Inner West Independent

Balmain’s game of thrones

Balmain: a modern-day Alsace-Lorraine, says James Morrow

OPINION by James Morrow

A fortnight ago Tony Abbott launched his full employment scheme for knights and dames, leading to paroxysms of hair-tearing, head-scratching, and cries of “anachronism!”.

But really, was he that far off the mark? As modern and right-on as we consider ourselves to be in Sydney, our local politics has more in common with the old European order of ententes, alliances, and hereditary dynasties than it does modern collaborative democracy.

Look no further than the seat of Balmain for proof. In recent years the home of the old Trades Hall – the Dome of the Rock of the union movement – has shifted from being just about the safest Labor seat in town to a principality every bit as contested as Alsace-Lorraine and just as likely to go back and forth in coming years.

For those who didn’t take European history at school, a quick revision. In 1870, in the wake the Franco-Prussian War – a war which was won by the Germans to the great surprise of everybody up to and including Otto von Bismarck – the state of Alsace-Lorraine was created in-between the two combatants and promptly gobbled up by Berlin.

Ten years later, the burghers of New South Wales created the seat of Balmain, a political principality similarly caught between two warring powers, one of which – the Greens – managed to win it at the last state election, their sole pickup in a state that went overwhelmingly blue in 2011.

Now revanchism is in the air in Balmain, though electors first get to choose whether to put Verity Firth – her of the House of Firth-Burgmann – up against Jamie Parker, or take a punt on Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne. (Hanging over the whole pre-selection is the question of whether Sussex Street decides it likes the will of the people or will turn it over as it did with Bill Shorten, but that’s another question).

The temptation, of course, is to try and figure out just who are the French and who are the Germans in this situation.

The ALP’s natural analogues would have to be the French, what with their shared love of industrial action and nostalgia for the days when anything less than retirement at 45 on an 80 per cent pension meant the downfall of civilization.

The Greens, of course, are natural Germans, what with their love of order and control and committees.

And when was the last time you saw Bismarck and Lee Rhiannon in the same room?

James Morrow blogs on food, culture and politics at


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