kythera family kythera family

Cafes, Shops & Cinemas

Photos > Cafes, Shops & Cinemas > Leonard Janiszewski & Effy Alexakis on ABC Radio - Greek-Australian Cafe culture

Photos > Cafes, Shops & Cinemas

submitted by George Poulos on 08.05.2004

Leonard Janiszewski & Effy Alexakis on ABC Radio - Greek-Australian Cafe culture

Leonard Janiszewski & Effy Alexakis on ABC Radio - Greek-Australian Cafe culture
Copyright (2002) ABC

Radio National Program, *ABC Radio, Australia.

*ABC stands for Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and is the Public (Government, non-commercial) broadcaster in Australia.


presented by Sandy McCutcheon
on Monday 15/09/2003

Leonard Janiszewski (written with Effy Alexakis)

California Dreaming: 'The Greek cafe' and its role in the Americanisation of Australian eating and social habits

Transcript of this program:

The national commercial success of the ‘Greek café’ - broadly regarded as a quintessentially Australian phenomenon and particularly synonymous with rural life in the eastern states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland – was, to a degree, a ‘Trojan Horse’ for the Americanisation of Australian eating and social habits well before the second-half of the twentieth century. The ‘Greek café’ firmly evidences a marriage of American food catering ideas to British-Australian tastes, including the association of food with entertainment and fantasy. This union had been instigated through Australia’s earlier Greek-run food catering enterprises – the oyster saloon or ‘parlor’ (American spelling was usually used) of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the ‘American style’ soda bar/sundae ‘parlor’ which had appeared by the mid-1910s, and the ‘American style’ milk bar which had emerged by the early 1930s; the ‘milk bar’ was initially created in Australia, based upon early 1930s American drug store soda bars, and then taken to Great Britain, and to a lesser extent, the United States.

The American influence was essentially generated by Greeks who had relatives or friends working in the United States in food catering enterprises, or who had been there themselves working in such establishments. The classic Greek country café, which experienced its golden period from the mid-1930s to late1960s, was primarily an evolutionary amalgam of its three predecessors. In names such as the California, Niagara, Monterey, Astoria, Hollywood, New York and Golden Gate, the American component of the Greek café’s creation is well suggested, but more so in its provision of customers with American sundaes, milkshakes, sodas and freezes or crushes, American confectionery (hard sugar candies and milk chocolate bars), and another popular product, American ice cream.

During the Greek cafe’s golden age, an important and close working relationship developed with picture theatres – an association between food and entertainment which had initially been suggested by early soda fountain service and back bar designs which emphasised fantasy by use of coloured lights, mirrors and stained glass (‘the light fantastic’). Again, these relationships had been adopted from the United States by Greek-Australian café proprietors. Indeed, a significant number of picture theatre operators were Greek-Australians who had or continued to run cafés. By the 1950s many Greek cafes had introduced juke-boxes as part of their entertainment component. American and British popular music attracted a youth clientele and culture to these establishments, many young Australians mimicking the clothing, attitude and language of their overseas singing idols. In a sense, for most of the twentieth century, Greek cafes were selling a dream – essentially an American dream. Even the Art Deco style of architecture which characterized Greek cafes and picture theatres appears to have been, to some extent, influenced by American rather than European Art Deco designs, particularly those undertaken by Greek-Australian shop fitters whose design templates were based upon Greek-American cafes.

Unfortunately the Australian Greek café’s link to America also assisted, in part, with its demise in the final decades of the twentieth century – American lead corporatised fast food began to replace family-based food catering concerns, take-away rather than sit-down meals burgeoned. Combined with the initial impact of television which challenged cinema, rural economic rationalisation, the by-passing of country townships by arterial inter-urban highways upon which road houses (supplying both food and fuel) developed, the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores providing packaged ice creams and chocolates, bottled flavoured milk and aerated drinks, and counter lunches at pubs and clubs, most Greek cafes were forced to transform into take-aways or be relegated into memory or oblivion. A greater diversity of employment choices for the well-educated younger generation of Australian-born Greek, further compounded the demise. Generally, only those Greek cafes in major recreational and tourist regions have survived the sweeping tide of change.

Australians from non-English speaking background have impacted greatly upon Australia’s development – the ‘Greek café’ being a pertinent example – yet, the nation’s grand historical narratives only reveal their presence as marginal entities. There is a real need for multi-lingual research in the fields of Australian history and heritage to release the broader canvas of this nation’s history from its cultural myopia and reveal the significance which cultural diversity and hybridity has had in developing the Australia of today. Untying the restrictive binds of the English language straightjacket will undoubtedly lead to new Australian visions of our past and heritage. Professional Australian historians with linguistic skills in a language or languages other than English, and who are prepared to engage in research utilising these skills, are presently rare. History Week (13 to 21 September) – an initiative undertaken by the History Council of New South Wales – is an appropriate time for all Australians to seriously consider that facilitating and encouraging the development of such historians is essential to revealing who we are, and potentially, what we could become.

Guests on this program:
Historian, Leonard Janiszewski, and documentary photographer,
Effy Alexakis, have been researching the Greek-Australian historical and contemporary presence in both Australia and Greece since 1982. Their project and archives, In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, encompasses visual, oral and literary material and is based at Macquarie University, Sydney, in association with the Department of Modern History and the Australian History Museum. Various national and international touring exhibitions, books, articles and a film documentary have been produced. Alexakis’ photographs are held in both public and private collections in Australia – most significantly in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and the NSW State Library, Sydney.

Keri Phillips

Leave a comment