submitted by Roxy Museum Bingara on 30.11.2013
Belrose Rotarians, pilgrimage to Bingara
Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th September 2013
The 75th anniversary of the Roxy was celebrated on the weekend of April 9th and 10th 2011, with the official launch of the (then) recently renovated Peters & Co Cafe and the Roxy museum, film screenings in the Roxy Theatre, and historic tours of the Roxy. On the Saturday night, a panagiri type festival was held; a black-tie gala ball with a twist. The main street was closed off. Inspired by Greek band Ha Va Le, people took to the streets dancing, singing and smashing plates. It was an unforgettable weekend.
On Tuesday 23 August 2011, Peter Prineas, author of the definitive history of the Roxy, Katsehamos and the Great Idea, conducted a talk at the Rotary Club of Belrose, on Sydney’s North Shore. The Rotary Club of Belrose is very active. It meets on Tuesday’s at the Belrose Bowling Club, 146 Forest Way, Belrose.
As a result of Peter Prineas’ presentation the Belrose Rotary Club decided that they would make a trip to Bingara, to see the Roxy complex. The trip was planned to take place from Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th September 2013. Kos Psaltis, immediate Past President of Belrose Rotary, was the key organiser. He has a ‘connection’ to Bingara. Kos is married to Joanne (nee, Flaskas), whose mother Mary Flaskas (nee, Feros) was the youngest daughter of Peter Feros, one of the partners in the Roxy Cinema and Cafe ‘complex’. The other siblings of Mary, in birth order, included Katina, Jack and George.
A second connection for the Belrose Rotarians was that a past President - Henry Martin, a Methodist (Uniting Church) priest - had retired to live in the town.
The 58th National Convention of the Australasian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) was held between the 6th and the 13th October 2012. At the convention, Peter McCarthy, a member of the Roxy Museum Committee, delivered a talk about the Roxy ‘complex’.
As a result of that talk Sydney AHEPAN’s organised a 47 person bus trip to Bingara. On the 23rd February, 2013, they travelled by coach, on a Greek-Australian pilgrimage and heritage tour to visit the Roxy Complex, Bingara. Their motivation to participate in such a pilgrimage was understandable. All had a Greek-Australian heritage, many had grown up in cafes, and AHEPA had been inaugurated in the north western New South Wales towns of Warialda and Scone. They were returning to their Greek-Australian, cafe, and AHEPAN roots.
An interesting feature of the Belrose Rotary pilgrimage, by contrast, was the fact that the majority of the “pilgrims” were not Greek by heritage.
The pilgrims consisted of 17 people travelling in a 20 seater bus, and 7 others travelling in 3 separate cars. The bus driver Chris Brownlee from Garigal Tours had been invited by Kos Psaltis to become a friend of Belrose Rotary. Chris’s wife Miriam also joined the ‘touring party’. This created a third connection to the town; Miriam’s family lives in Bingara. Her late brother had a property on the Narrabri road. Miriam’s sister in law and her children now live in town, and are involved with the Rural Fire Service. The pilgrimage was enhanced by the fact that driver, Chris Brownlee had a good working knowledge of the town and district.
The Psaltis/Feros connection
Kos and Joanne Psaltis feel a “powerful historical family connection” to Bingara. “We feel pride that Joanne’s family – her late grandfather – has added value to this town”. Both Joanne and I have watched the ABC's Landline program A Night at the Roxy, about the 75th Roxy Anniversary celebrations, many times.
The restoration of the Roxy Cinema has had a profound impact on both of them. “When we walked into the Roxy Cinema for the first time, Joanne and I had the same sensation, as we did many years ago, when we first walked into the Taj Mahal in India. You walk through these gates and there it is in front of you. A real ‘wow’ factor. When we were at the official opening here, and we walked into the cinema, it had the same ‘wow’ factor. The quality of the interior and the way it has been preserved is amazing.”
Both of Kos’s parents have always been involved in the cafe industry. His father Theodore Psaltis had a milk bar and coffee shop in Bondi Junction called the Savoy for many years, and all his father’s siblings were also involved with cafes. His mother Helen Psaltis (nee Trefilly) remembers that she began working in her father’s cafe, the Busy Bee, in Kingaroy, Queensland from primary school. She kept working in the cafe until she was married at 19 years of age.
What is her feeling about coming to see a preserved piece of Greek-Australian history like the Roxy? “I regard it as an honour”, she asserts. “In a sense it’s a memorial, and it makes the local people appreciate the contribution of the Greek-Australians”.
Kos added that “It’s all part of the great Australian story. It’s a particular ethnic group that has contributed significantly to modern Australian society. I look at it in that context ...You feel proud of the input that our Kytherian ancestors contributed so much to Australia.”
Kos was asked, what do you think the reaction is of the Australian’s who were not of a Greek background in your touring party to the Roxy and Bingara? “They have been very impressed. I think they have got a lot out of it”. This is corroborated by the testimony of some of the other members of the touring party.
Another former President of Belrose Rotary, Ron Furness, was in the ‘touring party’. He commented that they had had a great trip ‘up’, and that Bingara, and the Roxy ‘complex’ was a fascinating place.
“I’ve been reflecting about my good fortune to know Joanne Psaltis. Of hearing about how her family discovered their connection with the Roxy back in 2002. And before that, sadly...melancholy in a way...that it was a dark family secret....and I was reflecting on that comment by Joanne as I sit here in 2013, a beautiful, balmy afternoon, with a bit of breeze... enjoying a lovely cold beer, and thinking ...that, about 80 years or so ago these fellows had this dream....God only knows what their dream was, because I understand that they went broke pretty soon after. Hence the family shame. This has all been well documented in Peter Prineas' Katsehamos and the Great Idea.
But now, in 2013, their dream is still working, and people like me, who was born in London, and has had the pleasure of being in Greece many times. And had the good fortune of once setting foot on Kythera, for a brief trip, and spending many months on Greek Cyprus....and enjoyed the hospitality of Greek people, which is then extended to any group within the Greek pantheon; and I am astonished that 80 years later, the dream is still alive.”
Ron Furness was also made aware of the powerful influence that the Greek cafe has had on the town. “We met people on the way up here....we had the good fortune of stopping in Greek cafes all the way up...at least from Muswellbrook onwards...and we met people who were on the way here, or on the way home. When the topic of conversation turned to ...Bingara ...Oh, ROXY THEATRE!.... and they were all positive.
Interestingly Ron Furness had brought his young grandson Thomas along on the journey. He thoroughly enjoyed himself during all the activities, mixing with the oldies, “climbing a few hills, and doing a number of walks”. The pilgrimage was obviously something young people could also benefit from.
Alf Guy’s Bingara Report
Alf Guy, originally from South Africa, is the current President of the Belrose Rotary Club. He was delighted with the ‘welcome and hospitality’ the group received in Bingara.
The Roxy Museum, within the Roxy complex - the main reason for our trip to the North West – is in its final stages of restoration by the Gwydir Shire Council. The preservation of the art décor trappings is a majestic undertaking - and seeing the theatre brought back to its original glory must have been an emotional experience for Joanne Psaltis, whose late grandfather was one of the three Greek settlers, who created this glorious building. The Roxy, in the 21st century will almost certainly be the centrepiece of a rejuvenated Bingara.
Our group was also privileged to see a screening of the movie Red Dog in The Roxy Cinema!!
Bingara lies on the gently sloping southern bank of Gwydir River, which is a tributary of the the Murray-Darling River System. On the first morning of our stroll through Bingara, the air was cool, clear and still - the view northward, towards the river was picture perfect. This was the setting for much of our stay in the little town of 1300 people. The days were beautifully warm.
The restoration of The Roxy and its associated café is just one of many projects undertaken by this progressive community. The construction of an ecologically complex Living Classroom and the associated on-site accommodation are also in the final stages of completion.
The planting of orange trees on the nature strip in town and the communal harvesting of the fruit - without fear of vandalism, is another remarkable community spirited venture.
From Bingara, a journey in a south-westerly direction towards Narrabri takes you into the Mt Kaputar National Park. Mt Kaputar National Park with its ancient volcanic and glacial relics was an additional highlight of the trip. The geological history of the area really attracted us, and the Gwydir Valley is so beautiful and pristine. Our first stop was a magnificent gorge and waterfall, the Rocky Creek Glacial Area which lies 37 kms west of Bingara, is clearly signposted, and is reached a short distance from the main road turnoff. This geological wonder should not be missed! A vast amount of weathering and erosion has occurred over the years, so the original glacial landscape features have been changed by the subsequent flow of water. The Glacial Area is an excellent place to picnic and cool off in summer.
The journey from Bingara to Sawn Rocks was a very pleasant 1 hour drive in the bus. This spectacular and majestic geological feature is located 64kms out of Bingara and 36kms from Narrabri. National Parks Sawn Rocks Leaflet. The forty (40) metre high towering wall of pentagonal basalt pipes is the sheered off remains of a basalt lava flow from the Nandewar Volcano which dominated the area 21 million years ago. It is an unusual phenomenon which is the result of the slow and even cooling of molten rock which enabled individual crystals within the rock to align perfectly with each other. While this type of five-sided (pentagonal) ‘organ piping’ is not rare to lava flows, it is exceptionally rare to find them so perfectly formed and preserved and is recognised as being one of the best examples of columnar jointing in Australia. Coincidentally it looks very 'Grecian'.
Chris Brownlee had charge of some 18 ebullient folk in his mini coach for the trip. The animated conversations and free flow of spirited anecdotes made the trip lively and enjoyable. Chris kept up a well informed commentary as we travelled south westward through the rich and economically diverse Hunter Valley. Miriam, Chris`s wife, did a splendid job of serving refreshments at the eating, viewing and recreation stops.
During our stay in Bingara, we also ventured to the picnic area in the town, were we saw well preserved gold mining machinery. We also ventured up to H F Batterham Memorial Lookout, with its spectacular views across the town and the valley. (Ralph Hunt, M.H.R. for Gwydir, opened the H.F. Battherham Lookout overlooking Bingara in 1975. The lookout was the result of ten years work from 1964-1975 by Bingara Apex Club. It involved the clearing of land, the construction of an archway entrance and the provision of picnic shelters at the summit. The lookout was named as a tribute to the late Harold Francis Battherham, a local historian who worked tirelessly to promote tourism in the district).
We also visited the attractive and ecologically built River House, one of the superior accommodation facilities in the North West region. We were told that Peranjou Cottages, a refurbished woolshed which offers two self contained units situated side by side, was another interesting place to stay.
Together with the seven travellers in three cars and the mini coach group, which undertook the excursion to Bingara, our group injected many tourism dollars into the Bingara community.
Our appreciation for the planning of the trip by Past President Kos Psaltis, and his wife Joanne (nee, Flaskas), Psaltis and their connections, cannot be overstated. The planning, sometimes complex due to last minute changes, was meticulous. A great thank you to the Psaltis`s from all Rotary’s Bingara pilgrims.
The Roxy Cafe breakfast
Early on the morning of Sunday 29th September 2013, just before leaving to return to Sydney, the pilgrims met at the Roxy Cafe for breakfast. The service provided by Vio and his staff was excellent, and the atmosphere was convivial.
The group reminisced about their youthful experiences in Greek cafes, either as owners, staff or patrons.
The touring party were joined by four young adults, two female, two male, who some of the touring group had met on the evening before. They were twenty-something students living at one of the residential colleges at Sydney University.
They had been subjected to a "hazing" or "fagging" ceremony - still tolerated by University colleges today. The "hazing" was 'disguised' as a charity fund raising "event".
The students had been dressed up in outrageous clothing, the males had parts of their hair shaved, their money and credit cards had been 'confiscated' and they had been driven up to Bingara and left in the street. With these impediments placed before them, they were 'challenged' to get back to Sydney in the best way they knew how.
The young women, in particular, were quite distraught in the evening, and some of the Rotarian group invited the four students to meet for breakfast. They were also fairly confident that George C Poulos was returning back to Sydney in the morning, and that he would be able to provide them with 'a lift' home.
They arrived at the breakfast without money, but in true Rotarian 'civic duty' style, a "whip around" was arranged, and they were soon given enough money, not only to pay for their own breakfast, but also to pay for expenditure for a few days, if required.
Their presence at the breakfast made the event even more memorable, and, coupled with feelings of outrage, disbelief, and sympathy about how they had been treated, also generated a great deal of amusement and humour.
It was certainly a story that would be related at future dinner parties for many decades to come. Yet another entertaining "Roxy" story.
As it turned out George C Poulos did give them a lift back, and within 9 hours had safely deposited them outside the doors of their Sydney University residential college.
George speculated that the 'hazers' must have been bitterly disappointed when they saw their victims return so quickly, and in such good spirits.
Chris Brownlee’s impressions
Coach driver Chris Brownlee was very impressed with the Roxy ‘complex’. “It’s colossal history”. As we have discovered, there are many other attractions in and around Bingara.
Chris was also impressed by the ‘Living Classroom’ project, located in the town, off the Narrabri road. “This learning centre is going to be a talking point for years to come...for sure. For a small town Bingara has done exceptionally well. Something for other small towns to learn from as well.”
We need to teach young people farming again, and get people back on the farm. Particularly the young ones. The next generation is much more interested. My sister-in-law is into permaculture, and they are doing some of these innovative things on their six acres in the Macleay Valley. She’s learnt through horticultural classes in Brisbane. The next generation is moving towards being more self-sufficient, looking after nature, and getting back to nature. It’s all going to happen in that generation, who are in their 20’s now.”
A Greek-Australian and a rural Australian pilgrimage well within reach
Some people have commented that Bingara, 8 hours drive from Sydney and 7 hours drive from Brisbane, is a pilgrimage that is “too far away”.
This 'opinion' undermines the essential nature of pilgrimage – undertaking a transformative journey to a sacred centre, which should in some measure be ‘challenging’.
It was informative however, that most of the Rotary pilgrims did not find the journey onerous. Kos Psaltis argued that if asked if the pilgrimage was ‘too far’, “I would look at it differently. I would ask, “far away from what?” The implication of Kos's comment is that it is certainly not as onerous a pilgrimage as visiting the Acropolis or Kythera, for example. His mother Helen added, that “you see so many interesting towns and people on the way”.
Alf Guy revealed that on the journey ‘up’ Chris and Miriam Brownlee “entertained us all along the way. At no time did we feel bored. The trip went very quickly...passengers and the group displayed a great deal of camaraderie....their friendship, jocular nature and flexibility made the trip very, very enjoyable’.
These comments reflected those that the 47 AHEPAN’s had made earlier in the year. Comments by Christine Lynch, National President of the Order of AHEPA, Australasia were typical.
"We felt we were part of history- a “living history”. Everybody thought it was wonderful. We all felt very privileged. We were thrilled to be part of it. We were treated like royalty. The evening itself was ‘magic”. The whole Roxy complex is “magic”. We all look forward to coming back. Particularly after the Roxy Museum is completed". The journey to the Roxy is too interesting to be onerous.
As we discovered with young Thomas’s involvement, it engages children as well as adults.
As well as the attractions mentioned above, Bingara offers easy access to other interesting tourist destinations , such as:
Myall Creek Massacre Site
Ceramic Break Sculpture Park
Three Creeks Tourist Mine
Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre
Manilla, world class paragliding
Above and beyond visiting the Roxy ‘complex’ there is much to do and see. Even spending a week in Bingara and district will not allow time to visit all the tourist attractions in the area.
Every Kytherian Australian and every Greek Australian is encouraged to visit Bingara and the Roxy – at least once in their lifetime.
Bingara Roxy Museum Grand Opening Celebrations
See the Gwydir Shire Council website for information about the opening
The opening of the museum will take place on Saturday 5 April 2014 and will be celebrated with Greek food and music, screenings in the historic Roxy Theatre, tours of the museum and culminating in a gala dinner on the Saturday evening. Further information on the opening celebrations will be provided as arrangements are finalised.
Accommodation in Bingara is limited, so all those planning to attend are advised to book their accommodation as soon as possible. During the 2011 75th Anniversary celebrations, visitors were accommodated in a number of surrounding towns, when Bingara accommodation was filled.
For more information please contact the Bingara Visitor Information Centre on (02) 6724 0066.
Would you like to contribute to the Roxy Museum?
The Roxy Greek Museum is interested in hearing from you if you have objects or photographs that you might like to offer to the collection. For more information please contact the museum curator Peter Prineas on 0429 322 857.
Let us know if you would like to make a financial donation, or offer cafe paraphernalia to the Museum, download the Acquisition Form
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