Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Origins of Darling Street

Everyone knows Balmain's Darling Street. It is the main life-line to and from the peninsular and is the most important and central road in the area. In this week's blog, we will explore the origins of Balmain's most important street.

The first land sale in Balmain took place in 1836. At that time, just 3 streets were marked on the peninsular - Nicholson St, Johnston St and Darling St. (a fifty foot dirt track leading from Balmain Road to where the wharf now stands). The origins of the dirt road that became Darling Street, was originally used as a thoroug fare by off duty soldiers from the prison on Cockatoo Island, from Birchgrove to Peacock Point, where they would embark on a ship into Sydney Cove. This worn track brought settlers whom settled, traded and enjoyed the security of the patrolling soldiers in the area.

Originally named after Sir Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales from 1824-1831, Darling Street went through a number of other name changes such as "Great Ferry Road," "Main Ferry Road", and "High Street". Before the trams, there were two Darling Streets in Balmain. From the ferry wharf to Loyalty Square (where the Woolworths now stands) the road was known as Darling Street then it forked at the Unity Hotel into Upper Darling Road - which is the path Darling Street today follows into Rozelle; and Lower Darling Road- what today is now known as Beattie Street.

Early settlers were attracted to settlement on Darling Street because it was "on a lovely elevation which partakes of the genial influence of the north-east winds, and the climate is mild and salubrious" - words like genial and salubrious are lost in today's real estate vocab which would probably read more like: "a rare opportunity to secure a prize piece of land with panoramic coastal views, gently kissed by welcoming north-east winds, and situated in a sunny and clean position. Don't miss this opportunity!"

Wow, times have changed!
Darling Street became one of the most progressive and popular streets in Sydney during the late 19th Century. In 1875, it was aglow with some of Sydney's first gas lamps and the shopping on Darling St was so popular that "you might imagine yourself in the city brilliantly lighted are the shops and stores..." It's popularity continued when trams were installed to carry commuters from the shopping district to the wharf in 1882.

To this day, Darling Street remains the most important street in Balmain. It is home to much of Balmain's history from the first wharf built on the peninsular, to the churches of St. Mary's Anglican and St. Thomas' Anglican to Balmain's first police lock-up at the Balmain Watch House.

A Pictorial History of Balmain to Glebe J.Lawrence & C. Warne 1995
Streets, Lanes and Places 1836-2005 - Balmain Association Inc 1994

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