White Bay

2008
CC BY-SA 2.0
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White Bay

Through its wharfage, White Bay has been a cradle of industry associated with Balmain for many years. For 50 years from 1854, the bay was dominated by John Booth's Steam Saw Mills, the first great Sydney timber and joinery works, which stretched along the Balmain shoreline from Booth Street almost to Stephen Street until the business was wound up in 1902. [1] Bald Rock, a natural feature of the bay, was the site of the local ferry wharf until the 1960s. The Australian Gas Light Company built its works on the White Bay waterfront in 1875 to reticulate gas for street lighting. [2] Electric street lighting superseded gas lighting in Balmain on 30 September 1909.

After reclaiming some of the White Bay shoreline, the British soap manufacturer, William Lever established a subsidiary of Lever Brothers in 1895. In 1900 these large works produced the first cake of Sunlight soap in Australia. [3] After various changes of name, the company became the Unilever conglomerate. By the time the complex began to relocate to outer areas in 1988, it had stretched along the waterfront from Booth Street to Reynolds Street.

Another mammoth industry on the shoreline was the White Bay Power Station. Built by the New South Wales Railway Commissioners from 1912 as an industrial application of the Federation Arts and Crafts style, the massive structure in the neck of the bay came into service in 1913. [4] Freighters docking at the power station's wharf fed the coal-loader, a source of long-term, but unavailing resident action. It operated continually for about 70 years generating electricity primarily for the railways, but also for powering the Glebe Island and Pyrmont swing bridges and various pumping stations. By the end of World War I, 75 per cent of all railway power in Sydney was generated there. Acquired by the Electricity Commission of New South Wales in 1953, the power station increasingly generated power for the metropolitan railway network. [5] The vast building has been unoccupied and neglected since about 1983. Various development plans have been prepared to conserve and adapt the building for compatible uses, but as yet, no viable model has been established.

White Bay redeveloped

The old Booth saw mill site was occupied by various waterfront users, including the Atlantic Union Oil terminal, marking the change from steam to the internal combustion engine. [6] The terminal site gave way to the next phase in White Bay's development – shipping containerisation. In 1966 the Maritime Services Board drew up a ten-year plan for the development of new container berths. [7]

With powers to override local government planning determinations, and despite strong protests from residents, blasting to cut the rocky hillside down, almost to water level, removed the Bald Rock and many other natural features. Many homes were damaged as a consequence.

The facility opened in 1969 yet the wharfage lacked back-up space for truck movements. This contributed to the decision to build a major terminal at Botany Bay. [8]

In later and more enlightened times, part of Booth's sawmill, together with other property, was transformed by Leichhardt Council into a sensitively landscaped park with some structures from its industrial age being retained. This green open space, set between Donnelly Street and the container facility provided a buffer against noise from the container facility. The park opened in 1982 as White Bay Park. It was later renamed Birrung Park, a word meaning 'star', in acknowledgement of the original people of the area.

References

D Godden and Associates, Heritage Consultants, The Significance of White Bay and Balmain Power Stations to Sydney's Industrial Heritage, A Report to the Electricity Commission of NSW, Sydney, 1989

Notes

[1] P Reynolds, John Booth of Balmain, Booths in Bermondsey, Kincumber, Balmain and on the Manning, Balmain Historical Monograph no 2, Leichhardt Historical Journal, Balmain, 1997

[2] J Ginswick, 'Foundations of the Australian Gas Light Company', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 45 pt 5, 1960, pp 226–265

[3] K Bak, A Lever and Kitchen Album, Lever and Kitchen Pty Ltd, Balmain, 1988, pp 19–21

[4] D Godden and Associates, Heritage Consultants, The Significance of White Bay and Balmain Power Stations to Sydney's Industrial Heritage, A Report to the Electricity Commission of NSW, Sydney, 1989, p 24

[5] D Godden and Associates, Heritage Consultants, The Significance of White Bay and Balmain Power Stations to Sydney's Industrial Heritage, A Report to the Electricity Commission of NSW, Sydney, 1989, p 48

[6] Land and Property Information Centre NSW, Certificate of Title, vol 4157, folio 4, leases B629927, C582040

[7] Maritime Services Board, A Ten Year Port Redevelopment Plan, September 1966, p 32

[8] J Bach, A Maritime History of Australia, Nelson, 1976, p 407

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