‘A Mind to Change’

When I think about what I love about history, it’s the stories that have been hidden in plain view around us. Growing up in Balmain I have always been fascinated with the suburb’s history. From photographs and maps, to stories of Aboriginal people driving kangaroos down through the suburb for food, and children sneaking through the Balmain East’s underground tram weight, local histories have always intrigued me and captured my imagination.
The Balmain Institute is a not for profit organisation that hosts public talks and discussions on topics such as science, arts, health, education, governance, economics and the environment. Established in 2010, the Balmain Institute has links to the former Balmain Workingmen’s Institute. From 1863, the Institute provided Balmain residents with intellectual stimulation, recreation and companionship throughout the years. Furthermore, the original Balmain Workingmen’s Institute saw Balmain transform from a blue-collar area to a gentrified, predominately middle-class suburb.
Last Thursday I attended the Balmain Institute’s monthly seminar. Feeling quite nervous, I was pleasantly surprised to find a friendly group of about 50 Balmain locals. All from different walks of life, these people were here to listen and learn. This month’s speaker was Dean Parkin, the Executive Director of the Uluru Education Project, which aims to drive awareness of the Uluru Statement from Heart.
After speaking with Margaret Vickers, Treasurer of the Institute, we began to develop an idea for the project. Looking at maps of the suburb, I will produce a project that will chart how the suburb has developed since it was established in 1836. Taking inspiration from the websites ‘Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930’, and ‘Phila-place: Sharing Stories from the City of Neighbourhoods’, I will use the Leichhardt Historical Journal and the numerous maps of the suburb to develop a website showing the changing nature of the suburb. Drawing on the stories of local residents, shopkeepers and locals, I hope to create a project that will be useful for not only the Balmain Institute but also Balmain’s resident past, present and future.
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