Ever heard of Bingara? I first came across this rural NSW township on a detour through Manilla to visit the Calokerinos family at the Canberra Cafe. Bingara may not be big, but it has lots to offer tourists and locals alike. The Roxy Theatre is the legacy of a financial misadventure by three Greek partners in the 1930s, and when it was restored several years ago became one of the most complete and original early cinemas in the country. If a little place like Bingara can do it, why can’t Brisbane save the extraordinary Regent Theatre? But that’s another story. The Roxy is a gem, and sometimes still plays to packed houses, particularly when the darling of Bingara, John Woods, is on the stage.
Peter’s Cafe, which is beside the theatre, has also been restored to its former glory, so now the town boasts an immaculately presented Greek cafe with spectacular terrazzo floor, wooden cubicles with worn Laminex tops, and a milk bar complete with soda fountains and milkshake-makers. When Bingara celebrated this latest restoration in April of this year by throwing a party, Greek-Australians and Helenophiles came from all over to join the locals in their weekend-long celebration. A street party included Greek music, dancing and plate-smashing and a Greek meal, an open-air, sit-down affair enjoyed by some 400 guests arrayed in 1930s finery. When the moment arrived, and the ribbon was cut, the doors to the new Peter’s Cafe swung open and guests flooded inside to order malted milks and ice cream sodas served by ex-proprietors sporting black bow ties. One former cafe proprietor was Con Fardouly, who had a shop in Inverell, the fittings of which contributed to the restoration. Con maintains that Greek cafes were open 24 hours a day: “If there’s one thing a Greek knows, it’s how to appreciate food and how to be hospitable.” Throughout the weekend the theatre screened the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Roberta, the first film ever shown at the venue, and visitors toured the facility or simply wandered down the street, very likely bumping into John Woods or Peter Prineas, the grandson of one the the Roxy’s founders.
Peter’s was one of three Greek cafes in Bingara. The Gwydir Cafe on the opposite side of the road has long since closed down, but the Regent Cafe further along has been open for business for many decades, although no longer managed by Greek-Australians. For Sandy McNaughton, who has overseen the restoration projects, the task of fitting out the museum above the cafe still lies ahead, so contact her if you have cafe memorabilia that needs a home. And next time you travel through the New England area take the road through Bingara and make time to visit the Roxy Theatre and Peter’s Cafe.
The transcript and video of Pip Courtney’s report for Landline, which includes footage of the inside of the theatre, can be viewed online: http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2010/s3210783.htm