National Trust and unions join forces to save the Curtin Hotel from development

National Trust and unions join forces to save the Curtin Hotel from development
Brendan Rees

Efforts to save the iconic Curtin Hotel from possibly being knocked down and developed have taken a major step with a push made to have the building heritage-listed.

The Victorian union have joined the National Trust of Australia in nominating to have the historic pub protected on the Victorian Heritage Register after citing its significance to Victorian and Labor Party history.

It also believed the pub should be recognised for its “continuing role as a music venue, and its special association with numerous significant people in Victorian history, including Labor’s longest serving Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.”

The move comes as management of the Lygon St pub announced it would close when the lease expired in November after the owners of the 150-year-old institution listed the building for sale in February.

The local community along with unionists and music lovers fear the popular watering hole, named after Labor Prime Minister John Curtin, could be lost forever – with the Carlton Community History Group saying the building was part of the “character of Carlton.”

If the heritage nomination was successful, it wouldn’t stop the sale of the hotel or prevent it from being altered or used for a different use, but the new owners would have legal obligations to maintain the building under its heritage values – leaving investors or developers more apprehensive about purchasing the hotel, which was built in the 1860s.

Heritage Victoria will assess the nomination and then make a recommendation to the Heritage Council of Victoria.

Victorian Trades Hall Council state secretary Luke Hilakari said he was determined to keep the doors of the historic pub open – with one union putting in a bid to buy the hotel after expressions of interest closed on March 24.

“The family of the previous owner will consider the bids; I am hopeful that they are thinking that keeping the place as a live music venue and pub that it currently is will be attractive to them as opposed to taking a bid from a developer who might want to knock it down and build some apartments,” he said.


We think it should be protected for future generations of workers to enjoy.


“The Curtin has been a part of the fabric of working-class history in Victoria for more than 100 years, and we think that history is worth preserving,” he said, referencing its connection to the Trades Hall building across the road, which is one of the world’s oldest trade union buildings, which itself is in the Victorian Heritage Register.

“Heritage Victoria has saved a number of other places of former Prime Ministers; we think this one would be appropriate for Bob Hawke.”

“We spent a lot of time with union culture there, the type of bands they played, it’s association with Aboriginal Victorians … it’s been a good process and we’re hopeful that very shortly Heritage Victoria will have time to consider the application and put a heritage overlay over it.”

National Trust of Australia Victorian advocacy manager Felicity Watson said the hotel had hosted conversations and events that had influenced the course of Victoria’s, and Australia’s, history.

“It is 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,” she said.

Carlton resident Jeremy Hill said the Curtin was significant to the community as heritage “adds character and distinctiveness to an area and enhances a community’s sense of place.”

“The Curtin is not just a pub; its heritage is a light on the past and a beacon to the future.”

The hotel’s current band booker Paris Martine said the Curtin was a “huge part of the community” with the venue being part of Melbourne’s music scene for decades.

“So many bands rely on our stage to launch their debut album and EPs and cut their teeth,” she said.

“It’s a huge part of the community where musicians, students, unionists, activists, office workers, artists of any age can mix and be introduced to new music.”

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) said it strongly supported the nomination of the John Curtin Hotel to the Victorian Heritage Register, saying the building was “clearly of state significance.”

“It is also distinctive in Victoria’s social history. Our colleague Dr Chris McConville points out that it was one of the last pubs built or rebuilt before the introduction of six o’clock closing in 1916 meant that drinkers had a short time after work to drink enough to keep them happy through the evening,” a joint statement from Charles Sowerwine and Ian Wright, the chair and deputy chair, respectively, of RHSV’s heritage committee.

“The Curtin also points to the general failure of Victorian heritage protection. Despite the hotel’s heritage overlay, the state has imposed a Design and Development Overlay (DDO) calling for development of up to eight storeys. Such DDOs are now common,” they said.

“They bode ill for many highly significant places on the heritage overlay, only a few of which will be fortunate enough to qualify for state listing. The RHSV will continue to campaign strongly for reform to restore the integrity of the heritage overlay.” •


Image: Residents at the Curtin Hotel last month.

Like us on Facebook