Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Exploring the back streets of Balmain

This crowded suburb of Sydney was once staunchly working class, home to dockyard workers, miners, boilermakers and shipwrights. It’s an area steeped in history, now largely gentrified.


The local Oval hosted Australia’s first professional rugby match, in 1908, and Balmain was the first place in Australia to erect a monument to those who fought at Gallipoli. The first inhabitants were the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.

Early European settlers lived in tiny workers cottages that crowd these narrow streets and I can’t help thinking they would have tried growing food in their backyards.


This week, to my great delight, I discovered that some people still do.

The streets I thought I knew so well as I raced along them to catch the bus (or a cappuccino) had so much more to offer when I took my time, strolling and really looking.

In the very next street I found tiny gardens growing food in the most unlikely places. Is that a passion fruit vine clinging to the wrought iron lacework?


Look at the tomatoes and peppers growing down the side of this house; even now, in late autumn, there’s still something to pick.

Then I came across this.

Walking along a narrow back lane I hadn’t visited before I saw what at first glance looked like a tangle of overgrown weeds on the empty side of the street.


But this was no tangle of overgrown weeds. Someone had carefully tended the steep block of wasteland, adding soil, mulch and manure, and then they’d planted it with flowers and fruit trees.


The closer I looked the more I spotted. There was garlic, coriander, kale and broccoli, all flourishing on the side of a steep block of land at the base of a towering sandstone wall.



The site was open, with nothing to stop a casual passer-by from helping themselves to the produce, and that generosity made me smile with joy.


I learnt later that the woman who tends that patch of ground had spent years establishing cuttings of plants from her mother’s garden, so in years to come she will have something to remember her by.

The rest of us, meanwhile, can stroll past and enjoy the beauty of what she’s created.

Balmain may be a long way from my ideal of a place in the country but it still has a lot to recommend it.




6 comments on “Exploring the back streets of Balmain

  1. nantubre
    May 21, 2015

    Love that! I miss living in town sometimes. I used to walk 3-4 miles every morning before work and really enjoyed all of the gardens I passed along the way. Now that I live in the country, I still see beauty everywhere, but I do miss the sights and efforts of other ‘garden people’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    May 21, 2015

    There’s always a compromise isn’t there? And always something to enjoy! Haven’t seen any straw bales yet on my wanderings though…


  3. Jane @ Shady Baker
    May 21, 2015

    This post makes me want to get just a taste of city life for a day or two! Fancy finding all of those vegetables, how wonderful.


  4. bkpyett
    May 21, 2015

    What a delight Deb!


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This entry was posted on May 20, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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