In 1886, when women workers were organising against the notorious sweatshop clothing company Beath, Schiess and Co, not everyone could fit inside the Trades Hall so they instead met across the road in the pub. One hundred years later, the Victorian nurses would meet at The John Curtin during their famous strike of 1986.It’s where Frank Hardy and George Seelaf came up with the idea of underground printing of the classic novel Power Without Glory.
In the 1980s, Alf Bamblett from the band Stray Blacks established a regular fortnightly event at the hotel to spotlight Aboriginal bands – at a time when racist hostility in the pub scene was commonplace.In the 1960s, when most pubs relegated women to a “ladies lounge”, Zelda D’Aprano argued toe-to-toe with fellow unionists in the John Curtin, and soon inspired the other women workers of Trades Hall to smash the taboo of appearing at the pub unaccompanied by a man.
It was where Norm Gallagher celebrated, where Industrial Relations journos broke stories, and where Bob Hawke’s wake was held.In April, when the pub was sold to overseas developers, Building Industry Unions announced a Green Ban on the site – no unionist would assist in the demolition of this cultural icon.Musicians and artists leant their voices to the media chorus, pointing out the significance of the Curtin as a live music venue.
At the same time, Trades Hall partnered with the Heritage Trust in making a submission to Heritage Victoria. Heritage Victoria later recommended the protection of the John Curtin, and finally in January 2023 we learned that the owners had agreed to an impressive 10-year lease for Rusty and the Curtin crew.
Said Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari: “I think the generations of people beforehand that have appreciated the John Curtin would be very pleased to see that this generation of activists have stood up for an important historical union venue,” he says.“It should send a message to every Victorian that if you’ve got a place that’s special, that you think should be protected, and if you’re willing to stand up for yourselves and with others, then you can get that job done,” Hilakari says.