Review ‘Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks’ by Toni Risson
From the beautifully tactile bookcover and the glorious old photographs, to the spectacular amount of research and Greek family interviews, Toni Risson has written and created a book which is reader-friendly and as energetic as the boundless service in a 20th century Greek café.
Like a Greek café menu, there’s never a dull moment. Toni has amassed images of people, posters, menus, waitress fashion, the furniture, big mirrors, the soda fountain, cigarette counter—the mid-century nostalgia is strong for me just looking at the old buildings. And let’s not forget the food, ah, so much delicious food! Everything was freshly prepared, and ice-cream, chocolates and chilled fruit drinks were made on the premises in a time before the invention of air-conditioning.
Open from 8am to 7pm seven days a week, back when few other proprietors could match it, Greek cafés became meeting places and stopping points for a variety of daily events; late breakfast; ladies morning tea; midday meal; shopping break; date before the cinema; cool drink at the end of the day; weekend family gatherings.
Remember this was in the days before coffee chains and fast food outlets.
Visiting as a child, I recall strawberry ice-cream and also eating a banana split with “the lot” including a cherry on top. I think I got into trouble because I refused to eat my (healthy) banana. The malted milkshakes were huge to my young eyes, and I can still remember the aroma of warm chocolate emanating from the display cabinet.
I could rattle off the chapter titles and you’d see the important position Greek family cafés held in pre-television society in Brisbane. But I won’t because there are 35 chapters—some bearing names I know today, Andronicos, Samios, Freeleagus and more. Every page has a delightful story, a witty quote or snippet of memorabilia.
The type of book which I keep referring to, always finding something extra to read aloud to anyone in the room.
You don’t have to be Greek, or local, to read about the Greek café phenomenon which spread throughout Queensland. Several towns are mentioned including Bundaberg, Charleville, Dalby, Inglewood, Stanthorpe. You’ve heard the song “Video Killed The Radio Star”, well, television killed Greek cafés. In this book, you can find out what happened.
I was fortunate enough to attend the official launch of “Meet Me at the Paragon” the State Library of Queensland’s retrospective display of all things relating to Greek café culture.
From neon signs to monogrammed crockery, this six-month SLQ exhibition runs until mid-March 2020 and ties in with Toni Risson’s book.
I saw a large amount of the items mentioned in her book, plus rare family photos during a white gloves tour.
Here’s my blog post
Finalist in Queensland Literary Awards, “Brisbane’s Greek Cafés: A Million Malted Milks” is a time-capsule, a treasury of ephemera which will remain documented and preserved within its pages.
This book is a great gift for a foodie friend or entrepreneur.
Suitable for readers interested in nostalgia or café trends. And family histories, particularly those of inventive and industrious Greek families.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Toni Risson is a storyteller, food writer and cultural historian. She writes short stories and children’s novels, and her doctorate mapped Australian childhood through the magic of lollies.
In a more ‘grown-up’ vein, Toni curated the State Library of Queensland’s exhibition “Meet Me At The Paragon” which displays the meteoric rise of Greek cafés across Queensland. She has also written “Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill” 200 pages jam-packed with photographs and stories about iconic Greek cafés in Ipswich, Queensland.
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