The Curtin saved! New owners enter 10-year lease with operators
Carton’s historic John Curtin Hotel has been thrown a huge lifeline with the pub’s management signing a 10-year lease just days before they were set to close their doors.
The 160-year-old pub and music venue’s future had remained uncertain after the building was sold to an overseas buyer in April, prompting concern the building may be redeveloped into apartments.
However, since the reported $5 million sale to Singapore-based investment group YY Property, the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), together with unionists, community members, musicians, and the City of Melbourne, have campaigned tirelessly to save the iconic building on Lygon St.
This included unionists vowing to form a picket line, if necessary, to prevent the pub from being knocked down after declaring a “green ban” on the site.
Heritage Victoria also recommended the pub be placed on the register “as a place of state-level cultural heritage significance” following a joint nomination from the VTHC and the National Trust of Australia.
The community’s full-hearted efforts have now been paid off with the building’s new owners deciding not to redevelop the site and instead enter a 10-year lease with the current operators, beyond the previous lease that was set to expire at the end of November.
“A 10-year lease is incredibly exciting,” the Curtin’s publican, Benjamin “Rusty” Russell, said.
“We have been running John Curtin on a year-by-year basis since first taking over in 2012 which is an extraordinary financial risk, but we love what we do and the community we have built,” he said, adding the new lease would “allow us to grow the Curtin and make the improvements we need to serve our wonderful community for many years to come”.
The Curtin Hotel’s music booker and promoter Paris Martine said the pub was an institution that brought together students, unionists, young professionals, locals, and musicians, young and old.
“It’s an important part of the music ecology where some of the best up and coming bands have stepped up from smaller band rooms onto our stage to launch their records,” she said,
“It’s a living breathing piece of Melbourne’s history on the gateway to the CBD and it is in no safer hands than with the Russell family.”
National Trust of Australia (Victoria) CEO Simon Ambrose applauded the news.
“Celebrating the cultural heritage significance of the Curtin through maintaining its ongoing use as an iconic Melbourne hotel and live music venue is an outcome we hope to support,” he said.
Mr Ambrose added the Curtin was also socially significant, having acted as an informal meeting place for
those involved in working-class politics and activism in Victoria for more than 100 years, “and we wish to see this enduring association continued”.
City of Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor Nick Reece said he “couldn’t be more thrilled at this result,” adding the Curtin Hotel - which was a former watering-hole for the Labor Party’s longest-serving Prime Minister Bob Hawke – was “part of the fabric of Melbourne and an important part of our history and now it has been saved”.
“It’s a win for people power, it’s a win for the City of Melbourne and state government, as well as the union movement and everyone who stepped up to protect this much-loved pub of Melbourne,” he said.
As for the long-term future of the pub when the lease ended, Cr Reece said, “that’s a bridge that we will cross in 10 years from now”.
“In the meantime, we will ensure that the heritage protections on that building are as strong as they possibly can be so that future generations of Melbournians continue to enjoy the much-loved Curtin Hotel for everything that it is and will be,” he said.
Music Victoria CEO Simone Schinkel said the pub’s future was “really exciting”. “It has been saved because it’s special for so many reasons – one of which was supporting emerging artists and that long legacy support for the music sector and diversity,” she said.
Carlton Community History Group Jeff Atkinson also expressed relief the Curtin would continue to run, saying “If the John Curtin Hotel is lost, Carlton and Melbourne more generally would lose a key part of its history”. •