Back in the 1970s and 1980s can you remember the sound of Bavarian music wafting down the valley to the main road as you approached Research on your Sunday drive to the country. Possibly what you might have heard was the sound coming from the Eltham Barrel of the dance band there.
But to put it into perspective our story goes back much further than that to the birth of an unsung Architect named John Frederick ‘Jack’ Tipping who was born in Melbourne on 16 August 1923. Jack commenced his architectural career as an articled pupil in January 1940 but, like many young men, he enlisted for war service after having only managed to finish two years of his course. On completion of his service in June 1944 Tipping was discharged as a Corporal having served as a draftsman in a Field Survey Company. Using his war service entitlement under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme he completed his training at the Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT) and qualified and registered as an architect in August 1948.
During the 1950s and 1960s Tipping gained further qualifications and increased his reputation while working for various architectural firms. He also undertook some residential commissions under his own name, including his home in Balwyn North and several other houses in that suburb.
Jack then took on the most ambitious project of his career, the Eltham Barrel. Situated on the slope above the main road it was entered by turning off Main Road at Research. Kalbar Road and Natalie Mews are present day streets in this area.
With the Engineer Des Hill in charge of the project the structure took the form of a giant reclining timber barrel built along the lines of a similar structure in Durkheim, Austria.
Based on 17 acres of rural land the grounds and building, (comprised of three levels), was commenced in the late 1960s and scheduled to be completed by the end of November 1968. The structure was built from recycled convict handmade bricks and Oregon timber from the Cliveden Mansion in Jolimont, which was demolished in 1968. According to a now deleted article by Wikipedia it was claimed at the time to be the largest barrel in the world with the capacity to hold 8 million litres of the German beer that was to be sold on site.
With Mr Bill Muller in charge of Swiss/Bavarian entertainment the Eltham Barrel became an instant landmark and a much loved local icon. Many fund raising activities, theatre nights and similar events were held and enjoyed by locals.
Unfortunately, all good things can’t last for ever. At 7.44 am on the morning of the 4 June 1989 the now well-known and popular venue came to an end when the siren rang out at the Research CFA. Despite the rain and fog the glow from the fire could be seen at the station. Research Tankers 1 and 2 were the first vehicles on site of the fire followed by the pumper truck from the Eltham Fire Brigade. Entry to the Barrel carpark was gained by cutting the chains on the main gate. Access to the building was then made by cutting through a burning front door with a chainsaw. Further problems were experienced with gas cylinders and lack of water pressure.
The fire was eventually contained and brought under control. Over the period of the fire 14 CFA and 3 MFB units with 100 fire fighters were in attendance. In addition to brigades there were police, ambulance, SEC, Gas and Fuel, the Arson Squad, the CFA Regional Officer and Shire Building Inspector. Damage to the Barrel and its contents was estimated to be approximately $2,000,000 and consequently it was considered beyond restoration and was never reopened.
Fortunately, the fire occurred on a Sunday morning as if it had been a Saturday or weeknight the loss of life may have been high as the venue had just commenced operating as a night-club. As it was two Research CFA members needed medical treatment for smoke inhalation and a dislocated knee.
Sadly, the Eltham Barrel proved to be Tipping’s last project as he passed away in 1969 shortly after the Barrel was completed. Nowadays Natalie Mews is a quiet residential street with no indication of the areas lively past.
In 2011 two souvenirs were for sale on e-Bay, a mug in January and an ashtray in May. The ashtray has been generously donated to the
Eltham District Historical Society by one of our members, Wayne Lascelles.
Questions still continue to this day as to the cause of the fire and as to whether it was deliberate or accidental, however no charges have ever been laid by police.
References: Dictionary of Unsung Architects, John F. Tipping (1923-1969) Wikipedia – Eltham Barrel Restaurant Against the Odds, Research Rural Fire Brigade (1950 – 2000) Author Mick Woiwod Newspaper Article ‘The Sun’, Friday 11 October 1968
‘The Eltham Barrel’ by Jim Allen was first published in the Eltham District Historical Society Newsletter, August 2016
At the Movies by Maureen Jones was first published in our November 2014 newsletter.
Our Society has very little on movie theatres in Eltham and we are looking for members and friends to help us out with this.
The Advertiser of 21st March 1930 described a travelling picture company which entertained an audience in the Eltham public hall with two dramas and a comedy. The chief drama “The Freedom of the Press” emphasized to what personal sacrifice proprietors and editors had to undergo to maintain the duty a newspaper owed to its readers and the general public. Sound familiar? The article goes on ‘It is a strange thing that at Eltham most picture shows, although many of them present quite good programmes, are as a rule poorly patronized. Perhaps this is accountable for by the comparative proximity of the city and suburban theatres.’
This was the time when Kooringarama Films, then the only amateur moving picture company in Australia, and which took its name from the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Boake (York Street), were busily engaged in making their second film. Their first film was “Borrowed Plumes.” Mr. E. Lyall, a local resident was the cameraman and many of the principals and actors were known locally.
The Cinema and Theatre Historical Society of Australia (CATHS) was able to tell us that there were movies in the Plaza from 1943-1965 and they ceased sometime between 1966 and 1968. The Plaza was probably another name for the Shire Hall facilities. Charles Plowman was the theatre licensee 1943 -1957, L. Riley 1961-1964 and E.H. Gibson in 1965. From our own resources we have this photograph of the Hall. From our own members we know that Charlie Plowman lived in Lavender Park Road and for all car buffs he drove a 1937-38 era Crossley motor vehicle. Albie Parsons volunteered as a doorman, Jim Crick was the projectionist with Tom Williams as his assistant.
CATHS have evidence that films were shown in Montmorency at the Public Hall and it was registered for 120 seats. ‘Exhibitors’ were F. Daley (1949-50), H. Murphy (1950-1951), D.W. Griggs (1951- 1954) and W.J. Mogridge 1954-1955 to 1959-1960). The theatre name was shown in Film Weekly as ‘Public Hall’ until 1955-56 then it was called ‘Mechanics’ for three years then reverted to ‘Public Hall’ until 1959-1960. At one time it was called the Morency theatre. It was listed as a country theatre in late 1950s.
In 1975 the idea of having a dedicated movie theatre was generated by Eltham Rotary with an eye to using a disused building in Montmorency. Because of the scale of the project Rotary invited Eltham Apex to become a partner. A management committee was formed and a co-operative finance scheme approved. By combining the two names the Rotex Cinema was named. An architect from Clarke Hopkins and Clarke Pty. Ltd. was engaged and shareholders were drawn from the community. The award winning project involved leasing the disused supermarket in Were Street and renovating it in such a way as to enhance the streetscape and provide a theatre especially for the young and families in the area. This was to be achieved in a straightforward and ecological way designed to make maximum use of voluntary and unskilled labour. From the initial idea to opening took about 18 months. The auditorium seated 200. The decor of curtains, drapes, carpets and seats was in various shades of purple. The theatre opened in August 1976. Mr. Les Clarke won an award for the conversion.
Later the theatre was taken over by local commercial interests and renamed the Were Street Theatre. In 1988 the property sold at auction for $625,000 and had its final screening on 12th October, 1988.
Further to the publication of “At the Movies” in our November 2014 Newsletter, the Society was able to acquire some stills from the movie “Borrowed Plumes” from the National Library of Australia. An update was subsequently published in our March 2015 Newsletter.
Additional research has unearthed details of the interesting family surrounding Kooringarama Films. The movie was filmed by amateur enthusiast Eric Lyall. Eric Cecil Lyall was born in Tooradin in the Westernport District in 1904. His mother Cecile Garnet Warburton (nee Carr) Lyall died in childbirth.
Eric was raised by his maternal aunt Ethel May Geraldine (nee Carr) Boake and his uncle Alfred Hogarth Boake. The Boakes lived at Kooringarama in York Street, Eltham. The house, later owned by Alistair Knox, still exists. Eric was the grandson of William Lyall, born in Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who had followed his father John Lyall a farmer who had migrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1832. In 1847 his son William moved to the Port Phillip District and began trading in fat bullocks for the Tasmanian market. In 1851 in partnership with John Mickle and John Bakewell he acquired Tooradin Station in Westernport adjacent to the Kooweerup swamp. The partnership also acquired Yallock, Monomeith, Tobin Yallock Swamp and Red Bluff. He built his substantial homestead Harewood at Tooradin which is now open for tourists. Apart from his farming interest William was a local Councillor, and became a Member of the Lower House of the Victorian Parliament in 1859. Following on from the making of “Borrowed Plumes” Eric Lyall went on to make another film for the Eltham Fire Brigade, and it appears that he may have made one for the local Anglican Church. No trace of these films has been found.
In 1929 a four reel, one hour film was produced locally with the title “As Ye Sow”. The principals in the cast were Jack Cornwall, Norman D’Arcy, Marie Bucknell and Gwen Pritchard. The film was directed by Mr. Stanley Walpole of St. Kilda who had had considerable experience in motion picture work in Hollywood, U.S.A. Eric Lyall was one of the photographers. No copies exist of this film either. Eric married one of the “movie stars”, Marie Bucknell in 1930. Eric became a radiographer and was the manager of a company providing tuberculosis screening for servicemen during the Second World War. He died in 1944 at 29 The Ridge, Canterbury, aged 40.
His aunt, Ethel Boake, along with Miss Florence Garner operated Kooringarama as a guest house and at one time it was a convalescent home for tuberculosis sufferers. Eric’s uncle Alfred Hogarth Boake died in Eltham in 1940 and it appears that soon after Ethel Boake left the district. She died at Camberwell in 1954 and with her husband Alfred and nephew Eric is buried at Fawkner Cemetery.
This photograph from the collection of the National Library of Australia depicts a dramatic scene from the movie “Borrowed Plumes”. With Doug Orford’s expertise we have narrowed the car down to a Jowett “Short 7 1924”; 7 hp 907cc side valve flat twin engine. 11,444 vehicles were produced (including both Short and Long 7s) between 1919 and 1930. It was a 2 door fabric saloon, with a three speed gearbox. Jowett’s was founded in 1901 by brothers Benjamin and William Jowett with Arthur V. Lamb. They started in the cycle business and went on to make V – twin engines. In 1904 they became the Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company based in Bradford, Yorkshire and their first Jowett car was produced in February 1906.
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia