Images: (a) The Croxton Park in the 1880s (b) 1915 and (c) 1985. Images courtesy of heritage.darebinlibraries.vic.gov.au
Featured track: The Bonefolders- Eternal Weekend thebonefolders.bandcamp.com
Narrator: Originally opened as the Pilgrim’s Inn in 1844, the pub located at 607 High Street was the first to be built in the Darebin area. It changed its name to the Croxton Park Hotel in the 1860s and after going through many incarnations served as a full time music venue during the 1970s and 1980s. By 1979 it was boasting the highest sales of beer in Victoria and hosting acts up to seven nights a week, as recalled by one musician who regularly appeared there as a DJ as well as with bands Ol 55 and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons.
Wilbur Wilde: Just to remind you that this building played a big part in the rock and roll circuit of the 70s and the 80s. Bands that played here would have included The Angels, Aussie Crawl, Mondo Rock, Mentals, Hooks, Split Enz, Midnight Oil, Sports, Mother Goose, Men at Work, Kevin Borich, Renee, TISM, Hannaford’s Lucky Dog, Snoclaf (which is Falcons backwards), Ol’ 55, Dragon John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes, and Kate Cebrano, collectively known as Farnsey, Barnsey and Cebransey,
Just up the road from The Croxton Park is a pub called Cramers on the corner of Cramer Street. That used to be called which Richie’s Nite Spot. That was a really big rock and roll venue along with this circuit that went all throughout metropolitan Melbourne. Including the Manhattan in Vermont, Martinis Rathdowne street, Prospect Hill Kew, Sentimental Bloke Bulleen, Village Green Mount Waverley, Tarmac Hotel Laverton. We used to play the Tarmac and then go straight to Bombay Rock in Sydney Road Brunswick, man it was hectic. Bananas and the venue right opposite Luna Park, Macy’s or Her Majesty’s in South Yarra, the Kingston Hotel in Richmond. In fact, there more gigs in Melbourne on most evenings than in London according to Melody Maker and the New Musical Express gig guides.
Narrator: The rise of this circuit, and the Croxton Park within it, had taken off in the early 1970s. The experimentalism associated with psychedelia and then progressive rock receded in favour of heavy blues and flat out, no frills hard rock. Bands such as Chain, The Coloured Balls and Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs forged the way for many acts in shifting out of the clubs to provide music that could be enjoyed no matter how densely packed and drunk the crowd were. All played at the Croxton Park in the early 1970s.
Perhaps it was ACDC that best exemplified this period in terms of providing high energy thrills. Between February 1975 and January 1976 they played 14 shows in the Darebin area with eight at the Croxton Park and four at the Council Club in Preston. They also headlined the Preston Pop Festival at the nearby footy oval on a Sunday afternoon.
Following this round of touring ACDC returned to play St Albans High School and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in March 1976 before heading off to Europe and the US. After this they would not play Melbourne’s pubs again. Encyclopedia of Rock and Pop author Ian McFarlane describes the gigs the band played as well as his experiences of seeing them live.
Ian McFarlane: Circa 1975, 1976 ACDC were on the road constantly. They’d moved from Sydney to Melbourne and ensconced themselves in a place in East St Kilda, Lansdowne Road. From there they would travel everywhere, doing gigs every day. On the weekend they would do possibly 3 gigs on a Friday and a Saturday night, all these huge, what they called, beer barns. ACDC would play all those places, but what they also did was play dances at places like the Broadmeadows Town Hall, Glen Waverley High School and Ivanhoe Grammar School. And it wasn’t just ACDC [doing this] I should point out.
So what a band like ACDC would typically do on a Friday and Saturday night, they would do a suburban dance at a slot like 8pm. They’d do an hour, the roadies would pack up and they would trundle off in their Ansett touring van. Then they’d head to the Matthew Flinders Hotel or the Croxton Park or the Manhattan pub and they would do a 10 or 10:30pm slot. They would do an hour there and then they would pack up again and head off into town and they’d be at the Hard Rock Cafe for a midnight or 1am slot. So you know, is it any wonder that by the time they got to the UK they were just such a well-drilled band?
They had the first album, which was High Voltage, come out in the early part of 1975. The hit single from that was High Voltage and it also had Baby Please Don’t Go. The first time I heard them they were playing those sorts of songs. They would have been doing covers and of course TNT came out in December, which was a huge hit. That had things like It’s A Long Way To The Top, TNT itself, Jailbreak, some pretty amazing songs. It was that era. They definitely had their set down and they had a lot of songs to call on.
’75, ’76 I saw ACDC at Festival Hall supporting Daddy Cool, who had reformed at that stage. On that same bill, believe it or not, the headliner was Sherbet. ACDC just wiped the floor with everyone. ACDC were the new kids on the block, the real rock n roll killers. They were just wild. Bon Scott was all over the stage, Angus, obviously, just twirling around with his guitar. Sherbet came out, they were loud and they were a big full on production rock band but ACDC were just incredible.
My other experience of seeing ACDC that year was at a gig at Sacred Heart Girls College. They had invited my school to what they used to call a ‘social dance.’ ACDC came on and I stood at the front of the stage just watching this manic band going at it.
ACDC musically weren’t so much influential apart from being that raw, rock n roll guitar thing. Just a hard rock boogie band really with Chuck Berry riffs. But it was the way they did it that got everyone excited. And no one match Bon Scott in terms of being a front man. It was raw, it was loud, it was quite amazing.
Narrator: Alongside heavier bands the Croxton Park played host to cabaret, country and pop acts. In the late 1970s and 1980s it also featured celebrity DJs, such as Molly Meldrum who held down a weekly spot. Together with the pub’s own regulars who played disco and Top 40 hits to keep crowd’s dancing.
12 – Croxton Park Hotel (607 High St. Thornbury)