submitted by Peter Tsicalas on 12.07.2005
The Crethar Hamburger
Harry and his dad wasted no time in adding a series of mod cons, the culmination of which was the introduction of music selection boxes at each cubicle where the latest pop tunes could be chosen at the table and relayed to the jukebox upstairs. The students from across the road loved it all, the place quickly becoming a Lismore institution. But, notwithstanding the other attractions that made it the ‘in’ place for a few generations of schoolies, it was the hamburger that had them swooning. These discerning scholars were the official tasters, and continual feedback and experimenting led to the final product appearing on the streets by the early sixties. Over the years thousands of students survived on a steady diet of the wondrous creation, and continue to show their appreciation by inviting Harry to all class reunions, at which he is invariably toasted for his awesome accomplishment.
[Crethar’s Wonder Bar 1960. Eric Crethar behind bar on left.]
The Crethar had its beginnings in 1942 when British bombing forced Harry and his mother to abandon Piraeus and seek refuge in Athens, a city suffering near famine conditions and rumbling stomachs crying out for an impresario to restage the ‘loaves and fishes’ banquet. Harry, a fledgling entrepreneurial caterer, quickly figured out how weeds mixed with a bit of salvaged oil could be a gourmet delight and the taste of cat and dog could be enhanced with a bit of ingenuity. Searching further afield for these increasingly scarce ingredients was verboten, so he toyed with including rats and cockroaches on the menu, but gave the idea away when he found rival urchin gangs had already cornered this market. From then on experimentation with boiled shoe leather and the like gave him experience across the whole catering gamut.
Next came the journeyman phase of his training. With a heap of pounds sterling, which Eric eventually had managed to send through, he and his mother gained dormitory style accommodation, shared with about a 1000 others, on a modified rusty Yugoslav freighter staffed with ex-army cooks in serious need of inspiration. The novelty of a plane flight from Melbourne to Evans Head ended the odyssey and the start of a lifetime’s association with Lismore. After English lessons, completion of schooling and adaptation to Australian tastes through further on-the-job training in various Greek establishments around town, not to forget the winning of a boxing blue during National Service, (invaluable training as a bouncer), he was ready for the final prodigious step towards conception of the indomitable Crethar.
Word of the miracle spread quickly and by the time he sold the business in 1980 at least 1,000,000 of the venerable viands had walked out the door, either as takeaway or in contented stomachs, and served in various combinations from deluxe with ‘the lot’ (excluding beetroot) down to the ‘plain’ no-frills version. Despite his retirement from the feedlot business however, Lismore didn’t lose its famous fodder; the new proprietors were canny enough to carry on the formula, although it lacked Harry’s artistic touch, and by the time the business closed 20yrs later, due to undercutting from the dreaded Big Mac, another 1,000,000 had been consumed. It was the end of an era and Lismore declared an official day of mourning.
So what was this incredible phenomenon? Harry refuses to divulge, so the best we have is the observation of one determined gourmet who allegedly penetrated the tight security screen and left us with a record of a ritual involving moulding a meatball with an unidentified eleventy seven different herbs and spices, steaming over a colander, lightly grilling, then spreading between two thick pieces of toast. Alas, this doesn’t pinpoint the actual magic moment that transformed the ordinary to the sublime, and tragically we won’t know until his will is read.
Harry was also famous for a heap of confection inventions. The one still talked about is the ‘Fruit Cocktail’; half a scoop of his own secret strawberry syrup into a parfait glass, half a scoop of his own secret pineapple crush, half a scoop of his own magic orange juice mix, all blended and topped off with fruit salad. Then there was the ‘Witch’s Blood’: coke poured onto his strawberry syrup and topped with ice-cream. And the ‘Orange Fluff’, and ….. (Only one other person knew the secret of that strawberry syrup. And he’s dead. Frith the chemist, Harry’s nearby neighbour, had a nose that could pick one stray molecule amongst zillions, winning him free milkshakes for life in exchange for not divulging the formula.)
Harry’s father Eric also had a flair for confection conception. He’s credited with inspiring the famous ‘Hava Heart’, the chocolate-coated ice-cream on a stick, a variation of which he concocted whilst working for Angelo. In his case the thing was named ‘The Rocket’ and manufactured by creating a cylinder of ice-cream with a special scoop, pushing a stick up the centre and dipping in chocolate. Simplicity itself, but the stick was the brainwave addition that gave an old sundae product a new takeaway life. The school kids drooled, and as quick as a flash all the milk bars copied the novelty with shape variations, but still couldn’t keep up with demand – until the ever-vigilant commercial operators jumped on the bandwagon, undercutting the price and flooding the market. Then there was his ‘Rainbow Slice’, wedges cut from a family sized brick of Peter’s Neapolitan ice-cream and placed between wafers.
The Wonder Bar has the distinction of being the last cafe in town to manufacture its own soda. Most cafes retained their elaborate counter bars, incorporating both carbonated drink dispensers and milkshake mixers and their associated ‘under the counter’ paraphernalia and accessories, into the 1950s. All except Harry however, had removed the soda fountain stuff (carbonator, valves, plumbing, etc) to make way for the commercial soda water and soft drinks by the mid 50s. But in 1960 Harry, sick of maintaining the ageing machinery, also succumbed, to the chagrin of the connoisseurs of his lime ice-cream sodas who swore his home brew had more tingling oomph than the bottled stuff. The milkbars became major retailers of the rapidly expanding range of commercially bottled and canned soft drinks, at least until the customers could stock their own fridges direct from the cheaper supermarkets, so delivering another of the thousand cuts that led to the death of the traditional milkbar. In the early 1960s came Mr Whippy, directly delivering ice creams, drinks and tinkling music to almost every house in town, followed by the introduction of the disposable waxed container in the mid 1960s, enabling the patron to take away his milkshake or orange squash along with his hamburger and not be tempted to linger for a sundae accessory. Along the way the ubiquitous free-standing self-service coke bottle dispenser displaced display cabinets, while the gradual introduction of other ‘bolt-on’ mod cons eventually cluttered the places beyond recognition.
As for showmanship, Harry had no equal, the word charrysma being coined in his honour. Hours of practice enabled him to pour a milkshake from the container in his left hand over the three-foot distance to the glass in his right, then flick a straw into the air that landed with military precision into the glass just as he presented it to the applauding patron, all without spilling a drop (at least most of the time.) Ice-creams were dispensed by somersaulting the scoop six feet into the air and catching the separated ice-cream ball in the cone in his right hand while his left caught the scoop. The performance brought customers and Hollywood agents in droves.
And so did his barbequed chooks. In 1970 he was the first in Lismore to introduce the rotisserie, cunningly placed at the front of the shop so the glorious smell wafting up and down the street was as irresistible as the Pied Piper’s flute in drawing people to the door. The golden birds rotating on the spit, stuffed with his secret seasoning and basted with his secret marinade, remained the juiciest in town for many years.
In 1973 he opened a pinball parlour at number 145, on the other side of Tropicana, but we won’t talk about that, simply summarizing that he closed the place 4yrs later after finding it too hard to supervise the delinquents. Nor will we dwell on his handling of the aimless louts who discovered his was the place always open after midnight on Saturday to cater to the post dance crowd. (The overflow from Harry’s late night trade found a home in 1960 when ‘The Bar-B-Q’ opened on Dunstan’s old nursery site behind Bert Cockerell’s chemist shop, near the Church of Christ in Keen. It had a grill and a few tables and chairs under a pergola and could do you steaks, snags and rissoles in a bun through to 3AM. It was a popular haunt through the 60s, the crowds often spilling onto Keen street in a mill generating a 6 on the Richter Scale, but by the time it closed in 1977 the night owls had found other places to hunt.)
Harry’s success was aided and abetted by the gorgeous Maria Coronakes, from the fruit shop next door, whose hand he managed to win in 1967 after beating off determined rivals from near and far. They now hold together the remnants of the once enormous Greek presence on the Northern Rivers, which for a time in the fifties was probably the home to the largest Greek enclave in country NSW. Plans were put in place for the construction of a church, Agios Haralambos of course, but, alas, their dreams were never realised.
And in retirement he often sits on the football field sized deck of his mansion overlooking Lismore, with hovering maid ready to top his champagne glass with a bit more Moet, and contemplates what might have been. He coulda been rich. If only he’d had the foresight to patent and franchise his creation 'The Crethar' would now be the international form of currency rather than 'The Macca'. Whata tragedy.
But, back to the future (it’s 1955 remember), the younger and less wise Harry veers across the road to check out Steve Appo in his shop near the Coronakes betting bank.
Appo’s Fish Shop (128 Keen)
This site had been a dedicated fish ‘n’ chip shop since 1908 when the Italian, Angelo Iveli, re-located the third Oyster Saloon in town, after those of Comino and Andrulakis, from Woodlark. Nick Calligeros had it for a couple of years in the early 1920s, but it changed hands many times over the following years until stability was brought by the ex fisherman, Stylianos Giorgios Apogrimiotis, initially in partnership with his mate Sid Eyles, in 1940. Twenty eight year old Steve had sailed into Adelaide from Aliverio, Euboia, in 1927 and spent most of his time around Streaky Bay in SA and Texas in Qld prior to settling permanently in Lismore in 1937. While the fish ‘n’ chip shop was his primary day job he also had a couple of farms, one at Lennox Head and one at Alphadale, the latter oriented towards market gardening and providing dressed chooks, pineapples and the like to the shops around town. Another extracurricular activity was an insulated truck used to deliver seafood straight from the trawlers at Evans Head to customers and outlets as far afield as Kyogle, competing with John Karambasis who sourced his fish from the Ballina trawlers. All of which left him a very busy man, starting work at 4am and closing the shop at 9pm, except on Sunday when he slept in until 9am.
[Appo’s Café 1952. Steve Apogremiotis and daughter Irene.]
His shop, with eight four-seater tables, was a popular fish ‘n’ chip outlet, having a reputation for the quality and freshness of the produce and never slipping in flake as a cheap substitute, earning a 7* in the fast-food/takeaway category, with a bonus point for proprietor’s convivial personality and generous disposition. It mainly catered to the clientele from the adjacent Tattersals Hotel and, further down, Nick Kondas’s Metropole, but it also had a loyal following from the farming families who came to town on market days, the sports fans who swarmed up the back lane after the weekend bloodbaths at Oakes Oval, the after-matinee crowd and the hordes of Catholic schoolkids and families on Fridays. Whilst being on the ‘wrong’ side of Keen and missing the passing trade it continued to attract faithful regulars from the High School even after the appearance of the Crethar, giving Steve a steady income through to his death in 1963. He and his family were regular participants in Greek community life, with one daughter, Irene, maintaining the Greek connection when she married Con Goodellis of Kyogle.
The family kept the shop running for about 6mths before passing it to Chris Macris who carried on for 18mths, followed by an Englishman for another short period, after which the place folded, so ending nearly 60yrs as a catering outlet.
Harry sees no competition for his own grand venture and returns to the inside of Keen to monitor the extraordinary transformation of the Craigmore, on the way doffing his cap to the long running, Australian owned, Glen Milk Bar at 125 Keen, Jack Sargent’s recently closed Tattersalls Club at 117 Keen and the old Black and White Café at 101 Keen. (Through the 1930s the B & W was home to Lismore’s first bohemian café and known as the Black & White Coffee Inn, occupying the front of Harry Nielson’s piano shop. To the delight of the lingering coffee sippers Harry built a semi-mezzanine floor above the front window, accessed by ladder, where courageous jazz bands performed, notably ‘Hal and the Hotshots’. This concept of cafes as music venues seems to have started locally with Walter Grey when he introduced afternoon and evening musical soirees shortly after purchase of the Elite, but ceased when the Vlismas took over in 1929. Harry’s revival of the practice lasted until about 1938 when he moved around into Magellan and reverted to a pure musical instrument retailer, probably after finding he needed to sell a hellava lot of cups of coffee to make a quid. His old shop was relaunched as the Black & White Café, ‘managed and staffed by Australians’, which folded in the early 1940s.)
The Craigmore Café (97 Keen)
The Craigmore, a traditional café along the lines of the Monterey, had been in Anglo-Australian proprietorial hands until allegedly purchased by Veniamin Gialouris of Mytilini around 1940. He was part of the immediate pre WW2 influx and spent a couple of years with Jimmy Corones at Quilpie before apparently discovering Lismore, but appears to have moved to Brisbane in 1941, perhaps leaving the place in the hands of a manager. He was definitely sighted on counter duty in 1945 following a holiday in New Guinea courtesy of the Australian Army.
However, within a year or so he figured The Regent a few doors down was a more attractive proposition and passed the keys to Peter Cooley, repeating the handover/takeover ceremony with Peter in 1950 when he reckoned the action was now with bananas.
The Craigmore then became an Italian possession. The partnership of Manitta & Lorenson did a subtle reorientation, scaling back the café and introducing a range of continental deli items, which they both retailed and wholesaled, mainly to their deprived compatriots until their dangling sausage things on strings, tinned sardines and anchovies in strange sauce, tomato paste, pasta, Italian olives and olive oil, Vermouth, wine, Motta and Murano sweets, … slowly gained a wider acceptance. And then in the mid 50s came the late, great Florian Volpato and a touch of continental class.
Harry finds the flamboyant Florian in the midst of renovations and is intrigued by a strange looking gizmo called an Expresso Coffee Machine being fitted into the new counter. This thing was a first in the region and pretty soon, due largely to Florian’s entrepreneurial flair, the locals were being introduced to real coffee (notwithstanding Harry Neilson’s mysterious brew), along with a supplemented and diversified range of exotic deli items. The place, now named ‘Florians’, was a spacious one, stretching through to Eggins Lane, also enabling him to give the region a classy nightclub, ‘La Gondola’, which became a popular haunt for the gay blades and their dates into the mid 60s. And his entry into the noshery business followed the new trend set by John Carblis at the Tudor, with ‘Continental Meals’ now featured on the menu.
In 1958 Florian also started ‘The Continental Hour’ on 2LM, introducing Greek as well as Italian music to an intrigued community used to Slim Dusty and Elvis. Alas, it ceased in 1962, as did Florians by the late 60s, the undercapitalised site eventually redeveloped as the Embassy Arcade.
Great food for thought thinks Harry, who subsequently took over presentation of the Greek language show on 2NCR-FM. (And still going strong - tune in on Tuesday nights and hear his dulcet tones). But in the meantime he and Florian combined forces for the wedding of the year in 1967 (yep, Harry’s own.) With 450 guests the City Hall, where Harry had the catering contract, was the only possible accommodation for this bacchanalian wedding feast, and while he did the catering himself it was Florian’s supervision that gave it the memorable magic touch. The new City Hall was opened in 1965 and Harry and his father won the lease for the Kiosk, opened at least twice a week for various functions, dances, plays and talkfests, until Harry gave the game away in 1980 along with the Wonder Bar. (Florian however, rejoined the game in 1993 when he opened Café Giardino next to the ex Church of Christ in Keen, finally introducing the Southern European style of al fresco dining to Lismore. The place is still going in family hands, as is the Left Bank Café next to the art gallery.)
Unaware of the twists and turns his life would take, Harry presses on, calling in next door to check the day’s horse racing odds chalked up on the blackboard at the rear of Sargent’s Markets, aka the Terakes’ fruit shop.
Sargent’s Markets (95 Keen)
Sargents was and remained the largest fruit shop in Lismore, its enduring success due in no small part to its marketing strategy - they were show biz tragics and the best bunch of spruikers in the business, including the show-off who could juggle five assorted pieces of fruit. This part of the corporate culture was put in place by the founder, the Cretan John Andrew Stratigakis, and over the 45yrs of the shop’s life each succeeding generation soaked up the techniques, adding their own embellishing touches such that their spin and spiel could convince the most sophisticated wine buff that the ordinary bunch of grapes he was sampling tasted better than Grange Hermitage itself. They knew everyone in town, each passing citizen being personally addressed and exhorted to come into the shop and try the latest special offering from God’s own fruit bowl (or check the odds for the fifth at Flemington.)
John and his sons, Len, Nick and Jack (Zacharis), his son-in-law, Nick Mark Terakes, from the Cretan village of Fourmi, and his half-brother, George Andrew Stratigakis, opened the Lismore branch of the large Brisbane based fruit enterprise in 1931/32, initially at 107 Keen until relocated to its present site just after the war. John however, had returned to Brisbane within a year or so, leaving Len as troupe commander until he handed the Golden Orange to Nick Terakes in 1936 and went off to acquire an agency in the Sydney Markets. At this time they had 3 trucks doing regular runs to the Brisbane markets, as well as to the fruit cooperatives and individual growers around Stanthorpe, Tenterfield and elsewhere on the Tablelands. But by the early war years hassles over lack of manpower, (qualified drivers and buyers having disappeared into the services), petrol rationing and a lapsed license to operate over the border, forced the shut down of this side of the business. They relied on other carriers to maintain their wholesale contracts until purchase of a brand new Bedford in the early 1950s.
By the time of Nick’s death in 1965 the business was in the hands of his sons, John being the gaffer, and by the time of the death of Sargents on 8Dec1978 the grandsons had been pressed into service. Each generation had been inducted into the mysteries of fruit retailing from a young age, but not into the military strategies of Woolies and Coles. At the funeral service Sargents was acknowledged as Lismore’s oldest fruit shop, the eulogists glossing over the fact that it was also Lismore’s oldest meeting place for the racing fraternity, where daily and serious discussion on the form of the nation’s horses took place. (And honouring the tradition, the TAB now operates from a shop next door.)
[Sargent’s Markets, Christmas 1965. L to R: Alex Coronakes, Mark Terakes, Sylvia Terakes (John’s wife), Maria Sourry (nee Terakes), John Terakes, Theo George Poulos, Katina Terakes (nee Sargent)]
The genesis of the enterprise was Stratigakis’s 1920 purchase of an agency at the Brisbane wholesale fruit markets, which grew to rival the Cominos (Douris) in supplying Greek shops throughout Queensland. He was one of the six proprietors of ‘O Angeloforos Kouinslandis,’ the first Greek newspaper published in Queensland in 1931, the same year he handed over presidency of the Greek Community of Queensland to Emmanuel Vlandis, late of Lismore. His daughter Katina married Nick Terakes, his compatriot and earlier partner in a South Brisbane café, in one of Brisbane’s grandest Orthodox weddings during Greek Festival Week of 1921, held to mark the opening of Hellenic House. Allegedly 600 Greeks attended the wedding, representing over half of the Greek population of Queensland. Two other weddings were conducted that week, including that of Theo Stavrianos Comino (Douris), earlier of Lismore, and the baptism of Cosma Aroney, the son of Jack of Murwillumbah. The play Golfo, directed by George Sargent, whoever he was, and performed by members of the Hellenic Dramatic Society, amongst whom were many familiar past and present Lismore names, was also staged.
John’s half brother, George Sargent, had landed in 1926 and come to Lismore a little ahead of the others, ~1930/31, perhaps as John’s location scout, but within a year or so he had been snapped up by Paul Coronakes as a driver and buyer for his wholesale business. Sometime later he became manager of the fruit department at Mewing’s Grocery Store, where he was still working when he married and went off to run his own race in Woodlark Street in 1936. George was another of the many Greeks raised in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Cairo, giving him linguistic skills in Greek, Italian, French, English and Arabic.
John’s sons, Len, Nick and Jack, while keeping their fruitering day jobs, also had secondary careers as bookies. Len, gifted with the ability to balance a zillion numbers in his head, subsequently had a successful career at the Sydney tracks, where he was joined by Nick following war service and by Tony Terakes around the late 1940s. Jack aspired to club management and didn’t track the horses to Sydney until much later. He temporarily resumed fruitering following WW2 service, but shortly afterwards opened his Lismore Club at 117 Keen, swiftly renamed Tattersalls Club after the chaps at the pukka club around in Molesworth choked on their whiskeys. Like Spiro Coronakes, he initially had a couple of billiard tables but quickly provided the requisite card tables, and just as quickly could be seen driving around town in a Big Black Nash. Rather than reopen after the disaster of the ’54 flood he elected to cross the road and manage Spiro’s place, and by the late 50s could be seen around town on a bicycle, and by 1960 not at all.
Harry notes the importance of customer relations, risk management and theatrics, reluctantly leaving the unrestrained energy of the place to carry out a survey of the Regent, another of the old Monterey style cafes struggling to stay relevant.
The Regent Café (81 Keen)
The early history of the Regent is still a bit hazy, but allegedly Nick Poulos owned the freehold when the business was acquired by Harry Nick Crethery, unconnected to Peter Nick of the Monterey, from an Australian lady about 1930. Harry, who came from Ballina via a stint at Coraki in the mid 1920s, handed over to Harry Jim Crethar around 1932 and went walkabout somewhere.
Harry Jim had come from Glen Innes in 1925 and initially worked for his alleged cousin, Angelo Victor Crethar, for a couple of years until taking up a fruit shop somewhere down near the Monterey in silent partnership with his brother Nick. Nick, who was at Coraki at this time, moved to Evans Head when Harry took over the Regent, but it’s understood he continued as Harry’s silent partner until he returned to Lismore in the late 30s and acquired his own shop in Woodlark, subsequently taking over Harry’s shop for a short period around 1945.
The Regent was a popular spot for its captive clientele from the three pubs in the immediate vicinity (the Metropole and Tatts across the road and the Gollan next door) who provided a boisterous evening trade and subdued late morning breakfast trade. It was also the favoured meeting place for the greyhound racing fans, the pan lickers strutting their stuff around at the Coleman’s Point track a couple of times a week. Paydays for the farm hands were particularly busy when the high-spirited lads would come to town to visit the brothels, pubs and gambling dens. Order eventually was restored through the appearance of a big burley policeman who timed his free feed to the likely times the boyos would arrive.
[Regent Café 1938. L to R: Harry John or Harry Nick Crethar, Spiro Tsicalas, Nick Jim Crethar, Jean Brown, Ruby Green, Nellie Mules, Harry Jim Crethar]
Through the war the Regent, bigger than the Monterey and having a bakery along with a more substantial kitchen, also enjoyed the patronage of the foreign servicemen, at one stage the competition for this lucrative trade being so great that Harry broke the tacit convention and introduced a five-course meal for 2/6d, at least until rationing and price fixing started to bite and before the vigilance of the industrial inspectors posing as customers stepped-up.
[And for the culinary curious, reliable witnesses (Scout’s honour) observed the strange phenomenon of American serviceman calling for ice-cream as a sauce for their steaks. The locals never took up the craze, but Harry covered the chance by calling it a two-course meal.]
Nevertheless, as the war progressed trading became more difficult as Harry, like all the highly virtuous Greek proprietors, never thought of resorting to the black market (Mafia honour). It’s understood he, like most others, reduced trading hours and scaled back the range of services until Nick sold up in Woodlark to come and give him a hand. And then came the ’45 flood to help him make a final decision, selling out to Nick and taking up the less stressful Golden Globe in Molesworth. Nick, a master pastry cook and envied consort of the universally loved Florrie Panaretto, carried on for a year or so when he too decided he needed a geographical cure and moved to Casino.
The new prince Regent, Goulouris of Craigmore, the brother-in-law of Mick Feros of Ballina, reigned until 1950, handing the baton to his compatriot, Peter Cooley, and creating a ripening rooms and banana merchanting enterprise at his estate at 125 Magellan, which he managed successfully until 1970 despite the industry turndown. He was active in Greek community affairs and his was the house where the retired Cypriot monk, Fr Kallistratos Adamou, chose to live during his short posting in the late 60s.
Peter Cooley (Koultis of Mytilini) was a more dedicated caterer. He had taken over one of the Andrulakis businesses at Woodburn in the early 1930s, but was wiped out in 1936 following a fire that consumed six buildings along the Highway strip, three of which were owned by the Andrulakis. He continued to trade from his rebuilt shop but was again left homeless by the ’45 cyclone, this time figuring there was a jinx on Woodburn and coming to Lismore. Around the same time he was joined by his brother James, fresh from a stint of banana growing at Rosebank with his compatriot, Stratis Karambasis, who went to Nick Crethar’s Woodlark cafe.
By the time ‘young Harry’ called in Peter had stopped trembling from the ’54 cyclone, but the place was still locked into serving giant T-bones overhanging the plate and seriously in need of an upgrade. In the absence of a bar, sit down cups of tea with toast remained the go rather than milkshakes and chicko rolls, and while the menu evolved, substantial meals and takeaway fish ‘n’ chips were still the speciality into the mid 60s when he, like similar proprietors, decided he’d had enough of trying to undercut the clubs. Unable to sell the business as a going concern he flogged everything in a giant auction and moved to Sydney, the building subsequently becoming home to a bits ‘n’ pieces shop.
‘Young Harry’ now crosses Larkin Lane, passes the old Panaretto shop under the Gollan Hotel, now trading ‘Under Royal Patronage’ following the Queen’s stay in 1954, and proceeds across Woodlark Street to view the relatively new Notaras shops on the northern side of the Commercial hotel.
Notaras Building (Woodlark/Keen)
The Notaras name reappeared in Lismore in the early 1930s when Anthony and John Lambrinos Notaras of Grafton acquired the old ‘Start Court Theatre’ site next to the ‘Commercial Hotel’ in Woodlark Street, plus a bit around in Keen, giving them a dog leg block completely surrounding the Commercial.
The ‘new’ Star Court in Molesworth Street had been built in 1920 and the old one, an open air affair, had long since been converted into four shop fronts, with a convenient 65ft frontage, which the Notaras Bros acquired under one title. Just down the street near the Bennett & Woods Building was the old ‘Diggers Theatre’, established after WW1 and badly in need of updating, which they saw as no competition to their proposed new enterprise. However, the owner, Dorgan, in some sleigh-of-hand trick, beat them to the punch and had his plans approved for the ‘Vogue Theatre’ before they could get their act together. [The galloping Dorgan, who became lessee of the Notaras Bros ‘Saraton Theatre’ in Grafton in late 1929, remained one foot in front and tied up all the major sites in the larger Richmond towns before the Notaras could get a look in. Earlier he had put the skids under Sam Coroneo’s ‘Federalette Theatre’ by opening Lismore’s fourth cinema outlet, ‘The Palace Theatre’.]
Dorgan sat on his Development Approval until 1936 when he finally got round to building the Vogue in Molesworth Street. Anthony and John continued to hold their land in joint ownership, with various Greek enterprises occupying their shops over a long period. In the meantime the old theatre site behind the shops became an open-air boxing stadium, featuring tournaments two to three times a week.
They sold their larger site in 1950 following a major fire, but as a goodwill gesture to one of their tenants, George Macris, built two new shops on the Keen land. Fifty four years later the shops were demolished by the new owner, the entrepreneurial prince of pubs, Peter Coronakes.
[At the same time Peter gave his Commercial a facelift and a new name, Mary Gilhooleys, where he, in leprechaun hat, could be seen pulling heady green beer on Saint Pat’s day. (Marketing flair runs in the family.)]
The Blue Bird Café (43 Keen)
George Macris landed from the Turkish island of Imbros in 1938 and came to Lismore after a couple of years at Bonalbo and Casino. He worked for the Cretan, Tony Lakis, in a fruit shop in the Commercial Hotel building, buying the business in the mid war years but on-passing it to the Italian Mario Gasperini in 1945. After a short stint as a cook in the ‘Capitol Cafe,’ he opened the ‘Blue Bird Café’ in the Notaras building, one shop up from the voluble Mario, firing him up and giving the Lismore citizens great street entertainment, particularly when he employed his Turkish language skills.
The Blue Bird was almost a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ hamburger joint, mainly catering to the boxing aficionados through a flap opening onto the street until a mysterious fire burnt out George and the adjacent shop. Thanks to the Notaras he was able to move around the corner to take up residence in his posh new shop, where the anchor of the business became fish ‘n’ chips, which the pugilist enthusiasts could now consume at five six-seater cubicles. And thanks to the fear of eternal damnation he did a roaring trade from the Catholic schools on Fridays.
[Macris Family 1951 Lismore. L to R: Anna (nee Haymandos), baby Chris, George and Con.]
He traded through to 1974, retiring to Sydney three weeks before the flood that matched the monster of ’54, leaving the old Blue Bird to slowly go down market and morph into a ‘corner store’ as it became isolated through developments around that portion of Keen and changed circumstances around the CBD.
Harry now does an about face and retraces his steps back to the corner, crosses the road and resumes his walkabout along the inside of Woodlark, once the home to a host of Greek enterprises, including all the original pioneers pre WW1, but now in reduced circumstances.
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