Historic Curtin Hotel up for state heritage protection in “landmark decision”   

Brendan Rees

Carlton’s historic The Curtin Hotel is a step closer in being saved from the developer’s wrecking ball after the building was recommended for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Following a joint nomination earlier this year from the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) and the National Trust of Australia, Heritage Victoria recommended the 160-year-old pub be placed on the register “as a place of state-level cultural heritage significance”.

The milestone move comes as the pub was sold to an offshore developer in April, prompting fears the popular watering hole, which was attended by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, could be lost forever.

The heritage listing, if granted, would make it virtually “impossible” for the owner to redevelop the site, according to the VTHAC’s state secretary Luke Hilakari, who has been steadfast in his campaign to protect the venue, which was named after wartime Labor Prime Minister John Curtin.

“This is an important collective win and a vital step to prevent precious historical buildings from being flattened by developers who want to spin a dollar at the community’s expense,” he said.

The Heritage Council of Victoria, an independent body, will make a final decision on the recommendation which will be advertised for 60 days from July 22, during which anyone can make a submission.

If successful, the owner would be legally required protect and maintain the property in line with its heritage values.

Mr Hilakari said this would mean the whole building would not be able to be altered including the interior and its grand timber bar.

“It’s a really great outcome, we’re pretty excited,” he said.

In terms of the owner applying to redevelop the site, Mr Hilakari said they would have to do “something that is sympathetic to the heritage register’s status. I think they would really struggle”.

“My message to the international developer is maybe it’s time to sell this pub. You want to build more apartments? Well, that isn’t going to happen.”

Executive manager of advocacy at the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Felicity Watson said while there was “still a long way to go”, Heritage Victoria’s recommendation was “a really significant milestone in our campaign to save this building”.

Ms Watson said it was vital to protect The Curtin, not only for its historical importance but for its ongoing role as a meeting place for the labour movement, and one of Melbourne’s most important live music venues.

“Certainly, the owner may object to the recommendation, but what I would say is that the recommendation is based on very rigorous research based on the history of this building, also into its cultural and social significance,” she said.

“In making their assessment, Heritage Victoria not only looked at the building itself, but analysed social media and hundreds of petition comments to understand the cultural significance of the John Curtin Hotel to the community.”

If the owner objected, Ms Watson said a hearing would be conducted by the Heritage Council which would be an “opportunity for everyone to come together and put their arguments forward” with a “decision based on the evidence that they hear”.

That said, Ms Watson added she was “feeling very positive” about the building’s future.

“I think that this recommendation is a real testament to its significance, it really proves what we’ve been saying all along which is that this is a place that should be protected for all Victorians,” she said.

City of Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor and planning portfolio lead Cr Nicholas Reece applauded Heritage Victoria’s recommendation saying The Curtin was a “treasure of Melbourne that deserves the strongest possible protection”.

“This is a landmark decision which provides hope for Victoria’s many other at-risk heritage pubs,” he said.

However, Cr Reece conceded just because the building could be heritage-listed, “doesn’t mean it can’t be redeveloped”, but “the heritage significance, the social and cultural elements that make this pub so valued, will have to be protected in any future development.”

When asked what would become of the pub if it was to sit dormant when the tenant’s lease expired in November – a concern also raised by the Carlton Residents’ Association earlier this year – Cr Reece said, “They are commercial matters for the current tenants to work through the owner”.

“I’m not a in a position to rule in or out any future applications which may come down the track, but I can say is very, very clearly that any future development of this site will need to respect the John Curtin Hotel that we know and love.”

In March, the City of Melbourne granted The Curtin an interim “significant” heritage protection, however, the VTHAC went one step further by imposing a rare “green ban” in April, vowing to form a picket to prevent the building from being bulldozed – a measure credited with saving Flinders Street Station and the Queen Victoria Market.

 

Caption: Victorian Trades Hall Council state secretary Luke Hilakari, National Trust of Australia (Victoria) executive manager of advocacy Felicity Watson, and City of Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor and Nicholas Reece are excited The Curtin hotel has been recommended for listing on the heritage register.

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