#ThrowbackThursday – Today we time travel back to the intersection of Kalbar Road and Main Road, Eltham, circa April-May 1989. We recently digitised some negatives covering Main Road from Beard Street to Kalbar Road. The roll of film included the new Food Plus at the corner of Beard and Main (previously featured as the Eltham East Service Centre) and the newly built shops opposite the Food Plus. And closer to Kalbar Road was the new Eltham Gateway Motel and Conference Centre under construction. At Kalbar Road is Eltham Garden Nursery, now a 7-Eleven and car wash and next door Eltham Garden Supplies, now Webster Farm and Garden. But what really excited us was the discovery of a never before seen photo of the Eltham Barrel as viewed from Main Road and an advertisement for the upcoming entertainment on May 12 (presumably 1989); a Joke Night featuring Shane Bourne as well as the Kids of Rock with Brian Cadd and Max Merritt. The Barrel had been purchased by former Sydney Swans footballer Mr Paul Morwood and his wife Linda in December 1988 and by all reports, business was improving. Unfortunately it was burnt down by an arsonist on the evening of June 4th, 1989 so the Kids of Rock may well have been one of the last entertainments put on at the Barrel. The loss of the Barrel certainly led to a change in the built landscape at Kalbar and Main.
Do you remember the Eltham Garden Nursery? Did you landscape your new home with plants from there? Did you get your landscaping supplies from next door? And did you go see Shane Bourne, Brian Cadd and Max Merritt at the Barrel? What was it like? The sign is clipped so we don’t know who was performing with Shane Bourne, but if you went and remember, we’d love to hear your stories.
#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.
Tills smashed 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.
Man sought 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.
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
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia