Growing Up in Balmain

John Thomson, known as Jack to his friends, was born in Balmain in 1927.

Over the years Jack’s family have been continually asking him to write down his stories and memories about growing up in Balmain during the Depression and War years.

Once he got started though, he found that the few quick notes quickly turned into a much bigger story. With the encouragement of family and friends and the assistance of a Local History Grant from the Inner West Council, Jack was able to self-publish his family history with WriteLight Publishing.


Within one week of stocking Jack’s book, we sold out of our first shipment. We had an instant non-fiction bestseller on our hands!

John Thomson, known to his many friends as Jack, has spent all his life in Balmain. Born in 1927, Jack remembers the days of the Depression, when kind greengrocers put aside ‘specs’, fruit with spots on it that they gave to hungry children. Jack’s childhood had its trials: when he was five his father was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in Callan Park; then his mother became ill with tuberculosis and died when Jack was nine. But Jack’s life changed when the Phillips family took him in. Jack tells about his happy time with this warm, quintessentially old Balmain family. His remarkable memory of the people who lived in the area, the way they lived, of the children and the games they played, brings old Balmain back to life. After school Jack worked at CSR in Pyrmont, then on the trams and the buses.

Sport – particularly football and sailing – was a big part of his life. Jack remembers when Balmain Rugby League players were locals, the waterfront was ringed with boatsheds, and the winters were spent playing or watching footy, and the summers were spent sailing. Jack still lives in Birchgrove in the house he bought in 1954 when he worked on the trams. He has seen many changes. Jack’s story is a warm retelling of how life was lived in old Balmain, when people didn’t have much money, but they had their neighbours and community.


Jack recently popped in to sign some copies for us and he was thrilled to see his book sitting in the No 1 bestsellers position, ahead of Richard Fidler’s Ghost Empire!

For lover’s of local history and family history, Jack’s Story takes us back to the days when mine and dock workers tramped the streets of Balmain and where convenience stores adorned every intersection. Jack remembers all their names and recalls the times when horse-drawn carts also delivered fresh eggs, rabbits, kitchenwares, ice, wood and coal door to door.

As kids, Jack and his friends had all of Birchgrove and Balmain as their playground. They knew all the good trees to climb, slopes to slide down and old houses to explore. They had three cinemas on the peninsula and trams running down Darling Street.

Peppered with old family photographs and pictures of old Balmain, Jack’s Story is a nostalgic walk down memory lane.

Available at Brays Books for $15


About braysbooksblog

Independent booksellers since 1969.
This entry was posted in Biography, Bronwyn, History, John Thomson, Local Author. Bookmark the permalink.

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