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The Tote
The Tote Melbourne
Background information
Founded 1980
Capacity 408
Location Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Website The Tote Hotel

The Tote (Also known as The Tote Hotel) 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 hotel was probably built in 1870 as Healey's, becoming the Ivanhoe Hotel in 1876, and held by the Healey family until 1940, when it was renovated. The name changed 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.

BackgroundEdit

Early HistoryEdit

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 wooden shanty operated by storekeepers Messrs. Howitt and Hale during the 1850s. Daniel Healey, then an uncertificated insolvent, purchased the land in 1867 for £400 and fraudulently transferred the deed by trust to his wife and child, operating the site as a grain store before building a hotel for £740 in about 1870. Daniel Healey was the publican, operating the hotel as 'Healeys', with his wife Bridget Healey. It was not profitable to begin with as Daniel Healey faced a second insolvency for debts amounting to £212 7s in April 1871.

By 1876, the name had become the 'Ivanhoe Hotel', also known as Healey's Ivanhoe Hotel. In his youth, the Healey's son, famous bookmaker Mr. Mick Healey, would help run the hotel before obtaining his bookmaker license in 1884. New licensing laws in 1886 saw licensee Bridget Healey before the local courts for having a door open to the bar or unlocked during prohibited hours. Daniel Healey died 14 August 1894, aged 58.

From 1893 to 1905, it has been alleged the venue was used as an illegal betting shop by childhood friend of Mr. Mick Healey, John Wren, though this seems unlikely, considering the Tea Shop likely used as a cover for this gambling was 200m across the road, backing onto Sackville Street. It is around this time that the rumored tunnels leading from the Tote's cellar to buildings opposite, are suspected to have been constructed.

Bridget Healey died 8 February 1906 and the hotel ownership transferred to her daughters, who leased the hotel out in 1912. It was not always run appropriately with daughter Margaret Walsh attempting to eject holder Eleanor Hunt in 1915 for not conforming to the licensing act by 'supplying a person under 18 years of age with liquor'. Mr. Mick Healey died May 1940 and in June, after being in the possession of the Healey family for more than 70 years, the hotel was purchased by Mr. Stanley Bell, of the Eureka Hotel, Richmond. At purchase he stated the intent to make extensive alterations to the building. The exterior tiles and simplified parapet are typical of interwar pub renovations, and so probably date from this time. The upper floor windows and the similar ground floor windows are typically 19th century, so that its 1870 origins are still quite clear.

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

January 2010 Closure and Re-openingEdit

On 14 January 2010, it was announced that the Tote Hotel would close that same weekend. 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.

At 6pm on Sunday 17 January, an estimated crowd of between 2,000 and 5,000 rallied outside the Tote, filling the intersection of Johnston and Wellington Streets and spilling down each street. 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, 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.

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 licensed 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 had reopened under new management by April that year where it remained consistently opened up until 2020 due to The CO-VID19 Pandemic, where it would close in the Spring and re-open that June.

A documentary film entitled Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote, detailing the communities fight to save the hotel, premiered in Melbourne at the 60th Melbourne International Film Festival in July, 2011. It is directed by Natalie van den Dungen and edited by Ken Swallows. Subsequently, the film was picked up by Cinema Nova for cinema release, and aired on ABC Television on 25 January 2012 and 19 January 2016. The movie was released on DVD and on iTunes by Madman Entertainment in 2013.

Selected Performers at The ToteEdit

External LinksEdit

ReferencesEdit

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