submitted by Gilgandra Weekly on 20.08.2005
Written by, Robyn Walton
Coo-ee Calls. Number 12. May 1998.
Coo-ee Calls is a magazine that has circulated in Gilgandra since the 1990's.
Remember the heady smell of steak and onions... .coffee and hot buttered toast... .all wafttng from from the open doorway of the ABC cafe?
Anyone who does remember the big old cafe in Miller Street would have fond memories and also great affection for the wisp of a woman who, for forty one years, was the centre of that flourishing business.
With the still strong accent of her homeland, Chris Kelly spoke about her years in the ABC cafe:
‘Ask me about work! people think they work hard today, they don’t know what work is. but, i loved and appreciated every minute of it. I liked to sit, have a coffee and talk to the people; and the people of Gilgandra have been so good to me over the years. I really feel a part of the town. they were good years and I would do it all over again. Since I left the business I dearly miss it, and i thank all the people of Gilgandra for making the years so good for myself and my family.”
1928 was the year Manuel purchased the ABCcafe from its first owner Mr. Baveas. Six years later needing help, he asked his sister Chrisannthie to leave her beloved Greece and come to Australia to work beside him in the growing business. Gilgandra didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a wonderful era for the town and its people.
Communication was difficult for twenty three year old Chris, Greek was her only language, but with the help of police sergeant Taylor’s daughter Nelly, she gradually grasped the Australian vernacular complete with its colourful adjectives and slang. It was five years later, on a trip to Bombala she met and married the love of her life Paul Kelly. Paul was, to use an old cliche, a tall, dark, handsome greek, blessed with a marvelous smile that flashed the whitest teeth. Chris loved him, and with her brother Manuel, was proud to work hard beside him.
In time Chris and Paul became the happy parents of two sons and a daughter. in between making sandwiches coffee, tea, toast, cooking meals and stocking shelves, this little woman not only mothered her own three, but Chris was surrogate mum to most of the children of the district; families came in for refreshments and children were left to finish milkshakes, or special treats while Mum popped up to Western Stores (a very large Department Store) or other businesses in town for a few minutes, knowing her little ones were in safe and loving hands. sometimes too loving, for often she returned to find a chocolate covered face, or melted icecream running over sticky little fingers from the freebys" Chris so generously handed out to her small charges.
Around the 1930s shops closed Wednesday afternoons but remained open all day Saturday until about 8.p.m., so Saturday soon became the day for “doing business” in town, and a day to socialise. Mums and Dads dressed in their finest "bib and tucker". Suits, vest tie and hat for Dad, and of course Mum wore her very best suit or dress, complete with handbag, gloves and the obligatory hat. Some families came to town by horse and buggy others were wealthy enough to own an automobile. whatever the mode of transport, their destination some time through the day was the ABC cafe.
Going to town on Saturday was even more special during the war years, as it was often touch and go as to whether “Dad” would have enough fuel left from his petrol rations to make the trip. but somehow, most of the time good old “Dad” came through. Chris and her family also “came through”, as credit was given where it was needed.... times were tough, and money hard to come by for some.
Staff were always wonderful at the cafe, and Margaret O’Shannesy, Beryl Eason, Joyce Moore, and Alice Brae are remembered most fondly by Chris as they “stuck” with the family at the cafe through the war years, some staying up to ten years. The obvious reason for that of course was.. .they were good to their staff and in return, the staff were good to the family.
The nights when the Western Monarch Theatre was showing pictures were the cafe’s busiest. The big old wood stove was “stoked up” to make plenty of coals for toast making and the staff prepared food and drinks in anticipation of the crowds who poured in before, during and after the pictures. when the cafe filled to capacity, which was a common occurance, people simply stood outside on the footpath and patiently waited for seating to become available. . . .business was hectic!
So hectic, that on weekends the cafe used eighty to one hundred "large" sandwich loaves of bread, and copious amounts of tea and coffee. Saturday night alone, forty large loaves of bread, all hand sliced, were used for either sandwich or toast making and there was always four op five gallons of coffee hot on the stove, as well as the same quantity of hot water for tea.... then even more hot water on hand for back up. In the middle of this frenzy of activity Chris would take the time to boil an egg for a child if a mother requested it. . . .that was simply Chris’s way.
For generations of families the ABC cafe was their home away from home when in town. Saturdays especially, they would have morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and the evening meal; go on to the movies at the Western Monarch Theatre, then back to the cafe for supper before returning home. In those days toast and tea or coffee would cost them 9d., tea or coffee and sandwiches l0d., or pie, peas and gravy a mere 9d.; all served at the table.
For others it was a picnic in the park on Saturday, but sometime or other, a family member would walk down to the ABC cafe to have a billy filled with hot water for tea making, or have baby bottles filled or heated. Whatever the level of business a customer brought to the cafe each one was treated with generosity and kindness.
During the days of the ‘big Balls” with Slogget's, Cant’s or Tony Campbell’s Orchestras of Coonamble, and of course the White Rose Orchestra, supper for the “Digger’s” or “Movie” Balls was often had at the cafe. Ladies arriving in flowing ball gowns, long clothes and sparkling jewellery, escorted by men dressed in dinner suits or sometimes tails to enjoy supper. Chris not only happily fed them, but fussed over them as well.
Rotary held their meetings at the rear of the cafe and people weren’t “just customers” they were friends. it was the “hub” of Gilgandra. People were drawn there, meeting a friend to have coffee, play cards, have a friendly boxing match in the makeshift boxing ring out the back, or on winter’s nights, nothing was better for some than to stand in the large kitchen, backs to the warmth of the wood stove, talking with the family. always plenty of tea, coffee and hot buttered toast.
Down through the years visiting family members and staff came and went. At the ABC cafe Chris Kelly was the one constant. She lost a brother, a beautiful baby, and her loving husband Paul. Through it all she worked on to keep the business alive. Her stamina and courage never failed, but times were changing and cafes the calibre of the ABC were
passing into time.
When Chris and her family closed the doors on the old ABC cafe in 1979 they closed the doors on a Gilgandra tradition. It was the end of a most wonderful era.
Between fourteen and sixteen hours a day, seven days a week for forty one years, the woman called nanna, mum or simply Chris by her thousands of customers worked in service of the people of Gilgandra. If she had only one penny for each free hot cup of tea or coffee and each icecream, lollie or chocolate she gave a child, those pennies alone would make her a rich woman. but chris is rich with the spirit of human kindness. one of her favourite sayings is - " .. .a little bit of love and understanding doesn’t cost you much, does it"? a code she seems to live by.
“Isn’t it marvelous?” is another of Chris’s sayings. I say “isn’t she marvelous?”
Other information about the Kellys, Airds, the history of the ABC cafe, and the Kytherian presence in Gilgandra exist at kythera-family.
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