Community triumphant as John Curtin Hotel awarded heritage listing

Community triumphant as John Curtin Hotel awarded heritage listing
Brendan Rees

After an unwavering and year-long campaign to save the historic John Curtin Hotel, the community is celebrating the news that the building has been officially heritage-listed.   

The momentous decision by the Heritage Council of Victoria means the 160-year-old institution will be treasured as a cultural icon of Melbourne while also being protected from any major changes.

The popular Lygon St venue was granted a place on the Victorian heritage register after a decision was made on March 31 due to its “state-level cultural heritage significance” following months of pressure from unionists, activists, and the City of Melbourne to protect the pub.

It was nominated last year by the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) and the National Trust of Australia to be placed on the register amid fears the building would be redeveloped after it was snapped up by an offshore buyer.

The joint nomination cited the hotel’s significance with its strong association with the labour movement, its continuing role as a live music venue, and its links to Labor’s longest serving Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Now that the pub, which is named after former Australian Prime Minister John Curtin who served in the 1940s, has been awarded a place on the state’s heritage register, the owner will be legally required to protect and maintain the property in line with its heritage values.

It’s an outcome that has been met with jubilation among community members including the VTHC’s state secretary Luke Hilakari, one of the lead campaigners to save the building.

 

It’s a great victory for local residents, for musos, for unionists, and it couldn’t have been done without a whole collection of people chipping in,” he said, adding, “it would be almost impossible for a developer to now build apartments and gut the place

 

“It’s a great outcome, the Heritage Council acted in a timely manner. The local council and [Deputy Lord Mayor] Nick Reece especially got behind it and that certainly helped.”

“The next challenge now is to look at all the other heritage pubs in Melbourne that should be protected and saved. We will happily join other residents as well.”

Cr Nicholas Reece said it was a “wonderful decision” and praised the community for banding together to protect the iconic pub – which opened in the 1860s – with the heritage listing to “give peace of mind to lovers of the John Curtin Hotel and every Melburnian who loves a pot, a parma, and catching a band”.

“Importantly, the Heritage Council of Victoria has recognised the value of John Curtin Hotel as a social institution and its value to the history of Melbourne and its cultural importance, and not just relied on the architectural values of the building but the cultural and historical importance of the John Curtin Hotel,” he said.

Cr Reece said the heritage listing also set an “important precedent which will serve Melbourne well in terms of saving other heritage pubs that may find themselves at risk because of developer ambitions in future years”.

“I really want to congratulate the people of Carlton, the Trades Hall, the Melbourne live music scene and everyone who came together to save the John Curtin Hotel and see the pub rightly elevated to its heritage status.”

CEO of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Simon Ambrose also applauded the news, which comes after the hotel’s management signed a 10-year lease in November last year just days before its former lease was about to expire.

“The John Curtin is socially significant, having acted as an informal meeting place for those involved in working-class politics and activism in Victoria for over 100 years, and we wish to see this enduring association continued,” he said.

In considering the heritage recommendation, the Heritage Council Regulatory Committee received 10 public submissions, two of which were non-supportive. A hearing was also scheduled for February 20 this year, however, the lawyers acting for the owners of the Curtin, YY Property Pty Ltd, advised that their client, would withdraw from participating.

“Following receipt of the owners’ withdrawal from the hearing, there were no remaining parties to the proceeding who had had requested a hearing pursuant to section 46 of the [Heritage] Act,” the Heritage Council of Victoria’s final report said, which led to the public hearing being cancelled.

However, according to the report, the owner wrote in its submission that the hotel “requires urgent renovation and maintenance works”.

In response, Heritage Victoria acknowledged repairs and maintenance of any building were important to protecting heritage places and submitted a suite of heritage permit exemption proposals it believed “would assist the owner and lessee to undertake ‘like for like’ repairs and maintenance without the need for further approval under the [Heritage] Act”, the report noted.

Interestingly, while the Curtin was ultimately awarded a heritage listing, the committee accepted Heritage Victoria’s position that the hotel’s links to Bob Hawke “was limited” and did satisfy the criteria for special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Victoria’s history.

The committee also concluded that the building’s popularity as a live music venue “does not warrant inclusion in the register” after sharing the view of Heritage Victoria that “there are a large number of live music venues of this kind remaining and that this example is not elevated above the rest”. •

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