I attended a special viewing of the Greek café phenomenon ‘Meet Me At The Paragon’. This new exhibition features the history of Greek milk bars in Queensland and their importance within local communities.
When I entered the Heritage Learning Collections Room on Level 4 of State Library of Queensland, I was greeted by a table laden with food, from savoury snacks to desserts like baklava and sugar-powdered shortbread with drinks on the side. Heaven!
‘Meet Me At The Paragon’ explores the creation of American-style cafés which helped Greek migrants of the early to mid-1900s to start a new life in such a different land. The Paragon Café in Dalby, Queensland, was a meeting place for all ages to enjoy a malted milkshake or a sweet treat. The State Library of Queensland invited me to experience The Greek Café Phenomenon and learn true stories of the families who owned and operated them.
This old poster is pretty self-explanatory. When I was small, I remember my mother buying me a small ‘brick’ of Peter’s ice-cream wrapped in white wax paper and sandwiching it between two square wafers. Crunchy and creamy at the same time! I think that Smak ice-cream stick is hilarious; at first I thought it said Smoke because it looks rather like a cigarette.
Isn’t this incredible! When I was a kid, we owned a small single milkshake mixer with an aluminium cup. We had paper straws so needed to drink fast before the straw started to collapse. The taste was cool, creamy and delicious. This machine can mix times-three!
My memories of drinking in a milk bar are hazy but I recall tall glasses of foaming milk and strawberry ice-cream. This photograph of Christie’s café (Brisbane) spanned a whole wall and people took selfies which looked like they were really there #slqGreekCafes
Here is the informative Curator who guided us around the exhibits. In this room there is a cute waitress’ pinafore preserved in a glass case. It appeared to be made of heavy white cotton and in excellent condition considering its age. I doubt the wearer managed a full day’s work without getting a small stain or two!
This Golden Gate Café had a quaint yet welcoming shopfront. In the Golden Gate Café in Winton, Australia, a passing sailor left behind a macaw which became the lifelong companion of the proprietor. Or so the story goes. Brisbane, Australia, was a base for American servicemen during World War II and signs like this made them feel welcome.
Aren’t these three dudes handsome! Unfortunately I did not get the gentlemen’s names nor do I know where their portrait was taken. I viewed them in the White Gloves document section of the exhibition. Later I discovered one fellow is the uncle of Chris Zavros.
I met Greek women who shared their own delightful stories, and I strolled along rows of black and white photographs of beautiful Greek weddings and Greek families at work and play, a long time ago. The country towns which had Greek cafés ranged throughout Queensland. It would have been nice to say all the buildings are still standing several generations later—still, it is wonderful to see donated ephemera, to have their legacy remembered today.
Of course, many more items are on display, including monogrammed crockery and audio and video information. I enjoyed the memorabilia which fuelled my inner historian. This exhibition is suitable for everyone! It would appeal to Greek genealogists, those interested in café culture trends, and anyone who has ever sipped a milkshake.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Find out more from State Library of Queensland
Further reading from curator and author Toni Risson