Local History, Music

The Rise and Fall…And Re-rise of The Tote

February 16, 2018

How many hazy memories have been made at The Tote over the years? Perhaps it was rocking it out up-close-and-personal to your favourite band in the most intimate of settings. You may remember being knocked around in the excitement of the mosh. Maybe you’ve smoked thousands of ciggies in the jostling courtyard or even been up onstage yourself, joining the club of eccentric performers lucky enough to be invited to play at this iconic venue.

Regardless of whether you have been to The Tote once or a hundred times, there is no argument that this is a unique establishment. In the heart of Collingwood, it holds a loving place in Melbourne’s colourful music history, and has made an indelible impression on many music fans.

In 2010, tough new liquor licensing laws were set in Melbourne, which placed tight restrictions on the live music scene that Melbourne’s northern suburbs are renowned for. Venues were greatly impacted; relying on the late opening hours and now requiring increases in security. Eventually, the financial pressures grew too much for owner, Bruce Milne and he closed the doors that January.

The closure of The Tote ignited massive outcries from the local community, who worship the sticky floored, historic venue that has hosted generations of up and coming bands. The impending end to this infamous institution was a catalyst for noisy rallies unifying the community on the importance of live music to the culture of Melbourne’s north.

4000 people rallied on Johnston Street, which was a catalyst for an even bigger movement that swept over Melbourne and led to the creation of Save Live Australian Music or ‘SLAM’. SLAM organised a rally to march through the city that drew over 10,000 punters. Musicians and fans united to walk down Swanston St, playing ACDC’s hit, It’s A Long Way to The Top in homage to the film clip that was shot here in the mid-seventies. This was a defining moment for the music scene reflective of Melbourne’s cultural ethos.

In response to the protests, the State Government announced they would relax the laws for small music venues. In June 2010, our beloved Tote reopened its doors, no longer under strict conditions that denied the rights of Rock ‘n’ Roll. While there are still tight restrictions that impact some venues, Melbourne’s live music scene continues to flourish.

In Clinton Walker’s essay, ‘History is Made at Night’, he explores the restrictions placed on live music industry and puts the spotlight on the impacts of such strict lock-out laws in Sydney and Queensland. He raises the simple question: as a booming industry and integral part of society, why is live music not in fact conserved by government policy?

Such a strong response from the local community illustrates the importance of live music in our city. The voice of the people (with a bit of help from ACDC) managed to save not only Melbourne’s music scene but also conserved historical establishments such as The Tote that can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

This was a classic example of creativity, culture and community coming together to stick it to the man – and isn’t that what rock and roll is all about? I can only imagine Bon Scott watching from his vantage point up in the heavens (or down in hell), sipping on a cold one and smiling down upon his legacy.

The Tote Hotel 

67-71 Johnston St


VIC 3066

Opening Hours
Wed: 4pm – 1am
Thu: 4pm – 3am
Fri: 4pm – 3am
Sat: 4pm – 3am
Sun: 4pm – 11pm

Feature Image Credit: Nick Carson Wikipedia 

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