‘Balmain Favourites’ does just what it says on the tin. A photographic exhibition at the Watch House, featuring the works of David Liddle and Barbara Hamilton, it provides an opportunity to marvel in the peninsula, through the eyes of the people that live there.
For curator Fergus Fricke, the exhibit offers a chance to document the evolution of Balmain from a colourful cross-section of residents featured at their favourite places. “The idea is that we asked people who were participating in the project to [do] a bit about their favourite place that we photographed them in we also asked them to give us a bit about their background,” he says.
The exhibition forms part of an ongoing series recognising Liddle’s The Balmain book. Originally published in 1986, it features photos going back as far as 1979 of the suburb’s people and their working lives. “John Johnson, the violin maker, is still there, but in 25 years most of these people are gone now,” says Fricke.
The National Trust, which maintains the Watch House, felt Liddle’s work to be of great importance in maintaining a pictorial history of Balmain as it constantly evolves.
Along with Fricke, Hamilton and Liddle have their own long-standing history in Balmain, recently voted one of Sydney’s coolest suburbs.
“It’s funny, Balmain was once so bohemian in the 1970s, but it’s matured now – like we have!” Fricke says.
So what do they make of the constant changes and improvements that have lent to Balmain’s gentrification?
“It’s just change,” Hamilton offers with a shrug. “There used to be the boat shed where every artist would hang out, but it was demolished – Council just allows for these buildings to fall down. But walking down the street you don’t necessarily notice these changes, as they keep the character from the front…”
“…And then add 200 square metre extensions to the back of the worker cottages!” Liddle adds.
In spite of these changes, all who live in the Balmain community share a special bond.
“Everyone who lives here has an affiliation. It’s not just a village, it’s a small village,” says Fricke.
Offers Hamilton: “There’s nowhere to park, so everyone just walks around everywhere, so you just bump into everyone.”
Heavy iron doors reveal dark cells, brightly revealing the characters who each bring their own respective piece of Balmain to the canvas. According to Hamilton, both cells and doors are original.
From songstress Holly Throsby to the Town Hall caretaker, the vibrant culture of Balmain is perfectly housed in the surrounds of the Watch House documenting this collective Balmain history.
“This is a guy who lives in the housing commission with his dog … he grows beautiful sunflowers and plays guitar,” Fricke explains. With a waterfront view stretched out before him, the man in question puts it simply in his own words: “It’s bloody paradise living here!”
So, what of their own Balmain favourites?
“The most amazing set of buildings is the Post Office, the Court, and the Town Hall – all quite extraordinary, juxtaposed with the most hideous building in the whole peninsula,” Fricke says with a laugh, referring to the new Telstra building positioned in between.
For Hamilton, meanwhile, the social aspect comes to the fore. “For me it’s the quirky people: unusual beards and hats and habits and dogs,” she says. “I always try and get this shot of people wandering past with their dogs and I always end up only getting their backsides!”
‘Balmain Favourites’ is exhibiting at the Watch House, 179 Darling Street, Balmain, from 11:30am to 3pm on Saturdays until the end of January.
by Mig Caldwell