Australia’s Greek cafes and milk bars were never famous for their Greek food, but a new nationally-touring exhibition highlights the contribution they made to rural life. Verica Jokic reports on a celebration of the Greek immigrants who introduced Australia to the American Dream (and milkshake).
The milk bar, the milkshake and the mixed grill.
The only reason we have them in Australia is because of Greek migrants; they either invented them or brought them to Australia from abroad.
When Greeks laid down roots in country towns they opened up cafes, but it wasn’t Greek food that was on the menu. Instead, it was chocolates, ice-cream, coke and milkshakes.
The National Museum in Canberra and a travelling photographic exhibition are showcasing the contribution Australia’s Greek cafe’s have made to our taste buds.
Joanne Bach is a curator with the National Museum and says the museum is currently exhibiting items used in the Greek-owned Busy Bee cafe in Gunnedah in NSW.
‘They opened at 7 am and closed at 11 pm, so if you came into town for a cattle sale or for business you could get a meal anytime of the day,’ she said.
The cafe closed a few years ago, but not before the museum bought some items, including colourful anodised milkshake cups and syrup dispensers, as well as fixtures and fittings which now sit in its exhibition.
Angelo Pippos is a second generation owner of a cafe in Brewarrina in northern NSW. His father opened the Cafe De Luxe back in 1926.
‘We sold steak and eggs and mixed grills, but never Greek food. It was more American style food,’ he says.
‘I tried introducing Greek food a couple of times but people didn’t like it.’
Mr Pippos says growing up in a Greek-owned cafe wasn’t easy.
‘Before we went to school we had to scrub the floors with a scrubbing brush, and after school we served on tables.’
Leonard Janiszewski is an Applied Historian with the Deparment of Modern History Macquarie University in NSW.
He’s involved with a major touring photography exhibition that explores Australia’s Greek cafe culture.
He says Greeks began migrating to Australia in the mid- to late-1800s, bringing with them different ideas about food.
Their cafes became the focal point of life in country towns.
Greeks who migrated to Australia from the United States brought the milkshake idea with them.
‘Milkshakes in the US were sold in drug stores and pharmacies to help people consume their tart medicine,’ he says.
‘In Australia, that idea was turned on its head and the Greeks began selling milkshakes in cafes and milk bars.’
‘The Greeks invented the milk bar. The first milk bar was opened in 1932 in Martin Place and on the first day of opening 5,000 people turned up. Police had to block off the roads to traffic.’