News & Updates

Melbourne by the Book #4: A Networked Community: Jewish Melbourne in the Nineteenth Century

Presenter: Dr Sue Silberberg, in conversation with Rabbi John Levi (virtual seminar hosted by the Australian Jewish Historical Society, 20 August 2020)

Further information and links: Jews and Judaism

Sue Silberberg, A Networked Community: Jewish Melbourne in the Nineteenth Century (Melbourne University Press, 2020)





Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenter — Dr Sue Silberberg

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham

ImageArgus, 9 February 1856.


What’s in a Name #1: Melbourne Day

Presenter: Andy May

Further information and links: Founding Myths


Melbourne by the Book #3: Modern Melbourne: City and Site of Nature and Culture by Rod Giblett

Presenter: Andy May

Interviewee: Rod Giblett

Further information and links: Modern Melbourne: City and Site of Nature and Culture




Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenter — Andy May

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And There I Was’; ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’; ‘Street lights and lost souls’

Page Image Credit —  Detail from A map of the Westernport District made by William Thomas, Assistant Protector of Aborigines, 1841 (PROV, VPRS 6760/P0, Unit 1, Item 1).


In Memoriam #1: Christopher Gee

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Further information and links: Bijou Theatre — Brewers and Brewing — CarltonCarlton & United Breweries — FiresHotelsMelbourne Harbor Trust — Metropolitan Fire Brigade — Port of Melbourne



Hilaria bathing ship site and Mowlings Soap and Candle Works, Victorian Heritage Database Report, Heritage Inventory Number H7822-0620.

Inquest Deposition File, Christopher Gee, VPRS 24/P0  unit 645,  item 1895/815.

Inquest Deposition File, Joseph Fox, VPRS 24/ P0, unit 550,  item 1889/1096.

Thomas McCracken, Carlton Football Club.





View along Hilaria’s deck after the fire looking from aft (Photograph 1895), Brodie Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Accession no: H99.220/850.








Christopher Gee gravestone, Melbourne General Cemetery






Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenter — Professor Andy May

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And There I Was’; ‘Psalm 70 Save Me O God’, ‘Spring Music 1 Down From Corhanwarrabul’

Wistful by Shanic (licensed under a  Creative Commons License).

Sound Effects — © copyright 2018 BBC

Page Image Credit: Christopher Gee (with permission, Irene Hughes)


Looking for … #2: James Patrick Main

Presenter: Marie Kantharidis

Further information and links: BridgesBurke and Wills Monument — ConvictsDoutta GallaCustoms HouseMoonee PondsOld Melbourne Gaol — Princes BridgeQuarriesScotsSeparation


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenter — Mary Kantharidis

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And There I Was’; ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’


Aural Postcards #3: Amy Williams: The Lady of the Gramophone

Presenter: Henry Reese

Further information and links: Allan’s Music — Charity Organisation SocietyPoverty and Wealth — St Paul’s Cathedral  — Women in the City


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenter — Henry Reese

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And There I Was’; ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’


Moveable Feast #1: Sixpenny Restaurants

Presenter: Ross Karavis

Narrations: Roland Wettenhall

Further information and links: Restaurants and Cafés


Melbourne by the Book #2: The Buxtons: 150 Years of Developing Melbourne by Peter Yule

Presenter: Nicole Davis

Interviewee: Dr Peter Yule

Further information and links: Building and ConstructionReal Estate Agents

Other resources:

The Buxtons: 150 Years of Developing Melbourne (Black Inc.)

Dr Peter Yule


Showing Off #1: Isaac Selby

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Additional Audio: Professor Geoffrey Blainey

Further information and links: Churches of Christ — Isaac SelbyOld Melbourne Cemetery — Royal Historical Society of Victoria


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Ross Karavis, Niocle Davis, Andy May

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Narration — Roland Wettenhall

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And There I Was’; ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’; ‘The Coffee Song’

Sound Effects Credits — — © copyright 2018 BBC

Page Image Credit —  ‘A cheap Melbourne restaurant: waiting for breakfast’ (detail), Illustrated Australian News, 21 December 1881, p. 237.


In Sickness and in Health #1: Spanish Flu

Presenter: Helen Morgan

Interviewee: Mary Sheehan

Further information and links: Diseases and EpidemicsHealth Health and Well BeingHospitalsNursingRoyal Exhibition BuildingSwine Flu in Focus


Aural Postcards #2: May Brahe

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Interviewee: Dr Mimi Colligan

Oral HistoryAlec Brahe interviewed by Peter Burgess (recorded 1975), National Library of Australia Oral History and Folklore Collection (TRC 375).

Further information and links: Allan’s Music — Burke and Wills MonumentClassical MusicMay BraheNellie Melba

Other resources:

The Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne has a collection of archives relevant to May Brahe including letters, sheet music and photographs.

Inquest into the death of Emily Rebecca Dickson, 1892 (Public Record Office Melbourne).

Christopher Reynolds on Women Composers and Women Poets


Street Seen #1: Friendly Societies of Swanston Street

Presenter: Roland Wettenhall

Further information and links: Friendly SocietiesManchester Unity BuildingOrganised Crime —  State Library of Victoria


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Helen Morgan, Andy May, Roland Wettenhall

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Narration — Susan Reidy

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’.

Sound Effects Credits — — © copyright 2018 BBC

Page Image Credit —  May Brahe (1911), National Library of Australia.


Melbourne A to Z #2: Wattle Park

Presenter: Helen Morgan

Interviewee: Frank Hullin

Further information and links: Ball & WelchMenzies Hotel — Trams — Wattle Park


Melbourne by the Book #1: Blue Lake: Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp by David Sornig

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Interviewee: David Sornig

Further information and links: Batmans Hill — Slums — West Melbourne Swamp


Creature Feature #2: Cicadas

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Further information and links: Climate Insects Leisure and Recreation


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Helen Morgan, Andy May

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’; ‘Blue Lake’, The Orbweavers

Sound Effects Credits — Greengrocer Cicada, Melbourne 24 December 1983; Recordist: Ronald Kettle (Wildlife Sound Trust, British Library)

Page Image Credit — Vernon Jones (c. 1930s), The Route to Wattle Park – the Tramway Is the Only Way (State Library of Victoria)


On the Beat #3: Women in Policing

Presenter: Helen Morgan

Interviewee: Amber Evangelista

Further information and links: Crime — Law and OrderPolice and PolicingWomen in the City


Lost Melbourne #1: The Eltham Barrel

Presenter: Professor Andy May

Further information and links: Architecture — Eltham — Germans Restaurants and Cafes


Melbourne A to Z #1: Port Melbourne

Presenter: James Lesh

Interviewee: Janet Bolitho

Further information and links: Port Melbourne


Series Host — Professor Andy May

Episode Presenters — Helen Morgan, Andy May, James Lesh

Audio Engineer — Gavin Nebauer

Music — Andrew Batterham, ‘And there I was’

Sound Effects — © copyright 2018 BBC

Page Image Credit — The Barrel Restaurant, Main Rd. Eltham (Peter Wille collection of architectural slides, State Library of Victoria)



Welcome to My Marvellous Melbourne, a podcast on Melbourne’s history with Professor Andy May and the Melbourne History Workshop.

Melbourne has lost many favourite landmarks over its history, and today I’m going to delve into the story of one of its more wacky architectural icons, the Eltham Barrel. James Lesh will open ‘Melbourne A to Z’ at the letter P for Port Melbourne, and have a chat to Janet Bolitho about what the suburb means to her. To start us off, here’s Helen Morgan in conversation with Amber Evangelista, curator at the Victoria Police Museum, talking about the centenary of women in policing in Victoria.



Presenter: Professor Andy May

It’s been a long grind of a week at work, but tonight you can let your hair down, what with the smorgasbord and the hot carvery, Russian Eggs and Hungarian goulash, the happy thrum of hundreds of other guests out on the weekend, beer jugs brimming, the band on stage, the night getting in to full swing.

There’s a man — let’s call him Klaus —feet tapping and body starting to sway to the rhythm of the accordion and trumpet, his eyes sparkling at his wife Lynelda as he takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor, a half-jump step to the left, a short half-step to the right, and their polka is underway.

Perhaps these Tyrolean sounds call to mind the years before he came, just a baby in Berlin on the cusp of the war, the bombs falling, his mother Lissi growing vegetables to feed the family, pushing all their worldly possessions in a hand cart when the Soviets attacked, then his father Paul, an aircraft mechanic, chancing on an ad in the paper looking for skilled workers for Australia. Paul went on ahead, Lissi and two young boys followed in 1953 on the SS Fairsea out of Bremerhaven, a floating mercy vessel carrying nearly 1500 migrants and displaced souls, over a thousand Germans as well as hundreds of Greeks picked up at Piraeus.[1] A contingent of over 200 got off at Freo destined for the Holden Holding Centre; over 700 were bound for Bonegilla; Lissi and the boys c/o P. Francke, Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, Jindabyne Dam, via Cooma, NSW. By 1960 they’d moved down to Melbourne, Klaus met Lynelda at the Altona Squash Club, and they married in 1965.[2]

Klaus worked six days a week at his Snowy River Motor Body works, opposite the West Footscray cemetery, and this Saturday night felt so good in so many ways, with his raven-haired wife, the quickening rhythm, ‘Roll out the Barrel’, jumping round the dance floor to the polka classics, leaning back and looking up at the ceiling of the barrel spinning round and round and round.

Did I say the ceiling of a barrel? Suspend disbelief for a moment — there’s Jonah in the belly of the giant whale, there’s Alice in a giant Wonderland, and then there’s those lucky patrons of the Eltham Barrel who for two decades from 1968 were able to enjoy the delights of what would have to have been one of Melbourne’s quirkiest venues.

The pathway to the Eltham Barrel is circuitous. I never went there — I’d never heard of it, in fact, until a year or two ago when I happened to pick up a copy of the 1973 Diamond Valley Sketchbook in a second-hand bookshop in Newcastle. The Rigby series was published between the mid 1960s and the early 1980s—slim little hardcover guides to buildings and places across Australasian cities and towns. They had a heritagey kind of feel—showcasing historic hotels, homesteads, churches and terraces, but also bridges, railways, statues and parks, and buildings new as well as old. Written by teacher Brian McKinlay with drawings by Graham Hawley, the Diamond Valley edition ranged from the Griffin House in Heidelberg, Parade College at Bundoora, the Mernda Mechanics Institute, the Old Bridge at Greensborough, Wellers Pub on the road to Kangaroo Ground, and the Pound Bend Tunnel at Warrandyte, but it was an entry in Eltham that caught my eye—not Montsalvat or the mud-brick houses— but The Barrel, Eltham:

The Barrel [we read] is situated on top of the sloping hillside above Eltham. It can easily lay claim to being the largest barrel restaurant in the world and the only one of its kind in Australia … The huge structure of the Barrel towers over the long winding road that leads to Kangaroo Ground … If the Barrel were to be filled with beer—instead of its many patrons—it would hold close to two million gallons. Such a fact is remarkable even in Melbourne which is noted for its voluminous intake of that alcoholic beverage.[3]

OK — let’s back up a bit. A multilevel Bavarian-themed restaurant in Eltham with a crazy architectural style. And just how many other big barrel restaurants were there in the world for this to be the biggest?

It’s hard to get the origin story straight — but it might go something like this. Des Hill ran a toolmaking business in Doncaster, and was inspired to commission the Barrel by Bill Mueller, a local bandleader, who told him about the Dürkheimer Reisenfass restaurant, a giant barrel built in 1934 in Germany made from 200 spruce trees from the Black Forest. Renovated in 1958, it was the largest cask in the world, bigger even than the famous Great Heidelberg Tun in Heidelberg Castle which was made in 1751 from 130 oak trees. Another version of the story is that Des Hill saw the giant German barrel himself, on a business trip.[4]

Believe it or not there’s quite a history of giant barrels in Europe. On the back of a booming wine industry from the end of the 16th century, the nobility started to build large wine cellars with very large barrels to put in them. Mostly in Switzerland and Germany, there’s one in Mikulov Castle in the Czech Republic, built in 1643, 6 metres long and 5 metres in diameter, bound with 22 steel hoops. And there’s the Strasbourg wine barrel of 1472, the Tübingen barrel of 1546 with a volume of over 84,000 litres, and the giant Gröningen barrel of 1598. One huge barrel had a platform on the top and a gazebo, with room for six couples to dance. But the largest of all time—though never of course actually filled with wine or beer—was the Eltham Barrel, 26 metres high with a volume of 8 million litres.[5]

However it was that the idea came to Australia, Des Hill forked out $250,000 for construction, and Bill Mueller brought the music — that’s him beaming in a photo in the Age on the 16th of November 1968, dressed in lederhosen and Tyrolean hat, beer stein in one hand, violin in the other.

Eugene Mercier’s giant 20-ton champagne barrel that was pulled through the streets of Paris by 18 horses and 24 bulls for the Exposition Universelle in 1889 was nearly 20 years in the planning and construction.[6] The largest barrel in the world, surprisingly, was built in Eltham in only about four months.[7]

The engineering was computed by William Lyle Irwin of Irwin, Johnston and Breedon, consulting engineers, South Melbourne. Bill Irwin was a civil engineer who specialised in bridges, and his CV also included the Swimming Centre for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Myer Music Bowl, and the futuristic Academy of Science Shine Dome in Canberra (both opened in 1959).[8] So a barrel was a cinch — just another day at the office —  roof loading, frame design, balcony cantilever, diagonal bracing.

The architectural plans came out of the office of John F. Tipping, Architects of Balwyn,[9] and the Project Architect was his Associate Graeme M. McDonald who signed the May 1968 working drawings, longitudinal sections, elevations and site plans.[10] The specifications were received by the Department of Health at the end of July 1968, and approved by the end of August. Des Hill and his wife Thelma applied for approval of the opening of the Barrel Restaurant, Research, as a public building, on the 1st of September. An advertisement on the 27th of September put the call out for carpenters for the Barrel’s construction: “continuous work … overtime available’,[11] and a site inspection in late November showed most of the work completed. An Age newspaper article trumpeted: ‘They’re nearly ready to roll at Eltham’s barrel restaurant’.[12] Des Hill was granted a liquor licence on the 19th,[13] and 300 guests packed the Barrel’s inaugural night ‘in the hilly wilds of Eltham’ on the 29th of November, as reported in the paper the next day:

While a genuine Bavarian band played Austrian waltzes the first night diners downed foaming steins of Dortmund Ritter—one of Germany’s best and heaviest brews, while the less adventurous settled for Carlton and Courage …

The menu included tasty Teutonic titbits.

Although the entire staff is of either Swiss, German or Austrian extraction the owner is a Melbourne engineer, Mr. Des Hill.

He is the only man in the organisation who can’t speak German.[14]

The management took the German thing seriously. By December the Barrel was advertising for waitresses: ‘German speaking only, with GOOD appearance, wanted for new restaurant … Good pay, uniforms supplied meals provided, transport arranged’.[15] They also wanted drink waiters, ‘Young men with experience’, though German language skills and good looks weren’t specified for the blokes.[16]

The architectural establishment, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure about what they technically called mimetic architecture. Cross-Section, a kind of trade digest sent out to architects and builders from the University of Melbourne’s architecture department, looked down its nose at what it saw as a freak design:[17]

Public taste is like a rubber balloon [it pontificated]: you push it down in one place, it pops up somewhere else. 1967-68 saw the successful demise of a plan to build a 250′ high replica of a gin bottle on the Nepean Highway near Melbourne. Architects, critics and, apparently, the client, breathed a grateful sigh of relief. Undaunted, the public desire for novelty has been assuaged by this Barrel near Eltham (architect John F. Tipping, builder E. J. McGee P/L). Hardened alcoholics speeding down the Main Road at Research may believe the millenium has come.

Straight-laced architects may have feared the apocalypse, but the punters loved it, and Des Hall had bookings through to 1970.

The Barrel itself was an eclectic mix of new and old —  some recycled convict-made bricks, and timber from the Cliveden Mansions in Jolimont, originally the city pad of landowner, philanthropist and parliamentarian Sir William Clarke, which was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Hilton Hotel. Bits and pieces of stained glass and joinery may have been salvaged by Whelan the Wrecker for the grand dining hall of the Hilton at the top end of town,[18] but some of the Oregon framework made its way out to the city’s fringe. The metal hoops came from Whyalla, and the giant reclining barrel with its two-way curvature was clad with Swedish Stramit board, compressed straw insulation panels two-inch thick and four feet wide, finished with marine ply on the exterior, and natural wood-chip on the inside.[19] Externally at ground level, random stonework beaching provided a kind of visual cradle in case you were worried that the whole thing might roll down the hill.

A half hour drive from town, you came off the Eltham Yarra Glen Road, next to Danson’s Nursery, up the driveway, parked the car, and then entered the Barrel from a fancy sounding porte-cochère, a porch where cars could stop to drop off passengers. On this floor was the main dining room and a mezzanine cocktail lounge, a women’s powder room, food hoists behind a server covered with ornamental arches, a bandstand and a dance floor. A lower level housed a private function room for small weddings or private parties, a bridal change room, and the kitchen, pantry and cellar. On the top balcony level there was a gallery dance floor, another dining room, liquor and food servery, and a dumb waiter from the kitchen below.

The three-storey restaurant had a supposed capacity of 8 million litres. In terms of people, it was initially registered for 190 patrons, soon upped to 290. Jack Tipping had passed away in March 1969,[20] but his office worked on interior alterations that were made to the barrel in 1972. Things got into a kind of swing. Under the watchful eyes of stags’ heads mounted on the wall, the imported German beer flowed, couples danced to Syd Molnar and his Austrian boys, kids were scared or charmed in equal measure by Bonzo the Barrel Clown and Fritz the Friendly Bear at Sunday lunch. ‘It’s a Smorgasbord’, said the brochure, ‘so eat as much as you like’ — and their parents did, wolfing down roll mops, cocktail onions, fried chicken, leberkäse, cold cuts, fresh corn, and Barrel pancakes served with maple syrup, a specialty of the house. Seven years after it opened, someone dobbed the management in to the Health Department—licensed for just 290, the brochure boasted that its capacity was 400 guests, but in November and December 1975 there were over 500 people crammed in some nights, sitting on the stairs and queuing for the toilets.

While the Barrel architecture was certainly a novelty, the themed restaurant thing had a long history. When it came to décor, it was common earlier in the twentieth century for Melbourne’s tearooms to be inspired by the allure of the exotic and the foreign, whether that be from Europe or from Asia. Caterers have long employed ambience, gimmickry and nostalgia, in shades of comforting retro or alluring modern, to entice repeat patronage. The Mia Mia Tea Rooms in Collins Street advertised the atmosphere of an old Dutch kitchen. In the 1920s its waitresses were dressed in Dutch blue and white lace caps in peasant fashion.[21] Some tea-rooms played on the café chantant or singing café concept, others drew on Chinese or Japanese stereotypes in presenting an exotic version of other cultures: so 1920’s Melbourne had the Djin Djin and the Geisha tea-rooms, and the cultural othering served to reinforce the dominance of the Anglo majority.[22]

When the Eltham Barrel opened half a century later, there was a pretty eclectic choice of culturally themed dining in Melbourne: the Dining Out guide in the Age in February 1969 laid out some of the options: [23]

  • There was the the Lamplighter Restaurant in Bourke Street with its ‘atmosphere of America’s Golden Era’;
  • You could hear nightly folk songs at Geoff Brooke’s Steak Cave in Queen Street;
  • You could listen to Middle Eastern music while you dined at King Hiram’s in Lygon Street;
  • Have a quiet dinner at Melbourne’s first rooftop restaurant, Top of the Town, on the 20th floor of the National Mutual Centre in Collins Street;
  • There was Melbourne’s first all-Spanish restaurant, Rafael’s, in Little Bourke Street;
  • Or the ‘delightful Persian atmosphere’ of Omar Khayyam’s in Toorak Road, South Yarra, or further down the same road, the ‘Delightful old-world Edwardian atmosphere and décor’ of Pickwick;
  • Or you could try the prime rib beef at The Stagecoach Inn restaurant in Queens Road, where you could dine and dance ‘in an early Australian Colonial atmosphere to the renowned music of the Four Coachmen’.

There were other classic smorgasbords and themed restaurants: Flight Deck opened in the mid 1960s on Toorak Road in South Yarra, in the form of a Boeing 727 interior; and the Swagman in Ferntree Gully (from 1972 to 1991).

Music historian John Whiteoak traces a particular Bavarian-style musical entertainment in Australia back to its nineteenth-century roots in the German-speaking community’s involvement in the early wine and hotel industry, as well as liedertafels, oom-pah bands and slap-dancing traditions. Critical to this is the German concept of Gemutlichkeit, which roughly translates as a state of geniality and sociability, a brotherhood — and yes it’s a blokey kind of thing — a brotherhood born of communal eating, drinking and singing. In the particular case of Melbourne, the emergence of German-themed restaurants mapped on to the vicissitudes of postwar immigration:

By the end of the 1950s, [Whiteoak writes] subtly or overtly German-themed restaurants and cabarets began to appear as part of a vibrant Continental venue scene where European migrants, nostalgically seeking Continental food, entertainment and atmosphere, rubbed shoulders with Anglo-Australians wishing to experience something adventurous in food and entertainment.[24]

Whiteoak explains this as a kind of hyper-ethnicity with a very stereotyped and touristic flavour. In this, Melbourne excelled:

  • Hofbräuhaus, a Bavarian restaurant in Market Lane beside the Bercy Cinema, and opened in 1968, featured Stein beer, Hofbrau Trio music, songs, Gemutlichkeit waitresses dressed in dirndls, the traditional Alpine pinafore dresses with low-cut blouse, puff sleeves and apron;
  • There was the Cuckoo Restaurant in Olinda, opened in 1958;
  • And the ‘oompah-style’ Rheinland Restaurant at 9 Drewery Lane off Lonsdale Street from 1970 to 1980, where you could ‘Let Eddie Zlaty’s ensemble serenade you with lingering violin music from Strauss …or rousing drinking songs’[25]; (Eddy had indeed released an LP titled ‘Rheinland Music’ in 1974 with favourite polkas and tangos like ‘Roses of Tyrol’ and ‘Vienna Bon Bons’, and he later played at the Cuckoo Restaurant);[26]
  • Then there were Salzburg Lodge and Edelweiss Austrian Licensed Restaurants in Heidelberg — the Xmas menu in 1974 boasted Jaeger Suppe, Consommé Franz Josef, Bismark Herrings, Matterhorn Cutlets, Wiener Schnitzel, and Tyrolean Roast Beef; at Edelweiss kids would be lined up on mothers’ day, each holding a tuned cowbell, and on the signal from a fellow in Bavarian kit would belt out Edelweiss for all the mums in the room.

In 1975, building lots in the Eltham Heights Estate subdivision just down the road from the Eltham Barrel were advertised as ‘Country style living for city folks’.[27] The Barrel spruiked itself as Melbourne’s newest swinging restaurant, but also and particularly an out-of-town dining experience: ‘Forget the rat race and enjoy the best with people who know what they want. This is no gimmick and prices are reasonable’.[28]

This is one of the many many things that people like to remember:

  • mum and dad going there on special nights — Eltham “seemed so very far away”;[29]
  • families having all of their significant milestone celebrations there over many years;
  • kid friendly family meals or smorgasbords as an alternative to the emergent fast food joints, and advertised in the press along with Rob’s Birthday Club at the Carousel in Albert Park, the Dorset Gardens Hotel in Croydon, the Cuckoo in Olinda (with yodelling thrown in), or the Villa Borghese in Kilsyth;[30]
  • beer drinking and donut eating competitions, floor shows, theatre nights, fundraisers, car club lunches, joke nights, Kew High School send-offs, masked balls, 18ths and 21sts, work do’s and company Christmas parties, wedding breakfasts and wedding receptions;
  • the Melbourne Bushwalkers Club holding their annual dinner, when they weren’t at Edelweiss, or the Swagman, or the Cuckoo, or the Baron of Beef in Sherbrooke;[31]
  • teenagers learning to drive in the car park;
  • the waitresses contending with rowdy crowds of men lifting up their skirts;
  • waiters folding hundreds of napkins for each evening’s service;
  • prawns with thousand island dressing, pork and apple sauce, the novelty of Black Forrest Cake;
  • the Eltham Barrel, a nickname for a chubby kid in the schoolyard;
  • suburban mums and dads getting ideas, going back to their own kitchens and thinking, incorrectly, that it might be a good idea to bring the dinner out on a tray balanced on their head, with inevitable consequences;
  • rethinking the sculling competitions after the introduction of random breath testing in 1976; or else rethinking driving there;
  • chefs like Greg Wilson and Swiss-born Ruedi Forrer,[32] later Executive Chef at the Hilton Hotel;
  • the time when someone tarred and feathered the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Bill Mueller holding a beer stein in his outstretched hand and it ended up as evidence in the Eltham Court, to the hilarity of all;[33]
  • and the music, of course, the roll call of musicians in their lederhosen, Bill Mueller, the original bandleader and inspiration, his son Ernie Mueller on guitar, Syd Molnar on accordion (who also played at various times at Salzburg lodge, the Hungarian cultural centre, and the Cuckoo); Leslie Persely on clarinet; Ron Hayden who played the drums between 1975 and 1980, then went on to the Baron of Beef and the Society Syncopators.[34]

And then, there’s the fire, which despite the fire-resistant qualities of Stramit board, destroyed enough of the barrel on the evening of Sunday the 4th of  June 1989 that there was an end to it. Fuel had been splashed on the walls, gas jets had been turned on in the kitchen, and there was a large hole in the cellar wall.[35] The arsonist was never caught.

So we are left with the memories of those who remember a night out at the barrel, as well as the owners and licensees, managers and workers: Frank Vogl, who went on to Salzberg Lodge and Edelweiss and who won the tender to open The Melba above the amphitheatre in the new City Square in 1980;[36] brothers-in-law Peter Smith and Barry Jordan who owned the Barrel for about 8 years up to the mid 1980s. Occasionally the odd souvenirs comes up on eBay—an Eltham Barrel mug, an ashtray.[37] Now there are houses on that block off Kalbar Road where the Barrel once stood. The inscribed Eltham Barrel beam that spanned the portico is doing duty in someone’s private home, and there’s a Bring Back the Eltham Barrel group on Facebook.

It was something of a phenomenon in its day; it’s almost weirder now just imagining that such a thing ever existed — as a newspaper put it when it was sold in 1984, it sat ‘high on a hill like a refugee from Mars’.[38] Let your mind’s eye wander, and you can see the orange glow of the inside light streaming out into the night through the cross-hatched timber frame like a comforting face; listen carefully enough, and you might hear the strains of Bill Mueller’s band, as a refugee from Europe swings his raven-haired wife across the dance floor, and in each other’s arms, at the end of the week, with all you can eat and beer steins overflowing, the past is the past, the future unknown, and right here and now, wrapped in the Barrel’s embrace, nothing else matters.




[1] “FAIRSEA WAS TWO-WAY MERCY VESSEL” Good Neighbour 1 December 1953: 2. Web. 18 Jul 2018; Fairsea Passenger List, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Health—Quarantine Service.

[2] Michelle Fincke, ‘But the essence of Dad, I think, was adventure’, 22 June 2015,, accessed 20 July 2018.

[3] Graham Hawley and Brian McKinlay, Diamond Valley Sketchbook (Rigby Limited: Adelaide, 1973), p. 44.

[4] Lost Eltham Facebook group,

[5] Pavel Pokorný, Obří vinný sud v Mikulově a jeho evropští konkurenti,, citing Dieter Coburger, Das Riesenweinfaß an der Bode, Halberstadt. 1999; Methodius Zemek, ‘The Largest Barrel in Central Europe?’ South Moravia, vol. 24, vol. 27, 1988.

[6] ‘Going viral in the 19th century: Champagne Mercier and the 1889 World’s Fair’, The International Wine & Food Society blog, 20 June 2014,

[7] Department of Health Public Building Files at Public Record Office Victoria gives early details: VPRS 7882/P/0001 Unit 1877; VPRS 8044/P/0003 Unit 457.

[8], accessed 20 July 2018.

[9] Jim Allen, ‘The Eltham Barrel’, 10 November 2016, first published in the Eltham District Historical Society Newsletter, August 2016 (

[10] John F. Tipping (1923-1969) in Dictionary of Unsung Architects, Built Heritage Pty Ltd,

[11] Age, 27 September 1968, p. 24.

[12] Age, 16 November 1968, p. 2.


[14] Age, 30 November 1968, p. 7.

[15] Age, 14 December 1968, p. 66.

[16] Age, 18 December 1968, p. 29.

[17] Cross-Section, Issue 198, 1 April 1969.

[18] Robyn Annear, A city lost & found: Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2003), pp. 232-3.

[19] Canberra Times, 24 June 1969, p. 11. See also ‘History and Heritage’, Ortech Industries,

[20] Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS 7591, P0004, Unit 73, Item 692/642, will, John Frederick Tipping.

[21] Andrew May, Espresso! Melbourne Coffee Stories (Melbourne: Arcadia, 2009, first published 2001), p. 35. See also TEA PARTY AT MIA MIA. (1926, May 8). The Australasian, p. 55 (Retrieved July 25, 2018 from

[22] Tanja Golding, ‘Tea tales: A history of the cultural and social significance of tea and tearooms in Melbourne and Australia’, History Honours Thesis, University of Melbourne 2009.

[23] Age, 4 February 1969, p. 16.

[24] John Whiteoak, ‘Making “Gemutlichkeit”: Antecedents of “Bavarian-style” Musical Entertainment in Australia’ in Dan Bendrups (Editor). Music on the Edge: Selected Papers from the 2007 IASPM Australia/New Zealand Conference. Dunedin, N.Z.: International Association for the Study of Popular Music, 2008, p. 181.

[25] Age, 1 June 1976, p. 19; 13 May 1980, p. 21.

[26]; Herald-Sun, 21 March 2016 at

[27] Age, 18 October 1975, p. 118.

[28] Age, 1 April 1969, p. 16.

[29] Lost Eltham Facebook group website.

[30] Karen Kissane, ‘Welcome place-mat is out for children’, Age, 14 July 1978, p. 36.


[32] Age, 27 June 1978, p. 15.

[33] Lost Eltham Facebook group site.


[35] Age, 7 June 1989, p. 3; 19 Feb 1990, p. 6; Diamond Valley News, 13 June 1989; Bernie Murray, ‘Throwback Thursday: Arson fire at the barrel’, 24 August 2017, Eltham District Historical Society Inc.,

[36] Age, 12 July 1980, p. 4.

[37] Kim Deylen, ‘Eltham barrel Restaurant’, Wikinorthia, 31 October 2012,

[38] Age, 18 August 1984, p. 43.