10 – Bar 303 (303 High St. Northcote)

Images: (a) Bar 303 (b) Main band room. Photos courtesy of Bar 303. (c) The Night Before Tomorrow in the front bar (d) Rose Turtle Ertler. Photos courtesy of RTE.

10 – Bar 303 (303 High St. Northcote)

Next: 11 – Greek Democritus League Club (583 High St. Northcote)

Featured track: Rose Turtle Ertler- Hiccup roseturtleertler.bandcamp.com


Narrator: You’ve arrived at 303 High Street home to Bar 303 in Northcote. The site was old butchers shop from the 1920s. In the year 2000, Jack Moynihan and Tom Abud signed the lease of the space with the vision of creating an arts café and music venue. Prior to Bar 303 the space had been a café and a coffee roasting house.

With very little money Jack and Tom quit their jobs, built the bar and brought Bar 303 to life.

Jack says there wasn’t much going on in Northcote at the time apart from small gigs in shop fronts and squats. The Northcote Social Club was holding country and western nights and most of the shop fronts were empty.

Jack Moynihan: It was sort of a long dream for me to run a music, arts venue, I guess since I was a teenager. After travelling overseas I came back and was part of the sort of ‘90s Fitzroy scene there. I had friends who moved up Northcote way and found a venue and got started making what was meant to be an arts café/music venue but ended up being a pure music venue. 

I got teamed up with a good old friend Tom Abud who had a bit of experience running theatres and together we sort of bumbled our way through for a couple of years and came up with what we thought was a fairly friendly, decent venue amongst the deadness of High street. Back then it was quite a place, boarded up shops, a couple of fish and chip shops, a couple of pubs doing a few things but nightlife turned off at about 8pm and then it was just us gigging away until midnight in those days.  

Narrator: Bar 303 was at it’s peak like many other venues during the years the High Vibes Festival was held on the main strip of Northcote. It was a time that Northcote was booming with artists and musicians and the village really came alive again.

Jack Moynihan: Ah gee, that first one. Together with another friend Jake up the street and Tom and myself and one or two other shop owners got together and tried to put on the festival. We wanted to close the streets and plants some trees, one or two other things in the area. We got this little festival kicked off and we didn’t close the street in the first year, that was 2001. There was a handful of venues and we put on a bunch of bands and 303 pretty much held the party towards the end but most things closed down fairly early. It was a pretty good time.

Narrator: Bar 303 became a bar where First Nations and other marginalised musicians could play and connect with the community. The bar became a space for black gigs and represented the cultural spectrum of Melbourne and world music. Bar 303 has always held benefit gigs and art exhibitions for the many causes and communities that both Jack and Tom believe in.

Jack Moynihan: Well naturally we wanted to present a bit of an, I guess it was alternative back then. There wasn’t a lot of gig going on. We wanted to be totally inclusive, yeah. Basically we came from that sort of background and wanted to put on benefits and encourage First Nation gigs and awareness and anti-logging, forestry stuff, all those sort of things.

Narrator: One artist who had settled into the neighbourhood and who brought a certain air of magic and creativity to Bar 303 was Rose Turtle Ertler. Rose became a skilled ukulele player and singer and was instrumental in bringing a new community to Bar 303 which became Club MUK, the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective.

Rose Turtle Ertler: I moved to Melbourne In 2003 from Sydney and I really came mostly for the music scene, because I wanted to play more music. I did land in Thornbury which was really great and fortunate. A couple of years later Dean Denham got in touch with me. He wanted to start a ukulele group, there weren’t any in Australia yet at that time. It was before this big wave of ukulele players.

I think the first meeting there were three of us. The Melbourne Ukulele Kollective from there at grew into something much bigger. We started at the Terminus in Clifton Hill and then soon moved to 303. It kind of became a bit of a home for the Ukulele Kollective and they still do monthly open mic ukulele nights. They’ve been doing them online actually lately, the first Tuesday of every month. And that’s always at 303 otherwise. That’s been going for over 10 years.

Then about maybe 5 or 6 years ago, The Black Orchid String Band just happened to be passing. They had already formed a few years before I met them. They popped into the open mic Club MUK, played a few songs. It was very refreshing. I guess the ukulele scene in Australia is quite white, it doesn’t really incorporate or connect with many of the Pacific Islanders and Melanesians. So I met the Black Orchids and then I guess gradually over a few years started hanging around with them and playing gigs together. Which is great because it really keeps me on my toes with my ukulele playing (laughter).

Narrator: Rose Turtle formed a 3 piece outfit The Night Before Tomorrow and they found unique places and spaces to play on and off the beaten track.

Rose Turtle Ertler: Well, the Night Before Tomorrow, it’s a kind of punky, poppy band. It came out of work I did at disability service Milparinka in Richmond. A couple of the men there suddenly wanted to start a band so we did. We played pubs and regular places. We went through a stage of playing at strange places. Played in a laundromat in Brunswick, played the Coburg swimming pool once for some reason.

Then I was talking to my friend Debbie who has a band called Itchy Scabs, which is a kind of punk rock band for kids. We were thinking you could do a gig somewhere a bit unusual. Her father is George Hall, the mechanic In Northcote opposite the train station. So we thought we’d ask him if we could do a gig in his garage. That was great, he pushed all the cars back. There was a nice old Holden which had just happened to come in, which was a really good backdrop. We set up and did an afternoon gig there. It was really great to transform a place that was really familiar to lots of people who go there, but it was being used for something completely different.

Narrator: Rose recalls the Night Before Tomorrow producing a film clip on the iconic 86 Tram, and her connection to Merri Creek. She says it was inspiring to be surrounded by so many artists and musicians living in the community.

Rose Turtle Ertler: We didn’t think about asking permission, we didn’t think we needed to. Mark the guitarist would often write songs where he’d get a line from a sign he’d see. There was an ad on the tram that said “You Never Know So Don’t Let Go” about holding onto the pole of the tram [which became a song title]. So we had to shoot the video in a tram. We rehearsed in Preston so we put on our costumes and made cardboard Instruments and jumped on the tram. Which was luckily quite empty In the back so we had lots of space to jump around. The tram driver did stop and tell us not to jump around quite so much.

At the time I was living in Darebin, I just realised thinking about it, it was probably the time when I wrote the most songs and recorded. I think that was because there’s just so many musicians around  to be rubbing shoulders with. It’s like there’s music in the air that needs to be written.

I wrote one song that I can remember about the Merri Creek. I spent so much time there, I’m not really a city person even though I’ve lived in cities half my life. And I love the city, but going to a nature spot in the city is a special treat. And it’s essential, so I wrote a song called ‘Crick of the Creek’ about the Merri Creek.

Narrator: Bar 303 is waiting to open it’s doors again to musicians and I’m sure a few of the regulars are counting down the days. Jack has worked hard in the down time to paint the Bar and install a new sound system and is looking forward to putting bands back on the bill and see some old faces again.

Jack Moynihan: Oh, the dream is pretty simple. It’s just to get masses of bands back on  again and crank both the front and back stages. And hopefully we can spread out into the street a little again. It would be nice to close off the street and get the Old High Vibes back in action. I reckon this is the time to do that. One of the positives that might come out of it is that people and may be less conservative, less worried about what’s going to happen and just enjoy the fact that the public can be out en masse.

%d bloggers like this: