Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Balmain: Birthplace of the Australian Labor Party

Last Saturday, the NSW Liberal Party trounced Labor in a convincing victory that ended 16 years of Labor rule. Only five seats remain "too close to call" and one of those hotly contested seats is the seat of Balmain. Incumbant Labor member Verity Firth has seen a considerable swing against her and her Party, while her rivals, Leichhardt Mayor Jamie Parker and Liberal candiate James Falk had votes go their way. The State Electorial commision still has the seat as too close to call with 70% of the vote counted.

Since it is a relevant time for political talk, I thought I'd talk about the influence Balmain has had on the Labor Party. Many people know that Balmain has a strong working-class history, but it is also credited as the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party in NSW.
In April 1891, a group of unionised workers, mainly maritime workers and shearers gathered at the Unity Hall in Darling Street and formed the Labor Electoral League adopting the recent constitution of the NSW Trades and Labor Council. This was the first ever meeting of what was to become the Australian Labor Party in NSW. A few months later, "Labor" as their members were calling themselves, won 35 seats in the NSW Assembly to establish themselves as a new governing force within Australian colonial politics.

Over then next 10 years, the universal appeal of leftist political thought grew the popularity of the League - socialists, women suffergists and rural communities all found representation within the Labor Electoral League. In 1901, the year of Federation, the Labor representatives of the four colonies of NSW, QLD, Victoria and South Australia met at the inagural Federational Conference and hastly joined together to form the Australian Labor Party, ready to contest in the first Federal Elections. And the rest is history

Historically, Balmain has been a working-class seat and very safe for Labor; however in recent years a demographic change has led to a rise in the Greens vote, transforming it into a maginal seat. April 2011 will be the 120th Anniversary of the founding of the NSW Labor Party in Balmain but it may very well be a quiet celebration if Verity Firth looses her seat.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mysterious French mansion frozen in time for 100yrs, opens it's doors

In Moulins, France sits a lone house lurking in the shadow of the town's cathedral. An eccentric bachelor by the name of Louis Mantin who was obsessed with death and the passing of time, wrote in his will that the house, known as Maison Mantin, was to open as a museum a century after his death. He died 6 months later in 1905. "He wanted the house to remain unchanged , like a time-capsule for future generations, so they would know how a bourgeois gentleman lived at the turn of the 20th Century" Maud Leyoudec, assistant curator of Maison Mantin told CNN.

Surviving two world wars including a German occupation in the 1940's, the townsfolk of Moulins respected the will and left the Mansion's doors closed for 100 years. Rumours circulated that there were skeletons in side and it became part of the town's lore.

When a house remains untouched for long periods of time, they tend to become decrepit and fall apart. The Maison Mantin was no exception. Mantin's great-niece opened it in 2005, highlighting the urgent need for restoration. "There was woodworm and damp caused by the house not being heated, and many of the elaborate wall coverings were torn," Leyoudec said, "There were insects everywhere in the house - it was really awful."

A team of 30 specialists set to work on the restoration which took over 4 years and cost nearly $5 million. The Mansion, reopened as a museum in October 2010 and displayed many modern comforts for the time including electric lighting, flushing toilets and under-floor heating. It also contained some unique artifacts such as two frogs sword-fighting and a stuffed puffer fish. It is thought that the Maison Mantin is a unique entity, having been the only home of its kind to have been deliberately left in its original state for 100 years - a snapshot of early 20th century life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Balmain Pubs: Dick's Hotel & Exchange Hotel

Dick's Hotel:
Named after publican John Dick who built this pub in 1874, the hotel has stood on the corner of Beattie & Montague Sts for over 140 years with little change. For a brief period between 1886 to 1898, Dick's was also known as "Lean's Hotel" after it's second licensee Jabez Lean. It is known as "the People's Pub" not only for its cozy and conscience lack of bombastic flare, but because of it's history with the Balmain Union movement. Dick's Hotel had a verandah overlooking the street that was the scene of an accident in 1904 when a 7 year old child fell from the balcony and landed onto the road below. She sustained a broken arm and fractured wrist but was treated back to health. The verandah was removed around 1924 but the popular beer garden remains a favourite with the locals.

Exchange Hotel:
Heritage listed for its wonderful architecture, the imposing Exchange Hotel was the last and largest pub to be built in the 1880s. Rising up three levels, the Exchange Hotel, along with Dick's Hotel, were instrumental houses for the Balmain Labours Union that would later develop into today's Australian Labour Party. Politicians and speakers would take advantage of the height of the balconies to address crowds of the Beattie Street Push on the street below. It is unknown when the top balcony of the Exchange Hotel was removed but the balcony at Dick's Hotel was also dismantled. The Exchange Hotel recently underwent a $2 million renovation that restored it's old charm, but gave it a modern feel. The Safari Bar that, in the past, was adorned with hunting busts has now been given a face-lift to look like a 1930s Moroccan gin bar. Today the Exchange remains one of the most iconic buildings on the peninsula.