#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to Sunday evening, June 4, 1989. It’s just after 7.30 pm and tea is all but wrapped up when the call goes out to Bernie Murray, a member and one time Captain of the Research Fire Brigade; “Kitchen fire at The Barrel.” Bernie and his fellow crew members race to the scene. Around 60 firemen from 13 units battled the blaze for over six hours but the battle was lost and Eltham and Research lost an iconic building forever.
Eltham District Historical Society was recently honoured to receive a donation from Bernie of some of his personal photos of the Barrel from that fateful night including it’s subsequent demolition.
The Diamond Valley News ran the following story about the fire on its front page, Tuesday, June 13, 1989
Barrel fire was arson by Catherine Magree
Police believe the fire that destroyed the Eltham Barrel restaurant last week may have been the work of a professional arsonist.
About 60 firemen from 13 units battled for six hours to quell the blaze which broke out at 7.30pm on Sunday, June 4.
Arson Squad detectives have confirmed that the fire was deliberately lit. One detective said a fire accelerant had been found on the premises.
The coroner, Mr. Hal Hallenstein, is investigating the fire. His office has refused to comment on the course of the investigation.
A waitress at The Barrel told the News that fire may be connected to recent burglaries and threatening phone calls. Police confirmed that there had been burglaries at the restaurant.
The waitress, who did not want to be named, said the restaurant had a “lot of trouble” ever since it reopened in March following renovations.
“We were broken into four times, and received threatening phone call,” she said.
The most recent burglary occurred last month. Intruders jemmied open the office door and smashed tills, she said.
The woman was the last to leave the restaurant before it was consumed by flames. She said she locked up on Sunday night at about 5.30pm.
She denied rumours that business at the restaurant had been poor.
“It was only just getting a new name. Business was going well.”
The Barrel was purchased by former Sydney Swans footballer Mr Paul Morwood and his wife Linda last December.
Detectives are keen to talk to a man who was seen near the restaurant at the time of the fire.
He is aged between 35 and 40 years and has a receding hair-line. At the time of the fire he was wearing glasses, a V-necked jumper and a light colored shirt and was seen driving a dark blue VN Commodore.
Police believe the man can help them with investigations. Anyone with relevant information should ring the Arson Squad on 265 2487.
The Insurance Council of Australia has offered a reward up to $25,000 for any information leading to the conviction of the offender or offenders.
The Barrel was originally built in the late 1960s using timbers recycled from the old Cliveden Mansion in Melbourne, site of the present day Hilton Hotel. And like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, some of these historic old beams were saved and re-purposed again for a further life of storytelling. One such example is in a private home in Eltham, which incorporates two massive timber beams previously used at the restaurant, including the one that spanned the entry portico carved with the Eltham Barrel name. The owners also used about 15,000 old hand made bricks from the building in the construction of their home.
And from the collection of the State Library of Victoria are two images of the newly built Eltham Barrel in 1968 in its original glory.