Melbourne is famous for its historic pubs, great bands, secret bars, street art, backpacker accommodation and hidden laneways. The city is also losing its soul to high-rise apartments. Will the illegal destruction of The Corkman Pub in Carlton, finally save it for good?  Can the people of Melbourne (and her fans, around the world) push back? Feature – Jessica Adams.

Last year, with my fellow editor Anna Johnson,  the latest book in our Holiday Goddess series on Paris, London, New York and Rome went into planning. This time round, Anna and I chose Melbourne. We know, from readers all over the world, that it is the first city of choice for many of you coming to Australia. I had also marked off around 50 pages, just to cover Melbourne’s legendary old pubs, from The Tote to The Espy.





While I was writing the chapter on secret Melbourne pub history, the wreckers moved in on The Corkman pub in Carlton, which is a small but important part of the Ned Kelly story. Now, there is nothing to write about. The Corkman was given a death sentence, just like Ned. In fact , I am now contemplating a new section in our book on Melbourne called ‘How To Wreck a Melbourne Landmark in 24 hours.’

The Corkman was once known as The Carlton Inn. That’s how long it took to destroy it, illegally.  The developers wanted to trash it to build high-rise apartments and they did – ignoring all the laws and fines. There goes Ned.

Here are the last photographs I took of The Corkman, or old Carlton Inn, before the wreckers moved in. I hope they bring back good memories for you, if you stayed here on your Melbourne trip, or listened to Irish music here.



Beautiful stonework at The Corkman.

Beautiful stonework at The Corkman.


Charity tins at The Corkman bar

Charity tins at The Corkman bar

The Corkman hosted Irish musicians in Melbourne.

The Corkman hosted Irish musicians in Melbourne.






A petition calling for the rebuild of The Corkman, is here. It has been signed by people all over the world, and is approaching 20,000 names, as this story is published. People firmly believe (as the protest poster stuck on the fence at  the wrecked site says) ‘The Corkman Will Rise Again.’ And here’s one excellent reason why…





The Corkman was once The Carlton Inn and from 1860 it was the stamping ground of Sir Redmond Barry, the famous ‘Ned Kelly judge’ as President of the Melbourne Forensic Society.  The University of Melbourne academic, Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School, John Waugh, notes the connection in his book First Principles.

The pub was where Barry co-created what would become Australian law, with his lectures to the earliest generations of Melbourne University students. It was the same law that ended up snaring Ned – despite his famous armour.  Sir Redmond Barry also lived on Pelham Street – so The Corkman (or what remains of it, now) is at the end of the road. It was literally his local. The Corkman or Carlton Inn, as it was once known, is a unique part of Australian legal history.






This photograph of The Corkman sign (below) was taken by a Melbourne University law student. The framed print of Ireland stood next to the fireplace inside The Corkman and is now under the rubble, too.

The Great Seal of the United States you can see here, which I photographed for our chapter in The Holiday Goddess Guide to Melbourne, was crafted in a stunning stained-glass window inside The Corkman, and according to The Age, had been put there by one-time owner Sam Holt, son of the former Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt.  So much for the window.

Clearly, this was not just another Melbourne pub. It was not another manufactured Irish theme pub for tourists – it was the genuine article, made famous by a real Corkman 200 years ago. Among its owners was Kevin Egan of Essendon football club fame. He hosted an Essendon victory party here.  The Corkman had a past like no other. But now, unless radical steps are taken in Melbourne, the wrecked site may end up being just another block of apartments in a street which is full of them. The developers, incidentally, doubled their millions, by illegally razing the pub to the ground. All of which begs a new question for Melbourne locals and visitors. What price do you put on history, these days? Or the importance of a pub to a community? Or the soul of a famously charming city?




The exquisite U.S stained glass window at The Corkman.

The exquisite U.S stained glass window at The Corkman.






The bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly (portrayed both Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger) cursed his hanging judge, Sir Redmond Barry at his trial. Sir Redmond, who was also the first Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, promptly died just 12 days after Kelly was hanged in November 1880.

Barry sentenced Kelly to death saying, ‘May God have mercy on your soul’. Kelly replied: ‘I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.’ Now, for the second time in recent years, the fates of Kelly and Barry have met again, as The Corkman bricks sit in asbestos dust.

Back in 2011, when Ned Kelly’s headless body was found at Pentridge Prison,  Sir Redmond Barry’s former mansion in East Melbourne caught fire. His grand residence was in flames within a day of Kelly’s bones being dug up and given DNA testing.

And now, The Corkman has been destroyed too. Strangely, also within days of a fire at the pub. The timing is again strangely fated, as Barry’s old local was brought down, in the same week that the Andrews state government announced it would spend $1 million to purchase Kelly’s old home.

Ned Kelly’s cottage bricks still stand (below) while Barry’s are dust. All in the same week. For the second time this decade. Now that’s a curse that lives on.


The Kelly home. Ken Irwin, The Age.

The Kelly home. Ken Irwin, The Age.



It must have been a shock for the people at Victoria’s main tourism body to wake up, read The Age and see that one of their own recommended traveller destinations had been trashed in a single day. The Australian media has described the humiliating destruction of the pub by two ‘cowboy’ developers  at length and the story has since gone around the world.  The pub has also become a symbol of the future of Melbourne. Is it time to change the rules at last? Preferably before the entire CBD turns into just another dull McCity?


Digital Heritage Australia image (Twitter).

Digital Heritage Australia image (Twitter).


Only one other destroyed Melbourne historic building has made such big worldwide news since we began our book on Melbourne. The Palace Theatre, now gutted and being prepared for inner demolition, was the host to concerts by both Nick Cave and James Brown, and recently made headlines.

Historian and writer Aron Paul noted, “In the case of the Palace Theatre, the developer learned to work the system and finally received the blessing of the heritage tribunal to demolish the 1912 building and leave only a part of the facade facing Bourke Street. The social significance of the place was thrown under the bus.”

Ned Kelly’s cottage is now safe for all time. The only hope for The Palace and The Corkman is a radical rethink of Melbourne’s attitude towards her history. Then, perhaps, the beautiful Art Nouveau tiles saved from the wrecking of The Palace (below) can make their return. And The Corkman can be rebuilt, brick by brick, at the same time that Poor Ned’s cottage is restored. If the Kelly curse will allow it, of course.



Tiles saved from The Palace Theatre, Melbourne.






About Holiday Goddess Editors

Holiday Goddess. Travel for Less.