EXPLORING SYDNEY: A Trip to Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum – Gladesville Hospital History Tour

Hey History Hunters 🤠

On today’s “Bushwalk Back In Time” mini-documentary we visit the magnificent former Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, now called Gladesville Hospital in Sydney.

Learn the history behind Australia’s 1st purpose-built mental facility & go on a virtual journey together, to discover the stories behind this fascinating place.

🌏 ❤️ ♻️ Gia

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EXPLORING SYDNEY: Gone to Garrawarra – The secret cemetery of forgotten souls from Waterfall Hospital – History Tour

On today’s trip we discover the history behind Sydney’s fight against the deadly infectious disease Tuberculosis in the early 1900s.

Revisit the old abandoned Waterfall hospital (now named Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care) and see the remains of Garrawarra cemetery, where those who succumbed to the sickness called “consumption” were laid to rest and eventually forgotten.

This latest edition of our “Bushwalk Back In Time series is slightly sombre, but super special 🖤

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Abandoned Inner West Gaol Exploration – The hidden history of Yasmar House, Haberfield

It’s safe to say that a fair few criminals have escaped from Aussie prisons over the years. But I reckon breaking into a gaol isn’t nearly as common – so the opportunity to check out a magnificent 19th century colonial estate hidden behind the walls of an abandoned juvenile gaol was way too tempting for this sneaky (and not always law abiding) explorer 😉

Blink and you’d easily miss this historic landmark while driving down Parramatta Rd, Australia’s oldest and most commercialised street. Built Circa 1850, Haberfield’s heritage listed Yasmar estate sits well hidden behind a huge wall of greenery, sandstone gates and high wire fencing. Many Sydneysiders are unaware of its existence, or usually remember Yasmar for being a juvenile detention centre – but this colonial era estate is of great historic importance to our community and deserves to be promoted as a proper tourist attraction.
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Yasmar Estate was one of several grand manors owned by the well known Ramsey family. The Ramseys were highly influential in the colonial settlement and development of the suburb Haberfield, now known as the centre of Italian community in Sydney’s inner west. Haberfield’s main high street Ramsey Rd is well known for its authentic Italian culture, cuisine and of course coffee!

Back in the 1800s…

Several grand Italianate style villas were built by various members of the Ramsay clan in the region, but Yasmar House is the only one that still survives today. Yasmar (Ramsay spelt backward!) is a rare example of Sydney’s surviving grand colonial estates.

Yasmar House – a unique colonial Sydney site

Yasmar was commissioned to build in 1856 and was designed in the popular Georgian-inspired style by architect John Bibb, who went on to take over the architectural practice of John Verge – best known for designing Elizabeth Bay House and Tempe House. What makes Yasmar estate so unique is that unlike Sydney’s other surviving grand villas, this one hasn’t lost its spectacular surrounding gardens of the Georgian ‘Gardenesque’ era. This was a time when gardens reflected the ambitions and wealth of their owners. An appreciation of quality landscaping and horticulture was a hallmark of Gardenesque design –  The Georgians favoured symmetrical fronted sandstone houses, surrounded by sprawling gardens to explore and entertain in.  Rows of tall trees and shrubs around the property provided ultimate privacy. The Georgian landscaping concept was that the estate should emerge gradually through the greenery and that gardens were a source of beauty, relaxation and novelty.

Yasmar’s secret gardens are a spectacular example of Georgian landscaping – the site contains many rare species of fauna and is known as an important site for Australian botanists today. While some of its gardens were sacrificed to build the detention centre, behind the walls many exotic plants indigenous to the interstate regions still flourish. Most of these varieties are rare species from up North Queensland way, due to the fact that three Ramsay brothers moved up to the northern end of Australia to start a sugar plantation.

Brother Edward Ramsay was an active member of the Royal Horticultural Society of NSW and he was responsible for planting such a diverse range of trees at Yasmar, including many species rarely found in private gardens. Being a zoologist, bird expert and enthusiastic horticulturalist, it seems Edward was a bit like a David Attenborough of his time!

Edward went on to become curator at the Australian Museum and his huge influence on both Yasmar and Australian biology is still evident today – His vast collections of Australian flora and fauna are a key part of the museum’s permanent collections on proud display.

It’s thought that Yasmar may have been the site of Australia’s first privately owned swimming pool – a sunken, tiled area of the garden was uncovered during construction of the detention centre in the 50s. There has been debate as to whether or not this site was once a pool or some kind of water feature, but it’s agreed by historians that this archealogical find in the garden is significant. While the ‘pool’ has now been lost due to the overgrowth, have managed to find a photo of it in the 90s as shown below:

Haberfield History 101

Before Sydney’s colonisation in 1788, the Haberfield region was inhabited by the Aboriginal Cadigal clan. By the early 19th century, most of the Cadigal’s population was sadly decimated by the introduction of European diseases like smallpox and displacement from the harbour which they relied upon as their main food source. In 1803 Nicholas Bayly (1770–1823) received the first official land grant and called it ‘Sunning Hill Farm’ – there’s conflicting reports between local historians about whether or not this is how nearby suburb Summer Hill got it’s name, but that’s another story…

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Ex-convict turned property Tycoon Simeon Lord – owner of Dobroyde Estate

Bayly owned Sunning Hill Farm for only a short time, selling the farm to ex-convict turned Sydney ‘new money’ property tycoon Simeon Lord around 1806 – who renamed the homestead Dobroyde after his family’s castle in Lancashire. Lord’s wealth was so vast that it’s doubtful he ever actually lived in the property himself.

In 1825, he gave the land to his daughter Sarah Ann and her husband Dr David Ramsay as their wedding gift. A shrewd businessman, he put a clever caveat on his present that the ownership deed to Dobroyde stay in the Lord family until the death of both parents.

Despite Lord’s technical ownership over the area, the newly married Ramsays settled down at Dobroyde and became known as a prominent, powerful family. Devoutly religious, they went on to have ten children. They were widely recognised for their active involvement in the local church community – several Haberfield landmarks are namesakes of the Ramsey family, including St David’s Presbyterian Church, Ramsey High St and Dobroyde Parade. After David Ramsay’s death in 1860, he was buried at Dobroyde and Sarah Ann ensured the inheritance was divided up between their ten children.

Dobroyde: the Yasmar years

When David & Sarah Ann’s daughter Mary Louisa married Alexander Learmonth, they gifted their daughter and new son in law a plot of land. Mary Louisa and Alexander used it to build a house and Alexander named their newly erected marital home ‘Yasmar’ (Ramsay spelt backward) in honour of his father in law David Ramsay, who he was known to be very fond of. Inspired by his late father in law, Learmonth later went on to become 1st Superintendent of the local Sunday school and Mary Louisa used Yasmar’s barn and horse stables to teach classes there, until the school was moved to her late father’s adjacent namesake church St David’s, due to popularity. After Alexander died in 1877, Mary Louisa continued to live at Yasmar for some time, eventually moving to Concord with their unmarried daughter Mary, until her death in 1904.

Yasmar: The Grace Bros years

Single and living in Concord, the widowed and unmarried Learmonth ladies eventually sold off Yasmar to fellow parishoner and devout Presbyterian Albert Edward Grace who, with his brother Joseph Neal went on to start Australia’s most iconic department store Grace Bros. The famous Grace brothers made various renovations to Yasmar, upgrading it from Georgian to Edwardian-inspired. They added decorative features including stained glass and grand cedar double entry doors. Legend has it that Yasmar was even featured in a 1920s Grace Bros department store catalogue, though it’s not known if any copies still exist today – perhaps forgotten in someone’s attic to one day be rediscovered (!).

Yasmar – The ‘Gypsy’ Era

The Grace Bros were committed Presbyterians, so when Joseph married fellow parishioner Sarah Selina Smith in 1911, ownership of Yasmar was transferred over to her. Smith, who went by  the name ‘Gypsy’ and husband Joseph were both enthusiastic gardeners and were known to spend much of their free time enjoying Yasmar’s grand, maturing gardens.

When Gypsy Grace passed away with no next of kin, Yasmar and its expansive grounds became abandoned. The expansive area became known as ‘Ramsay’s Bush’ – overgrown and unkempt, local legend has it that the abandoned area attracted camps of (actual) gypsies and vagrants, which was said to have caused safety concerns within the community at the time.

Haberfield is Born: Garden City movement

Because Haberfield was founded in 1901, it’s become known as Sydney’s 1st Federation suburb. Today, strict council laws are in place to protect its many original single storey bungalows, traditional terracotta/slate tiles and heritage house colours. The area has retained a real quaint sense of village culture, due to its popularity with families and the many older generations of Italians who immigrated to this tight-knit working class community during the 50s & 60s.

The design of Haberfield suburb was inspired by a progressive European urban planning strategy called ‘greenbelt’ towns. This vision known as the ‘Garden City’ movement was (and still is!) a popular socialist ideal to create a balance of residential living alongside commercial and agricultural industries in large cities. Garden City architects saw that capital cities were sorely lacking in clean country air and public gardens. They realised overcrowding was causing disease and death, so promoted parks as being essential for a well functioning city for both health and recreational reasons.

In the late 1890s, Sydney real estate businessman Richard Stanton was inspired by the Garden City ideals. He saw that overcrowded Sydney town had recently suffered outbreaks of bubonic plague in nearby Ashfield and inner city and the urban town would benefit from a similar style Garden suburb. He purchased part of the subdivided Ramsey’s Bush area and began executing vision of a perfect suburb he called Haberfield –

Stanton immediately started development of the overgrown, rural fields into an orderly, clean living and aesthetically pleasing suburb. In the same spirit as the religious Ramseys, he declared Haberfield be created “slumless, publesss and alleyless” to promote a family friendly feel – a safe, suburban oasis a few kilometres away from the scandal of Sydney town’s debauchary and disease-ridden inner city. In fact, to this day there has never been a pub in Haberfield – so it seems this teetotaller influence is still strong enough in the suburb today to prevent any pubs from opening up here ! All trade remains very family-friendly and Italian-inspired.

For more information on the history of Yasmar and Haberfield, do check out this PDF  the NSW Crown Land has released for historic record.

Yasmar – Detention Centre era

After the NSW Government acquired the deceased estate of Yasmar in the 1950s, it was used as a Children’s Home for delinquents and wayward youths. In the late 70s-early 80s it was renovated and from 1981 until 1994 it operated as a Children’s Court and juvenile detention centre.  Fortunately, the architects worked with NSW Heritage Office and the National Trust to ensure the gaol facilities were designed to complement the gardens and not obstruct the main house.

The main house was turned into the magistrate’s court room to retain a sense of majesty and most of the overgrown gardens were sacrificed to make way for the prison blocks. The low rise, single storey blocks were built with light brown bricks and a muted blue/green colour scheme, which effectively conceals the gaol behind the surrounding greenery.

Note in the exploration photos of the prison buildings below, the gaol block name ‘Waratah’ which is inspired by the local indigenous plant, which is a nice touch.

 Pretty Pathways ❤

Beyond the grand sandstone pillars lies a grand pathway, which accommodated for wide horsedrawn carriages. Although today this path appears to lead straight up to the estate, it was actually once circular shaped, looping up to the main house and barn which sits in the back left corner of the sprawling property. The loop shape has now been lost, due to the more modern gaol buildings.

The gardens are now maintained by a small team of dedicated caretakers and local interest groups, who do a wonderful job of maintaining the grounds and deserve recognition for their tireless efforts to keep Yasmar Estate looking elegant! These volunteers are a true asset to Sydney’s community – it’s thanks to people like this that Yasmar’s magnificent gardens have not fallen into total disrepair. The towering Bunya pines have been allowed to grow to maturity and overshadow the gaol, making it feel like walking through Jurassic Park or some private school property 😉

 Main House

The ornate cast iron on the verandah was orignally sourced from the same factory as iconic Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta. The house appears to be well preserved and maintained from the neat exterior surroundings, though it’s rumoured that inside has been damaged by water leaks and termite infestations. Unfortunately all windows and doors were securely boarded up, so it was impossible to sneak inside and see any further in the house.

Barn & Stables –  Sarah Ann’s Sunday School

The quaint barn and stablehouse are sandwiched between the far back corner boundary fence and the local public school. These well preserved buildings originally once housed horses and other farm animals – this is where Sarah Ann Ramsay held her Sunday school classes.

The disused barn and stables are now just a storage space and a spot to park cars. Apparently it was restored in recent years and although it’s kept securely locked up now, would love to have a peek through those big barn doors, to see what original features are still exist inside…imagining there’s a cute old horse carriage in there 😉

Juvie Gaol

While creeping vines try to take over the walls, recent pruning has kept them looking neat and tidy. Doing a lap of the prison perimeter feels a lot like circling the raptor pen in Jurassic Park  – looking through the thick plastic peepholes in doors and gaps in the formidable metal gates, I almost expect there to be a cold, reptilian eye staring straight back ! Instead, only see more pathways and catch a glimpse of a modest recreational area with basketball court and outdoor seating area, which look to be firmly fixed to the ground to prevent any escape attempts.

Yasmar’s uncertain future

SO what will become of Yasmar’s grand gardens? Well, luckily Yasmar is protected by a heritage listing, so it’s in reasonably safe hands for now.

In recent years it’s been proposed that parts of Yasmar be turned into a horticulturalist centre and plant nursery, to harvest these rare species and put the profits put back into Yasmar’s ongoing maintenance, which would be great to see happen.

The downside is that save for the rare open day, the NSW Government refuses reopen Yasmar’s doors to the public – which is a real shame, as Sydneysiders would greatly benefit from having access a much needed public garden and heritage tourist attraction along the urban stretch of Parramatta Rd. It  seems pretty silly, when it could easily be marketed as a great offbeat tourist attraction,  much like Old Melbourne Gaol is for lucky Victorians! If there’s one thing Parramatta Rd could do with, it’s more walking trade along the strip – It’s so sad seeing long stretches of sad looking derelict federation-era shopfronts and whole blocks of houses knocked down to make way for the new Westconnex motorway.

With Westconnex’s recent destruction to many of Haberfield’s important heritage buildings, it feels like now more than ever it would be great to give Yasmar back to Sydney. Fingers crossed this unique example of Sydney colonial architecture will continue to be preserved and not just become another stretch of highway.

XO Gia

EXPLORING SYDNEY: Crater Cove Hippie Huts – Hidden history of the Northern Beaches

An unmarked section along the Manly to Spit Bridge walk is the hidden pathway to an abandoned oasis.

Standing at Davey Point lookout you can get a good vantage point of a few – squint and you’ll see them on the very edge of the clifftops below Balgowlah Heights. This cluster visible on the northern side of are known are the ‘Mens’ huts and even at a distance, these cute structures clearly have multimillion dollar views of Sydney.

Now part of Sydney Harbour National Park, the Crater Cove huts date back to the depression era. Fisherman built the original structures in the 1920s to serve as temporary weekend shelters, while trying to catch food off the flat rock ledges underneath. In the 1960s,a group of free-spirited hippies set up permanent camp in the existing shacks and built several more. Here they lived a relaxed lifestyle, secluded from the rest of the rat race – until the 1980s, when the Government made it illegal to live on national parkland and kicked them out. The hippies were forced to leave their idyllic colony and the huts have remained abandoned and undisturbed for almost 30 years.

To get down to Crater Cove is pretty tricky – while the path isn’t difficult for the novice hiker, finding the right cutting between the trees isn’t exactly easy. The unmarked turnoff to take is mainly known only to bushwalkers, history enthusiasts and among local northern beaches circles. It has a deserved reputation as a sort-of secret walking trail which leads to an unspoilt paradise that most Sydneysiders are completely unaware of.

After heading down the right turnoff for a few metres the well-worn ground widens, creating a tunnel through the bush that’s surprisingly easy,  although adults would still have to duck in places to dodge branches that protrude through. This pleasant bushwalk takes about 15mins, winding down the steep hilltops, dense shrubland and overlooks some great views of Sydney Harbour from unusual angles. In some photos you can even spot a ferry or two in the background!

The whole area is protected by the National Parks & Wildlife Services (NPWS) and a group of volunteer caretakers, who are vigilant about ensuring the huts and native ecosystem is conserved. This is definitely not the kind of abandoned site where people go to paint, tag and trash  – Crater Cove is part of  Sydney’s heritage and it’s important to our history that this place remain intact.

For that reason, it’s never been publicised as a tourist attraction and park rangers visit regularly to monitor the site. It’s hard to believe anybody could come here and not be moved by its beauty. While the NPWS is notoriously overprotective of the huts, perhaps keeping quiet about this private paradise is what’s kept it so well preserved.

When the hippies were evicted most of them simply shut the doors and left, taking few belongings with them. Many items are still in their original place, making it seem that perhaps they hoped to one day come back. In fact, the huts feel less abandoned and more like loved homes.

Unfortunately, all the huts are securely boarded up now…likely to prevent opportunistic people setting up there overnight or stealing any artefacts inside! While the interior is a no-go, you can still peek through the some uncovered windows and still spot many perfectly preserved signs of the quaint life these hippies enjoyed.

All seven huts were handmade using natural and recycled materials found in the local northern beaches region, except a few sheets of corrugated iron used for the roofing. The combination of stone & wood feels quaint, yet cool. I can imagine many hipsters today would be envious of this authentic 60s hippy existence, bar the lack of wifi connection 😉

The native vegetation is really eye-catching and many  coastal species can be spotted that I’ve never seen around the inner west! There’s also an abundance of Eastern water dragons – while the lizards seemed very curious and approachable, I steered clear of them because I imagine they can deliver a pretty nasty bite!

The Crater Cove crew were clearly an ingenious bunch. They practiced sustainable farming and did their best to avoid leaving their tiny community. Their crafty setup is impressive in its simplicity, use of space and recycled materials. In steep spots, the cliff’s natural sandstone has been hand carved into stairs. Rocks were ingeniously used to create a canal system, allowing rain to flow down the steep hillside to prevent waterlogging. Slats of wood have been placed across as a makeshift bridge. A wooden seat built into the rock ledge is the perfect place to sit and admire the amazing surrounds. The guttering of one hut funnels rainwater into a tank below, maximising fresh water supply. Old bottles laid with cement create windows that must make an awesome green & gold leadlight effect. Recycled doors give an enchanting feel to the huts’ entrances, while also providing a source of ample indoor light.

From all the evidence that remains, it’s obvious that these guys weren’t a group of crazy ferals – they were bloody clever and very house proud! With sound knowledge on horticulture and off-grid living, the hippies had their own homemade oasis away from the rest of civilisation.

It’s easy to see why the people who sustained this colony for over two decades tried so desperately to stay. They took their case to stay at Crater Cove right up to the High Court, Australia’s top legal authority, but all appeals were rejected. One bloke known as Simon Flynn was said to never be the quite same again after he was kicked out of his beloved home. He moved to Tasmania and reportedly died in recent years, having never returned to visit the huts. Here’s a photo of Simon outside his shack in 1987 – note the solar panels installed on his roof(!)

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Crater Cove – Simon Flynn outside his hut (1987) Pic sourced from: http://pacific-edge.info/2007/08/hidden-path-to-a-coves-history/

final thoughts

I find the Crater Cove colony so inspiring. The idyllic lifestyle and tight-knit community they must’ve enjoyed while overlooking the rest of the rat race is enviable. The experience of exploring this hidden paradise in the heart of Sydney felt like being the little girl in children’s classic The Secret Garden – or maybe Leo Di Caprio’s cute French crush from that movie The Beach.

There’s a lot we can learn from the hippies – not just about horticulture and self-sufficient ways, but also the sense of peace that can be found in a slower pace and happiness in the simple life.  It’s great that our national parks are available for everyone to enjoy – thankfully historic sites like Crater Cove have been well preserved, allowing people to enjoy this spot and take inspiration from it for many years to come.

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