6 May 2024


by Andy Stewart

It’s the end of the road for this iconic Victorian venue – apparently. According to the managers and promotors, The Caravan Club’s April 2024 gigs represented the last shows. But not everyone’s convinced.

In early April the iconic Caravan Club, one of Victoria’s most successful and critically acclaimed live music venues of the last 20 years, took its final bow, finishing up with back-to-back sold-out shows that featured a cavalcade of artists hand-picked by its owners, Peter Foley, Mary Howlett, and Sue Keys.

The Staff

The long list of musicians included Mark Seymour, Vika and Linda Bull, Lisa Miller, Mick Thomas, Rebecca Barnard, Kutcha Edwards, Adalita, Susanna Espie and many others, all brilliantly supported by a fantastic house band led by Shane O’Mara. While these familiar faces were the stars of the show this particular night, everyone, including myself and Damien Young (who was mixing front of house on the day), sensed we were humbly representing a cast of thousands who’d previously graced the Caravan Club stage either technically or musically over the last two decades. The punters felt the same… in the end, we were the lucky ones able to bear witness to this last hoorah.

The two shows, which were held at the Archies Creek venue barely an hour apart, sold out in minutes, leaving hundreds more loyal Caravan Club regulars wishing they’d acted faster to secure the hotly sought after tickets. Could we have staged a third? Possibly. But as Pete, in his inimitable style, wryly quipped recently over a coffee while discussing plans for the future of the venue: “We couldn’t do a third show… we didn’t want to kill ourselves in the process!”

Pete and Mary

As it was, Peter and Mary did their best to accommodate more than 900 patrons on the day, who happily squeezed into the Archies Creek venue to be part of these cathartic and historic gigs. Dozens more peered over the fence from outside – a thing I’d never witnessed before at Archies Creek. To see 60-year-olds squinting through holes in the fence like teenagers was quite a sight to behold – it was a mild-mannered riot of the middle-aged variety.

The End?

I’ve been involved in the Caravan Club for a few years now, which some might say makes me a veritable Johnny Come Lately to the family, even though, in truth, it was the Caravan that came to my town, not the other way around!

In that time, I’ve mixed and stage-managed countless gigs on all three stages at the venue: the iconic outdoor stage, the indoor pub, as well as next door at Archies Creek Hall, which the Caravan Club fitted out a few years ago with Brett Doig’s Meyer Sound PA and an Allen & Heath SQ7 console. I’ve become good friends with Pete and Mary over these last few years, as well as mates with the wider community of musicians and co-workers, many of whom have taken up residence in Archies Creek itself. Indeed, there are probably more musicians per acre in Archies Creek nowadays than almost anywhere.

Susanna Espie

It felt more than a little emotionally charged then, walking into the Caravan Club with my kit bag for seemingly the last time in its current form. Everyone was feeling the weight of the occasion: the staff, the musicians, and especially Peter and Mary. The stage prep felt more like a family reunion than a gig, with everyone milling about hugging one another. Indeed, soundcheck felt more like an inconvenience at times than a necessity, as I politely pushed to get the final soundcheck over the line before doors swung open and the punters poured in. Backstage was no different, with everyone embracing like long lost relatives, sharing fond memories of all three iterations of the Caravan Club.

The gigs themselves were a genuine celebration of the Caravan Club and its management. Long-time friend of the Caravan, Ian Bland MCd the gigs in his consummate comic style, kicking off proceedings with an informal Welcome to Country followed by some of his hilariously iconoclastic poetry.

The punters were on their feet most of the night, dancing as only (mostly) middle-aged white people can. Everyone had a grand old time, rocking and rolling with the waves of emotion that poured off stage with every new act. There were heartfelt speeches from all the artists – Mark Seymour, Linda Bull and Tracey Miller in particular – with everyone essentially recounting the same tale: of how supportive Peter, Mary, and Sue had been of live music over the years, and that this day genuinely marked the end of an era.

Vika and Linda Bull

By the end of the night we were all exhausted, particularly the musicians involved who had all performed twice. We packed up in the usual way, with musos scattering into the crowd to sign autographs, although this time, with every lead I coiled and mic I returned to the drawer, I couldn’t help but ponder when they might see action again.

But Is It?

So, what now for the Caravan Club, which has promoted countless acts over the last two decades? Is it really the end?

Maybe, probably, possibly, or not… I have my doubts.

Pete has form on this flip-flopping, of course. He’s closed the Caravan before, though perhaps not quite with the same determination as this time around. But even in the relatively short time I’ve known him he’s often insisted that “Next month will be the last gig…” only for 100 more to then get added to the calendar.

So, will this time be any different?

“Absolutely,” insists Pete when I light-heartedly press him on the matter. “We can’t have sell- out gigs like that and then just turn around and reopen! We’re done. From now on, if we want to put on a small gig at the pub, or at Archies Creek Hall, or possibly do a little festival in the town, we can do that without having to reopen the venue full-time! And it’s not just about me either; I couldn’t put Mary through all this again… she didn’t sign up for this in the first place! She’s been a total trooper over the last few years, that’s for sure, but at our age we just can’t survive the grind of organising countless gigs and managing the venue as well. It’s just too much.”

Pete’s farewell

Fair enough too. I don’t know how they’ve done it, to be honest. It’s a hard, relentless slog that’s nowhere near as glamourous as people make out. The nights are very long, exacerbated further by the Archies Creek Caravan Club being a regional venue, which has meant that half the time bands have stayed at the pub, often partying ’til late, and then demanding breakfast the next day. That’s a lot of work… and a lot of seedy musicians.

But then, only yesterday, Lost Ragas played another smaller gig inside the pub at The Caravan, and next week there are two more gigs slated… so what’s going on? Are cracks in the façade already starting to appear?

According to Pete, “No! We’re gonna buy a campervan – not a caravan, coz I don’t know how to reverse them! – and hit the road for a while. When we get back, we’re going to promote shows around the country instead, under the banner “Caravan Presents…” rather than run a regional venue. We’ll stay here and make this our home rather than a pub, and still do small gigs here and there, but for the foreseeable future, we’re not going to be running the place as a regional pub. We’re gonna make the main bar our new lounge room!”


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