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The Tote Hotel

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The Tote Hotel

This article is about the Australian music venue/hotel. For other uses, see The Tote.

The Tote Hotel
The tote
Entrance to the Tote Hotel during the January 2010 closure rally
Location Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Type Music venue
Genre(s) Independent music
Built 1870's (original)
1911 (present structure)
Opened 1876 (as the Ivanhoe)
1980 (as the Tote)
Closed 17 January 2010
Former name(s) Healy's
The Ivanhoe Hotel
Capacity 200

The Tote Hotel (1980) is a hotel, pub, bar and music venue on 71 Johnston Street, the corner of Johnston and Wellington Streets, in Collingwood, an inner city suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The first hotel was built sometime in the mid-19th century and in 1876 the Ivanhoe Hotel opened on the site and remained operating until the name change to "The Tote" in 1980 when the venue began hosting local and Australian punk, post-punk, heavy metal and hardcore bands.

The venue hosted many independent local, Australian and international acts throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and carried a reputation for showcasing new and emerging independent musical acts of a variety of stylistic origins. The venue operated 6 days a week with performances across 3 settings, the "main stage", the "cobra bar" and the "front bar". Residencies were also a popular occurrence at the venue.

On 15 January 2010, due to high financial costs surrounding disputed liquor licensing laws, it was announced that the venue would be closing that same weekend. A groundswell of community support for the venue and opposition to aspects of liquor licensing laws, quickly mobilised. Several groups on social networking sites quickly sprung up, one such group attracting over 20,000 people. On Sunday the 17th, an estimated crowd of around 2,000 rallied outside the Tote.

The events surrounding the closure, the rally and various petitions, sparked public and political debate about liquor licensing laws and live music in Melbourne and Victoria. On 23 February, a much larger rally of at least 10,000, the 2010 Melbourne live music rally, was later held in central Melbourne, that same day amendments to liquor licensing laws were announced.


The current venue is most likely named after an illegal betting shop operated by John Wren between 1893 and 1905 which was fictionalised in Frank Hardy's 1950 novel Power Without Glory. The connections between The Tote (the hotel) and The Tote (the betting shop) are likely to be fictional.


Upon the settlement of Collingwood from the 1830s to the 1850s, a dairy farm occupied the area for many years. The first building to occupy the site was a pub/hotel, though it is not known when this was constructed, opened or closed. In the early 1870s there was a pub operating known as 'Healys'.

In 1876, 'The Ivanhoe' hotel was established on the site. From 1893 to 1905, it has been alleged the venue was used as an illegal betting shop by John Wren, though this seems unlikely, considering the Tea Shop likely used as a cover for this gambling was across the road, backing onto Sackville Street. It is around this time that the rumoured tunnels leading from the Tote's cellar to buildings opposite, are suspected to have been constructed.

In 1911 the present structure was built and continued to operate as 'The Ivanhoe' In 1950, the venue was famously fictionalised in Frank Hardy's 1950 novel Power Without Glory.

In 1980, the venue began operating as 'The Tote' and quickly established itself as a center of contemporary live music.

Musical Highlights

The Tote is often associated with distinctly Australian rock n roll. Bands like The Meanies, Cosmic Psychos, Magic Dirt, The Birthday Party, The Spazzys, Underground Lovers, The Drones and Mach Pelican were regulars at the venue. Bands that perhaps weren't all superstars but at the Tote, were treated like gods. On 28 September 1986 The Bo-Weevils recorded a performance at the venue, which was issued as Garage Twangin' Retard Rabble Sounds, on cassette later that year.[1]

The venue has hosted many legendary shows by international acts also. Former booker Luke Roberts toured the likes of The White Stripes, Hellacopters, Dead Moon and The Donnas specifically to play the venue. Other bands to have played include Fugazi, Billy Childish and Mudhoney.

Rumours and legends

The tote ghost

There is a popular myth that a ghost infrequently inhabits the Tote. The ghost is said to be neither friendly or unfriendly and supposedly inhabits the landing of the stairs (beneath the large 'Cobra Woman' banner) and is apparently always seen making its way upstairs. The ghost is often speculated to be a lost patron looking for the amenities or a faded rock god whose demise no-one noticed, but the most popular story involves Squizzy Taylor the Melbourne gangster, a rowdy New Year's Eve patron and an uncooperative publican.

Underground tunnels

There are persistent rumours of tunnels running from the cellar of the current Tote under Johnston and Wellington Streets to shops opposite. These are supposed to have facilitated get-aways for bookies who used to operate from the pub.

January 2010 closure

On 14 January 2010, it was announced that the Tote Hotel would close that same weekend.[2] In the lead-up to the closure, the business owner, Bruce Milne, had been contesting through VCAT, certain conditions and requirements of the "high risk conditions" of Victorian Liquor Licensing laws, imposed upon the venue. The costs of the "high risk" conditions, including CCTV installation and increased security, and high costs of pursuing the case through VCAT, triggered financial strain on the owner, who was forced to close the venue on 14 January. The "high risk conditions" were triggered by the fact that the Tote hosts performance of "live or amplified music". These "high risk" conditions have been the subject of much dispute and debate, prior to and after the closure of the Tote Hotel, with many arguing that the "high risk" conditions should be evidence-based and not triggered merely by the performance of music.

17 January rally

At 6pm on Sunday, 17 January, an estimated crowd of between 2,000[3] and 5,000 rallied outside the Tote, filling the intersection of Johnston and Wellington Streets and spilling down each street.[4] People found other vantage points on rooftops, upper story windows and balconies in the surrounding buildings. Amongst the crowd were amateur and professional photographers, film makers, a Tote documentary crew, various local independent music celebrities and a large collection of Melbourne's local independent musicians, patrons, long-time Tote patrons, former employees and others.

Petitions circulated the crowd before a makeshift PA system was set up through one of the building's upper level windows, facilitating speeches from "Fair Go 4 Live Music", Rod Quantock, a councillor for the City of Yarra and owner Bruce Milne. A long line of optimistic patrons had also begun to form down Wellington Street attempting to gain access to the venue.

As the evening progressed, several unsuccessful attempts were made to set up bands in the street. A house in Wellington Street had bands playing within it, while a shopfront at 79 Johnston Street also housed a band called Psychic Temple,[5] featuring members from Melbourne based outfits Electric Jellyfish, The Morrisons and The Melbourne Bitters. By 10pm, the crowd had been moved to the pathways and around 11pm the intersection was reopened. A large crowd remained at the intersection for some time into the night.

Under reporting of closure and rally

While countless community radio stations and street press provided coverage, reporting on the events surrounding the Tote's closure, the mainstream media widely under reported the events surrounding the closure. The closure of the Tote featured 3 or 4 small articles in the Age newspaper,[6] while ABC 774 radio interviewed Bruce Milne and provided moderate on-air discussion time. The Herald Sun featured one article which underestimated the number of rally attendees by 1,300 or more. The rally was not featured on any local or national television news, except a brief appearance on Channel 7, nor was it prominently featured in Melbourne's major newspapers.

Many argue that because the rally was a peaceful one, it did not generate content dramatic or sensationalist enough to warrant mainstream news coverage. The following day, 11 people were ejected from the opening day of the Australian Open, which afforded widespread coverage. In mainstream commercial stations, Prince William's visit to Australia also featured prominently, whilst the Tote's closure and public rally were featured only briefly on Channel 7 news and no other major television stations.

Fair Go 4 Live Music petition

A petition was circulated by "Fair Go 4 Live Music", in response to the Tote's closure, which currently has over 1,000 signatories. It requests that the high risk conditions only be placed on venues after evidence-based assessment has been made to ascertain their categorisation of being "high risk". At the moment, the high risk conditions are triggered merely by hosting "live or amplified music", which forces small music venues to close at 1am or pay high costs in security to remain open till 3am. Meanwhile, high capacity venues, nightclubs elsewhere who can afford to pay to comply with the high risk conditions are allowed to continue to operate despite evidence and history of alcohol-related violence. The petition reads:

"The petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that the liquor licensing laws and regulations are destroying the vibrancy and viability of live music performed in licenced venues. The "high risk conditions" should not be triggered by cultural practice (if live or amplified music is being played) but rather by high alcohol consumption patterns. The assessment and application of security, CCTV and other high cost conditions should be evidence based, and not based on the biased assumptions and opinions of bureaucrats."

"The Petitioners therefore request that: 1. The Victorian Government institute a proper investigation into the causes of violence and drunkenness. 2. Until such investigation is undertaken and concluded, the Government remove all references to "live and amplified music" from the license amenity clause on liquor licenses. 3. The Government formulate a cultural policy that promotes and maintains Melbourne as Australia's capital for live music."


The Tote Hotel was subsequently reopened.[7]

Feature Film

The documentary film Persecution Blues premiered in Melbourne at the 60th Melbourne International Film Festival in July, 2011.[8] It is directed by Natalie van den Dungen and edited by Ken Swallows. Subsequently, the film was picked up by Cinema Nova for an exclusive cinema release. The film will screen at cinemas and film festivals globally. It aired on ABC Television on 25 January 2012.[9]

The movie was released on DVD and on iTunes by Madman Entertainment in 2013.


See also


External links

  • Official Website
  • The slow death of sticky carpet, Marieke Hardy

Coordinates: 37°47′58″S 144°59′14″E / 37.7994°S 144.9871°E / -37.7994; 144.9871

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