Part 8 - 'Those Terrible Twins' Locations, Then and Now
As the pioneering work of 'film archaeologist' John Bengtson shows us, studying a filmmaker's use of locations can teach us a great deal about how that film was made. In the case of a film as mysterious as Those Terrible Twins, we need all the clues we can get. Miraculously, many of the streets of Balmain which were used for filming remain largely unchanged today, offering vital clues to director J.E. Ward's filming methods.
As a long-time resident of Balmain, Ward would certainly have been familiar with the streets and personalities that he captured in Those Terrible Twins.
The vast majority of filming of Those Terrible Twins took place in and around ‘Shannon Grove’, at 10 Ewenton Street, Balmain - J.E. Ward’s own home since 1914. One of the grand colonial dames of a once stately neighbourhood, ‘Shannon Grove’ was described in a real estate advertisement of 1848 as 'decidedly one of the most genteel, and at the same time healthy, comfortable, and compact Cottage residences about Sydney.’
By 1925, Balmain had become firmly working class and was now considered one of Sydney’s shabbier areas, ‘Shannon Grove’ thus appearing a rather grand home for a pair of Balmain street urchins. It is likely that interior sequences were also shot on location.
As they watch their sweetheart being wooed by a rival, Ginger and Bluey stand in front of this house, the left half of a duplex at 5-7 Ewenton Street. Ward's filming technique appears to have been simple, as this is a 'true' reverse shot - in other words, the house the pair appear to be staring at really is across the street from where they stand.
It remains easily identifiable today, thanks to the architectural details circled in red and green, and its fence, which has lost its ornate metal grille but retains its original brickwork.
The Sweetheart's House
This house, directly next door to ‘Shannon Grove’ at 12 Ewenton Street, was the home of the unnamed sweetheart of Ginger and Bluey. Like ‘Shannon Grove’, the major alteration of this building since its movie appearance is the addition of a garage, built against the line of the wooden fence as seen in the film.
Due to the heavy vegetation that has now grown at the front of the property, it is very difficult to get a good view.
As the film tells us, 'Tar Hill' is the local billy cart run. In real life, it is the portion of Balmain’s Ewenton Street between Wallace Street (at top left) and Charles Street. The fences of ‘Shannon Grove’ can be glimpsed in the distance, on the far left hand side of the road. Both the sandstone fence on the top left and terrace house across the road on the top right are still extant, and the stretch is remarkably similar to how it appeared over 90 years ago.
By coincidence, the creator of Ginger Meggs, Jim Bancks, once told his editor that he had been inspired to create Us Fellers after watching children in his neighbourhood riding their billy carts past his house.
Photomontage of screencaps from 'Those Terrible Twins', showing a full panorama of Ewenton Street as it was in 1925.
The Cricket Match
After Ginger and Bluey's nemesis woos their sweetheart and crashes into their billy cart, he disrupts a cricket game the twins and their friends are playing at a nearby park, starting an all-out brawl. This was filmed just down the hill from Shannon Grove at Ewenton Park. This park still exists, but in a somewhat different format to 1925. As such, it is difficult to get a sense of the exact location of the sequence as seen in the film.
Walking directly uphill from this location, the twins would have found themselves on Blake Street, facing the red-painted terrace at 12 Ewenton Street.
Photomontage of screencaps from 'Those Terrible Twins', showing Ewenton Park and Pyrmont across Johnston's Bay.
The Gangsters Hideout
Here was the most challenging of all locations to identify - the dilapidated, vaguely ecclesiastical building in which Susan Meggs is imprisoned by kidnappers. Ward and his unnamed cameraman kept their shots tight, making identification a particular challenge. Nevertheless, several things could be ascertained:
The worn sandstone stairs and abundant weeds show that it was a very old and possibly derelict building.
Interior sequences are clearly shot in daylight, suggesting that the building was roofless.
There is evidence of fire damage on the sandstone walls.
In keeping with Ward's methods, it was likely (though by no means certain) to be near 'Shannon Grove'.
Given that the building was already in poor shape by 1925, there was very little hope of finding this location intact, but various contextualising details assisted in its identification. The most important of these proved to be the brief appearance of tram tracks in the frame, which meant it must have sat on a tram route.
In fact, as research proves, the Gangsters’ Hideout was the former Balmain School of Arts building, which sat on the corner of Darling Street and Jubilee Place. It was within walking distance of 'Shannon Grove' and the other locations, sitting almost directly behind the park where the cricket match was shot, and only a block away from Ewenton Street.
It was indeed an old building - over sixty years old by 1925 and, like Shannon Grove, a survivor of the area’s colonial past. Though some sources claim that it had originally been constructed as a Presbyterian Church, it was in fact purpose-built. A public meeting on 6 October 1858 agreed upon the construction of a School of Arts under the guidance of the well known architect Thomas Rowe. A foundation stone was laid on 26 October 1861.
The Balmain School of Arts on an 1888 map. Source: State Library of NSW
The building was officially opened by Charles Cowper on 8 April 1862. It was described as ‘a large hall, 61 feet by 35 feet (18.5 metres by 10.5 metres)’, its main upstairs auditorium boasting high ceilings and accommodation for 600, with a library and a committee rooms below and plans for ‘two apartments and a small entrance hall’ to be added. Interestingly, a trustee of the school was architect James McDonald, a future mayor of Balmain whose house 'Ewenton' gave Ewenton St its name. The hall hosted everything from political discussions to wedding receptions and amateur dramatics.
By 1910, local residents had largely demonstrated their preference for the various surrounding pubs, and the School of Arts building, now stranded at the less fashionable eastern end of the suburb, was showing its age. Part of its roof was blown off in a major storm in July that year. Though it was described as ‘one of the old landmarks of early Balmain’ in the Evening News of 20 Oct 1910, it was decided that the building was no longer worth maintaining. It sat, empty and decaying, for at least a decade.
In 1920, the building was refurbished by the Kirkhall Manufacturing Company as an Electrical Works and Brass Foundry. The company's tenure proved short-lived. In late 1922, the building was engulfed by fire. A spark from the foundry was blamed for the disaster, which was described in reports as ‘a brilliant spectacle’ fanned by strong southerly winds. It was no doubt visible from ‘Shannon Grove’, only a few streets away.
Two years later, this burnt-out old building provided Ward with an ideal gangster’s hideout.
The discovery of an early photo taken from roughly the same angle as the film confirms the location beyond all doubt, and allows us at least some idea of the full streetscape - remembering that the building would have been in significantly worse shape by 1925. The chimney at left can be spotted directly out the window of the final fight sequence in the finished film, confirming that this sequence was filmed upstairs in the now-roofless building.
It is said that the School of Arts was finally demolished in the 1930s, and its sandstone was repurposed in the construction of a retaining wall at the nearby Balmain Bowling Club, which is still extant. At some point, an industrial warehouse was constructed on the site, which has itself been replaced by the modern terrace houses which remain there today.
This photomontage, comprising multiple screencaps from 'Those Terrible Twins', provides a panorama of Darling Street as 'Bluey' travels eastward from the Gangster's Hideout. Note the distinctive window on the house at far left.
One of the cottages Bluey is seen running past exists today. It is remarkably intact, with the same iron lacework still in place, along with the distinctive stained glass window feature that ensured its identification. Though it is not obvious, there is a small passageway beside this building, which leads to the park in which the cricket scene was filmed. Though only wide enough to accommodate pedestrians, it is still signposted as Killeen Street.
Photomontage panorama of Balmain School of Arts, the now demolished cottage (left) and extant cottage (far left).
The Sydney Cricket Ground, which the boys visit in order to see Graham Trent play cricket, still exists in much the same configuration as 1925. The boys can be seen standing at the rear of the Members' Stand, identifiable by the distinctive half-moon window as circled on the second photo. The clock tower of the adjacent Sydney Showground (now Fox Studios) can also be glimpsed in the distance during the sequence.
Unfortunately, Withrow’s Gymnasium, with its spectacular rooftop tennis court as seen in the film, has long since been replaced by modern skyscrapers. It was located at 229-231 Castlereagh Street. To date, no photographs for the correct period have been located.