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Christie’s Cafés in Queen Street

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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.

For more stories go to https://greekcafesinbrisbane.wordpress.com

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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:  http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/…/ca…/jol/fellowships-showcase2017

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Fellowship unearths Brisbane’s Greek café stories

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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: greekcafesinbrisbane.wordpress.com

 

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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:

http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/australias-rich-food-and-lolly-history-seen-in-150yearold-nestle-archives-20160819-gqwqdm.html

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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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Bingara Launches Greek Cafe Museum

Bingara Launches Greek Cafe Museum

You’re invited to Bingara on the 5th and 6th of April, 2014 for the launch of the first Greek cafe museum in Australia. When Bingara opened the newly-restored Peter’s Cafe beside the Roxy Theatre in 2011 there was dancing and plate-smashing in the streets, noisy and nostalgic slurping at the milk bar, and a great gathering of kindred souls around the Greek food-laden tables that stretched from kerb to kerb. I had a ball. And the little New South Wales town is set to do it all again as it opens a museum in the rooms above the cafe. One of the highlights of the weekend – apart from seeing how the curators will represent Australia’s iconic Greek Cafe/Milk Bar – is the speaking program, usually held in the nearby theatre. This year I will focus on the food proprietors served and how that sat within the meat-and-three-veg cuisine of the time.

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February 7, 2014 · 5:10 pm