with same court, insisting the current commercial zoning laws be changed to protect Balmain’s heritage character. This grudge match is now set to be refereed by an impartial, but possibly locally unsympathetic 3rd party.

Wright insists the development has been compromised enough, having already reduced the original plan for two formidable 32 and 28 storey buildings down to 12 and 8 storeys. He says the current 2015 proposal complies with NSW Planning and Environment Department zoning laws set in place since 2008, which at that time were Council approved.  Wright says after the latest proposal rejection he “can’t see any way now that the Balmain Leagues Club can return to that site..if the Tigers do not survive the journey, it will be Council with blood on their hands.”

But Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne is confident the current laws are in breach of local community interest and wants the site rezoned. He is adamant Council will refuse to pass any deal with Rozelle Village that doesn’t guarantee the Tigers will return to the new development and be financially viable at a maximum of 8 and 6 levels high. Byrne says “the whole premise of this rezoning, since 2008 when council first approved it, is that the Balmain Leagues Club would have a new home in the redevelopment…after recent public statements that they ‘can’t see any way now that the Balmain Leagues Club can return to that site’, the developer has again failed to provide certainty that the Tigers will have a home in Rozelle.”

With Wright and Byrne both publicly pointing the finger at each other for destroying the Tigers’ chances of getting back in the building, the bickering between them seems increasingly personal – Wright even recently threatening to sue Byrne over statements made that he says are defamatory and suggest he’s acting outside of the law.

The only thing both sides say they agree on is they want the Balmain Tigers to stay on home soil – but after years spent watching the old Tigers left to suffer for too long like a wounded beast, it’s fair to say both Rozelle Village and Leichhardt Council lack good sportsmanship and gotta start playing fair. It’s just not cricket, boys…

 

 

The Balmain Tigers Club Board has called out Leichhardt Council for being inconsiderate of the commercial realities and untenable situation the club’s facing, by not taking into account the vast profits both the club and developer have lost due to years of unexpected closure. In a 2015 press release Club Chairman Dr Leslie Glen criticises the Council’s stalling tactics, which he says have been a waste of tax payers’ money.

Dr Glen has warned that Council’s refusal to pass the latest development plan by November 2015 will mean the club is likely be forced into volunteer administration -He argues: “How can Council justify a proposal to scale down this site, when every other site is Sydney is being developed to accommodate the growing needs of the community?”

So it seems that unless some Russell Crowe-type tycoon randomly decides to swoop in and save the day, the club is in very serious trouble indeed…

Adventure time – Tigers style

It’s known in Sydney’s underground urbex scene that this place has security surveillance in operation – but I’ve chanced it during the mid-afternoon several times now with no problems, providing there’s a good gap in the fence to slide through. Technically, I’ve never seen any signage dissuading people from entering the property and as a lifelong inner west resident, I feel it’s my civic duty to investigate this one!

Teenagers from local Balmain High School can be found here, identifiable by their black & white uniform, plus young budding creatives who take advantage of the space for various art projects. They’re harmless enough and usually scatter like shy cubs once they spot a strange girl on the scene – preferring to play amongst themselves while pretending not to pay me much notice, apart from giving a few little grunts in my general direction.

The dim entrance to the dark underground carpark levels looks gloomy, but once inside the lair bright colours splashed on the walls by spraypainters sets a vibrant tone to the large multilevel space. The floors are littered with rotting moudly mattresses, piles of rotting garbage and in some areas the stale scent of urine pervades one’s nostrils.

The expansive interior of the main entertainment room is dark and cool compared to the scorching Sydney summer heat outside. The building has been completely stripped of valuable copper by opportunistic thieves, leaving the discarded electrical wiring dangling from the ceiling. Masses of cords hang like thin vines which I dodge in the dim light, squealing whenever one scrapes against my skin.

An audible hum from the outside traffic on busy Victoria Rd is a soothing backdrop, reminding me that civilisation is still close by. Glass from the many smashed windows crunches underneath my Doc Martens as I creep around the room surveying the scene. The building is seriously leaking – water drips from the roof and the carpet squelches with every step. Evidence of water damage is clearly visible in the main ballroom, the waterlogged floorboards have buckled and feel wavy to walk on.

Litter is strewn all over the floor and any furniture not bolted down has been upended, giving the room an apocalyptic vibe. The space is so trashed it’s hard to imagine this was once an okay place to grab some drinks, eat a steak and catch a local entertainment act.

Final thoughts:

While I’m an advocate for the preservation of our heritage suburbs and protecting community interests, to come at the cost of killing off our beloved Balmain Tigers is a blatant act of animal cruelty.It’s hard to believe that either Leichhardt Council or the inner west community could prefer this decaying sight over a 12 and 8 storey construction. Considering everyone seems to agree that the current building is a blight on Balmain, it stands to reason that the current development proposal would be a considerable improvement of its current sorry state.

While the current proposed towers would still alter the current low rise landscape, new apartments, club, shopfronts and underground parking would provide inner west Sydney residents with a modern new residential, entertainment and business precinct. The recent huge success of nearby Harris Farm and Salt Meats & Cheese development in Drummoyne should stand as an example of what the Balmain and Rozelle suburbs could benefit from. Business at the glitzy new Harris Farm has been booming and this proposal almost didn’t go ahead, due to local objections.

I could never support a redevelopment that would destruct Sydney’s heritage buildings, or threaten our native wildlife. However, there’s something to be said for updating disused sections of the Victoria Rd strip – capitalising on the 50s era building of the leagues club building and creating even more of these combined residential/business hubs would ultimately benefit the whole inner west community, providing our city continues to accommodate the increased urban density by improving public transport services.

With neighbouring iconic Rozelle Markets sadly ending its longterm presence at nearby Rozelle Public School in January 2016, this stretch of road could do with some much-needed cheering up. I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate the suburb and than by bringing the Balmain Tigers back to their rightful home and keep them in the competition.

xo Gia