Up the Hill to Balmain
- December 23, 2010
Catch a steam tram to Balmain – at last!
For the surveyors it was no easy task to plot a route winding up from the harbour foreshore. Cable haulage had been considered; so had the alternative of an isolated line running inland from one of the wharves. Neither solution was favoured, while the government continued to baulk at the cost of ascending Rozelle hill.
Ferries had been sailing to the Darling Street and Annandale jetties for a number of years; sawmills, tanneries and Morts Dock led to a busy Balmain packed with working class houses – and with the usual infrastructure of pubs, churches and corner stores. But unless you wanted to walk or go by horse, ferry to the city was the only connection.
The local campaigns for a tramway to the Balmain – Rozelle peninsula won the day with the turn of the 1890s; in the face of rapid commercial and residential development, the Government agreed that the Balmain line could no longer be kept in the ‘too hard’ tray.
In conquering the harbourside grades, the track had to be taken through private land. Matilda Symons was one of those who, presumably, profited by the coming of steam, receiving £1696 on 11 May, 1891 for the resumption of her property.
Like the Moore Park route, the Balmain line was distinctive in having a considerable length laid railway style, separate from the roads. From Forest Lodge terminus, the new line ran down Wigram Road to Lillie Bridge Racecourse (later Harold Park) which had a siding for race day traffic, then by a truss bridge crossing the open swamp at Johnston’s Creek.
By the mangroves at the reclaimed edge of Rozelle Bay, it swung across Johnston Street to run close to the cliff face before entering a causeway which, at the half way point, contained a stop for the Gordon Street wharf of the Annandale ferry. Next came the supreme challenge of Rozelle hill, negotiated via a lengthy, winding climb. To maintain the grade at a maximum l-in-17, it was necessary to leave Gordon Street and make a loop on a separate right-of-way across resumed land before emerging into Weston Road, which was followed until Darling Street. On relatively level going it reached the terminus at Gladstone Park, which had a loop and water crane.
The Balmain tram began on 24 October 1892, making a 45 minute journey of 5 miles (8 km) from Bridge Street for the price of a fourpenny fare. (The section from Forest Lodge to Rozelle had been opened on 2 May 1892) On the way to Balmain, thirsty motors could water at Forest Lodge and take coke from a truck placed in the Wigram Road siding. The Rozelle hill dictated that two-car trams were the maximum allowed, though at holidays three cars could be run with the assistance of a push-up motor from Johnston Street. Special trams also catered for the racecourse traffic to Lillie Creek.
This article is courtesy of the great book called ‘Juggernaut’, by David Burke’ and is brought to you by Tram Scrolls Australia, specialists in premium quality replica tram and bus scrolls, tram banners and bus destination blinds.