Christie’s Cafés in Queen Street

Streetscape of Queen Street between Creek and Wharf Streets, Brisbane, ca. 1924. Image no. APE-065-01-0016. Box 7149. John Oxley Library, SLQ


As Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow for 2016, I’ve spent the past nine months unearthing the Greek shops that once dominated the Brisbane C.B.D. Oyster saloons, cafés, and milk bars popped up like mushrooms on the inner-city streets from about 1895. By 1980 they were gone. Christie’s Café, which was one of the last to go, still shimmers in people’s memories—oyster omelettes with Nanna on the balcony overlooking Queen Street—so that’s where I decide to start.

A writer friend passes me a phone number and I head off to interview a daughter of the family. There were two cafés you know, she says straight off. Christie’s was 217 and the other was the ASD, though we called it 352. I hope this makes sense to her. What does ASD stand for? She has no idea. That makes two of us. Her dad, Christos Stahtoures, came from Greece in 1918 at the age of eighteen. But his name was troubling for Australian mouths so he became Mr Christie. It’s a start.

But those three little letters niggle away like a prickle in your undies. I enter ASD into the search box on Trove and start tunnelling. An hour later, during an understandable lapse in concentration, the unkempt little research gnome in my brain hands me a scrap of paper: Drouzos had a café in Queen Street. D might stand for Drouzos… Or not, the gnome says, and shuffles away. A scrap of café trivia. It wasn’t relevant. I didn’t record it. Stupido—the word echoes from within the labyrinth that is my brain. I heard that!

Turning to The Greeks in Queensland: A History from 1859—1945, where Denis Conomos has swept up the crumbs of a hundred café stories, I run my finger down the index. Drouzos, Apostolos Sotiris—ASD! The entry is brief but Conomos notes that Drouzos’ Café at 352 Queen Street, sometimes called the ASD, was one of the largest cafés in Brisbane in the 1920s, boasting a confectionery counter, a milk bar, forty tables, and sixteen staff (127). Christie bought Drouzos’ shop around 1921 and another—the legendary Christies Café at 217 Queen Street—in the early 1930s. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It feels like doing a jigsaw with most of the pieces missing. In desperation, I search for ‘café’ in the John Oxley digital photograph collection, and scroll through pages of thumbnails, knowing it’s too broad, knowing it’s futile. I’m about to give up when a faded streetscape catches my eye—the lower end of Queen Street in 1924—three tiny letters on an awning. The original is stowed out back in Ernest Hulett’s photo album so I retrieve it, photograph the original, and zoom in. And there it is. On the shop in the right-hand front corner. The letters ASD. Of all the shops I will unearth in the months ahead, this is one of the few photographs I will find. I lean back in my chair and a smug little smile blooms on my face.

That’s how it works—a question, some background knowledge, an interview, a reference book, a website, and an image that appears because some wonderful librarian wrote ‘café’ in the description.

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Greek Cafés and Milk Bars in Brisbane’s CBD

plates smallYou’re invited! Come along and hear about some of the Greek cafés operating in the Brisbane CBD in the first half of the C20th. This presentation is part of free fellowship information evening at the State Library of Queensland on March 9 (refreshments 5.15pm – 7.30pm). Dr Martin Buzacott and Dr Lorann Downer will also be presenting. It promises to be a fun and informative night, no doubt with highly engaging presenters! Like me. DETAILS & RSVP:…/ca…/jol/fellowships-showcase2017

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FiftyUp Club


I recently joined Kayley and Nick on their new “Daily Drive” show (2UE Talking Lifestyle 954AM Sydney) for a chat about one of my favourite topics – LOLLIES. The programme is aimed at the over fifties and raises issues relevant to them. Callers took the opportunity to phone in with memories of deliberations at corner shops and complaints about companies tampering with beloved childhood treats. Confectionery still pulls our early years sharply into focus and causes us to smile.

This is me at the Ipswich Show with Roslyn and her cousin in the late sixties. Tucking into fairy floss. How is that stuff even possible?

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Fellowship unearths Brisbane’s Greek café stories


I’ve won the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship and am working with the State Library of Queensland’s John Oxley collection to unearth some of Brisbane’s Greek café stories. I started with Christie’s Café because that’s the one people remember and have since discovered that Freeleagus Bros was a really big deal from 1903 onward and that 4d milk bars were big news in the 1930s. My latest discovery is the California Café on Carroll’s Corner at Fortitude Valley.

Greek migrants dominated Brisbane’s vibrant café scene, and they succeeded in spite of the most blatant racism imaginable. To read more about these stories please visit my blog:



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Nestle turns 150

cropped-picture11.jpgMany of Australia’s great confections – Sweetacres’ Minties, Fantales, Jaffas – are now owned by Nestle. The company turns 150 this week. Here’s a link to Esther Tan’s story in the Sydney Morning Herald:

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When One Book Closes Another One Opens

Far too many books are yet to find their way to my bedside table so this year I set about reading classic novels and landmark texts that have hovered at the edge of my reading life without actually becoming part of what I know. Last night I closed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “I even think of Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.” It was an acquired taste, and one I came to appreciate, but I’m glad it’s finished. Now to Patrick White’s Tree of Man because it was waved under my nose on the ABC’s Tuesday Book Club and has been sitting on my bookshelf for forty years unopened (it’s a big bookshelf). “A cart drove between the two big stringybarks and stopped.” Already, I know that this one too will be savoured rather than gulped. But I’m in love with the characters already.


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Looking for Alice

My Alice

One day, out of the blue, I remembered—the book with the yellow-haired girl on the cover. She was falling down a rabbit hole, past shelves laden with books and jars, past pictures and portraits and maps and other things I could no longer recall. I became obsessed with it: what happened to my childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland? I couldn’t have thrown it out. I wouldn’t have given it away. The house fire in the 1970s seemed a distinct possibility. Poor Alice. Then, just as inexplicably, I wanted a copy just like it. Simply had to have one.

Some aspects of a memory are quite vivid. I could almost smell the thick off-white pages, almost touch the thin film of gloss peeling back like cellophane at the edges of the cover. But in my mind’s eye I couldn’t fix on an exact image of the plummeting Alice. Would I recognise the edition if I saw it again? To eBay, and a search in the books category. Nothing familiar. Then, a week later, there she was! And I knew her in an instant—the black Alice band and the yellow hair streaming out behind her, the blue dress and the lace edging on her white petticoat, the brown lettering on the salmon-pink background—ah yes . . . I remember it well.

A week later Alice was mine. When the parcel arrived I unwrapped it, as I had unwrapped the birthday gift so long ago. Hesitating, I imagined some little girl’s name written inside and realised that, unlikely though it was, the name might be mine. Of course, I knew it couldn’t be. And it wasn’t. Even as I lifted the front cover I realised something was different: the glossy surface wasn’t peeling back like cellophane at the edges. The girl’s name was Annette Purdie. I wonder if she’s still out there somewhere . . . and why she didn’t keep her copy of Alice.

The book sits now with several other Alices I count among my friends. There is Maud Low’s book, presented to her in 1927, which has a 1920s Alice playing tennis on the cover. I found it in a market outside Christchurch. There are two Priory Classics, dateless, one printed in Hungary, the other in Russia. Neither is inscribed and both have those peeling covers. Karen Cox’s book has a daggy cloth cover, yellow linen, and is dated 1958. This book has been with me for as long as I can remember. The Peal Press edition has a dust jacket, and once belonged to Dawn McNeill. Another once belonged to the Dakabin State School. It is stamped CANCELLED and has a library card slipped into a mustard-coloured pocket pasted inside the back cover. Susanne borrowed this copy over and over. A slow reader perhaps? Or an Alice addict like me? Pamela Cleeve’s name, written in the back, has been crossed out. Another eBay find is the chalk-blue Ward Lock & Co. edition that has no publishing date and bears no inscription. I like the stylised Art Deco cloud and sunshine design on the front.

My favourite Alice is a long-time friend. This book is twice the size of the others in every direction and is “fully illustrated in line and colour” by Harry Rountree. Miss Margaret Beetham’s name is written inside the front cover. Twice. The pages are thick and furry, almost like cardboard, and are peppered with rust-coloured spots. They’re also embellished with young Margaret’s artistic endeavours; she coloured in some of the illustrations and copied others in lead pencil, as young readers are wont to do. Are yes, I remember it well.

Welcome home Alice.

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