Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Balmain Power Station

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Balmain Power Station

Balmain Power Station is situated just east of the Iron Cove Bridge which links Balmain/Rozelle and Drummoyne. During the nineteenth century its site was occupied by small cottages and maritime industries.

Electricity reaches the inner west

The Borough of Balmain Electric Lighting Act 1906 enabled the local council to generate power for supply to neighbouring areas. The privately owned Electric Light and Power Supply Corporation (ELPSC) was contracted to build a power station which commenced operation in September 1909. Two years later it was supplying power to the municipalities of Leichhardt, Ashfield, Newtown and Petersham. In 1957, the ELPSC was acquired by the Electricity Commission of New South Wales (later Elcom) and the inner-west power supply was transferred to the Sydney County Council.

Two Balmain Power Stations

The first Balmain Power Station, completed in 1930, was constructed of timber, brick and iron. It was close to the waterfront, to the east of Margaret Street and adjoining the Elliott Brothers (later Monsanto) chemical works. It included a large incinerator for burning the city's garbage, the heat from which generated electricity. A conveyor originally supplied coal to the site from waterfront barges, but this was replaced by road haulage in 1965.

Construction of the second, much larger Balmain Power Station began in 1946 and was completed in 1956 with the addition of a 25-megawatt turbo alternator. The power station was a steel-framed structure clad in reinforced concrete, and was the last built in the city, as newer stations were constructed closer to the coalfields.

By 1976, larger powerhouses supplied the state with electricity and Balmain Power Station was decommissioned. The abandoned rusting complex stood on the shore until 1989, when Elcom commissioned a heritage assessment of its two Balmain assets. The assessment recommended the retention of White Bay Power Station, but only part of Balmain Power Station, including the pump house on the waterfront (built in 1934) and the switch house (1932).

Residential development takes over the waterfront

By the 1990s, Balmain had shed its working-class character, and new housing was in demand. Property values, especially on the foreshore, were escalating. In 1991, draft local environmental plans before council included Balmain Power Station as one of six former industrial sites proposed for redevelopment. One of the peninsula's most visible – and derelict – industrial landmarks sat on four hectares of land with 340 metres of water frontage.

After five years of planning, and despite objections and community protest, in August 1998, Pacific Power sold the land to Australand who proposed to build a series of medium-density apartment blocks with staggered height limits. These adjoined Balmain Cove, the Walker Corporation townhouse development on the old Monsanto chemical works site which was nearing completion at the end of 1999. The sale also deprived nearby Cockatoo Island of its only shore access for large vehicles.

By 2008, waterfront apartments occupied the former industrial site. Balmain Shores consists of 460 apartments and townhouses, most set back from the waterfront, with about 2.3 hectares of open space. The development includes a foreshore walk which links King George Park on the western side of Iron Cove Bridge and the Balmain Cove apartment complex.

Joggers, cyclists and dog walkers now pass the pump house, a small brick building on the water's edge that has been refurbished with interpretive signage and is the sole reminder of the industrial monolith that once dominated this landscape.


Leichhardt Municipal Council, 'Development control Plan No 27: Old Balmain Power Station', Leichhardt Municipal Council, Leichhardt NSW, accessed 5 November 2008, http://www.leichhardt.nsw.gov.au/IgnitionSuite/uploads/docs/DCP%2027%20-%20Balmain%20Power%20Station.pdf

Leichhardt Council, 'Report on the proposed rezoning of the Ampol, Unilever, Balmain Power Station, Monsanto & Caltex sites', Leichhardt Municipal Council, Town Planning Department, Leichhardt NSW, 1990

William Simpson and Mark Carleton, 'A public hearing into submissions made in respect of draft local environmental plans nos 76, 77, 78 and 81, Balmain peninsula: report to the Council of the Municipality of Leichhardt', office of the Commissioners of Enquiry for Environment and Planning, Sydney, 1991

Graham Spindler, Sydney Coastal Councils Group, Sydney, 'A Harbour Circle Walk', accessed 5 November 2008, http://walkingcoastalsydney.com.au/brochures/harbour_circle_walk.htm

Jennifer Stynes, 'Selling power; Development', Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 2000

Paola Totaro, 'Balmain's power station site ready for huge facelift', Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1997

Paola Totaro, 'Power station sold for units', Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 1998

G Wilkenfeld and P Spearitt, Electrifying Sydney: Energy Australia, EnergyAustralia, Sydney, 2004

The Institution of Engineers Australia – Sydney Division, Sydney, accessed 5 November 2008, http://www.engheritage-sydney.org.au