Sunday Mail

GOV, Sweat and beers!

Author: Nathan Davies

Twenty five years ago the Tonkin family bought a pub with the aim of making it a home for live music. It worked. NATHAN DAVIES looks at a quarter of a century of tunes at the Governor Hindmarsh.

Pub life runs deep in veins of the Tonkin family. Melissa and Jo Tonkin’s great-grandmother sold liquor from her general story in Victoria’s Tolmie Ranges, and the sisters were raised in the pubs owned by parents Brian and Vivien.

“Our mother was even christened in a pub,” Melissa says over a cup of tea on the veranda of South Australia’s best-known live music venue, The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel

It was probably inevitable, then, that the sisters would go into the pub game themselves but when they took over a down-at-heel drinking hole in Adelaide’s inner-west they could have never envisioned what it would become.

“When the family first bought the pub in 1993 it was very eighties colours — lots of aqua — and people used to call it the Lollipop Hotel,” Melissa says.

“This pub was on the wrong side of the tracks, literally. Our parents bought this pub with the idea of giving something back to the music community.”

Brian and Vivien were lured to Adelaide in 1980 thanks to a Don Dunstan-inspired feeling of optimism that had enveloped the city.

“We were tossing up whether to go to Melbourne or Adelaide, and at that time it felt like a lot of good things were happening in Adelaide” Melissa says.

“So we came over and our parents bought the Bridgewater Inn. We became very friendly with Redgum and lots of other bands in that Hills scene.”

Music was always front and centre for the Tonkin family, as integral to their pub vision as cold beer. However none of the family pubs — the Bridgewater, the Maylands and Port Elliot’s Royal Family — had a dedicated music room. Enter The Gov.

Right from the start the Tonkins set about remaking The Gov — which at one point even had a boxing ring out the back — into a hub for musos, inviting groups like Jazz SA, the SA Blues Club and folk collectives to make the hotel their own. When Melissa and Jo were lured back from Sydney to run the pub in 1997, with help from brother Richard, they started booking more traditional rock acts.

“Jo started booking all the bands, rock bands — Renee Geyer, The Cruel Sea, Paul Kelly — and there was a bit of a change of energy,” Melissa says.

It worked because Melissa and Jo were giving the rock-loving punters of Adelaide something they craved — a large, dedicated band room. Just years earlier, with the introduction of poker machines in the early nineties, many of the suburban band rooms that nurtured Adelaide’s famous pub rock scene had been carved up and renovated into mini-casinos.

The sisters set about enlarging the band room to hold 750 people, and The Gov soon became the unofficial home of live music in Adelaide, scooping numerous awards and being inducted into the Adelaide Music Collective’s Hall of Fame.

The list of acts that The Gov has managed to attract over the years is impressive to say the least. The Angels, The Church, Courtney Barnett, Dan Sultan, Diesel, The Drones, Hoodoo Gurus, The Gobetweens, Pseudo Echo, Radio Birdman, The Sunnyboys and Sia are just some of the hundreds of Aussie acts who’ve taken to the stage. On the international front, The Gov has hosted everyone from Canned Heat to Cat Power, Taj Mahal to The Troggs and many more.

They even famously staged a show by US hip-hop artist ASAP Ferg during Adelaide’s infamous blackout. trucking in a generator and lighting the room with candles.

So, out of the hundreds of acts is there an elusive artist the sisters haven’t yet managed to lock down?

“Um, Elvis?” Melissa laughs. “Failing that, I think it’d be amazing to get Bob Dylan, or Ry Cooder.”

Let’s hope.



I’ve played The Gov many times, both with The SuperJesus and solo shows supporting UK singers John Waite and James Walsh. It’s my home town so I will always have a special fondness for it. There’s a feeling in the band room that tonight’s gonna be a good night. and it always is. I’ve never had a bad gig there.


The Gov has always let us through the front door, which is always a good, if surprising, start.

A few ales in the front bar with its aesthetically pleasing environs, a sound check that’s never harried or hurried, staff with cheeky smiles and the promise of a slice o’ pizza. We ain’t in Kansas no more.

Backstage is a good hang, fridge full, and being close to the crowd there’s an expectant atmosphere, always.

Security eyeing us with deserved yet humorous suspicion. And we’re on.

Love that stage – convex and loud. We promise to keep the band room cleanish and keep the patrons thirsty and smilin’.

Thank you Gov. we look forward to next time, if you let us in again.


The Gov is one of my favourite places to play in Australia, and it was where I played my second-ever headline show in Adelaide.

I’ve had the opportunity to play plenty of other places, but I always come back to The Gov. It’s such a great live venue with such a great crowd. The Gov crowd just knows how to appreciate live music.


The Gov was a shot in the arm for Adelaide’s live scene after the heydays of the seventies and eighties.

A lot of the venues from that time were swallowed up by the pokies, so The Gov was much needed. We only play two venues in Adelaide – the Festival Theatre and The Gov.