If you’re a music fan who’s spent any time in the inner north of Melbourne over the last 40 years, chances are you have at least one (potentially rather hazy) memory of the Tote Hotel.

Maybe you saw your favourite international band at a secret show, or your favourite local band before anyone knew who they were. Maybe you took a date to the Cobra Bar, or cemented life-long friendships in the beer garden. Maybe you’ve been forever haunted by the taste of $1 pots on a Tuesday evening, or the feeling of your shoes fusing to the sticky carpet in the back bar.

As the Tote Hotel wraps up its year of celebrating 40 years as a live music venue this year (41 if we’re counting, but Covid had other plans), let’s look back on the history of this iconic Melbourne venue.

Fish-eye photograph of the corner entry to The Tote Hotel, Collingwood. Sign on front step reads 'Gig on use side door'.
The Tote Hotel, Collingwood, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent aquisition1

The pub on the south-west corner of Wellington and Johnston Streets, Collingwood, may be a familiar place of revelry to many of us now, but way back in 1860 the corner housed the Beech, Solomon and Co., grocery store.

Excerpt from 1860 Sands and Kenny directory showing Johnston-street East, south side from Smith street to Wellington street.
Excerpt from 1860 Sands and Kenny directory. Note that the street numbers have changed over time.

By 1864 the site had a new lease holder in Daniel Healy. Healy was born in Tipperary, Ireland in January 18322, and came to Melbourne on the ‘Bride’ in 18523, later marrying another Irish migrant Bridget Ryan in Richmond in 18584. Daniel Healy took over the Johnston Street lease in 18645 and opened Healy’s Hay and Corn Store.

Healy soon bought the block for 400 pounds. This turned out to be a little mischievous on Healy’s part, as he had previously been declared insolvent. To hide this, Healy fraudulently transferred the deed for his new property to his wife, Bridget (Argus, 20 Oct 1870, p5).

By 1870 Healy had apparently had enough of the grain business, and instead built Healy’s Hotel on the prime corner block6. This was the beginning of the iconic corner pub as we know it today.

The first iteration of the pub wasn’t entirely profitable, and Daniel Healy was declared insolvent again in 1872. In 1873 he decided to rebrand, changing the name of the pub to the Ivanhoe Hotel7.

Plan of Collingwood showing Ivanhoe Hotel in centre, with Johnston Street running horizontally and Wellington Street running vertically
Detail of Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works detail plan, 1196, City of Collingwood, 1900. This section of the plan shows the Ivanhoe Hotel on the corner of Johnston and Wellington Streets, as well as the cable tramway lines that ran down Johnston Street at the time.

His relaxed view of business rules continued to cause trouble for him, and Healy was fined on several occasions for Sunday Trading.

Screenshot of article from newspaper
The Herald, 18 Aug 1874, p 3

In 1883 Bridget Healy took over the license to the Ivanhoe8, and ran it along with the couple’s oldest son, Michael ‘Mick’ Healy. Mick was a well-known local bookmaker, who with his mother’s help had talked his way into being granted a bookmaker’s licence at the age of 20, one year before it was technically legal for him to do so. His apparent knack for bookmaking led to the nickname ‘the Human Tote’.

Newspaper article about Mick Healy 'The Human Tote'
Sporting Globe, 22 May 1940, p 8

Mick Healy was also friends with the infamous James Wren, who had a property further down Johnston Street. This was the site of ‘The Collingwood Tote’: an illegal, underground betting establishment, well-known to both locals, authorities, and journalists (Argus, 12 Feb 1904, p 8). Although rumours persisted for years that the Ivanhoe Hotel and Wren’s totaliser were somehow connected by a network of tunnels, the distance between the two properties makes this extremely unlikely.


Daniel and Bridget Healy resided upstairs at the Ivanhoe Hotel, and both ultimately died on the premises; Daniel in 1894 and Bridget in 19069. A year before Bridget passed, she transferred the licence of the hotel to her eldest child, Mary (The Age, 7 Nov 1905, p 8). In her will she left the property itself to another daughter, Margaret. Bridget’s probate record shows that despite early financial complications, by the early 1900s the Healys had managed to acquire a sizable estate including Healy’s Point Hotel in Kensington, shares in the Abbotsford brewery, and several residential properties in Heidelberg, Caulfield and Collingwood10.

After a 70-year legacy, the Healy family sold the Ivanhoe to publican Stanley Bell in 1940.

Newspaper article about the sale of the Ivanhoe Hotel.
The Age, 22 June 1940, p 26

In 1981 Michael Lynch and Paul Doherty took over the Ivanhoe Hotel and opened The Tote as a music venue with a focus on new, local bands. While the turn of the Millennium saw The Tote as largely synonymous with rock and garage bands, The Tote was never intended to comply with a specific genre or ‘scene’ – the remit was always to give emerging talent a place to play and an inner-city audience a space to find new sounds. Even electronic music was always on the agenda right from the start:

At The Tote you have new wave, ska and reggae bands, folkies and just about every other type of band sharing the bill….One area they have not covered is electronic music but there are plans afoot to expand into that.11

Poster for an event at 'The Tote' Ivanhoe Hotel.
Don you all your gay apparel … lesbians, gay men & their friends gay xmas – party & cabaret, [between 1980 and 1989], Riley and Ephemera poster collection; ECPO Homosexuality 1986. Given the dates on the poster and the use of ‘Ivanhoe Hotel’, this poster was most likely from 1981, within months of The Tote opening.
Poster for Limbs Akimbo and the Right Furniture at the Tote.
The Tote – Limbs Akimbo – the Right furniture, 1987, poster by Red Letter Press, RedPlanet Archive Poster Collection. This work is in copyright; H2003.90/681
Front covers of two Zines by the Tote
Front covers of Totezine :019, Summer BBQ Issue, 2000; and Hanging over at the Tote Issue 1, 2000. Zines collection, SLV.

Over its 40+ years as a live music venue the Tote has hosted international acts such as Dead Moon, The White Stripes, Mudhoney, and the Dirtbombs, and countless Australian acts such as The Beasts of Bourbon, Paul Kelly, Violet Soho, You Am I, The Scientists, Mach Pelican, Dynamo, Warped, and Courtney Barnett. Arguably more exciting than the big names are the hordes of new bands opening a show on any given night – an eager punter might just see the Next Big Thing playing their first ever show.

Photograph of the gig listings for The Tote in four copies of Beat Magazine
A collection of gig listings for The Tote from Beat Magazine throughout the decades. Clockwise from bottom left: 6 Jan 2010, 17 March 2004, 11 March 1992, 21 Dec 1988
Black and white photograph of inside of music venue with several people holding guitars over their heads in a sunken dancefloor, many people watching behind.
Tankerville and Spacejunk play Tote’L’Rumble at The Tote Hotel, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition
Black and white photograph, elevated view of a three-piece band playing in front of a crowd. Bass player smiles with head raised towards camera.
Wet Lips perform live at The Tote Hotel, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition
Black and white action photograph of standing person holding drumsticks playing electronic trigger pad and cymbals with Korg synthesizer in front.
Simona Castricum live at The Tote, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition

Back in 1886, changes to the Licensing Act resulted in Bridget Healy being charged with the somewhat confusing offence of “having a door leading to the bar open or unlocked” (Mercury and Weekly Courier, 12 March 1886, p 3). In 2010 another change to licensing requirements saw The Tote almost close its doors for good. Coming off the backdrop of several high-profile alcohol-related violent attacks at other locations, The Tote – along with many other live music venues in Melbourne – was declared a ‘high-risk’ venue. Additional security and insurance requirements were added to their license conditions which the then licensee Bruce Milne believed were financially prohibitive and made the continuation of the business impossible 12. Last drinks were called on 18 Jan 2010, with the Drones playing what many thought would be the last set 13.

These new regulations made no distinction between smaller live music venues and larger nightclubs in terms of risk, and the Melbourne music community was outraged at the lack of understanding of the live music scene, and the ways in which the new regulations unfairly impacted smaller venues. On 23 Feb 2010, the SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) rally saw 20,000 people take to Melbourne’s streets in protest14.

Colour photograph, slightly elevated view of large crowd of people, many holding placards, at a rally in front of State Library Victoria.
Crowd gathering at the State Library of Victoria, Swanston Street, to begin the SLAM rally. Photograph by Nick Carson, 2010. Wikipedia, accessed 2 Dec 2022. Shared with CC BY-SA 3.0.

Several positive policy changes were announced by the Victorian government as a direct result of the rally. Ultimately, The Tote was saved – reopening as a band venue with new owners Sam Crupi, Jon Perring, and Andy Portokallis after a six-month closure 15.

The impacts of licensing regulations were felt by many venues across the city, but it was the closure of the beloved Tote – a haven for so many – that galvanized the community to take action.

Black and white photograph, elevated with fish-eye lense. A crowd watches a four-piece band playing in corner of a bar.
RVG play The Tote front bar, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition

In 2022, after a one-year delay caused by Covid lockdowns, The Tote was finally able to celebrate 40 years as a live music venue. Here’s to many more drinks to come. 

Black and white action photograph of person with microphone in hand, in mid-air, about to land on their back, presumably after falling or jumping backwards. Drummer and bass player in background.
Six Ft Hick live at The Tote, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition
Black and white photograph. View of crowded pub beer garden viewed from inside through glass windows. Person near centre waves at camera.
The Tote Hotel beer garden, 2016. Photograph by Zo Damage. This work is in copyright. H2022.177/1-560. Recent acquisition

More to explore

Still thirsty for more music stories? You might be interested in some of our past blogs:


References

  1. This newly acquired collection of photographs by Zo Damage has not been processed and catalogued and is not yet available for viewing
  2. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915, Ancestry Library Edition database, viewed 6 Dec 2022, https://ancestrylibrary.proquest.com/
  3. Unassisted passenger lists (1852-1923), VPRS 947, Public Record Office Victoria, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/unassisted-passenger-lists>
  4. Australian Marriage Index, Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/>
  5. Victoria, Australia, Rate Books, 1855-1963, Ancestry Library Edition, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://ancestrylibrary.proquest.com/>
  6. Cole, R. K., Ivanhoe hotel, Collingwood, ‘Index of Victorian hotels, 1841-1949’, vol 4 p 52, MS 7592, State Library Victoria
  7. as above
  8. as above
  9. Australian Death Index, Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/>
  10. Probate and Administration Files, VPRS 28/P0000, 97/479, Public Record Office Victoria, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://prov.vic.gov.au/>
  11. Whitehead, R, and Di Mase, J, 1982, ‘Digressions’, The Age, 30 April, Weekender p 2
  12. Hawking, Tom, 2010, ‘Licence to Ill’, Inpress, 27 Jan 2010, issue 1107, p 20
  13. Bastow, C, 2010, ‘Last drinks at the Tote’, Inpress, 20 Jan, issue 1106, p 75
  14. Australian Music Vault, 2022, Jenkins, J., SLAM Rally 10th Anniversary, viewed 6 Dec 2022, <https://www.australianmusicvault.com.au/music%20stories/read/slam/>
  15. Sticky Carpet, 2011, ‘What a year it’s been for the Tote’, The Age, 14 Jan, EG p 7

This article has 4 comments

  1. Hi, great article. But just a correction on the transformation of the Tote from the Ivanhoe to Le Tote. Paul’s parents (Jack and Joan) bought the Ivanhoe in 1980, and Jack Doherty got bands in to supplement pub income when the owners of the restaurant in the pub (La Trattoria) ceased running the restaurant. Jack was the first ‘booker’, then Paul took over, then Michael (school friend from Ballarat) was the first ‘real’ booker. See chapter 4 of Execution Days: The Live and Times of Spencer P Jones.

    • Thanks for the clarification of that timeline Patrick, I did condense a lot of history into a couple of sentences for the sake of this blog, but it’s a good distinction to note. Glad you enjoyed the blog!

  2. Great blog! I’ve lived around the corner for many years and didn’t know half of this!

  3. This is a great blog.It talks about 40+ years of the Tote.

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