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Community rallies to save iconic Curtin Hotel

Brendan Rees

The Carlton community fears it could stand to lose a “sense of identity” if the historic Curtin Hotel falls into the hands of developers.   

Locals are fighting to keep the doors of the iconic Lygon St venue open after learning the owners of the 150-year-old institution wanted to sell up.

Built in the 1860s, the pub has been a popular watering hole for Labor Party and union figures including former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Antoinette Sagaria, president of the Carlton Residents’ Association (CRA), said the building held a special place in the hearts of the community and would be a great loss if it were to be developed.

“We’d love to see it remain of course,” she said, but added “we’re realistic about what is likely to happen there [but] that doesn’t mean we’re not protective over the heritage and the social fabric of Carlton.”

 

If push comes to shove and it does end up selling to a developer, etc., that if it is going to be developed it is developed appropriately and sympathetically for the area.

 

“I’m sure there’s been many, many residents and certainly ones of the CRA who will be trying to have as many drinks there as possible over the next little while to show our support and show our gratitude for the contribution that the Curtain’s made to the area.”

With the lease for the venue expiring at the end of the year, Victorian Trades Hall Council state secretary Luke Hilakari said he was doing his utmost to throw the pub a lifeline.

“I’m hoping to find a buyer, but I think I’ll know shortly whether or not unions are keen to do it,” he told Inner City News, adding “some unions have a little bit of capital and would purchase the pub as an asset.”

“If a developer tried to come in there and build apartments, they would have some problems with us about that.”

“We’re not going to see other institutions like this just getting bulldozed for more apartments, it’s not needed.”

“What we want to make sure that at the end of the day that this remains a pub and a live music venue rather than apartment blocks which just be terrible – there’s so much history in the place.”

He added it was one of the first places to allow women into a pub as well as offer a Parma - with celebrity chef Guy Grossi’s father having also cooked there.

Jeff Atkinson of the Carlton Community History Group said historic hotels like the Curtin were important to local communities “because they give a sense of where we’ve come from.”

“If we lose them, we lose that sense of connection to the past, and in that sense, we lose part of our sense of identity as citizens of Carlton,” he said.

“That hotel is part of not only the history of Carlton but also the character of Carlton, and particularly that little bit around Trades Hall, which has such a rich Labor history.”

Ian Wight, deputy chair of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, said there were fears the future of the Curtin could be “another example” of the historic Corkman pub in Carlton, which was demolished in 2016.

Mr Wight said while a heritage overlay covered The Curtin, design and development overlays (DDO) meant the building could be developed.

“We have the planning scheme on the one hand saying we ought to conserve the hotel and another part of the scheme saying, ‘please build to eight storeys!’ This is surely quite mad,” he said.

“These DDOs are proliferating throughout the commercial areas of the inner suburbs but only when they are obliged to be consistent with heritage-built form will our heritage be protected.”

Inner City News understands the owner of the pub had died with the family making the decision to sell the building.

In a Facebook post, management said, “It’s with an agonisingly sad heart, that The John Curtin Hotel’s time on this earth will come to an end.”

“We will have a lot more to say on the matter down the line, but I assure you, we will go out with a BANG!”

Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched on megaphone.org.au in a bid to save the much-loved venue, attracting almost 2000 signatures.

The pub was formerly The Lygon Hotel before being renamed the John Curtin in 1971, after Australia’s 14th prime minister and the man who led the country’s government during World War II.

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