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The Merri Clan is the socially conscious pub putting Preston on the map

Nestled just off the main strip in Preston, The Merri Clan is at the centre of a bubbling scene of independents raising the public profile of the growing suburb. 

Putting on gigs, organising street parties and working tirelessly to bring something fresh to the community, The Merri Clan is quickly finding a home on Gilbert Road.  

Sitting in the venue’s surprisingly spacious beer garden, drinking locally roasted coffee from DC Coffee and surrounded by Guinness-themed paraphernalia in preparation for their upcoming St. Patrick’s Day event, owner Julia Tilley outlines the thinking behind opening the venue in a suburb not previously known for its cafes and bars. 

“We’ve been in this corner by the Merri Creek for 20 years, which is why we’re called The Merri Clan,” Tilley explains. “There wasn’t a lot going on here and we were going to High Street to bars and restaurants, so we thought why not open something here? My daughter is a vegan and I’m vegetarian, so opening a vegan place was a natural fit and there’s never been any animal harvesting product in the kitchen. 

“My daughter Ahliah is the creative genius behind the food and our chefs and cooks are wonderfully creative with it. We’ve met a community need and understood our community – we’ve always tried to make The Merri Clan fit, rather than imposing an idea on people.”

This is an approach taken by other local businesses keen to establish Preston’s place on the map, regularly joining forces to support community events and each other in a manner you’d be hard pressed to find in the world of High Street chains. 

“We’ve got a Facebook group called ‘Miller on Gilbert’ and we organised a street party not that long ago that we can build on next year,” Tilley says. “New people opening businesses in the area is always great, it brings in new people and new energy. Each business brings something to different aspects of the community as well. It’s people finding their place within what there is to offer, and each of us as owners listening to the community and what their needs are.”

The street party had a unique introduction in that it was opened with a Welcome to Country Ceremony and Smoking Ceremony conducted by Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Di Kerr and is something that Tilley is rightfully proud of. 

“I’ve been involved with the Aboriginal community in Victoria for a pretty long time and thought it would be great to have a Welcome to Country ceremony coinciding with the first street party. The actual street party was two years in its idea and conception and was really successful.”

This involvement with the Aboriginal community has found a further outlet in the live music Tilley curates at The Merri Clan – their weekly Blackfella Whitefella sessions, the brainchild of James Henry and Ali MC, sees different Indigenous musicians joining Ali each week, while local musicians such as Brian Morley, Darren and Melody Clinch, Maylene Slater-Burns and Brett Lee have also been through The Merri Clan’s doors. It isn’t just Victoria-based musicians, either. “We’ve had people from Perth, South Australia, Papua New Guinea, India...   everyone’s supporting each other, it’s something I’m really passionate about. I’m just thrilled that people want to come here, utilise this space and feel welcome.”

To these ends, Julia and her daughter have big plans to convert the currently unused upstairs area of the venue as well as ramp up their events programme. 

“We’re pretty excited to get in more headline acts once a month, we’re looking at doing more monthly markets and BBQs, and we’re opening upstairs; those are our plans for the next six months. Once upstairs opens as a venue then new things will come from that as well.”

By Jono Coote

The Merri Clan is open Wednesday to Sunday at 15 Gilbert Road, Preston. Head to the venue website for the menu and event information.