Greek cafes had all but passed from city streets and country towns when I first realised the vital role they had played in Greek and Australian history. I set about telling the story of the Greek shop-keeping phenomenon, and Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill: Greek Cafés in Twentieth-Century Australia was the result. It remains the only book dedicated to the subject. So obsessed have I become with this aspect of Australian history that every now and then I head off down shimmering highways and dusty country roads in search of whatever remains of the shops that were once the social hubs of rural communities.
I’ve just returned from a milkshake crawl through central New South Wales. The White Rose Café in Temora is in almost original condition, and whizzes up a mean vanilla malted—in icy aluminium containers or course. The leadlight façade on the Garden of Roses in Canowindra is as gorgeous as ever, even if the interior has been stripped of its original milk bar features. The Central Café in Warialda is now a gift shop, but the milk bar is still there, and the proprietor uses the counter to display merchandise while keeping less attractive things, like computers, out of sight down on the containers that once chilled milk, ice cream and lemon drink. Sadly, only derelict buildings mark the presence of Greek shops in the small towns of Yenda and Barellan.
These cafés, and others like them, will appear in the sequel to Aphrodite. It’s called One Hundred Greek Cafés, and will document the specific stories of 100 shops across Australia. I’m working on the Imperial Cafe in Quilpie at the moment. Reckon I’m up to about 80, so if you’re harbouring a Greek café story somewhere in your past I’d love to hear from you . . .