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Milk bar icons make comeback on Sydney streets

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

City of Sydney, Council

Milk bar icons make comeback on Sydney streets - Milk Bar icons make come back on Sydney streets

The milk bar is fast disappearing from Sydney streets, but award-winning artist and self-confessed milk bar junkie Eamon Donnelly is keeping its memory alive on banners across the city for this year’s Art & About Sydney.

Photographic images of the fading Australian icon will fly high over our city streets from 19 September to 12 October, showcasing the festival’s ‘endangered’ theme.

Eamon Donnelly has been capturing Australia’s disappearing milk bars on camera for more than a decade as part of The Island Continent digital gallery and archive. The project has taken him to more than 200 milk bars and resulted in thousands of images of fading signs, dusty shelves, paper straws and metal cups.

One hundred of these images will be displayed on 500 of the City’s banner poles usually reserved for advertising – forming Art & About’s popular Banner Gallery. It will line George, William, Oxford and Redfern Streets, as well as Martin Place and Glebe Point Road. A selection of 20 large-scale images will also be on display at World Square.

“Eamon’s work meticulously documenting this endangered part of Australian culture before it disappears from the suburban landscape was perfect for this year’s Art & About “endangered theme,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“The colour and vibrancy of his work along the streets of Sydney will surprise and delight in a way only Art & About can, using the city as its canvas.”

Eamon Donnelly said it was amazing how many people have a story to share about their local milk bar.

“For me growing up in Geelong at age seven, it was my first taste of independence, riding down the back lane to Dave’s for some mixed lollies, a milkshake, sausage roll or an ice-cream,” Eamon said.

A decade ago, he went back to Geelong to find that Dave’s had gone, as had so many of the milk bars of his home town.

“There were just the old signs and I began to take pictures of them,” he said. “It made me realise that something was happening within our suburban landscape, an Australian icon was disappearing like an ice-cream melting in the hot summer’s sun,” he said.

“The milk bar was Australia condensed to a corner business. It was family, community, friendly service, the migrant success story. You got your news of the world from there, the weekly food supplies, life advice from the owner who knew your name, you watched their children grow up, and they watched yours.”

Since the project started, Eamon Donnelly has been interviewing families that used to run the old milk bars and the ones that still exist.

Eamon came to Sydney to capture the last of our local milk bars for Art & About Sydney. Notable among these are The Rio in Summer Hill and The Olympia in Stanmore, both of which have had their doors open for more than 60 years.

He believes Sydney may have had the largest number of milk bars, starting in 1932 when Joachim Tablaridis, later known as Mick Adams, opened ‘Black and White 4d’ at 24 Martin Place.

The Black and White 4d is no longer there, but keeping its memory alive is Adam Gerondonis, the grandson of Australia’s first milk bar owner.

“The Banner Gallery is a popular part of the Art & About program. Lining the streets with images of our much-loved milk bars is just one way of celebrating our rich and varied culture,” Art & About Creative Director, Gill Minervini said.

Sydneysiders can also join Art & About Creative Director Gill Minervini as she leads a panel discussion on Australian milk bars at 2pm on Saturday 11 October at Customs House Library.

The discussion will explore the history of the milk bar in Australia with the 2014 Banner Gallery artist Eamon Donnelly and City of Sydney historian Dr Lisa Murray.

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