Home Contents Introduction Murwillumbah Mullumbimby Other Feedlots Banana Benders The Macedonians The Other Aliens Undesirable Aliens Desirable Aliens Annexes Bibliography

Aliens of the Tweed and Brunswick

Chapter 1


bullet The Early Kytherians
bullet The Aroneys  
bullet The Turbulent Twenties
bullet Undesirable Aliens
bullet Cafes Continued
bullet The Great Depression
bullet The Austral Cafe
bullet The Bellevue Café
bullet The Continental Café
bullet The Civic Café
bullet Wartime Trading
bullet The Angouras Brothers
bullet The Varella Brothers 
bullet Other Players
bullet The Greek Community

The Early Kytherians

Murbah appeared on the Greek menu in 1903, a year after the town was incorporated as a municipality, when E. Comino of the Premier Oyster Saloon in Brisbane, Purveyor to His Excellency Sir Herbert Chermside, started running regular large adverts in the local papers urging all Northern NSW travellers to his fair city to give E.C. a trial. ‘E.C.’ was in fact the alias of the tricky Freeleagus Bros taking advantage of the high-profile Comino brand name, which was almost synonymous with oyster saloons by then. But they gave up on their entreaties to the Murbahians a couple of years later when Samio & Andronico brought the first physical Greek presence to town. Grand celebrations took place on Saturday 27May1905 when this pair opened The Sydney Oyster Saloon in Main Street, about where the Pouloudis fruit shop in the present Tweed Fruit Exchange building now stands. It's likely they took over the business of Mrs Christopher who had been offering fried fish from her shop next Skinner's Hotel since 1902.

Samio was 17yr old Athanasios Anastasios Aloizos and Andronico was 19yr old Theodoros Constantinos Andronicos. Athanasios (Arthur) was as tricky as the Freeleagus and alternated between his two names over the three years he spent in town. He landed in mid 1903 and went straight to Coonamble to join Andronicos, both moving out together around late 1904, Andronicos to Casino and Samios to Sydney, before they met up again in Murbah. They were both being economical with the truth when they advertised that ‘Our experience has been gained in the leading Metropolitan Saloons’. Andronicos had landed in 1901 and spent all his time out west while Samios could only claim 8mths in Sydney. (Who staked the two teenagers is a mystery, but 18mths later the first Greek oyster saloon appeared in Tenterfield with much the same opening adverts - Andronico Bros... Their experience has been gained in the LEADING METROPOLITAN SALOONS..., and claiming they had branches at Tenterfield, Muswellbrook, Casino and Murwillumbah, perhaps implying the Tenterfield Andronicos, Con, Stan, David and Charlie, the sons of the Reverend Father Theo of Kousounari on Kythera, were the benefactors. These Andronicos were the brothers-in-law of Peter Comino of Lismore, who was in Murbah in Mar1905 scouting out the site for an Oyster saloon.)

Cnr Main and Queen Streets left foreground, viewed from Reservoir Hill 1906. (Wharf St morphed into Main St at the intersection)

And 1908, after all buildings to the right of the intersection were rebuilt following the great fire of Sep07.
(Both Photos Courtesy Tweed Regional Museum)

Strong competition came from a number of feedlots, but Joe Dunn’s restaurant on the southern side of the street down towards the wharf was the most posh, providing Murbah with its first soda fountain in 1902. In mid 1906 he carried out extensive renovations that added a second storey and large verandahs all round, making his establishment the largest in town and seemingly the most popular. He also accommodated the ferry passengers transiting between the railhead at Murbah and that at Tweed Heads, while his liqueur licence gave him a leading edge over the opposition caterers. He went over the top with more extensive renovations in mid 1907, which enabled him to advertise that his restaurant now wears a garb of immaculate whiteness. Hairdresser Bill Rice also relocated and changed vocations in 1907, establishing The Grand Central Refreshment Rooms and Ham and Beef Shop, aka Rice’s Coffee Palace four doors down from the Greeks towards the Police Station. He upped the ante by appealing to the White Australian fans in his advertorials: ‘I went to the White Shop and had three pies; no need to go further, Rice’s White Labour Pies Can’t B Beat. Why don’t you support White Australia?’ …. Shortly afterwards Frank Grace turned up with the ‘Central Coffee Palace and Large Dining Room’ on the other side of the road opposite the Court House. It was a temperance boarding house but its 'large dining room' appears to have been a street level refreshment room open to the general public.

The Greeks arrived at a time when Murbah was running high on White Australia fever so their addition to the town’s noshery business was probably viewed with a touch of heartburn. The mainstay of the Murbah economy at this time was the sugar industry, which still employed many Kanakas, the imported slaves of the black skin and smellful carcass, aka coons, niggers and woolly parson-eaters, and Heathen Chinese, aka celestials, chinkies, chows and Johns, were also giving the local rags, The Tweed Times and Brunswick Advocate and The Tweed Herald and Brunswick Chronicle, burning ulcers. In mid 1905 the Advocate changed hands and became even more rabid, prompting Chow Kum, a fruiterer six doors from the Greeks and opposite the Post Office, to drop his adverts. Samio & Andronico followed in early 1906, coincidental with the paper carrying the odd statement: Dagoes are in the habit of boiling crabs alive. Where is the Cruelty to Animals Society?

[Regarding the public use of the word ‘dago’, in late 1914 Jack Aroney established a local legal precedent when he had a bloke before the Murbah court for ‘Insulting Words’. The good magistrate ruled that the term was indeed insulting and also dismissed the cross charge of assault against Jack on the grounds that it was reasonably provoked. Coincidentally, the word rarely appeared thereafter in the local rag, by then only The Tweed Daily, although the ‘Hindoos’, ‘Kanakas’ and Chinese enjoyed colourful appellations for a while longer. The general populace however, wasn’t so politically correct and ‘Dago’ remained a popular term of endearment for the next 60yrs or so.]

In the meantime things must have been going well, as in late 1906 they had the wherewithal to open a second outlet by acquiring the Casino oyster saloon of Peter Emmanuel Comino (Gialdelis), the brother-in-law of the Tenterfield Andronicos. It seems Andronico was the hands-on manager of this branch until he sold out to the Cordatos Bros in mid 1907 and returned to town for the roll out of their second Murbah restaurant. (See Casino at http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.com/~aliens/chapter_10.htm .)

At this time Murbah was growing like topsy and it wasn’t long before a few more opportunists started catering careers in this very competitive market. Three days before Joe Dunn’s reopening, Sutcliffe’s Refreshment Rooms, next door to Frank Grace’s Coffee Palace, were opened with a free concert. And with great fanfare, two doors away on the very same day, Samio & Andronico cut the ribbon to launch their new outlet. Presumably the two partners managed a shop each, and no doubt assisted by a few of their compatriots who had arrived in town by then, notably the Aroney brothers, Jack and Jim. The opening of this second cafe, on the ‘busy side’ of Main Street, was probably prompted by a recruiting drive for the shopping customers. As is still the case the northern side of the street had less passing traffic, although they had ready-made customers rolling out of the popular Imperial Hotel a couple of doors away.

But then, two weeks later on the night of Sunday 15Sep1907, all except Joe Dunn were wiped out in a devastating fire, the worst in the history of any NSW country town, which left 65 buildings razed along Main Street. Samio & Andronico were only partly insured but must have had savings to fall back on, as they were the first to be up and running again. Within two days of the fire they had leased a shop across the river in South Murbah opposite the Railway Station. This was near the long established Railway Refreshment Rooms of Mrs Telford, who had always had this patch to herself and must have been a bit miffed at the new upstart competition. Rice also had a quick resurrection and started peddling his white pies from a horse and cart. By the end of the week the local rags were reporting that there was a heap of shopkeepers looking for new premises, most eventually plying their trade from tents.

Building contractors broke all records putting humpies back together again and just over two months later Samio & Andronico were amongst the first to be able to move back to their rebuilt shop, dubbed The Tweed River Oyster Saloon, on their original spot in Main Street, a couple of doors down from the Imperial. They were tempting fate by marking the occasion with the flying of the Greek flag. They still retained their Railway shop however, and it’s likely this business was left in the hands of one of the Aroney brothers. Across the road from their resurrected restaurant Dainer’s Bakery, believed to be the source of the original fire, offered increased competition by incorporating much larger refreshment rooms in its reconstruction, seemingly making it the premier grazery at that end of town.

The Tweed River Oyster Saloon.  (Parade to mark the end of the World War 1918)
(Courtesy Ron Johansen)

Sometime around mid 1908 Aloizos sold his share of the partnership to Jack Aroney, at which time the Railway shop was abandoned and a new additional one opened in the original location of Samio & Andronico’s second shop, one up from the Court House Hotel. This establishment was christened The Olympic Café and was one of two shop fronts in the new two-storey building. Both Main Street shops then came under the umbrella of Andronico & Aroney.

At this time too, Frank Grace had opened a second outlet by acquiring Rice’s Restaurant and Refreshment Rooms on the other side of the E.S.&A. Bank to the Greeks’ Number One Shop. Bill Rice had rebuilt this establishment as a two-storey affair, with the large open space of the second floor catering for the big functions, including balls, weddings and banquets. But it seems Bill had over-capitalised, as he was formally declared bankrupt in early 1909. Further down, Harry Morimoto, an ex-caterer of Coffs Harbour, opened Refreshment Rooms in the Wardrops’ Building on the corner of Queen, Wharf and Main Streets, but at the end of the year he seems to have taken over a shop down near the Andronico & Aroney Number One Shop, if not sub-leasing or taking over the management of the partners’ shop itself.

Samio may have been encouraged out of town by a touch of Murbah colour consciousness. In 1907 be had been assaulted by yobbos twice; once prior to the fire in the original shop and again in the ‘Railway Shop’. In the latter incident his boofhead opponent got more than he bargained for when the champion amateur wrestler Theo Minucoe came to the rescue. (Said the Advocate: The Greek proved himself a good wrestler, and he gave his opponent a few falls that shook all the fight out of him.)  Arthur moved to Bellingen in late 1908 to acquire a cafe in High Street and a year later bought himself a 160acre farm nearby, implying that the Murbah venture must have been lucrative. Coincidentally, a likely rellie, 40yr old Arthur Emmanuel Samios of Aloizianika, who came directly to Murbah in early 1908 on his 2nd trip to Australia, left with him and established the first Greek cafe at Coffs Harbour.

[The original Kytherian Samios families were refugees from the island of Samos after its destruction by the Turks. They initially settled at Aloi, a locality near Mitata, but many subsequently took this name to establish the present village of Aloizianika further north near Aroniadika. It’s now a village of about forty people but in its heyday numbered about one hundred. All the residents who came to Australia seem to have adopted the clan name Samios, but Arthur was one of only two bearing the name Aloizis, at least through to the 1920s. The other bloke, also Arthur, was from the islet of Antikythera and was at Taree for a while. After Aloizos/Samios there is no further record of any Samios in the region until 1921 when the Samios brothers of Grafton came to Mullumbimby.]

Three other identified employees of Samio & Andronico in these early years were E. Locarius, Con Patras, brother of Theo of Mullumbimby, and a bloke simply labelled with the ubiquitous Comino surname. This Comino is likely to be half of the partnership of Comino & Patras who acquired the short-lived Sydney Oyster Saloon of Arthur George Lyvanas at Kyogle in early 1907 and made it over into The Victoria Café. They were staked by Samio & Andronico, but went bust within six months, which scared off any further Greek presence in Kyogle until Aroney’s cousin, Theo Minucoe, had another go a couple of years later.

Eleven year old Theo Ioannis Minucoe (aka Roney) landed in 1901 and was in town by at least late 1907. He moved across to Kyogle sometime in 1910 to establish a confectionery business with his sister, Anthi, and a little later they were joined by their brother Peter, foundation Vice President of the Kytherian Brotherhood of Australia in 1922. Over the years Theo was given some extended time off by the Aroneys to enable him to compete in the state wrestling championships and play rugby union for NSW. In 1916 Anthi married Antonios Emmanuel Theodorakakis (Cordatos) of Casino in the North Coast’s first Greek Orthodox wedding, with her cousins Stella Galanis and Jack Aroney as respective bridesmaid and best man. Fr Dimitrios Marinakis of Sydney was the ringmaster while Stella and Muriel Comino of Lismore provided the musical backup. The crowd of Casino curiosity seekers dwarfed the group of over 60 Greeks from the local area and beyond.

Gala Day 1908, parade to mark the rebuilding of Main Street.
(Courtesy Tweed Regional Museum)

The partnership of Andronico & Aroney lasted a year or so, until around mid 1910, whereupon Jack Aroney (probably on behalf of brother Jim) bought out Andronicos and thereafter became the sole Greek business owner in Murwillumbah through to 1919, when the Ithacan, Con Vlismas, appeared in town to offer some competition, notwithstanding the folklore that Dimitri Psaltis of Mullumbimby had a Murbah shop sometime over this period. Andronicos, who married Amy Lew of Murbah in 1909, remained for a while, maybe as an employee/silent partner, as his two children, Rena and Sappho, were born in town in 1910 and 1912 respectively. But sometime prewar he and the family sailed off for a new life in California, at much the same time his sister Eleni Theo Khlentzos headed in the same direction from Kythera. There appears to be no further Andronicos presence in Murwillumbah until the early 1930s when Nicholas John Andronicos turned up with Nick Koukoulis to lease the Regent Theatre.

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The Aroneys

The Aroney brothers, Panayiotis (Peter aged 28), Ioannis (Jack aged 16) and Dimitrios (Jim aged 9), the sons of Kosmas and Frosini (nee Papadopoulos) of Aroniadika, unexpectedly landed in Melbourne on Christmas Day 1899. Due to a strike that looked like going on forever, they jumped ship and finished the journey to Sydney with a memorable ride on a cattle train. In Sydney they initially worked for one of the ubiquitous Cominos until about 1904 when Peter and Jim decided to return to Kythera while Jack went off to work with his future father-in-law, George Lianos, at Haymarket.

In early 1906 Jack moved north to start his long association with Murbah and a few months later was joined by Jim, fresh from his long holiday at home. Jack bought into the Samio & Andronico partnership in about 1908 by acquiring Samio’s shares, and a couple of years later Jim likely procured Andronico’s shares, after which they traded as Aroney Bros, although Jack remained the main face of the business. Jack married Stavroula Lianos (Kolantzis), the daughter of George and Agapi (nee Comino), in Sydney in 1917. That same year her uncle, Minas Anthony Comino (Skordili), moved to Lismore after his cafe in George Street, Sydney, was trashed by rioting soldiers. Agapi and Minas were the niece and nephew of the illustrious Comino ‘Oyster Kings’, the senior of whom, Arthur, established oyster leases at Evans Head in 1884. 

At Christmas 1919 George and Agapi got to experience Murbah hospitality and witness how their daughter handled yobbos. A boofhead upset a table and uttered some unrecorded 'insulting words' to Stavroula who promptly banged him over the head with a bell. On attempting to walk out he was 'bailed up' by Stavroula and Agapi (while George refereed and Jack went for the cops) and said Let any of your countrymen try and stop me - any one or two of them - and see how they get on. Stavroula, an Australian from the age of one, said My countrymen are as good as yours, you dirty, low scoundrel (or 'dirty low mongrel' said another witness.)

After suffering his third severe flood in 1921 Jack figured enough was enough and moved to Southport, which now exceeded the size of Murbah, to establish Theodore’s Café, but thereafter experienced a run of bad luck.  Despite its spectacular growth rate, at this time Southport’s cafes still relied on holidaymakers from Brisbane for most of their custom and continual rain over the following  6 to 8 months kept the trade away. So he sold out to Jim Fardouly and moved to Goulburn, where 12mths later they were burnt out. They then had a brief sortie into Wagga before moving on to Bundarra and spending another short period with Jack’s relocated brother Jim before moving on to Talwood, west of Goondiwindi, in 1926 when dust storms were occurring every second day and continued the cycle of misfortune. They gave that away a short time later and shifted to Cooroy on the coast, but this location also relied on holidaymakers who stayed away during the 'Clayton's' Depression years. So in 1928 they finally settled in Sydney where Jack died in 1975 and Stavroula (Stella) in 1988. (Stella was a keen amateur photographer and some of her early photos are now in the collection of the Murbah Historical Society.)

Aroney’s Olympic Café
.  (Murwillumbah Flood 1921)
(Courtesy Tweed River Historical Society)

Sixteen-year-old Jim re-landed in Sydney in mid 1906 and was met by his uncle Ioannis Minoukos who promptly bungled him on the coastal steamer for Byron Bay to link up with Jack at Murbah. He became a bike riding fanatic and, as well as competing in all local club races, regularly rode from Murwillumbah to Tweed Heads for a swim. A bike was an expensive item, costing the equivalent of $1600 in today’s dollars, suggesting that the cafes were doing well. He peddled off to Maryborough in 1915 and was a partner with his cousin Stratis Galanis in ‘The Garlands Café’ until mid 1916 when he returned to Kythera and served in WW1 alongside or with the Allies at Salonika and afterwards in the Greek Army’s expeditions around Asia Minor. He married Toula Nikleas/Nikolasou of Aroniadika in 1923 and made it back to Australia the same year, immediately acquiring the IXL Café of John Trifilly at Bundarra through some prior arrangement. He and Toula subsequently built a new cafe and theatre at Bundarra, but right in the middle of the Depression sold out to Dimitri Psaltis of Mullumbimby and made the risky decision to move out of town to acquire a sheep property. In 1934 they leased the farm and took on the Niagara Cafe at Port Macquarie, where Jim died in 1991, just two months short of his 101st birthday.

Stratis Galanis, aka Stan Garland, landed as a 12yr old from Aroniadika in 1904 and came to Murbah around mid 1907. He stayed for about 2yrs before moving on and subsequently establishing the first Greek cafe at Nanango in 1910. He sold out to the Maniatis Bros in 1914 and moved to Maryborough where he was initially in partnership with a native Australian before buying him out and offering the partnership to his cousin Jim. He is believed to have served in Macedonia during WW1, probably returning with Jim Aroney (and Simon Cordatos of Casino) in mid to late 1916. He ended up as Greek Consul for New Zealand. His daughter Maria married Theo Gavrily, the son of Archie of Lismore.

Jim left a record of his stay at Murbah, which is reproduced here from the Conomos book: Each of the Murwillumbah shops had two dining rooms – a general dining room where anyone was served and a ‘ladies’ dining room’ where only ladies and mixed parties were served. Aborigines and inebriated customers were permitted only in the general dining room. (By 'Aborigines' he probably means 'Kanakas', and possibly 'Hindoos', 'Cingalese', etc.) The most common meals were steak and eggs and ham and eggs. The shops also sold fruit and drinks. The fruit drinks and milk-shakes were made by means of a manual mixer. (They also made their own ice-cream and other confectionery.) Jim was working as a waiter in one of the two shops on a wage of two shillings and sixpence a week, which he sent home to his family to pay off his fare of eight pounds. (For comparison purposes £1 in 1900 was worth ~$100 in 2000. Except for the deflation of the 1922-34 period it was more or less a linear relationship on a log scale. The average adult male weekly wage in 1900 was £2/4/- for a 50hr week.) Later, he was admitted as a partner. Jim, his brothers Jack and Peter, and a partner Anastasios Samios, slept in rooms behind one of the shops. The mattress that Jim slept on was made by him out of a hessian bag which he filled with ashes.

Like Jack, he also got to wear the dago sobriquet, which may have helped in his decision to take up the Maryborough partnership: …Jim was a member of a cycling club at Murwillumbah and took part in a number of races. In one of the races he was coming third when the second rider fell. After the race he was heard to say, ‘The bloody dago knocked me down’. Jim, who was innocent of the charge, resented the accusation and never raced again…. And sure enough he didn’t. Upon a return visit to Murbah in early 1916, coinciding with Australia Day festivities, he bypassed the bike race in favour of the foot race, dubbed the ‘Allies Day Handicap’. He and Jack were on a 4yd handicap, while their brother Peter was on 8yds with Mick Tsikleas. The bookies' favourite, J. Antonarius, was on scratch, one of only two such people in the whole field of Murbahians stretching out beyond sight. (Antonarius was Jack Theo Andonara,15yrs old when he arrived from the Kytherian village of Friligianika in 1910. He was a long-term employee of the Freeleagus Fresh Food & Ice Co in Brisbane, but spent a couple of years at Murbah and later joined Jack Aroney at Southport.)

The eldest Aroney brother, Peter, the brother-in-law of Archie Caponas later of Mullumbimby, came back in 1908, believed to be his third trip to Australia, and chose to carry the surname Theodore. He came directly to Murbah but accompanied Jim to Maryborough in 1915, returning to Kythera with him ~mid1916, although it's uncertain whether he too served in WW1. He reappeared in Australia in 1919 accompanied by his 11yr old son Charles whom he left in the care of John Dimitrios Psaltis, another brother-in-law of Archie Caponas, when he returned to Kythera a year later. After the death of his wife, Archie’s sister Matina, in the late 1940s he finally came back to Sydney where he died in 1953.

Probably accompanying Peter was 18yr old Stratis Peter Aroney (Theodoropoulos) who came directly to Murbah upon landing in early 1908. He spent 12mths here before wandering off all over the place, subsequently becoming a major property owner and man of influence in the Sydney Greek community.

It was a small Greek world at this time and Nikolaos Theodoropoulos (Theodore), a 22yr old waiter working for the Carkagis Bros at Mullumbimby in 1916, is likely to be connected.

In early 1910 came 15yr old Evriviadis Mena Protopsaltis (Charles Caponas), the older brother of Archie above. He remained for 18mths before going off to work for Arthur Emmanuel Samios at Coffs Harbour, buying the business a couple of years later.

Murwillumbah 1910
L to R: Peter, Jim and Jack Aroney with cousin Anthi Minucoe
(Courtesy Effie Pentes)

Murwillumbah 1917/18
Jack and Stella (nee Lianos) Aroney
(Courtesy Cosma Jack Aroney)

The Aroney’s first cousin, sixteen year old Dimitrios George Aroney (Papadopoulos), landed in mid 1913 and came straight to Murbah, at which time the population had just touched 3000. He had been sponsored by the Aroneys after a letter to their uncle George in Aug1912, reproduced here from the Gilchrist book: “Well, we got the fruit shop for two days, at a rent of £7/10/-, but if the weather is fine we’ll make a lot of money, because there’ll be big crowds there. We’ll put up two stalls, like the ones we used to have at Ayios Theodoros.
We didn’t give up the shop, because it seems that the purchasers changed their minds; they were to get in in August, but we’re not giving it up; and we’re not concerned that, after repairing both shops, we’re ordered an American soda fountain which will cost us £85; we desperately needed it. It turns drinks into lemonade or any other drink of that kind. It’ll cost us 3d a dozen instead of 2/- a dozen, which they now cost us, which was too much. When summer comes in about a month’s time they’ll send it to us from Sydney.
I don’t know what’s in your mind about Dimitrios. I advise you to send him to Australia. If you like, send him to us and I’ll guide his steps, because I’m greatly indebted to you for your kindness to me, and I’d like to do you a good turn. What would you do with him at home? True, he gives you a helping hand, but I suppose that if he sent you £250
(sic) a year from here it would be just as good. Wages now are fine. In Sydney, people work by the hour and do very well out of it. Well, sleep on it and make up your mind....had my own boy been ten years old I would have brought him here”. (In mid 1915 a new shop assistant's award granted 21yr old country cafe employees a rate of £2/5/- for a 53hr working week (8AM-6PM x 4 days a week and 8Am-9PM on late shopping days), rising to £2/16/- at age 23. The Country Traders Association subsequently appealed, prompting the formation of the Shop Assistants Union of the Richmond, Clarence and Tweed in early 1916. All Greeks worked a heap of overtime, but to achieve £250/yr meant a long week.)

Most of the young Kytherians who came to Oz were enticed by rosy pictures painted by those already here and landed with unreal expectations. Upon arrival they found themselves working 25hr days, 8 days a week, on poor wages and living in cramped accommodation, and often exploited by their employers and sponsors. Paradoxically, they in turn enticed another boat load when they wrote home playing down this side of the experience and exaggerating life in Godzone, mainly to save their families any anxiety, but perhaps also to save face. For every success story there were many who lucked out and ended up on pensions.

Dimitri returned to Sydney about the same time Jim and Peter wandered off to Maryborough and ended up working for his cousin Vretos Margettos, the husband of Theodora Lianos, the sister of Stavroula Aroney above. In 1921 he moved to Grafton and acquired two shops, probably the same shops Peter Minas Aroney left in the hands of a manager when he relocated to Bowen in about 1913. Peter had established the Aroneys in Grafton after leaving Lismore in early 1905.

Minas (Mick) Tsikleas was an early Aroney employee and spent a couple of years in Murbah before settling in Brisbane in the early war years. He was 24yrs old when he landed from Viaradika on Kythera in 1911, also spending a few years working for Vretos Margetos and his partner Harry Samios in Sydney before heading up this way. He later married Eirini Aroney, the sister of Peter Anastasios Aroney (Koumesopoulos), the legendary Brisbane identity who had escorted the young Jim Aroney to Sydney in 1906. Peter died in 1987 at the remarkable age of 103. His wife, Irene (nee Mavromatis), the niece of Ernie Paspalas of Mullumbimby, died in 2003 at the even more remarkable 107.

Most of the Aroney clan in Australia came from Aroniadika, a village in the middle of Kythera, which according to folklore was established by an Aroney family from Crete. Later families include Theodoropoulos, Papadopoulos, Mylonopoulos, Viaropoulos, Tsitsilas, Maneas, Gerakitis, Galanis and Kanaris, most of whom adopted the Aroney clan name upon migration.

Other earlier Kytherian employees included Dimitri Con Blaveris of Aroniadika who arrived in town in late 1909 after a stint of farming around Bundaberg. He spent 2yrs in the Murbah district before returning to Sydney with his son Con, who had landed as an 11yr old in 1898 and linked up with him after a couple of years in the Lismore district. Another farmer was Stylanos George Kinigalakis who was 16yrs old when he landed from the barren rock of Antikythera and spent 5mths here in 1916 on his way to becoming a cane grower at Babinda. Arthur Emmanuel Comino (Palethras) arrived in town in mid 1910 with his wife, Sofia (nee Souris), a few weeks after landing in Sydney on his second trip to Australia; 21yr old Theo Harry Catrakis landed with Minas Crethar of Ballina in 1909 and stuck his head in for a short sojourn in 1910 before opening a café at Beaudesert; the young adventurer Peter Castrisios spent some time here in 1913/14 prior to moving to Harrisville and attempting to enlist; and Nick Harry Flaskas came across from Kyogle just before the war and stayed a couple of years before moving on to Lismore to acquire the original Comino oyster saloon. 

Identified as employees of Jack Aroney in mid 1916 were Mick Cassimatis, age 35, who is probably the Minas (Mick) Cassimatis who established himself in Lismore in 1924 but returned to Murwillumbah in 1939 to open the Civic Café with his son Mark; Gregory Comino, age 24, who, despite the alleged age, is probably Gregory Spiro Comino who landed as a 16yr old in 1913 and spent time in Maryborough amongst other places before going to Lismore in 1919; Con Theodorakakis, aged 28, probably connected to the Cordatos of Casino; and the non-Kytherian, 29yr old Danes Kardamis, who is the same Denis Kardamis from Corfu who established at Coolangatta in the late 1930s. Jack Aroney still owned two shops at this time and probably installed one of these blokes as manager of one or the other unless Harry Morimoto was still managing/subletting in The Tweed River Oyster Saloon building.

Giving strong competition to Aroney over the years was the cafe of Levi Dell in Wharf Street opposite the Club House Hotel (later the Vlismas Bros Paramount Cafe). In about 1912 he purchased Joe Dunn’s enterprise, the large two storey establishment near the wharf, servicing and accommodating the ferry passengers, which offered board, separate ladies dining rooms, cafe, marble bar, wine store and a host of other attractions. In the turbulent period of the early 1920s Dell sold out to Samuel Legge but the place, still known as Dells Café, was in the hands of Colefax & Co when another great Murbah fire saw it reduced to ashes in late 1924.

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The Turbulent Twenties

After Jack Aroney moved out the Kytherians left a power vacuum into which marched other regional groups. In 1920 the partnership of Harol & Mavris [Emmanuel Jacob Haroupoulos (Kytherian) and Emmanuel Harry Mavromikhail (unknown)] arrived from Bangalow to acquire a cafe, which more than likely was The Tweed River Oyster Saloon. However, it was a short lived venture; in mid 1922 Harol figured pig farming near Sydney offered better opportunities while Mavris decided to give the café game another go by setting up shop in the thriving metropolis of Alstonville, coincidental with K. Nickles taking over in the Tweed building.

In 1921 K. Nickles & Co, aka Nick Antonios Koukoulis, arrived in town to take up Aroney’s Olympic Café. He redubbed the joint The Belle Vue Café, but must have installed a manager as at the same time he was running the similarly named cafe at Tweed Heads. A year later he also took over Aroney’s original cafe, The Tweed River Oyster Saloon, and once again a manager was probably installed. It’s also understood he acquired the Raward Bros fruit shop in the Nash building, next door to the Tweed River building, in 1926, the same year he became ‘hands-on’ in his Coolangatta business. In the meantime he passed the Murbah Belle Vue to T. Copland & Co, aka Themistoklis Kopeleas, in May 1923 to concentrate on his Tweed Heads venture. He allegedly sold or sublet the fruit shop business in the Nash building in 1929. He was an entrepreneur with his fingers in many pies over this period and it’s hard to get a handle on his various business machinations. He returned to a shop in South Murwillumbah in 1932 and reappeared in the Tweed Oyster Saloon building, by then known as The Continental Café, in 1935, but who, apart from George Venery and Angelo Victoratos, was in the place in the meantime is yet another mystery.

Themistoklis Kopeleas (Tom Copland/Copelan) landed from Brállos, Central Greece, in mid 1911, subsequently spending 2yrs in Sydney and 2yrs in Brisbane prior to enlistment, at which time he was working for George Stavrianos Comino (Douris), brother of the earlier Lismore identities, in the Marble Bar Café at Bundaburg. He served in France with the 25th Battalion and was hospitalised for a fair period after suffering a serious head wound in 1917. Sometime after the war he was recuperating at Warwick while working for Nick Koukoulis. Presumably he mended okay to enable him, like all the other local proprietors, to stay on his feet around the clock trying to earn a quid during the ‘Claytons Depression’. Trading was getting tough by the time he took over, but he showed some entrepreneurial flair - when he couldn’t sell his cooked chooks as a sit down meal he started advertising that he would deliver the things to the door, giving him the distinction of being the first ‘dial-a-takeaway’ business in town. [The first delivery service in the Northern Rivers region was started in Lismore by the Comino Bros, Peter and George Emmanuel Comino (Giraldis), when, in early 1905, they found a meals-on-wheels service was an acceptable way around the Sabbath’s trading regulations.]

Tom moved out in late 1925 to try his luck with the Central Cafe at Kilcoy. But this venture only lasted 12mths or so before he was drawn back to the Tweed, probably marking time as the manager of the Koukoulis cafe at Tweed Heads until taking over the nearby Paris Café from G. Andrews & Co around mid 1927. The Murbah ‘Belle Vue’ was acquired by the Kastellorizan Spyros Karpouzis, who also seems to have stayed for only a year or so, after which the ‘Bellevue’ went to the Vlismas Bros, in whose hands it remained into the late 1950s. [Along with the high café turnover rate, another factor possibly indicative of the sliding economic fortunes of Murbahians is that Tom Copland had assets (a residential house, rental house and his business) valued at £5000 in mid 1925, but in early 1927 when he was ensconced at Tweed Heads, the value of his assets (nominated as ‘2 allotments, 2 houses’) had shrunk to £3000.]

Spyro Karpouzis was 21yrs old when he sailed into Fremantle in 1908, subsequently venturing on to Kalgoorlie where he seems to have become proprietor of the Parisian Café in Hannan Street just before the war. In May1916 he returned to Castellorizo to marry Chrysanthe Georges, leaving his younger brother Panayiotis (Panos) to bear the brunt of the anti-Greek riots of Dec1916 that saw his café destroyed and the exodus of most of Kalgoorlie’s 50 destitute Greeks to Perth. Upon return to Australia Spyros, accompanied by Chrysanthe and baby Stella, elected to settle in Darwin, participating in the Greek community’s celebration of the wedding of Efstratios Haritos and Eleni Harmanis, the parents of Despina Alidenes and Sylvia Peters of Mullumbimby, in Sep1917. From Darwin the family moved to Sydney, then to Murwillumbah, where in mid-1925 their last child Michael was born. Eighteen months later they moved on again, initially to Sydney, thence refuge on Castellorizo during the Depression, before re-testing the hospitality of Kalgoorlie. In 1938 they ended up back in Sydney where Spyros had a restaurant in Earlwood for many years. (And again demonstrating that it’s a small Greek world, his grandson, Barry Andrew Karp, later married Jack Aroney’s granddaughter.)

Red-headed Paul Spero Coronakes opened a branch of his ‘Lismore Fruit Exchange’ in a building across the road from the Police Station in late 1923, dubbing it The Popular Fruit Mart and offering a full range of refreshment room services. However, it doesn’t seem to have been a success and a year or so later he had a change of heart and returned to Lismore, where his enterprise eventually built into a substantial wholesale business. He had come directly to the region upon landing from Corfu in mid 1913, aged 23, but his actual whereabouts are unclear until being positively identified in Lismore after the war when he acquired the Canberra Café in Woodlark Street.

By the time he turned up the banana industry had collapsed, leading to a dramatic drop in business around town. The period post WW1 had been a heady time in the Tweed Shire where the banana industry had led to a spectacular growth rate; between the censuses of 1911 and 21 the population grew 68% (7308 to 12,279), the highest in the Richmond-Tweed region, while Murbah Municipality had come in at 29% (2206 to 2855), giving the business houses cause for much rejoicing. But Australian banana production hit an all time high of 1,311,000 cases in 1922 and the local retail price quickly collapsed to 6d a bunch (~20doz bananas) after a sustained period at 1/6d a dozen. With the added anguish of the bunchy top disaster the industry went into a prolonged sleep and the production record wasn’t broken for another 14yrs. [Said the Daily in a later ‘look back’ article: Banana production (on the Tweed) slumped from 217,325 cases during 1922-23 to 5162 cases during 1925-26, while the areas under banana cultivation were reduced from 2220 during 1922-23 to 126 acres during 1925-26. Planters who had no other means of livelihood, such as dairying or grazing, were forced to leave with only personal belongings.]

The cost of the prosperity was the doubling of Tweed Shire valuations, just when economic activity was starting its dramatic downturn. The unimproved capital value went from £1,301,404 in 1921 to £2,712,406 in the following year, while improved valuations jumped to £4,808,547, higher than any other shire in the state, and due almost entirely to the boom in banana and cane land. The concomitant rise in rates led to hardship and many appeals over the following years.

The receding flood of 1921.
(L to R: Willie Choy's Empire Cafe, Imperial Hall, Imperial Hotel, Smith and Sons Auctioneers, Finney Isles & Co, thence the 'Harol & Mavris' Oyster Saloon. On the right hand side is the two-storey Newlyn's Refreshment Rooms, after the Bank of NSW and Proudfoot's Store. A.H. Newlyn gave up coachbuilding in 1920 to join the catering game, but 2yrs later handing over to Everard Smith, who rebirthed the place as the Excelsior Tea Rooms).
(Courtesy Tweed Regional Museum).

The dairy industry, the mainstay of the North Coast economy, was also looking shaky. The wholesale price of butter hit an all time high of just over 2/- a lb in 1920 and wasn’t to see this price again for 30yrs, even with the help of subsidies. By late 1923 another severe drought, ‘the most severe in living memory’, resulted in a call from the combined Richmond and Tweed Primary Producers Unions for a £0.5million assistance package, which fell on deaf ears. Apart from an aberration in 1929, the return to dairy farmers for cream supplied to the factories peaked at just over 1/4d per lb of butter produced in 1924 and had drifted to a low of just under 8½d by 1934. In the meantime the dairy farmers began pedaling like hell to offset these low prices and got caught in the circular trap of increasing production. At the same time they were joined by a heap of new producers attracted to the industry to augment shrinking incomes from other forms of rural activity, notably bananas and sugar cane in the Tweed-Brunswick districts. Another 100,000 cows were added to the North Coast dairy herd in the 10yrs to 1934, giving a peak total of just over 535,000 beasties who churned out cream for the manufacture of a record of almost 80 million lbs of butter, accounting for just under half of the state’s total production. The Richmond-Tweed share of this was 50million lbs, accounting for 60% of North Coast production and 36% of the State’s production. By the start of the war returns had only recovered to 1/1d per lb of butter, but by this time the exhausted dairy farmers and cows had fallen off the treadmill and begun exiting the industry in increasing numbers.

The year 1924 also marked the peak in the local construction activity. Through to that year the expenditure on new housing in Murbah was consistent at around £27,000 per year, but the following year it dropped to ~£15,000 and in 1926 slumped to ~£5000. Spending in this benchmark industry continued to drift, hitting a low of £2,465 in 1930, until some frenzied activity in 1934 saw the return of 1925 levels. In 1935 it peaked at £34,265 but continued to drift in the following years until the record was broken with post WW2 prosperity.

The sugar industry started to look shaky in 1925 when heavy winter frosts killed thousands of plants, notwithstanding that there was a prolonged world glut of the stuff anyway. Nevertheless, the 1926 Tweed crop declined by 30,000 tons leading to weeping in the business houses over the loss of spending money. CSR and Norco were the two largest concerns by far on the North Coast and when they catch cold the whole region gets the flu. Even so, the sugar industry remained relatively immune from the worst effects of the Depression proper. While it suffered a severe decline in exports due to the world glut, the price on the domestic market held up through to 1933.

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Undesirable Aliens

In early 1925 the Tweed Daily, searching around for a possible distraction, or scapegoat, from the increasingly gloomy economic outlook, started to get excited over the number of Southern Europeans entering the country after America shut its doors and the cunning travel agents of The Messageries Maritimes Company began pointing them in Australia’s direction. All newspapers in the region took up the clarion call but only at Murbah did it translate to affirmative action in the populous. An editorial titled The Foreign Influx spelt out to the Tweedies the dire consequences of this migration: The continued influx of Southern Europeans into this country is causing some concern. Labor sees in the coming of so many unskilled migrants a menace to its own prosperity and the privileges it has won. Another section of the community, more far seeing, is alarmed lest the racial purity of the race should be endangered unless restrictions are imposed upon the numbers of foreigners allowed entry into Australia. The Labor point of view is plain, and the prophecies that the coming of these migrants would result in a lowering of wages in the unskilled occupations have already been fulfilled, in part at least….
A worse aspect of the case, however, is that these same low-grade foreigners are taking possession of the sugar plantations in Northern Queensland. Working inordinately long hours for a pittance, they secure employment in preference to the Australian workmen. Gangs working together, living on the smell of the proverbial oily rag, save their money, and at length purchase properties of their own… and the North becomes a Mediterranean colony.
Such a state of affairs is a distinct menace to the White Australia policy. Australia, to such people as this, is merely a country where they hope to make as much money as possible in the shortest space of time, and so return home to their beloved homeland. The White Australia policy is as nothing to them. They would not fire a shot in its defense, and even if they would be willing to do so their help would be of no value whatever, inasmuch as their fighting qualities are at the lowest possible ebb, as was demonstrated in the Great War.
Certainly the most insidious, and probably the greatest, danger involved in the unrestricted flow of foreigners into Australia is the menace to the purity of the race. America, striving for an abundance of cheap labour, encouraged the migration of low grade Europeans…
but… has now realized its mistake, and has banged and bolted the door against the further entry of this class of people. But it is too late. The purely Nordic population is being swamped by the lower races. Millions of the latter are now scattered over the land, and they are increasing at a faster rate than the superior races. America would give all her millions to be free of what greed had saddled her with, the hordes from the Mediterranean, but she cannot do so.
Australia, instead of profiting by the lessons that America provides, is following suit, committing the same irreparable errors.

Over the next few months the Daily gave regular updates under the heading The Foreign Influx, the first one a couple of days later hinting at a conspiracy theory:…some sinister organization with a secret motive is behind the importation of Southern Europeans…. And a couple of days after that noted that Mr Gradyndier MLC (also general secretary of the AWU) was carrying on that every avenue of unskilled labor is now being overrun by new arrivals, largely the scum of Southern Europe…. This was also the beginning of the State election campaign when the Daily actively supported the Progressive Party. It wore its heart on its sleeve and made no pretence at impartiality, but quoted Labour whenever it suited. (Alongside its report on the opening of Labour’s Murbah campaign it ran a scaremongering editorial titled Should Labour Win: …The advent of Mr Lang to power will be followed by wild and reckless financial orgies so characteristic of labor regimes…, sentiments echoed in every other regional newspaper.)

A week after the editorial outburst the Mayor, Alderman A.E. Budd, chaired a meeting to form a league, with a view to preventing foreigners coming to the Tweed…. A number of Jugo-Slavs are said to be employed on the construction of the Ballina-Booyong railway and that local men have, in consequence, refused employment in that undertaking…. (If true, these scabs were probably Macedonians from the Dorrigo area.) The driving force behind the league was Laborite Roy Whalan, who proposed that …the members of the League avoid, as far as possible, having any dealings with Southern Europeans or Asiatics, and if any Southern Europeans or Asiatics come to the Tweed River, that the League prevent them from gaining employment…. Carried. The fifty foundation members then went off on a recruiting drive. The Greeks of Murbah may have felt the pinch as this period marked an escalation in the turnover of all cafes, which had started slowly in 1922/23 with the economic downturn.

[At this time the combined weight of the Italians, Greeks and ‘Jugo-Slavs’ had grown to a threatening 0.1% of the NSW population, with probably much the same percentage on the Tweed, if not less. The best evidence available comes from the 1921 census which shows 2 Italians,13 Greeks and no Yugoslavs in the combined Tweed Shire and Murbah Municipality. While numbers in the region started to increase, particularly the Italians, following the lifting of immigration restrictions in 1921, the vast majority settled around the Richmond district, where the Italians were an old and respected community through the New Italy settlement dating back to 1882. The next figures come from the 1933 census which discloses 18 Italians, 25 Greeks and 5 Yugoslavs in the combined Shire and Municipality, making up 0.28% of the population, way below the state average of 0.38%. So what was all the fuss about?]

A couple of days later Mr Whalan gave Queensland a broadside over the increasing number of dagoes being allowed into the cane fields: There is no one more surprised than myself to learn Mr Theodore’s (the just deposed Labour Premier) attitude towards those races of people who are endangering our glorious White Australia policy more and more each day. They are working sixteen hours a day for three shillings a day, and live on nothing else but macaroni. They live seven or eight families in the one tiny cottage. In a hundred and one ways they are, bit by bit, lowering our standard of living.
Mr Theodore mentions that they would be better immigrants if they were split up amongst Australians. Is it Mr Theodore’s intention to mix those Southern Europeans with Australians, and so breed a mongrel race of people in Australia? I ask the people of the Tweed not to heed what Mr Theodore says, but to join the Australian Anti-Foreign League, and help keep the unwanted Southern European out of the Tweed district.
(The Daily then proceeded to give regular updates on ‘Italianoland.’)

Three weeks later the Municipal Council granted the League use of the Council Chambers for its meeting. Amongst a heap more paranoid stuff Mr Whalan reckoned that The dairy farmer was also concerned in this question, inasmuch as the Australian workers were large consumers of butter, and the foreigners hardly ate any butter at all. Finding it profitable, the foreigners would eventually intrude into the dairying industry and drive the Australians out, just as they were doing in the case of sugar cane growing…. The sugar growers would also suffer, since the price of cane would fall if wages were reduced. Business people would also feel the pinch, as the low paid foreigners would have very little money to spend…. It was decided to hold the next meeting in conjunction with a rally on Broadway.

Labour opened its election campaign at Murbah on the same day as the formation of the League, with the President of the Tweed Shire, Mr R.T. Gillies, presiding. Mr T.J. Swiney (third on the Labour ticket) exhibited a photo of 20 Jugo-Slavs photographed in their camp 20 miles from Grafton. They were sent to a sawmill proprietor by the State Bureau. Their fares, tents and food were paid for by the State Government, and also hotel expenses.
[This was naughty politicking if the mysterious 'Jugo-Slavs' were in fact Greek Macedonians, as they gained employment with private logging contractors through Mick Feros of Dorrigo, who was their sole guarantor for the purchase of the necessary tools, tents, basic utensils and groceries from the local general store. Nevertheless, the culprits could be genuine Yugoslavs as at this time the Macedonians were only a small portion of this distressed and destitute umbrella group, which in NSW was the main body of 'foreigners' singled out by the Unions and Labour press in agitation over the influx of Southern Europeans, leaving them in a desperate plight by denying them jobs. (Some of these blokes may have made their way to the Brunswick over the period 1924-27. With poor timing 'Maroomba Plantations Ltd' acquired 250 acres behind Palmwoods at Upper Main Arm in 1924. By late that year they had 30 hands employed (including attention-grabbing 'Serbs'), and a further 20 men are required to commence in the new year..., generating a small village, which had its own football team in the Mullum Comp).]
They were taken to their camp and told that if they left they would be deported. They were earning from 5/-, 6/- and 7/- per day. Was it fair to put these men at work at which Australians had no equal, and when there were thousands of Australians eager to take on the work and pay their own expenses?
The Nationalist Government would not stop at the importation of Southern Europeans, but would import Chinese, Japanese and Maltese, and allow them to bring their families with them too
…. While the sons of farmers are drifting to our cities to take up, in most cases, unskilled occupations, we were spending, or trying to spend, millions on overseas settlers whom Britain could not spare.… The Government was falling back on Southern Europeans, many of whom were illiterate, without money, and without knowledge of our language.
Why this tender solicitude for the Bulgarians and Jugo Slavs? Were our so-called statesmen inviting a problem of color similar to that existing in America?
Such immigration is bound to lower our standard of comfort, and still further depress agriculture, by unfair competition in rural pursuits….

These diversionary tactics took attention away from the seriousness of the region's 'Clayton's Depression'. None of the parties (Progressives, Nationalists and Labour, aka the dreaded Communists according to the former two) had many policies of their own to offer and spent most of the campaign slagging off at each other, as a number of letter writers were quick to point out.

View from Reservoir Hill ~1925. (Mt Nullum left background, Mt Warning right, Hartigan's Hill and Knox Park).

And ~1950.               
(Photos courtesy Tweed Regional Museum)

Mr Gillies subsequently won top spot on the Labour team and upon his turn to bowl said he had always loyally supported the ideals of a White Australia. His late father was the founder of the Anti Alien League on the Richmond 25 years ago, and he (speaker) had always adhered to the principles of racial purity for Australia. However, he had to defer to his brother, the Hon W.N. Gillies, Premier of Queensland and Leader of the Labour Party, who opened the batting. W.N., an ex-Tintenbar farmer, had run for the Federal seat of Richmond in the entertaining White Australia election of 1910 when all candidates were falling over themselves to show who was tougher on border protection. Gillies lost, and in a fit of pique moved to Queensland where he subsequently won the state seat of Eacham in the Atherton region, eventually rising through the ranks to become top banana.… Returning to the North Coast of New South Wales he could not but notice the evidences of a need for a change of legislators. The district had been credited with being the most conservative and backward in political ideals in Australia, and this was hard to explain in view of the fact that the people of the electorate, in various ways, were nearly all workers. He noticed that there was depression among the farmers, but that there was no decrease in the number of banks and insurance officers…. Continuing, Mr Gillies said he had always stood for White Australia. His policy and his deeds throughout had been for White Australia; his was not a mere lip loyalty. ….

One of his first acts upon becoming Premier in February 1925 was to appoint a Commissioner to inquire into the dagoes of North Queensland. The report was released towards the end of this election campaign and received publicity in most of the regional rags. It was a shocker for the Greeks - They are generally of an undesirable type - and had repercussions for many years.

Christy Freeleagus, Consul-General for Greece, was most indignant and in a communication to the Premier relative to the report of Mr Ferry, who was appointed to inquire into the increase of aliens in the north, states that the unwarranted general criticism of the Greeks in North Queensland… has caused him pain and surprise. As Consul-General he expressed regret that the cordial relations existing hitherto between Greeks and Australians in Queensland were likely to be seriously endangered.
He challenged the statement that Greeks in the north were an undesirable type. They bore their share of citizenship and what was more important, did not become a charge on the State…. It would appear to him that the Greeks had been made pawns in the game of political chess…

The Rev Daniel Maravelis also received local coverage when he tried a different, albeit weaselly, approach: Many so-called Greeks in the North were not really from Greece at all. Certainly they spoke the Greek tongue, but Jugo Slavs, Albanians, Syrians and Macedonians, who had no language of their own, have been regarded, for the purposes of adverse criticism, as Greeks…. Mr Ferry’s strictures were not based on facts. The Greeks in the North were as hard-working and clean living as any migrants….

None of which moved Premier Gillies, who tucked the report under his arm and marched off to see Prime Minister Bruce to urge that only a better class of Southern European be admitted to Australia. Quotas and entry restrictions followed. (Gillies resigned later in the year to take up a £2000 per year job with the new Board of Trade and Arbitration, where he was still working when he died in early 1928, aged 60. His obit in the local rags mentioned that … He was an active member of the Anti-Alien League, and subsequently president of the New South Wales Sugar Growers’ Defence League, which had been formed principally for the purpose of upholding the interests of the white growers and workers engaged in the sugar industry.…)

Meanwhile Mr F.W. Stuart had opened the bowling for the Progressive Party: …While the Socialists advocated a ‘White Australia’, they showed no sympathy towards securing a white Australia standard for the primary producer.… He effectively had been preselected by the Tweed Daily, with J. H. McCollum, President of the Murbah branch of the Progressive Party and a Councillor on the Tweed Shire, colluding. Cr McCollum reckoned that …An effort has been made during the past few weeks to fool the electors with the Queensland brand of Labor politics…. The cane industry is rapidly passing out of the hands of the Australian workers…. If the present policy continues, it will soon be only 10 per cent Australians (working on the cane fields)…. Surely the cane workers on the North Coast of New South Wales will not vote for the introduction of that policy here. The left leaning Mr Whalan, elected secretary of the ‘Tweed anti-Foreign League,’ had to remind him that the immigration laws were administered by the Federal authorities, and that the Bruce-Page Government, and not the Queensland Government, is responsible for the entry of the foreigners into Queensland. To which Cr McCollum replied that both Mr Theodore and Mr Gillies have expressed themselves in favour of the foreigners who are gaining possession of the sugar lands in Queensland. (Confused Cr. McCollum went on to become a long-serving President of the Tweed Shire while Mr Stuart starred as Chairman of the Murbah Internment of Aliens Committee during WW2.)

From the field of ten aspiring politicians the Byron selectors finally decided that Missingham (Progressive), Stuart and Gillies should be given a run. The Daily was effusive in its congratulations to Stuart, but was noticeably quite on Gillies, although giving him some press later in the year when he reported that the Minister for Works and Railways was pursuing the matter of Maltese employed on the Ballina-Booyong line. (The minister eventually reported 34 Maltese, 5% of the workforce, and 24 Italians, but no mention of 'Jugo-Slavs'.)

Then almost immediately came the Federal election campaign, and away they went again. Everybody had a solution to the monetary mess, but the ‘Claytons Depression’ still deepened and competition for jobs got worse. The Daily remained consistent, but in mid 1929, with economic horror dominating the headlines, it was prompted for some odd reason to publish an editorial titled Race, Pride or Prejudice: …There are many grounds for restricting immigration in Australia, but there is a weakness in the attitude of hostility which is taken on the ground that the Italians and Southern Europeans live under a lower standard of conditions than Australians would accept. There is a great deal of evidence to show that aliens become thoroughly good unionists; and that many of the Southern Europeans who come to Australia are a fine type of man…. The call for tolerance of dagoes was out of character, but it was back on track in late 1937, when things were finally turning around and it chose to produce an editorial on the low physical and mental calibre of Southern European migrants now arriving in Australia … A low mental and physical standard affords strong ground for uncertainty whether the newcomers will be able to appreciate the industrial, cultural, and disciplinary standards upon which Australians insist. Aliens of inferior type tend to gather in colonies and to become a potential menace….

[Sequel: In early 1926 the Tweed citizens were informed that the AWU had to soften its stance because it’d found 600 dagoes being exploited by North Queensland farmers paying way below union rates. It decided to lift the embargo and issue the blighters with union tickets because…if they persisted in their refusal there was likely to be a bitter racial fight in the near future and it would damage the union in the far north of Queensland.… The motion was carried despite the plea of the union secretary who …declared that men who had been engaged in the sugar industry since childhood had been forced to leave their homes because there had been labour from another land…. Now the Federal elections were over he would not be surprised if the influx started again shortly…. (It temporarily increased, marginally, but then tapered off with the intervention of the Depression, itself another catalyst for escalating hostilities.) Neither the Daily nor Mr Whalan commented, perhaps because they had more serious economic concerns by then, but probably also due to figures published next day showing that in the 12mths to 31Dec25 only 315 Greeks had entered the country, a huge decrease from the 1826 who came in 1924.

The next Byron election in late 1927 saw the wicked communists become the fall-guys. This election reintroduced single seat electorates, the first appearance of the new Country Party, of which Mayor Budd became the endorsed candidate, and the new pact between the coalition parties, which gave the Country Party a free run on the North Coast for the rest of the century. Budd narrowly defeated Stuart, who stood as Independent Country Party, while Gillies was turfed out on the first count. Labour was routed all over the state by the scaremongering over their pernicious doctrines of communism which have been been introduced in this state during the past few years, said the Tweed editor,  whose sentiments were echoed in editorials of all north coast newspapers. Gillies, perhaps sniffing this local wind, insisted he resigned from the party because he would never ally himself with the destructive sentiments of the communists, although he had also fallen foul of Premier Lang and been expelled. He contested the election as Independent Labour (and occasionally as 'Country Labour'), but getting less votes than the endorsed Labour candidate. Missingham was handed the endorsed Country Party candidature for the seat of Lismore and won in a landslide.
(See http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.com/~aliens/chapter_11.htm for a fleshed-out story on the ascendancy of the Country Party - and Gillies' switch to an executive position with that party after a dalliance with the fascist 'All for Australia League'.)]

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Cafés Continued

In this environment Paul Coronakes figured mid 1925 was the right time to return to Lismore. He passed his business to, or perhaps left it in the management hands of, an unidentified Greek, but who is probably George Theo Hagepanagos (aka Poulos) who was recorded as a fruiterer somewhere in town in 1925. George, from Nafplia, on the north east coast of the Peloponnese, had an interesting welcome to Australia when the German boat he was on was captured off the coast of WA in Nov1914 and escorted into Fremantle, where he spent 5mths trying to convince authorities he wasn’t a spy. He eventually made his way to this leg of the course and spent 7yrs around Bowraville and Lismore before coming to Murbah to work for Spyro Karpousis.  But George, if this be he of the Coronakes shop, doesn’t seem to have made a go of it and returned to Lismore around early 1926, passing the business to Nick Harry Chomenides, aka Nick Harrison and Nick Home. (George married Zaphiria Dimitri Crethar in Lismore in 1929.)

Nick was 17yrs old when he arrived from Akrata in the Peloponnese in 1914, spending most of his time around southern NSW and eventually acquiring his own café at Coolamon, trading as Alefontos & Homenides for about a year or so around 1919 until taking up a more permanent business at Trundle in late 1921. He figured upmarket was the way to go with the Hagepanagos cafe and sometime later carried out extensive renovations with the place re-emerging as The Canberra Café, the Capitol Café of Murwillumbah (aka The Elite Café of Murwillumbah) opposite the police station, valuing the place at £2000 in mid 1926. He was heavily overcapitalised and the desired clientele never eventuated, forcing him to offload in a firesale to Athanasios Aristidis Elefentis (aka Archie Alefontos), a likely rellie of his old Coolamon partner, in early 1927. But it seems Spyro Karpousis was mortgagee of the business and was defrauded in the sale process. Nick then spent a few years at Grafton before acquiring a business in Casino.

Archie, born in the small village of Carpinisi, north of Athens, in 1899, was another with an interesting wartime experience, eventually landing from New Zealand in late 1922 after spending 5 to 7yrs in Auckland because of Australia’s prohibition on Greek immigrants. He seems to have come to Murbah after a few years at Coolamon, Sydney and Newcastle, initially working for Con Vlismas until Chomenides made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He got a bargain for £800 and, lo and behold, figured Nick’s mistake was not to go upmarket far enough. He proceeded to gold plate the place, including installation of the latest model pianola, but fortunately the building went up in smoke a few months later, 23Aug1927, just after he had reinsured for £1500. His Greek employee, Jerry Milton, was minding the shop at the time. Archie married a Greek girl at Newcastle in 1928 and settled permanently in Brisbane, where he became a prominent member of the Greek community.

Willy Choy's Empire Cafe 1928 (left)              (Courtesy Tweed Regional Museum)

In about 1920 the wily Willie Lum Choy acquired Chow Kum’s Empire Café opposite the Post Office in Main Street. Chinese families had been operating in town as fruiterers at least since the turn of the century and the Choy family, continuing to trade as Chow Chum & Co, gradually grew their business into a major fruit merchandising enterprise. Like the Greeks, Willie served up Australia fare, as it wasn’t for another 40yrs that the locals were game enough to try yankee chop suey. During the early ‘Clayton’s Depression’ years, when the other cafes were falling like ninepins, he introduced a novel marketing scheme by offering 1/6d each meal or 3/6d by the day. This turned out to be a recipe for slowly going broke so he leased the business in late 1926 and tried his luck in Mullumbimby for a year or so. In late 1929 he bought back into the fruiterer's side of Chow Kum & Co by acquiring the shares of Willie War and joining Charlie See Ken in partnership. But this attempt at diversification ended a few days later when another mysterious fire took out the shop and five others, including the Imperial Hotel.

In the meantime he had become involved in machinations at The Central Cafe next to the E.S.&A Bank, one of the remaining upmarket eateries in town, with function rooms and a 10-room boarding house upstairs. It was in the hands of C.A. Johnson when it went belly up in early1928 and a little later Willie decided to rejoin the catering game by reopening it as a fast-food joint. He threw open the upstairs banqueting and ladies dining rooms as free rest, change and dressing rooms and below proceeded to take the restaurant downmarket by further developing Tom Copland’s dial-a-takeaway concept: Meals of all descriptions made up to your order to take home. Phone 375. Willie hung on until mid 1931 when he merged with Joe Reeves' Ham and Beef Shop next door, and in May1932 seems to have handed management of both businesses to Reeves, who did a bit of remodelling and returned to a little upmarket stuff, emerging as proprietor of The New Café. But six months later he passed the place to Alexander Renwick who reverted to The Central Café and remained in business for many years. He signalled a final end to the Depression in early 1937 when he started headlining his adverts with Happy Days Are Here Again. Headlines a couple of months later reported the NSW Government’s first revenue surplus in 10yrs. (Willie Choy left for a six month Chinese sabbatical in Oct32 and upon return found that his Australian wife had sold their house and business and done a runner.)

At this time the fruiterers were also feeling the pinch from the inroads being made by the canned fruit industry, which was appealing to the housewives about convenience and enhanced nutritional value. The fruiterers were countering with the forerunner of the bumper sticker campaign: Eat more fruit; Take less dope. The confectioners also were feeling the pinch from commercial operators such as the chocolate makers (Nestles MILK Chocolate, the best way to give milk to children), Arnotts biscuits and cakes, Sweetacres Minties, Cottees cordials, Peters Ice Cream..., all of whom carried on an advertising blitz over many years. The cafes progressively abandoned manufacture of their own stuff, finding it more economic to retail for the commercial operators, but in the process losing some of the unique qualities that had given them product differentiation.

By 1928 Con Vlismas and the Vlismas Bros seem to have been the only Greek cafe owners left in Murwillumbah. A number of fruiterers came and went, amongst whom were various operators of The Excellsior Café, The Mauve Café, Brown’s Handy Café, Kings Café, The Pacific Café, The Sunbeam Café, Rolleys Fish & Chip Shop, Gibson’s T Rooms, The Regent (aka Cooksons and the Café de Luxe), The Blue Room in Broadway, Twitchetts Fruit Mart (aka Mack’s Mart opposite the Australia Hotel), the Murwillumbah Fruit Exchange (aka The Covered Wagon when the Olds abandoned their premises and operated from the back of a truck), and the Harriss Fruit Mart in Wharf Street (which survived until 1935.)

In 1929 Con Vlismas also gave the game away when he sold out to his employee, Stathios Cassianos, (aka Cass). Stathis/Stathios landed from Ithaca in 1925 and gained experience as a confectioner in Sydney before coming to Murbah, but only lasting a year or so as his own boss before selling back to Con and returning home in 1931. His probable brother, Athanasios Cassianos (also temporarily adopting the name Cass), landed sometime in the 1920s and took over the Vlismas Bros business around the same time Con sold up. However, he too sold back about a year later and, after various adventures, subsequently became a long-serving cook for Con Vlismas.

In about 1930/31 came George Venery, a probable Kytherian, to take over or re-establish a Greek presence in the original Aroney cafe. He redubbed the joint, or at least the cafe side of the business, The American Store, but moved on in late 1932 after passing the ball to the Ithacan Victor Angelo, aka Angelo Victoratos, who traded variously as The American Store, The American Café, Angelo’s Café, Michael Angelo’s and The Continental Café, until handing over to his (silent?) partner Nick Koukoulis (Koocooles) and moving to Grafton in early 1935. He returned to town in about 1939.

Victor Angelo kept remaking himself and became an aggressive marketer operating on minimal profit margins. Over his 2½yrs in town he challenged the opposition, mainly Renwick’s Central Café a few doors down on the other side of the ES&A Bank, with a succession of price cuts and innovative services - oysters 1/- a plate with fruit; roast duck, turkey, or chicken and two other courses for 1/6d; Marvel cigarettes 6 for 3d; double sandwiches for 9d; free delivery; free gift vouchers; .... Renwick countered with pies for 3d or 5 for a 1/-, prompting Angelo to offer Pies, Potatoes and Peas for 6d with an extra pie and a pot of tea thrown in for another 3d, and a free cigarette with three-course meals. They kept bouncing off each other.

The staple for all the cafes was pie, pea and potato for 6d, with each proprietor providing an extra gimmick of some sort. Each cafe proprietor extolled the virtues of his homemade masterpiece and in the end the battle for customers was won by he who provided the best and biggest, sussed out by the devotees and word passed around. Some cafes retailed the same commercial pies from the bakeries, but those discerning testers could tell from which cafe a takeaway pie had come by the taste of the home-made sauce.

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The Great Depression

Trying to attract customers was also leading to intense competition in other businesses. Harry Doran, ‘The Suit King’, came out with a hand-tailored two-piece suit for £3/17/6, which prompted Stuart Bros to counter with a three-piece suit off the rack for £2/12/6, although it’d be interesting to know whether they were rushed off their feet, as in Murbah the big question was Who put the Great in the Great Depression? In April 1931 the Murbah police wrote ration tickets to the value of £377 for 463 people, a decrease of 60 on the previous month, at the same time Casino, albeit a town 30% larger, had a ration bill that jumped from £1200 to £1634 (and continued to grow to a regional record of £2690 in September.)  (Conversely, the Tweed Shire, with ~275 unemployed, was in a spot of bother through defaulting ratepayers and had just sacked 40 staff, generating an appeal in parliament by Mr A.E. Budd MLA for a work relief grant.)

All parameters (unemployment, income and housing distress) from the mid 1933 census indicate Murbah was amongst the least affected areas in the state, and up there with the cushioned posh suburbs of Sydney. It was one of 10 Municipalities out of the 180 in NSW where the number of males earning more than £260 pa exceeded those earning less than £52. Seven of these lucky Municipalities were privileged Sydney enclaves. None of the 138 Shires had this distinction, nor any female workforce anywhere.

Moreover, the male workforce enjoyed a median income of £148, the highest of any Local Government Area on the North Coast, including Lismore and, on a cursory comparison, only beaten by those same posh Sydney suburbs. It was way above the Richmond-Tweed median of £92, which was in turn above the state median of £86. The females, with a median income of £62, also enjoyed this privilege, coming in streets ahead of their North Coast sisters on £43. On top of that, only 5.8% of its male ‘breadwinners’ earned no income over the 12mths to 30Jun33, the best result on the north coast, which came in with an average of 11.9%, and way below the state average of 15.2%. And there was no trade off in unemployment, the figures giving a combined male/female rate of 10.9%, which was a better result than all but the farmers living a subsistence lifestyle in the shires. Nor was there any trade off in housing distress. Murbah had no shantytown, although there was a camp on the showground during the peak Depression years that had practically disappeared by the time of the census. The only slight downside was a little overcrowding in the standard house, Murbah accommodating an average of 0.85 people per room against the state average of 0.84, but better than the regional average of 0.91.

Whatever the Murbahians were doing right should be discovered, patented and bottled for sale, although the banana industry was probably amongst the saviours – from about mid 1930 the industry was again starting to expand like the clappers. NSW production for the year ended Jun29 was 81,455 cases, almost doubling over the following 12mths to 117,120 cases, and kept on recovering exponentially such that by the end of 1933 the 1200 growers had cracked the half million case mark, generating a return of just over £300,000 at the farm gate, the Tweed dominating with just under half of the total NSW acreage and expanding at the greatest rate. (But the downside was the gluts of ~1934-37. The destitute dairy farmers, watching the banana industry become the best payer of all primary industries on a return per acre basis, started diversifying by planting out their hillsides, while others turned to cane on the lowlands and glutted the sugar industry.) The close of 1933 also saw unemployment relief scheme expenditure on construction of the Boyd's Bay and Barney's Point bridges, with accompanying road infrastructure throughout the shire, approaching £100,000)

View from Hospital Hill ~1925. ('Cafe Paramount' in Wharf St., centre lower foreground.) 

In Oct1935 the Tweed Daily declared the Depression over, stating that Since 1930 a total of £150,000 has been spent, or is proposed to be spent, on buildings in the town – half of this in the past two years.  For the nine months of this year just passed a record has been achieved with an estimated expenditure on buildings for the period of close to £50,000. Over the past three years, the improved capital value of Murwillumbah has increased by 7½ per cent (from £877,296 to £932,669. The ucv went up 10%, from £321,155 to £350,747).... The Tweed’s prosperity, and thus Murwillumbah’s progress, is attributable to the district’s three major industries – butter, sugar and bananas.... In the general emergence from the depression period which has been taking place throughout Australia, Murwillumbah’s progress has been hastened by the fact that the depression had such little effect, comparatively, on its stability. At the height of the depression, Murwillumbah remained one of the busiest and least affected towns in the State. This was due to a big revival in the banana industry at the critical period....

A modern shop is being erected in Wharf Street, on behalf of Messrs Penney’s Ltd to replace the Paramount Cafe (owned by Vlismas Bros 1927-35).... Pioneering of the Commercial Road and Wollumbin Street section is revealed in two imposing buildings, the construction of which was commenced last year by Mr C. Vlismas....

The total amount spent in building activity of all kinds over the past five years is close on £150,000. This represents a yearly expenditure of :- 1935, £50,000; 1934, £31,324; 1933, £16,392; 1932, £15,532; 1931, £12,663; 1930, £23,143.

And ~1935. (New Penny's Store on site of Paramount Cafe, the ex-home of the Tweed Daily)      (Both photos courtesy Tweed Regional Museum)

The Greeks also sensed something different about the place and turned up in relative droves. The census sprung 22 Greeks in town, 21 males and 1 female, in a total population of 3895, making the place the most densely populated Greek enclave (0.6%) in the region by far, way ahead of Lismore (0.2%), the largest Greek community on the North Coast.

The Murbahians could only scratch their heads and wonder as they saw the state average unemployment come in at 22%, allegedly a drop of around 8% on the 1932 peak unemployment, although a matter of great dispute within Union circles. The Great Depression is generally said to cover the period 1929 to 1933, but nationally unemployment started to rapidly increase in 1927 from the 6% to 10% average maintained from the end of WW1. By 1932 about 30% of the national workforce was unemployed and living on charity and Government relief. The ‘recovery’ is said to have started in 1933 when national unemployment dropped to 25%. By the outbreak of WW2 unemployment was down to 10%, but Government relief projects were still employing many people. [The peak Greek unemployment however, was above the national average at 33% and the number of new immigrants was greatly exceeded by those either returning to Greece or migrating elsewhere until the late 1930s when they started to return, at the same time ‘the drift of Britishers from Australia’ was still ongoing said the Daily.]

The Depression was mainly manifest in Sydney and those provincial centres with a concentration of manufacturing and mining industries. That many people from these areas hit the road seeking work around the countryside has gone into folklore, but in Murbah, and most other north coast centres, the local councils gave preference to unemployed local residents in their work relief schemes. As was the case elsewhere in the region, it’s a fair bet that a significant proportion of Murbah’s unemployment figure, albeit already low compared to elsewhere in the state, was made up of these itinerants drifting to town in a search for work. Most of the relief schemes were on road and bridge construction/maintenance and community infrastructure projects funded by government grants to councils. One of the major work relief projects in the Murbah district was reforming the Highway over the Burringbar Range, which was initially created for 300 ex-miners from the Cessnock district, but eventually attracted people from all over. It was still an ongoing project in 1937, by which time over £100,000 had been expended.

It’s a fair assumption that the north coast had earlier exported its unemployment problem. Things started to get dodgy in the Tweed-Brunswick district from the collapse of the banana industry, concomitant with distress in the dairy industry when farmers began laying off labourers in favour of family employment. There were no new or expanding industries to absorb the surplus population. Many of those who walked away from the plantations and farms gravitated towards the industrial belt in and around Sydney, while those who remained tended towards Lismore. Regular editorials on the subject appeared in most local papers all through the 1920s, a topic that continued to concern the regional communities into the 1970s. In fact, this was a phenomenon all over country NSW, with most rural rags lamenting their languishing towns and the loss of youth to Sydney. By late 1923 it was reported that almost one third of the 137 country shires and over a quarter of the provincial municipalities in the state had declining populations, with many others stagnating and only just retaining the status quo through baby making. Most pundits put it down to mechanization replacing farm hands, coupled with better roads and rail expansion leading to primary production being processed in fewer concentrated centres.

The Riverina and Hunter regions were the only significant country growth areas. The subsequent Depression saw a lot of the distressed coal miners from the Hunter and the industrial belt in Sydney gravitate back into the countryside searching for work, while the Riverina started generating mountains of fruit to rival the dairy farmers’ overproduction of butter. Whether the itinerants, when they eventually started making their way to this region from the mid 1920s, were earlier residents returning or new settlers searching for the promised land is a mystery. (The Newcastle-Hunter region was similar to the North Coast in that the effects of the falling demand for coal were felt from the early 1920s. While Australian manufacturing industries were still expanding over this period, iron and steel were in downturn and progressed into disaster. Elsewhere in the countryside things were also going well, with wheat and wool still experiencing bumper returns in the mid 1920s. In 1925 even the old age pensioners were given a treat with a rise to one quid a week, at the same time the basic wage sat at £4/2/-. The following year Premier Lang's new Industrial Commission came into being and established a basic wage of £4/5/-, but later struck a rural wage of £4/4/-.)

The 4Apr21 Commonwealth census found 24,772 people in the Tweed-Brunswick district. The following banana bust and dairy distress saw a large exodus, but by 1Jan26 the police census shows numbers had built back to 23,556 and a year later still relatively stable at 23,238. The police figures also showed continuing stagnation across the whole Richmond-Tweed region in the 12mths to 1927, but with a significant internal population redistribution. Apart from Kyogle, which had attracted over 1500 navies building the railway into Queensland, and during the Depression having the largest road network work relief scheme in the region, nearly all districts showed a population loss (Murbah static), with most drifting to Lismore, which initially rejoiced over the huge increase but subsequently shared with Casino the distinction of forming the largest shanty towns for the displaced and unemployed in the region. [Later that year, 1927, the local rags were still lamenting the loss of the young school-leaving population to Sydney, unaware it was a blessing in disguise. By 1Jan28 Lismore had a population of 9380, a marginal 7.8% increase from the 1921 census, but thereafter grew rapidly due to itinerants arriving from outside the region looking for work as well as those continuing to relocate within the region. This unfortunately coincided with the Municipal Council beginning to feel a financial pinch due to being overstretched on loans.]

From about 1928 the rural countryside began to experience a reverse migration when many rejoined the dairy game after the convoluted Paterson Butter Stabilization Scheme, introduced 1Jan1926 to provide a structure for voluntary levies to pay for export bounties, sorted itself out and restored a bit of confidence in the stability of the industry. Coincidentally, the drift from the country to the cities and industrial centres also was checked. The new and returning farmers had a perception that the scheme somehow involved 'government guarantee' of financial assistance and this ‘relative’ security, (compared with other pursuits), coupled with a lack of entry restrictions and the small degree of capital outlay required, renewed faith in the region's cow religion and, from about 1929, led to an accelerated increase of share farmers/tenants (not workers – dairy farms still mainly used family labour) into dairy farming, and an exponential growth in the mountain of butter. The vast majority took up the share/tenant option, sort of 'dummying', because no owner/operator could afford wages. Most entered 'handshake agreements' and found themselves at the mercy of the farm owner when the time came to split the increasingly diminishing butter cheque. But while it turned out that they earned far less disposable income than those working for wages in the towns, they compensated with subsistence living and less unemployment. The Paterson Scheme quickly went wobbly as the Depression progressed and in 1934 was replaced by a statutory Commonwealth Act, at the same time the exodus from the milking shed was 'Déjà vu all over again'.

By the time of the census of mid1933 the Tweed-Brunswick region had gained almost 2000 people, the period since 1928 accounting for all of the 6.7% increase since 1921. The recovery was all in the Tweed district, with Murbah Municip and Tweed Shire each making a gain of around 1000 people, while Byron and Mullum continued to stagnate. The gain can be attributed more to the revitalised banana industry than increased share farming in the dairy industry - and post 1933 bananas rapidly gained ascendancy in both shires while butter resumed its long-term decline. In the Richmond district population remained static over the 1928-33 period, although experiencing a huge overall increase of 25% on 1921, with Lismore accounting for a third of the gain and the remainder spread around Casino and Kyogle districts, the latter continuing to grow into one of the biggest dairy production regions in the nation, eventually surpassing the Tweed during the war. All subsequent growth however, has been dominated by the Tweed-Bruns.

While unemployed itinerants had begun gravitating towards the region as early as 1926 with the announcement of the Kyogle-Brisbane rail link (which didn’t get underway until mid 1926 when there were... over 200 men… awaiting employment and who were… nearing starvation, many sleeping under bridges and in pigsties), early 1928 marked the period when the local rags began to notice what was happening in the rest of the state, commenting on work relief schemes and unemployment cures elsewhere - which for 68 unemployed fruit workers at Leeton consisted of a week’s rations and a road map showing the way out of town. [And in State Parliament Mr Drummond MLA, Minister for Education, angrily repudiated the statement that had been made by Mr Davis to the effect that he had advocated the sterilisation of the unemployed.... I used the word segregation. (Well that is just as bad, interjected Mr Davis.)…]

A significant factor in the North Coast enjoying relative good times going into the Depression was the fact that it received more than its fair share of public money for development work thanks to the agitators (mainly Country Party stirrers) for the new State of New England, who caused the Sydney politicians to sit up and reach for their wallets. This old chestnut raised its head from time to time and through 1927 the agitation for secession again started to reach fever pitch, but while the Premier pleaded no money during his visit in early 1928, upon his return to Sydney he was subsequently urged to find the bananas to get the rail bridge started across the Clarence, get the Casino-Bonalbo rail line underway, refund the stalled Ballina-Booyong line, and speed up the mostly Commonwealth-funded Kyogle-Brisbane link. The money injected had a flow-on effect throughout the whole region, Byron Bay benefiting by supplying nearly all the huge quantity of sand required. Despite a few disquieting economic indicators the spirit of optimism in the air was such that by mid 1928 the fair city of Lismore was anticipating that the full year would shape up to be the greatest growth period in its history with new buildings going up all over the place. The final cost of the Grafton to the border link (including the reconstruction from Grafton to Kyogle) was £4,791,952, a huge slice of it circulating around this region. The line was opened in late 1930 and bridge completed in mid 1932, cutting 5hrs off the old Sydney-Brisbane route through the Tablelands and further opening up the Kyogle district for settlement, so much so that by the outbreak of WW2 Kyogle Shire had supplanted the Tweed as the region's leading cow milker.

Notwithstanding this late cushioning, all in all the Richmond-Tweed region suffered a series of minor economic disasters from the early 1920s, such that by the time the ‘Claytons Depression’ morphed into the ‘Great Depression’ the region had already adjusted to hard economic times and it became a matter of just tightening the belt another notch or two (but don’t tell your grandparents that). [Comparing apples and oranges, the Richmond-Tweed region’s unemployment rate of 9% in 1933 was less than now (14.9% - 2001 census), in the country’s longest economic boom in yonks. Much like the current good times, the Depression’s bad times were spotty. And comparing carrots with bananas, the region’s median individual income of £78pa could have given you a deposit on a house, but today’s amount of $11,856  (2001 census) barely covers rent.]

As for the Greeks, many of the Murbah cafe owners survived by paying under-award wages, which the staff seemed to put up with until trading appeared to come good in 1936. Many employees then must have complained to the Department of Trade and Industry, as the Industrial Inspector sprung almost every cafe (Australian and Greek) in town during one sweep later that year.

Over these years many adverts appeared in the local paper for cafes for sale elsewhere, including places as far afield as Cairns, Townsville and Murgon in Queensland. Many proprietors couldn’t offload and simply walked away from their businesses, while others, like George Tsicalas at Tenterfield, struggled on and went bankrupt. The high turnover rate in the Murbah cafes stabilized around 1934.

That same year, when things appeared to be settling down a bit, the Kytherian Paul Emmanuel Condoleon (Petrochilos) turned up in town looking for a business opportunity. Nevertheless, he only stayed a few months before establishing at Nimbin of all places.

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The Austral Café

Constantinos Dimitrios Vlismas was 15yrs old when he landed from the Ithacan village of Perahori in 1910. Like most of the early Greek immigrants he adapted to the new culture through transitional employment amongst fellow Greeks before venturing out on his own. He went the traditional route of cleaning fish, working in kitchens, waiting on tables, and so on, before securing a permanent job in a confectionery shop in Manly and learning the trade of candy making. From there he took charge of a small confectionery-making shop in King St, Sydney, where he heard from commercial travellers of great business opportunities on the booming North Coast. During the train trip north he checked out various towns but at the end of the line decided that Murwillumbah was the spot to break the Kytherian monopoly. In 1919 he opened The Novelty Candy Shop on the uphill side of the post office and his ice creams and hand-dipped chocolates became an instant hit. Over the years his continual experimenting with ice cream led him to develop numerous different sundaes, such as the popular tutti-fruitti and the chocolate-coated confection called a Bonz-a-bar. With this initial success he relocated to 104 Main Street, next to Budds, and found that this new position provided the opportunity to add light refreshments to his product range, boosting his takings in winter when the sale of ice creams was slow. During the early ‘claytons’ Depression years he was smart enough to keep it simple and wasn’t tied down with overheads, such as large kitchens and dining rooms, like the established cafes. Nevertheless, as all the posh restaurants progressively folded he gradually filled the gap by expanding the menu to include full meals and bakery items and thus, by late 1927, the Austral Café was born.

Manager Louie Bertsos and staff in Austral Café ~1930.
(Courtesy present Austral Cafe)

In 1928/29 when the Austral was well established, but with trading at low profit margins, his entrepreneurial flair led him to sell up and try a new challenge with a dalliance in the just recovering banana industry. However, he quickly realised that the banana game was still a bit wobbly at that stage, so he repurchased his cafe from Cass and was back behind the counter by 1930/31. At this time it was estimated that Murbah had built back to a population of just over 3500, and it continued to grow as itinerants accumulated during the search for work in the Depression. The many living in the pubs and boarding houses (554 at the 1933 census, making up 14% of the population) still gave a captive clientele for the cafes, albeit mainly buying over-the-counter stuff rather than the sit down three-course meal for 1/6d. Things started to look up in 1935/36 with a recovery in the building industry, when 95 new houses went up in the shire and the Government injected £35,000 into new schools and such. And by this time the recovery in the banana industry was well underway.

Con remained innovative in the confectionery business, picking up ideas from the American journals to which he subscribed all his life. These detailed new products, manufacturing techniques and machinery, which he adapted as required. By the end of the war however, he started to feel the pinch from the mass-producing commercial operators and gradually cut back on his own manufacturing. Ice cream, of which he was making 10 gallons per day, was the first to go. Initially he started to buy in bulk from McNivens in Sydney, the stuff arriving in 10gallon ‘shippers’ packed in dry ice, then from Pauls in Brisbane (20 x 2½ gallon waxed cardboard containers per week) and finally from Norco when they got their manufacturing act together with his help. The bakery however, remained viable for many years and employed 7 full time staff, including specialist pastry cooks, while running the cafe took a further 24 employees.

In the meantime, around 1933, he had another go at banana growing at Mullumbimby, leaving the cafe in the management hands of his new partner, Louie Bertsos. Shortly afterwards however, he returned to Murbah and began to branch out into various enterprises, leaving his foreman to run the Mullum plantation until it was sold upon the outbreak of WW2.

Another diversification was an initial interest in the Elite Tea Rooms in Lismore, which his brothers acquired in 1929. Four years later these were made over into The Capitol Café, which evolved into a restaurant to rival Angelo Crethar’s premier Lismore establishment further down the Street, but long before this he had withdrawn from the venture, leaving his brothers in full command. It seems his brother Joe, trading as Vlismas Bros, was the active face of the business until it was sold to a partnership of fellow Ithacans in the late 1930s. [The partnership's senior partner and longtime Murbah resident was Peter Dionysius Manias, 13yrs old when he landed on his own from Perahori in 1922. He spent a couple of years in Sydney working for his uncle Basil Livanis, possibly connected to the Mullumbimby family, before coming to Murbah for about 3yrs and then returning to Sydney to open his own short-lived business, resettling permanently in this region around 1930.]

Con further expanded his horizons and began investing in Murbah when he sensed an end to the Depression. This helped accelerate the town’s recovery and he is arguably responsible for the extension of the central business district when, in 1935, he spent £6,500 to construct the art deco Austral Building on an open grass paddock on the corner of Wollumbin Street and Commercial Road opposite the bridge into town. In 1936, the year confidence returned and he became a foundation member of the reformed Chamber of Commerce, he added the adjacent building along the Wollumbin Street frontage, and a few years later established two other fine buildings in Main Street.

One of the first occupants of the Austral Building was the elaborate California Milk Bar, which became the most popular cafe at the bridge end of town.  It occupied a double frontage shop on the Commercial Road side of the Austral Building, where Neates Electrical was recently in business. It was in the hands of Digger Nelson in the mid 1940s and still doing a roaring WW2 trade in competition with the Greeks, his house special being a pie with mashed peas as a novel ingredient. 
Over this period milk bars and cafes became very fancy places with each joint developing a personality of its own. Each local tribe had its favourite hangout.

California Milk Bar 1938
(Courtesy Ron Johansen)

Con’s vision paid off handsomely - by early 1951, with postwar prosperity continuing apace, Main Street business frontage was valued at more than £300 per foot. In Wharf Street valuations were up 167% on 1947 levels. Back at the beginning of the Depression Main Street frontage could be had for about £12/foot.

Austral Café ~1940

(Photos courtesy present Austral Café)

In 1939 Con relocated a few doors down into the recently vacated premises of Kelly the plumber. This new Austral was a magnificent cafe, with its curved structural-glass window frontage and sculptured mirrors lining the internal walls presenting a fine example of the art moderne architectural style. The soda fountain was boasted as the most up-to-date in Australia. But unfortunately, except for the façade, no remnants remain after it was gutted for occupation by Tweed Cellars. Like other upmarket Greek cafes in the larger regional towns, the war years saw a boom in customers, particularly Americans on R & R, so much so that an area had to be roped off as a customer waiting room, otherwise patrons were hovering over tables waiting for people to finish their meals and causing great navigation problems for the waitresses. The war however, also brought rationing and a limited menu, giving rise to a few creative recipes.

In 1958 the Austral, now very much a family business, relocated two doors down to its present site in Main Street when the Manahans building was demolished. Construction started in late 1957 and once again Con injected some life into the local economy (£50,000) at a time when Murbah’s future looked a bit shaky with the start of the decline in the supporting primary industries. [At the same time the Varela Bros spent £15,000 modifying the Tweed Fruit Exchange, the old Nash Building, in brick, adding a new milk bar to the fruit side of the business and providing two new shops for lease.]

Con’s cafe was a fine example of upmarket cafe culture of fifties Australia, resisting the move into pinball machines and jukeboxes to remain viable. It survived the demise of the traditional cafe and milk bar for a range of reasons, but primarily because it remained Murbah’s most popular meeting place as well as continuing its unique offerings. Its milk shakes and innovative sundaes remained the real thing, with quality fruit salad, ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, wafers and genuine chocolate, and homemade caramel, butterscotch and other flavourings used in various combinations. Where everyone else had been using artificial essences for many years they remained purists and continued making flavouring from real ingredients. And there it is today, still in family hands but leased since 1985, and still trading as a popular cafe with some of the ambience of the wonderful cafe architecture of the earlier period. And the classic art deco style Austral Building, the first CBD building you see on arrival once over the bridge, is still a fine looking structure.

Con had been in partnership with the Peloponnesian Elias (Louis) Bertsos since 1933 through until 1945 when they finally decided to dissolve the partnership and go their separate ways. His children became the owners of Louis’ shares, at which time Jim was in the RAAF, Jack had just left school, George was doing his Leaving Certificate and Norma was still at school. Louis subsequently took over the Empire Café in Mullumbimby.

Con married Alma Mapp in Murwillumbah in 1926. Their children became well acquainted with all aspects of the catering business, having worked in the cafe after school hours and during weekends and holidays from the time they reached the age of nine. The Austral had the biggest demand for staff amongst the Murbah cafes and during the severe labour shortage of the war years it got to the stage where Con’s sons, George and Jack, would ride their bikes down from school at lunchtime to help out. All the various holdings, including the Austral Building, acquired by Con over the years are still in family hands. George and Jack continued with the Austral until leasing it out in 1985 and retiring. Jimmy was also a risk taker and constructed a new cafe in the stagnating town of Bangalow in the early 1950s.

Over the years Con was an exceptional bowler at the Murwillumbah club, being included in the Queensland representative team on a number of occasions and being the club’s singles champion for six years. He died in 1987, aged 92, and left a legacy of which his family and Murwillumbah can take great pride.

The Austral’s temporary owner back in 1929/30, Efstathios Cassianos, born on Ithaca in 1897, had landed in late 1924 and spent about 3yrs in Sydney learning the confectionery business, with MacRobertson Pty Ltd amongst others, before turning up in town by at least 1928. He returned to Ithaca in 1931 but didn’t manage to get back to Australia, accompanied by wife, Eftyhis, and daughters, Afroditi and Katy, until postwar. His likely brother, Athanasios Cassis, who temporarily took over the Bellevue Café of the Vlismas Bros, subsequently had a short-term interest in the Vlismas Bros Capitol Cafe in Lismore. But around 1932 he became a long-time cook at the Austral until just before the war when he is believed to have returned to Lismore for a brief stint as a cook for Peter Manias, the new owner of Capitol Café. He was back in Murbah shortly afterwards however, and in 1946 relocated to Mullumbimby to grow bananas. By the late 1950s he'd had his fill of bananas and took a break as a cook at one of the new trendy restaurants at Surfers Paradise, returning to the Austral a year or so afterwards with new-fangled ideas on continental cooking. He managed to convince Con to add a few exotic dishes to the menu, but the Murbahians wouldn’t take the risk and stuck with steakeneggs, causing him to lament that the town was ‘50 miles away and 50 years behind (Surfers)!  He died at Murbah in 1970, aged 71. Another likely brother, James/Diomedes/Dimitri, was a partner along with Arthur/Athanasios in the Lismore branch of Vlismas Bros through 1930-32, but his circumstances remain a mystery.

Another cook in the Austral Café for many years was Arthur Antonios Raftopoulos. He landed from Ithaca as a 14yr old in mid 1909, spending most of his time in Sydney apart from a sojourn in the USA between 1915 and 1922. He married Minnie Brown, believed to be anglicised Greek, in Hurstville in 1926 and appears to have come to Murbah shortly afterwards. They separated in 1935, but he continued on at the Austral for another 10yrs.

Possibly connected is Dionysios George Raftopoulos, born on Ithaca in 1897, who landed in 1923 after sojourns in France and Africa. Sometime in the late 1930s he came down from Brisbane and became a banana grower at Dunbible Creek until later moving into Murbah, from where he returned to Brisbane in early 1951. He had to give the banana game away after falling ill and becoming unable to look after his plantation without assistance. At this time postwar prosperity had brought full employment and the banana growers, still handicapped by low prices, were finding it difficult  to attract labourers. He is the same Denis Raftos who rose to prominence in late 1948 when he became secretary of the committee formed to raise money for the United Nations Appeal for Children. The Greeks of the Tweed and Brunswick districts combined for this appeal with a well-organised campaign coordinated by Denis, which, amongst other activities, introduced the locals to Greek music during regular spots on 2MW

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The Bellevue Café

Con Vlismas sponsored out his brothers, John, Joe, Nick and Thouki, progressively through the 1920s and 30s. John was first in 1923 after a 4yr stint in the Greek Navy. He is believed to have acquired the Bellevue from Spyro Kapousis in about 1926, probably with a loan from Con, and was joined in partnership by Joe and Nick sometime afterwards. Around late 1927 Vlismas Bros also acquired the Paramount Café in Wharf Street opposite the Club House Hotel. John was the manager when it went up in smoke in mid 1935, after which he returned to Greece for a 12mths break. Joe moved to Lismore in 1929 and became manager of the posh Capitol Café, on behalf of Vlismas Bros, although there’s a suspicion that Con may have had an initial stake. Nick continued to manage the Bellevue, while Thouki, the youngest, was never in partnership and moved to Casino in the mid 1940s. Joe, aka Ulysses and Odysseus, returned to Murbah in the late 1930s, but in between times doing his stint as manager of the Vlismas Bros Mullumbimby banana farm.

CAFE BELLE VUE ~1930           (Courtesy Oxley Library)

Belle Vue Café ~1938    (Courtesy Tweed River Historical Society)

For a short period a part of the Bellevue business was acting as a retailing outlet for Con’s confectionery, fruit drinks and bakery items until they developed their own specialist product range and niche clientele. Around mid 1935, at the same time the last shop in Con’s Austral Building was completing fitting-out, the Bellevue was given an extensive makeover and re-emerged as the biggest and most up-to-date cafe in town, if not in the whole region. The upstairs area, now The Balcony Restaurant, is believed to have remained as accommodation space during the Depression years until converted into a ‘night club’ in the late 1930s. This was a new gimmick being tried by some of the larger cafes in the region at this time, but in most places they found it hard to compete with the bigger freestanding dance halls. The huge upstairs space at Alex Samios’ purpose-built Cabaret Café, established at Kyogle in 1935, was eventually converted to a billiard parlour.

After the invasion of Greece in late 1940 John became the main spokesman for the Murbah Greek community in organising an appeal for the war effort. Part of this involved Greek girls in national costume walking the streets rattling their collection boxes. In a very short time he raised over £200, £50 of which came from his own pocket. He prompted the local Rotary Club to host a combined function for the Greeks of the Tweed, Brunswick and Richmond at which Angelo Crethar of Lismore, the defacto leader of the Greeks of the Northern Rivers at that time, gave the keynote address. In early 1941 the Mayor of Murwillumbah and the President of the Tweed Shire jointly called a public meeting to set up the ‘Greek War Relief Fund’ and John was nominated as one of the three official receivers of donations. He and the committee did a magnificent job in organising functions throughout all the villages in the district, culminating in the all-day and all-night festivities of ‘Greek Day’ in late February, which raised a further £475. The functions at most local halls included competitions for prizes donated by the Murbah Greek community. A particularly busy lady over this period was Mary Kardamis, daughter of Denis of Coolangatta, who, dressed in national costume, visited all towns, villages and hamlets throughout the district.

Murwillumbah 1940
Anastasios George Bertsos (left) and Theo John Condoleon (right) in Evzones outfits,
Jack Victor Panaretos in Australian Army uniform, and
Angelo Victor Crethar on far right of group of Rotarians.
(Courtesy John Paul Condoleon)

John may also have been the ‘Greek Spokesman’ quoted by the Tweed Daily in an article ‘Grief of Greek Community in Murwillumbah’ following the mysterious death of the Greek fascist dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, in late January 1941: We were very proud of General Metaxas, not only for what he did but because he came from the Island of Ithaca, where we came from. Metaxas was born on Ithaca in 1871 and probably turned in his grave when the Greek communists became the leading resistance force on the island. A month later the Appeals Committee of the Tweed District Soldiers Welfare Association launched the Fund for Care of District Soldiers. The Austral and The Bellevue were amongst the largest contributors with £50 each.

The Greek Consul General, Dr E. C. Vrisakis, was a close friend and a regular houseguest of John over many years. Vrisakis’ first trip to Murbah was in the war years when he was up recruiting for the Greek Air Force, and post war he often called in on his annual Surfers Paradise holiday. But by the late 1940s John had passed the torch to Nick Angouras as the main spokesman for the Murbah Greek Community.

The Mullumbimby banana farm was registered under the name Vlismas Bros and through to the mid 1940s all the brothers and their wives were living there at one time or another. The Bellevue became the main coordinating point for farm labourers, with their adverts for waitresses always accompanied by ‘and lads for farmwork’. In the early 1940s they acquired their first plantation in the Tweed district, frequently advertising for ‘banana men for plantation handy to town’, and later acquired a couple more. The war years were lucrative ones in the banana industry and all growers were desperate for manpower. They sold out of Mullumbimby in the late 1940s, at which time they also had a couple of plantations around Eungella. They also staked others and were silent partners in a few plantations, but mainly as individuals rather than Vlismas Bros. Vlismas & Cassis had a farm at Mooball, but which Vlismas and which Cassianos remains a mystery. By the early 1950s however, they were all out of the game.


With canny timing John, Joe and Nick sold the Bellevue in 1960 and went their separate ways; John buying a hotel in Sydney after a holiday in South Africa; Joe also to Sydney after a 4yr stint in property development at Coolangatta; and Nick to take up full-time interest in his combination cane/dairy farm at Condong which he had acquired in the late 1940s.

John remained a bachelor, Nick married the Sydney born Ithacan, Theonie Raftopoulos, sister of the famous war artist and caricaturist Tony Rafty, while Joe chose the excitement of Irish politics and married the great niece of the legendary Irish nationalist Thomas Meagher, who did penance as a convict in Tasmania for his sins.

Like Con, the Vlismas Bros became well-known and respected businessmen in Murbah. In late 1958 when Fr Gregory Sakellariou of Brisbane conducted a mass baptism ceremony, with Greek-Australian children from all over the Tweed and Brunswick districts, Nick and Theonie were the hosts for the festivities, amongst the guests being Mrs Anthony, wife of the late Larry MHR, and other prominent Murbah personalities.

Wedding of Joe Vlismas and Hanorah Meagher, 1937 Brisbane.
L to R: Thoukis, John, Hanorah, Joe, Nick.
(Courtesy Rene Rooke)

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The Continental Café

In late 1931/early 1932 the Kytherian Nikolaos Antonios Koukoulis (aka Coocooles) returned to Murbah as proprietor of a cafe in Prospero Street, South Murwillumbah, and upped the ante by attempting to stay open around the clock, but he was dobbed by his competitors and subsequently fined for trading after midnight. In early 1935 he took over The Continental Café, aka Angelo’s Café, the original Aroney cafe in Main Street, and a little later also acquired a milk bar on the opposite side of the street down past the Bellevue across from the School of Arts, perhaps called the American Store. He also resumed management of the fruit shop in the adjacent Nash building, which he initially had acquired in 1926 and sold or leased in 1929. It seems Nick decided the best approach for Depression trading was to spread the risk by expanding and diversifying rather than consolidating.

He was another innovative and aggressive marketer, providing take-away and delivery service and apparently a first with al fresco dining: Dine at Nichles Open Air Cafés, in all of which the house speciality was turtle steak. (The preference of Australians to dine in-doors had always been a mystery to the Greeks.) On the fruit and veggie side of the business a competition war with the new Fruit Exchange of the Angus Bros saw profit margins cut to the core. He continued to be listed as a fruiterer and traded under his earlier Murbah name of K. Nickles, but the South Murbah shop, known as the Regent Café next to the theatre, continued to be registered under the name R. Nichles.  In all other written records however, he is referred to as Koocooles.

Nick was 16yrs old when he landed from Katsoulianika on Kythera, via a sojourn in Smyrna, in 1904. Following a couple of years in Sydney working for his cousin, Jim Anthony Comino, in Oxford Street he moved off to Warwick to work for the partnership of Harry Spiro Tsicalas, Mick Charles Catsoulis and Jim Menegas, all of whom had been staked by Mina Anthony Comino. Twenty months later he was staked by Jim Comino in a partnership with Victor Spiro Tsicalas in the Olympia Café at Goondiwindi. In 1915 he returned to Warwick to become proprietor of the Bellevue Café in partnership with his uncle Jim Menegas. They sold up in 1920 and after dabbling in some businesses in and around Brisbane Nick turned up in Murbah a year later to take up Jack Aroney’s Olympic Café. During this period, and over the following years, he was an entrepreneurial risk taker, with his various ventures apparently left in the hands of managers after his initial purchase and makeover. A later employee at Murbah was 16yr old Spiro George Tsicalas, who renewed a family association when he came down from Tenterfield in 1936, but smartly moved onto Lismore in early 1937 after a better pay offer.

Nick Koocooles 1918 Warwick
(Courtesy Oxley Library)


In 1925 Nick married Aphrodite Marcellon at Raymond Terrace near Newcastle and about a year later took up full time management of his Capitol Café in Coolangatta, next door to the theatre of the same name. Aphrodite was part of a group of about 15 young Kytherians escorted to Australia by Jim Cosma Freeleagus in 1922. She was a cousin of Irene Mavromatis, the wife of Peter Aroney, the Brisbane identity who often holidayed with the Koukoulis at Coolangatta and Murbah.

The only other Koukoulis around at the time, also carrying the name Nicholas Antonios, established the Classic Milk Bar in Goulburn in 1926. But it's more than likely he is in fact Murbah Nick, trying another diversification venture that he left in the hands of a manager. Nick was the only one of his family to leave Kythera, where a sister and brother predeceased him.

It’s understood that Nick continued his complex investment strategy and found himself over-extended as the Depression progressed. By the late 1930s he had built up a debt with the Cominos of the Brisbane markets, who called in this debt in 1939 and installed their nephews, Steve and Jack Comino, as managers. Nick and family then moved to Wellington in New Zealand where they remained until retiring back to Brisbane in 1948. He died in Brisbane in 1980 aged 92, leaving Aphrodite, daughter Helen and sons Jim and Manuel. Helen, born at Coolangatta in 1927, married Peter Tsikleas, the brother of Con of Lismore, both of whom were the sons of Mick earlier of Murbah.

Steve and Jack Peter Comino (Douris) offloaded the old Continental Cafe and consolidated in the shop in the adjacent Nash building, and by early 1940 were simply using the high-profile brand name ‘Cominos’ and offering meals at all hours. By 1943, when they went into partnership with the Varela Bros, the cafe part of the business was relegated to a space down the back of the shop as they developed the fruit and veggie side of the enterprise. Upon the establishment of Comino & Varela they became purely fruit and veggie wholesalers and retailers, and the place eventually evolved into Murbah’s largest fruitmarket. The Continental, Aroney’s original Tweed River Oyster Saloon, was occupied by an auctioneer for a while before it was demolished and remained as a vacant lot until 1958 when a new National Bank branch was built on the site, recently rebranded as The Photo Bank.

Their father, Peter, was one of the notable ‘Brisbane Markets’ Cominos, some of whom had sojourns in Lismore before establishing themselves in Brisbane, Bundaberg and Childers just after the turn of the century. Peter had landed around 1902 and worked on the family cane farm at Horton and at the family’s Childers cafe until 1912 when he returned to Greece with another brother, Arthur, to serve in the Balkan Wars. After the wars he chose to remain on Kythera, married Chrysanthy and subsequently raised eight children.

Steve was the first son to come to Australia, landing as a 14yr old in 1928 and going directly to Childers to work for his uncle Paul. Jack landed in Sydney in 1936/37 and worked for his uncle George in the Dixon Street markets until meeting up with Steve in Murbah. Following Steve’s enlistment Jack was left to manage the place on his own during the war years. Just after the war, about 1947, they began to progressively sponsor out their siblings, George, Theo, Zoe (Joyce), Alexandra and Marika, all of whom married in turn and moved on. Their eldest sister, Benetta Vafias, didn’t arrive until 1970 when they had already retired to Brisbane. In the meantime, about 1950, when the Murbah population had reached about 5000, they brought out Peter who died in Brisbane in 1979, aged 93. Shortly after Peter arrived Steve and Jack sold out to the Varelas, with whom they had been in partnership for about 8yrs, and moved to Brisbane. They acquired a fruit shop in George Street in about 1951/52, but subsequently moved to a site opposite Wickham Terrace, with George and Theo in partnership by this time.

Jack Comino was another who took advantage of the lucrative wartime banana industry when he staked a few compatriots into plantations. He doesn’t appear to have been hands-on however, probably accepting silent partnership in lieu. He staked Dennis Georgopoulos, of Monsata, Kephalonika, to a plantation at Condong in late 1943, and Spiros Stavros Pippos, from Vathy on Ithaca, to a plantation at Burringbar in late 1944. Spiros was later a substantial banana farmer at Mullumbimby Creek.

Wedding of Marika Comino and John Cassimatis, Brisbane 1952
L to R on lawn: Unknown, Unknown, Peter Comino, Steve Comino, Marika Comino, Joyce Comino, Alexandra Comino, Irene Comino, John Comino. Flower girls: Chrisanthi and Hariklia Comino,
daughters of John and Irene. Theo Comino far right on steps.
(Courtesy Marie Mills)

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The Civic Café

Mark Cassimatis, the son of Mick (Minas) and Erini (nee Kalokerinos), was 14yrs old when he landed from the Kytherian village of Karvounades in 1928 to join his father and uncle, Peter Emmanuel Stathis, in Lismore. In 1938/39 he came to Murbah and established the Civic Café in a building across the road from Cominos, and a little later was joined by Mick and Peter who both took over the management of the Civic while he did a stint of foot slogging during the war.

Mick had been a wanderer for many years and landed in 1924 after 10yrs in Smyrna, 6yrs in America and sometime in Athens, but he is likely to have done an earlier short trip to Australia and is probably the 35yr old Mick recorded in Murbah in 1916, perhaps returning to Kythera with the Aroneys in that year. After he and Peter sold up in Lismore he spent a short interim period as a cook at the Marble Bar in Casino prior to moving to Murbah to live at Church Hill near the Cominos. He died in 1951, aged 74, and Mark continued in partnership with Peter, trading as Stathis & Cassimatis for many years before he sold up around 1970 and moved to Brisbane, 6yrs after 82yr old Barba Peter went through the pearly gates.

The Civic was given a substantial makeover in late 1940 and reopened with great fanfare, generating a profit of over £50 that was donated to the Red Cross and the CWA. It had three airconditioning units and was modelled on Angelo Crethar’s well-known establishment in Lismore, where queues stretched down the street in summer. Mark also boasted the longest counter on the North Coast, which, along with the soda fountain, accommodated display and cold storage units for all sorts of deli items, ice creams and fruit drinks. He also extolled the virtues of his seating layout, which saw high-backed cubicles for parties of six giving the highest degree of privacy anywhere. Neon and illuminated signs together with a curved frontage like the Austral completed a touch of modernity. His cafe along with the Austral and Bellevue were the most popular upmarket establishments in town during the war years.

Theo John Condoleon behind counter of Civic Café ~1940

Civic Café ~1940
(Photos courtesy John Paul Condoleon)

Mark’s 20yr old brother John was also in town for the official opening but shortly afterwards moved to Brisbane and enlisted. He is believed to have had a successful cafe in Sydney with the eldest brother Manuel. Mark married Eleni Glitsos who landed from Dokana, Kythera, in 1948. Her niece, Chrissy Aroney of Tamworth, married Con Gleeson of Kyogle

Peter Nick Cassimatis, a probable cousin, arrived from Karvounades in 1936/38 and worked with Mark in the Civic until enlisting. Being unnaturalised he couldn’t be posted overseas and instead served at Bathurst, Tenterfield and Darwin. He returned to the Civic after the war, but with stints in Lismore.

In early 1948 Mark’s young cousins, Poppy (aged 19), Billie (16) and Peter (14) Cassimatis, appeared in town and generated a bit of interest. They were amongst a group of Kytherians flown out on an ex-WW2 American Lockheed piloted by the Griffith-born Spiro Marsellos. At this time only males under 18 and women were permitted to leave Greece, of which there were many awaiting transport to join anxious rellies in Australia who had organised their sponsorship. Kythera, quarter the size of the Tweed Shire but without the bountiful blessings, had swelled to a population of 15,000 during the war due to refugees, but by 1948 was back to its permanent population of 8,000. Conscription was relaxed in 1950 and subsequent migration saw island numbers decline rapidly until finally stabilizing around 2,500 by the 1970s. Most came to Australia, the study of which, the reporter was impressed to learn, was part of their school curriculum. If they are all of the type of Peter, Billie and Poppy, then they will make good Australian citizens of the future. They related their experiences to The Tweed Daily, which revealed that Australia’s rationing was a minor inconvenience compared to what was happening in Greece. Poppy went off to Sydney later in the year to marry Jack Patty (Varipatis) and subsequently settled at Katoomba, while Billy and Peter worked with Mark for a couple of years until acquiring their own cafe at Toowoomba.

Peter’s nephew and niece, Manuel and Marika Stathis, arrived in the 1950s. Manuel became a cook and Mary a waitress in the cafe, but after Mark sold the Civic in 1970 both went to work for Con Vlismas at the Austral. Manuel married Donna Smiles (Kalokerinos) of Manilla in 1978 and moved to Sydney while Marika returned to Greece and married the same year. Another nephew, George Stathis, also landed in the 1950s and after a period working for the Feros Bros at Byron Bay settled in Brisbane in the early 1960s. Barba Peter, who landed pre WW1, never married.

The Ithacan Angelo Victoratos was a partner and shift manager at the Civic during the early war years until his death from a heart attack whilst attending a party at Joe Vlismas’ banana plantation at Main Arm in early 1943. He had been on the Tweed for 15yrs and in the early 1930s opened his own Murbah cafe known as ‘Angelos’ in the original Aroney building. He moved to South Grafton for a few years but returned to Murbah about the time Mark acquired the Civic site. 

No remnants remain of the Civic after it was gutted to house Hills Hardware.

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Wartime Trading

Just after the Christmas/New Year rush of 1943, Mark, along with The Austral and The Bellevue, finally succumbed to the lack of labour and wartime rationing when they all jointly agreed to a drastic curtailment of trading hours, and thereafter only opened from midday to 8PM on weekdays. A week later the butter ration to cafes was cut by another 50% to enable an increase in the supplies to Britain. At the same time rationing was effecting all businesses around town - the local butchers were telling customers to bring their own wrapping paper when they came to collect their meat ration, while the rationing of petrol had stopped all door-to-door delivery of milk, bread and ice a couple of years earlier. Towards the end of the year there was a further cut in the meat ration, and at the same time the Prices Commission added another straw to the load by fixing the retail price of almost everything on the menu, including oysters at 2/- a dozen opened and served with bread and butter. This was the last straw for a few of the Greek cafes in the region, some of the proprietors walking away from their businesses after being unable to sell them. Conversely, some cafes chose to pay higher black market prices to get extra stock, and inspectors posing as customers sprung many passing on the cost.

There were a few incidents during the war which caused the cafe proprietors to tread carefully. Generally though, they only suffered a minor overflow from the great agitation over the Greek banana growers, mostly led by the conspiracy theorists of the RSL and BGF. The Angus Bros were probably the aliens to whom the Murbah RSL was alluding when they protested the infiltration by aliens into the transport business at a meeting in late 1943. The Angus’ had started a small carrier business just before the war, which they sold to Varela & Comino in the late war years. The RSL spent …considerable time in discussing the extent to which, it was alleged, aliens generally were taking advantage of the war situation to infiltrate in all avenues of industry and production…. Then was cited the examples of the hassles being experienced by the old established carrying businesses of Australian proprietors. …On the other hand it was alleged that an alien firm continued to transport goods to and from Brisbane…and … all members present seemed of the opinion that the time had come for more militant action…. Walter Shapowloff was probably the culprit bus proprietor in another case cited.

The Civic, Bellevue and Austral, as the three leading cafes in town, had always done well. They were smart looking places, with their respective staffs done up in different crisp uniforms like competing football teams. In early 1945 ‘uniform closing’ regulations were introduced and all Murbah retailers decided to shut over the lunch hour, generating long queues at the cafes over this critical trading time and many complaints from the farming families who were in town shopping and couldn’t get a feed.

The Roxy Café, now split into separate Chinese and Thai cafes, seems to have been a substantial restaurant during the 1940s, sharing the bridge end of town with The California Milk Bar. Despite the competitive market in Murbah by the start of WW2 there must have been a bit of price fixing, as they along with all the other cafes in town were still offering three-course meals at an unvarying 1/6d, a price which had remained unchanged for at least 20yrs. Mark Cassimatis at the Civic Café was the first to increase to 2/- in late 1940 and all the others quickly followed. The same competitive market existed in Mullumbimby where the cafes also jointly charged 1/6d until 1941 when they all colluded to raise their prices simultaneously following the Murbah increase. Maintaining a competitive edge was getting tricky as the war progressed and labour started disappearing into the services. The Austral, BelleVue and Comino’s were all sprung for ‘slave labour’ five months into the war after a waitress at the Austral complained to the Industrial Award Inspector about lack of pay for overtime. Louis Bertsos had to carry the can for the Austral and John Vlismas for the BelleVue. Stephen Comino was hit with the heaviest fine when the magistrate was unimpressed by his argument that this was the first time he had had a business on his own account and that he had just arrived from Queensland where it was the employee’s duty to fill out time sheets. He had purchased the business from a ‘mortgagee in possession’ a month earlier and simply continued to employ the same staff on the same wages as the mortgagee.

Labour continued to be a problem for the Cominos and in mid 1943 when Jack was sprung by the Health Inspector for the hangin’ offence of having fish scales caught in the cobwebs in one of the two rooms out in his backyard, he argued that he was extremely overworked and had not had time for cleaning. At this time cooks were given a new award of £5/16/6 a week, but most were averaging £13/5/4 in overtime due to the large manpower shortage. Despite the good times being experienced by the cafe owners during the war labour costs were eating into the increased profits and the Cominos, like a lot of others, were cutting corners by cutting back on staff, notwithstanding that staff was hard to get anyway. At this time they were trying to keep their cafe and milkbar running as separate businesses, while still continuing to make their own ice cream in another room out in the backyard. The cream ration to cafes was cut again at this time and it’s believed they finally gave this part of the enterprise the flick when they began their partnership with the Varelas.

In mid 1946, with returned soldiers and their families overcrowding boarding houses around town, there were again strong protests over the early closing of the cafes. The local ALP branch even contributed two bobs worth and …claimed that the cafe proprietors owed a responsibility to the public to cater for their requirements. They had built up successful businesses through the support of local and district residents who, in turn, were entitled to expect at least the same cafe service so eagerly given to large numbers of American visitors during the war years. If the proprietors were not prepared to do this, then the Rationing Commission should reduce their ration permits to the lesser amounts consumed by reason of the restricted trading hours and re-allot these quantities to those cafes prepared to trade at night and on Sundays and holidays. They decided to write to the Premier to introduce a system of licenses for cafes and to lay down compulsory trading hours. The perception was untrue and many cafe proprietors were trying all sorts of subterfuges and legitimate avenues to obtain increased rations and satisfy demand. The same complaint was being voiced in all Northern Rivers towns.

Trading hours continued to be restricted for sometime. There was a near riot in mid 1947 for a long weekend football carnival, when teams from as far away as Ipswich couldn’t get a feed because none of the ‘principal cafes’ were open. A hundred rampaging footballers is not a pretty sight. The Tweed District Rugby League Association wrote a strong letter of protest to council, who replied that they had no compulsion powers over the trading hours.

The perception that the cafes had grown fat on the wallets of the Americans certainly had some basis. The cafes were subject to a separate rationing and price fixing system, and production of a ration book wasn’t necessary to acquire a meal, so those with money got the opportunity to double dip on scarce commodities. All you needed was cash, and that some cafes resorted to the black market, and accordingly charged in excess of the ceiling price, to satisfy the steak ‘n’ eggs diet of the richer customers is beyond dispute. Rationing of the various commodities progressively ceased from mid 1948 after the referendum to give the Federal Government power to continue price fixing was firmly rejected, but subsidies also ceased and the price of everything rose as market forces took over.

In late 1948 there was another near riot in town when the principal Murwillumbah cafes colluded to simultaneously increase various meal prices by a staggering 40-50%. The waitresses took most of the flak while the proprietors ducked below the counter. The basic three-course meal went from 2/6d to 3/6d while the humble pie jumped from 6d to 9d. ‘Pie n’ veggies’ subsequently became the most popular item on the menu.

In early 1948, just following the reduction of the working week from 44hrs to 40hrs, the new Restaurant Employees State Award made it compulsory for staff to be given two full days a week off, adding another straw to the cafe proprietor’s load. Compensation by paying penalty rates for working in excess of 5 days was not acceptable. Daily adverts for additional cafe staff were a regular feature for a while. In mid 1948 the situation was still desperate, prompting an article in the Tweed Daily headlined: Waitresses at a Premium in Murbah..., cafe proprietors said yesterday after receiving few replies to advertisements…. I can’t understand it, said one proprietor. The wages and conditions are now excellent but the girls don’t seem attracted. Before the war we had little trouble, but today we are always short staffed. At the same time the Murbah CES said there were only 12 people in town out of work, and a month later issued a bulletin that not one physically fit person is unemployed in the Tweed District. Post war prosperity was gathering steam. By late 1949 the cafes were still advertising daily for staff and were singled out in an article in the local rag as having the highest turnover rate by far amongst the Murbah businesses.

In late 1949 an article in a Brisbane paper carried by the local rag rated Murwillumbah first among New South Wales cafes, with Lismore second and a new cafe at Gundagi third. A big call. At the same time a reviewer of a new book about the Tweed mentioned that on his first visit to Murwillumbah in 1940 he found the place exuded an air of almost enormous wealth… and was strangely cosmopolitan. In my first two days there, I saw Chinese, a Jap, countless aborigines, Greeks, and Indians in white turbans…. The main street was – and, I suppose, still is – exciting in its own peaceful way. It seemed to fairly bristle with banks, pubs, modern cafes, and banana growers…. Thanks to the banana industry, Murbah remained one of the most prosperous towns in the region through to the 1960s.

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Angouras Brothers

Along with the Koukoulis family in 1931/32 also came Nick, Steve and George Peter Angouras (Angus), followed by their siblings Dimos and Mary a little later, from the village of Alepouhori near Tripolis in the Peloponnese. They had landed in 1926 and worked their way to this region during the Depression, initially starting in the banana plantations before establishing The Tweed Fruit Exchange in one of the new shops under the Australian Hotel in Commercial Road in early 1936. The motto of this new venture was the very courageous ‘Satisfaction or Money Back’, but it must have paid off as within a couple of years they opened another shop opposite the Fire Station in Main Street, and a little later had three shops, both wholesale and retail, specialising in handling the produce of the local growers. In 1940 they sold the Commercial Road shop to the Varela family and consolidated in their largest fruit shop, up the hill on Main Street on the opposite side to Cominos, and further developed it into the successful fruit and nut confectionery enterprise, simply known as Angus Bros Fruit Mart. Their introduction of banana ripening rooms in early 1946 was also a first in Murbah.

They ran their fruit and confectionery shop for many years, diversifying into other businesses and property holdings along the way, before selling to a fellow Greek in the 1970s and retiring from active business. It’s for their remarkable pioneering efforts in the macadamia industry however, that they achieved prominence.

Steve Angus 1967
(Courtesy Harry Eric Crethar)

In the mid 1930s Steve met John Waldron who had a few dozen wild Macadamia trees on his property at Upper Eungella and who hand cracked, roasted, salted and sold the nuts to neighbours. Steve liked the things and began doing the same from his fruit shop, doing all the cracking with a hammer in a shed out the back. By 1940 the hand cracking had become tedious and time consuming so he started tinkering with ways to produce the nuts in bulk and eventually imported a nut-cracking machine from the USA, which arrived in parts during the middle of the war without instructions or information on assembly. He eventually got it together in the garage of his home where his company, Macadamia Nuts Pty Ltd, was then born. Another machine from the States turned up in mid 1954.

During his experimental phase he noted that the nuts he had left out in the sun had dried out and cracked better, with the added bonus of leaving the kernel whole. The knowledge that lowering the moisture content was crucial led him to design a drying machine, which he had made locally. Meanwhile his brother Nick was experimenting with homemade sweets, chocolate, brittles and so on, and from this enterprise expanded into cooking, roasting and exploring what could be done with macadamias. Eventually they developed a product that compared favourably with the dominating Hawaiian manufacturers. Their slabs of Macadamia chocolate were an early hit.

Steve’s quest for nuts to meet the demand led him to collecting from farms and backyards way beyond the local area. Eventually he started advertising and received nuts from as far away as Gympie, and it is arguably his pioneer processing that stimulated the subsequent huge expansion of macadamia plantations on the north coast. By the late 1950s the shed in Church Lane had evolved into a large factory employing 12 people and handling over 20 tons of nuts per year. At this time macas were still only a sideline for north coast growers and less than 60 acres were under cultivation.

As his business grew and the majority of his product was going to the Gold Coast and Brisbane, he decided to move closer to the market and bought a five-acre lot at Slacks Creek where he installed a bigger and better processing plant. Shortly afterwards CSR bought into the venture, although it remained very much a family business. In 1970 Steve suffered a severe stroke and was forced to retire, handing over to his nephew, Nick Kalis, who came up from Murwillumbah. However, in 1971 Steve’s wife, nee Maria Girdis, and family decided to sell their remaining shares to CSR, who continued on at Slacks Creek until 1979 when they moved to a site adjacent to the Sunshine Plantation.

Steve was honoured with Life Membership of the Australian Macadamia Society in recognition of the large part he played in the development of the now huge industry.

Nick Angouras was one of the first to make and package the salty maca nuts and later develop maca chocolates, Easter eggs and all sorts of maca confectionery. He was the first president of the Greek Community of the Tweed, formed in the early 1950s, and continued as the main spokesman for the Greek community into the late 1960s. He died in Murwillumbah in 1989, aged 88. His wife, Loula, born in Egypt of Greek parents, was a well-educated lady and assisted as the long serving secretary of the community. She has the distinction of being the first New Australian naturalized in Murbah’s revamped courthouse ceremonies following formation of the Tweed New Settlers League in 1953. She died in Brisbane 1994, aged 81, and was buried back in Murbah.

George married Anastasia Pizimolas, the sister of Tony Peters of Mullumbimby. Her father, Panagiotis Pizimolas, wears the distinction as the first migrant in the Tweed-Brunswick district to be naturalized in the new courthouse ceremonies introduced in 1949. He landed in 1926 and was a chef in the Angouras cafe when the last of his family, wife Irene and daughter Despina, arrived from Rhodes in 1947. George had a separate cafe in Wollumbin Street at this time. Sometime in the late 1940s the brothers also bought the freehold across the road from the new Regent theatre and established a cafe, but who was managing it is uncertain. A used car lot now stands on the site. Over the years the brothers were also in the banana game, mainly around Tomewin.

Mary Angouras married the American-born Kytherian, Peter Manoli Panaretos, of Pittsworth in Queensland, while Dimos Angouras, the last to arrive, married a Greek girl from Sydney. (And continuing a local connection, Colleen Angus married Steve Florias of Patras, the koumbaro of Harry Crethar of Lismore.)

The Angus Bros also sponsored out many rellies after the war, all of whom worked in the fruit shop or maca factory at one stage or another. A possible rellie, Nick Dimitrakakis, who landed from Alepouhori in 1938, rolled into town sometime during the war and was an employee of the Angouras Bros until acquiring his own cafe in Wollumbim Street around late 1943.

From the nearby village of Rizes came Panagiotis Michael Michalakis. He had landed in 1924, aged 25, and come to Murbah in the early 1930s, remaining an Angus’ employee for about 10yrs until acquiring his own fruiterer’s business in Main Street. A fellow villager, Steve Gounis, was an employee for a couple of years in the late 1940s before acquiring his own shop at Newcastle. They may have some connection with Peter Carkagis of Mullumbimby, who returned to Rizes 1916-21 and probably spread the word about the new Arcadia.

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Varela Brothers

Spyro Varela, from Megara near Corinth, had a warehouse in Athens from which he supplied the Greek Army, but when the contract was lost he figured emigration might offer better opportunities. He and his 13yr old son George duly landed in Sydney in 1928. They worked alone for 5yrs in various places, sending money back to support the family, Nick, Bill, Joyce (Zoe) and their mother Angelina, until they accumulated enough capital to bring them all out. They settled at Mascot where Spyro had established a milkbar, but unfortunately, in 1936, he died at the young age of 47 leaving Angelina, who had no English, in a difficult situation. They sold the milkbar, after which the three boys moved out into the countryside, travelling around Dubbo, Parkes, Orange and Gunnedah searching for work, while Angelina and Joyce remained in Sydney. At Gunnedah they met Archie (Anastasios) Pouloudis, a wool classer and skin dealer from Athens, who married their sister Joyce in Sydney in 1938 and with whom Angelina subsequently went to live at Gunnedah. George in the meantime had returned to Sydney where he met Steve Angus who indicated he was thinking of selling the Commercial Road branch of Angus Bros. George subsequently checked the place out and, deciding it was a good business opportunity, called for Nick, who was in Nyngan at the time, to join him. A couple of months later they were joined by Bill.

They formed a partnership and bought The Tweed Fruit Exchange business in Commercial Road in early 1940. Three years later they accepted a partnership with Steve and Jack Comino, and together they grew their combined businesses into a major wholesale and retail outlet. They abandoned the cafe side of the Comino business and expanded into a vacant shop next door, devoting the whole Nash building to the selling of fruit and veggies. The move was no doubt due to the over-competitive Murbah fruit and cafe market as well as the shortage of manpower at the time. Around 1945 they were joined by the Pouloudis’ from Gunnedah, who took over the management of the Commercial Road shop while the Varelas and Cominos continued to expand in the Main Street shop. Their next step was to buy the truck and contracts of the Angus Brothers and further develop the carrier business by collecting the produce of all the local farmers for delivery to the Brisbane Markets. They also purchased at the Markets, making deliveries of orders to various shops on the return journey as well as satisfying their own retail outlet at Murwillumbah. In the early 1950s they bought out the Cominos and purchased the freehold of the Nash building.

Tweed Fruit Exchange 1960s
L to R: Unknown, Bill Varela, George Varela, Alf Nugan, Unknown,
Nick Varela, Ann Nugan.
(Courtesy Pip George Varela)

In early 1958 they pulled down the old timber building on the Imperial Hotel side of the Fruit Exchange and incorporated the site into a larger modified Fruit Exchange by the erection of a unifying brick façade across the combined sites. Today the business, still known as the Tweed Fruit Exchange and still in family hands, occupies one of the four shop fronts in the two-storey building bearing that name.

George, like many others, jumped on the banana bandwagon during the war and became a silent partner in a few plantations when he staked his compatriots, including the Macedonians. He enlisted at some stage during the war, during which he married Marge Kyprios, born in Adelaide to parents from Kastellorizo, in a double ceremony with her sister Mary who married Louie Armenis, a banana grower of Condong. Unfortunately, Marge died in 1955 at the young age of 33, leaving three small children, Spyro, Angela and Peter, in George’s care. He subsequently married Barbara Melis (Melodonis) of Mullumbimby and had a further daughter, Penny, born in 1961. Like Con Vlismas, and most of the Greek community, he was a keen member of the Murbah Bowling Club over many years. He died in 1982 aged 67.

His brothers Nick and Bill ran the carrier side of the business, which grew to three trucks, with others hired on an ‘as required’ basis to meet demand in high production periods. Towards the end of the war they had won the BGF contract to deliver bananas to the Brisbane markets, which involved daily runs to pick up the fruit from the five BGF depots between Murbah and Tweed Heads. At the markets they bought everything they could get their hands on for the resupplying of the 13 fruit shops on the return journey, sometimes arriving back in Murbah with no fruit for their own retail outlet. Unfortunately Bill died in 1972, aged 50, leaving Nick to carry on the business alone for the next 12yrs. Bill was 17yrs old when he enlisted in 1939, postwar remaining a keen sportsman and vice president of the Rovers Hockey club through to the time of his death. Nick retained the BGF contract and continued the daily runs, arriving in Brisbane at midnight and getting back to Murbah around midday, until the business was sold in 1984. He and Muriel now enjoy retirement in Murbah.

The Fruit Exchange business, but not the freehold, also was sold in 1984, but 5yrs later it was brought back into family hands through the repurchase by the Pouloudis Bros, Spiro and Arthur, the sons of Archie and Joyce. They are the only Greeks in Murwillumbah still loosely connected with the catering business.

Including in-laws, there are now 94 Varela descendants of Spyro and Angelina in the Northern Rivers region. The matriarch, Angelina, died in 1960 aged 67 and was buried in Sydney next to Spiro.

A cousin of the Varelas was Stellio (Stan) Karonis who arrived from Megara in 1949 to work in the fruit shop. He later went out west for a few years before returning and marrying Marika Coronakes of Corfu, the niece of the earlier Murbah identity, Paul Coronakes, in 1964. They now have four children and live in Brisbane.

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Other Players

In ~1932 Nicholas John Andronicos leased or acquired the old Regent picture theatre in partnership with Nick Koukoulis and lived with the Koukoulis family for a while. It’s believed he worked as a cook for Nick Koukoulis in Coolangatta and came to Murbah with Nick. The story goes that he had a startling resemblance to Jim Johnson, the famous boxer, and was apparently referred to as Nick Johnson thereafter, but whether he ever formally adopted this very appropriate name is uncertain. Nevertheless, the Andronicos name disappears from the rolls a year after Nickles & Johnson sold the lease or freehold to T.J. Dorgan in Feb1933, even though Nick is believed to have been associated with the theatre through to at least the late 1930s, perhaps staying on as Dorgan's manager. (In Oct33 the Federal 'Amusement Tax' on theatre tickets was removed, making theatre ownership much more profitable.) He is probably the same Nick John Andronicos, born in Potamos in 1894, who went straight to Warwick upon landing in 1910. He spent 7yrs at Warwick before taking over the Patrick Bros cafe at Allora, via short sojourns at Toowoomba and Oakey, in 1917.

A bloke simply identified by the surname Andronicos was recorded in Murbah in late 1940 at the Greek community’s ‘Greek Day’ celebrations. If not Nick he could be Andy, one of the ‘coffee’ Andronicos Bros, who was in the neighbourhood at the time. His wife, Eleni Condoleon, was the sister of Paul Emmanuel Condoleon (Petrochilos) of Nimbin 1935-45.

Paul and his wife Pelagia arrived in town in 1934/35 but moved across to Nimbin shortly afterwards to acquire the Blue Mount Café of George Malano. They were accompanied by Pelagia’s 16yr old brother, Theo John Condoleon (aka Kontoleos), who lived and worked with them for a while until returning to Murbah about 3yrs later to acquire a banana farm somewhere in the district. He came to work part-time in the Civic Café in 1940, but completed the full transition from banana growing in mid 1944 when he purchased The Popular Fruit Mart at 98a Main St, next to Giovanelli the Jeweller. It was purely a fruit and veggie retailer, with no milk bar sideline, although a fruit drink/ice cream service was added at some stage. Eighteen months later he disposed of the business and returned to Nimbin, at which time Paul also sold up and together they moved to Queanbeyan for a year or so before acquiring the Hollywood Café from Theo Frilingos at Wellington.

Theo John Condoleon in his fruit shop, Murwillumbah 1944
(Courtesy John Paul Condoleon)

The Macedonian and Albanian national, Shefit Ismail, with his uncle, Ali Yahya, was proprietor of The Ocean Café in Wharf Street through the war years until the late 1940s. Occasional employees were the Greek Macedonians John Henry Zakos and Alexander Zaicos, both later banana growers. In mid 1948 Ismail’s kitchen went up in smoke, but it seems that rather than carry out repairs he sold out to the Ithacan banana grower Gerasimos (Gerry) Angelo Pippos a month later and moved to Crabbes Creek to become a banana grower. Gerry, who had married Panagiota Vlismas in 1939, closed the place down for a month or so for extensive refurbishment. In 1950 he acquired another plantation at Clothiers Creek and commuted to the farm from Murbah while Panagiota ran the cafe until it was sold in 1952. They and children, Andrea, Yianni and Angeliki, moved to Brisbane in 1954.

Another Albanian, Xhemali James Harun, landed from the village of Korca in 1928 and had a cafe in South Murbah at least by the early 1950s.

The proprietors of the Metro Milkbar, aka The Metro Coffee Lounge, in Wharf Street a few doors south of the Ocean, all seem to have been Australian through the 1940s and early 1950s, but from 1956 it was in the hands of Peter Dimitri Psaltis of Mullumbimby.

Euripides (Louis) Armenis arrived from Corfu pre war and was a banana grower at Condong before establishing a small general store near the High School sometime after the war. He ran this successfully until selling up and moving the family, which by then included children Angelo and Helen, to Brisbane in the mid 1950s. Angelo became a chemist and later married Nick Varela’s daughter, Marina. They had a pharmacy at Kingscliff into the 1970s before returning to Brisbane. 

Elias (Louis) George Bertsos was 23yrs old when he arrived from Alophori, in the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese, in 1927. He only spent a month in Sydney before coming directly to Murbah to work for Con Vlismas, and 6yrs later becoming Con’s partner. He enlisted at Murbah and upon return from service the partnership was dissolved, after which he seems to have become a cane grower at Tumbulgum. In early 1947, when labour was still hard to get, he was part of a group of 5 cane farmers at Tumbulgum who banned together to hire their own team of 8 cutters to harvest their collective 2380 tons of cane. However, he gave that game away shortly afterwards and joined his brother Tasos at Theodores Cafe in Southport (having sponsored Tasos and cousin Nick Dimitrakis just before the war). In about 1952 he took over the lease of the Empire Café at Mullumbimby for a couple of years before he and Gloria moved to Brisbane to dabble in other ventures.

Anastasios (Tasos) Bertsos (Mpertsos) landed in 1936 and was initially an Austral employee before branching out into banana growing at Upper Burringbar after a stint with the Civil Aliens Corps. This may have been prompted by an over-the-counter confrontation in mid 1942 when he was assaulted by a couple of boofheads. They were subsequently charged with assault, offensive behaviour and the use of insulting words, but Tasos withdrew the charges at the last minute after the two agreed to make a public apology. Nevertheless, like many others he found banana bending wasn’t for him and subsequently returned to the cafe game in the late 1940s, having a sojourn at Theodore's before returning in 1952 to acquire the Ritz Café in Wollumbin St in partnership with his cousin Nick Dimitrakakis. In 1955 he moved to Brisbane for the sake of his eldest son, George, afflicted with polio, selling his share of the business to Nick that same year.

Nick Dimitrakakis (aka Nick James) landed from Alepohori in 1938 and went to join his cousin Louis Bertsos at the Austral, picking up the trade of a pastry chef along the way. After a stint of cane cutting post war Nick headed to Southport to work at Theodore’s Café before returning with cousin Tasos Bertsos to acquire the Ritz Cafe from George Angouras. Nick took full command after Tasos moved to Brisbane in 1955, at which time his sister, Esther (Athanasia), married Bill Varela.

Early the following year Nick married Stavroula (Voula) Georgaklis from the neighbouring village of Vlahokerasia. They traded together seven days a week for the next 21yrs before selling the business and retiring to Brisbane in 1976, in the meantime acquiring the freehold. The Ritz  was famous for its range of café style meals, particularly Nick's homemade meat pie, a favourite for many people in Murwillumbah and the surrounding district, and achieving a similar status to the Crethar hamburger in Lismore.

Nick and Voula raised three sons and were very much part of the Murbah Greek community, and on moving to Brisbane became an integral part of the community at the Southside Parish at Mt Gravatt. Nick passed away in 1990, while Voula continued her involvement with the Parish and achieved high regard for her community work. She led a project to publish a Greek cookbook and was the instigator of cooking demonstrations and lessons for the younger generation.

Nick James at the Ritz Cafe, Marville Building, Wollumbin Street.
(Nick acquired the 3-shop Marville Building from Pat Maher in 1961. The art decor building was completed in 1939 by J.J. Maher on land acquired from Con Vlismas.)          
(Courtesy Con James)

A pharmacist in the Austral Building through the fifties and sixties was Nick Con Karistinos (Caris), the Australian born son of parents from the island of Chios. He had early connections with the region through his aunt Kitsa Specis (Chatzantonaki), his father’s sister, who had the Mullumbimby Café during the Depression years. His uncle Mick Caris also had a cafe in Cavile Avenue, Surfers Paradise, during the war years. Other local connections include his sister, Chrissa, who married Dr Nick Aroney, the son of Brisbane Peter mentioned earlier. His father Con Caris, along with John Stratigakis (Sargent, later of Lismore), Peter Aroney and three others, was a foundation proprietor of Queensland’s first Greek newspaper O Angeloforos Kouinslandis in Brisbane in 1931. He was also a strong supporter of the Stratigakis/Aroney faction during the split in the Brisbane Orthodox Community.

Greek Function Kyogle 1954
L to R: Mick Goodellis, George and Marge Varela, Nick and Dimitra Caris
(Courtesy Pip George Varela)

Alex Mitsos took over the Angus Bros cafe across the road from the new Regent theatre sometime in the early 1950s. In 1958 he sold out to the Cypriot Pantelis (Bill) Chrysostomos who made it over into Bill’s Friendly Snack Bar and held it for 12yrs before the popularity of theatre going faded away and lack of customers forced him to close the business. In the meantime he had built the Cypress Pines Flats in Main Street near the clock and established the Corroborree Coffee Lounge nearby. The Corroborree was passed onto the Macedonian Arthur Naoum in the early to mid 1970s.

Peter Kyriakopoulos, with wife Olga, two young children Dino and Effie and Vicki on the way, came up from Melbourne in 1967 to acquire a banana farm at Crabbes Creek, directly opposite the store near the school. In 1970 they lost everything in a fire, and being uninsured were forced to sell, the money raised enabling them to purchase a small fruit shop in Murbah, while his brother-in-law opened a barber shop. But after a couple of devastating floods he decided life in the city was less stressful and returned to Melbourne in 1972, taking with them fond memories of the Crabbes Creek community who had helped them out with donations of clothing and other necessities.

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The Greek Community

While the Greeks continued to dominate the town's catering scene their numbers in the wider district were increasing substantially as Australia’s postwar mass migration scheme gathered steam and the banana industry continued to thrive. By 1953 there were over 750 ‘New Australians’ on the Tweed and the predominant nationality was Greek. Under Nick Angus they became highly organised through the formation of the Greek Community of the Tweed and were in a better position to help ease new arrivals into the community than other national groups until the formation of the Murbah ‘New Settlers League’. After this time the loud noises about the undesirability of southern European migrants, coming mainly from the RSL and BGF, faded away, at least publicly, as the Tweed Daily became more proactive.

A minor hiccup occurred in late 1954 when 72 Greek cane cutters, the single largest group of Greeks ever assigned to the Tweed cane fields, walked off the job after a month or so. They had been in the country for only 3 weeks when they were despatched from Bonegilla in their shiny new suits, while their wives and families were sent to Wacol for some odd reason. They had been met and addressed at the station by Nick Angus and immediately allotted to different gangs throughout the district, but without a great deal of instruction on the mysteries of cane harvesting. Poor pay and living conditions were the major legitimate reasons for the walk off, some going to banana farms, some to the cities and others to join their wives and families at Wacol. But the resultant publicity would have had the RSL saying ‘I told you so’ - southern migrants are weak and lazy and not good workers - if the Tweed Daily had let their thoughts through as in times past. Another 47 Greeks had got off the train in Lismore for assignment to the Broadwater cane fields, but they seem to have hung on for a while longer.

The Tweed Greeks were quickly replaced by 52 newly arrived Germans – let’s hope that they are more successful than the Greeks – but alas they were just as disgruntled. It was a no-brainer when it was disclosed that, like the Greeks, most were married and having to pay £5 a week for accommodation for their families at Wacol, plus other expenses associated with travel and accommodation in the cane cutters’ barracks, while the best of these inexperienced bread winners could only hope to earn about £15 a week cutting cane. Only the single blokes hung on. Things were looking grim towards the end of the season with 1000 tons still to be brought in, prompting the Cane Growers Association to declare a ‘State of Emergency’, which permitted cutters to work overtime in accordance with the award. It was the worst season for some years. Afterwards a combined meeting of the QLD and NSW Cane Growers Associations resolved to bypass the Commonwealth Employment Service and recruit and sponsor their own cutters direct from OS. Ironically, they subsequently found 1500 willing Italians.

Greek numbers were just as strong in the Mullum and Richmond districts and eventually the three groups combined for Christmas and Easter festivities at the Burringbar hall. The hall remained the main venue as these religious interactions evolved into more frequent general social mixing, but as numbers continued to grow into the 1950s Bexhill became the preferred meeting place.

Richmond-Tweed Greek Community function Burringbar 1947
Standing L to R: Charlie Nick Feros of Lismore, Efstathia Feros (nee Zervos), Paul Victor Panaretto of Casino, Nick Peter Crethary of Lismore, Peter George Feros of Lismore, Mary Peter Crethary of Lismore, Peter Cassimatis of Lismore/Murbah, Peter Nick Crethary of Lismore, Alex Zaicos of Murbah.
Lower Adults: Mark Mick Cassimatis of Murbah, Unknown Cassimatis, Unknown Female Vlismas, Unknown Male Vlismas, George Stavros Zantiotis of Casino, Elsie May Smith of Murbah.
Plus 2 Vlismas children
(Courtesy Matina King)


Portion of busload Richmond Greek community, Burringbar Hall function 1953
[L to R: Mrs Panagiotia Eric Crethar (Lismore), George Ioannis Black (Casino), Mrs Mary George Black (Casino), Fr Chrisostomos, Mrs Matina Spiro Coronakes (Lismore), Mrs Katerina Stan Gleeson (Kyogle),
Jack Ioannis Black (Casino), Mrs Matina Nick Crones (Lismore)]
Courtesy Harry Eric Crethar)

By the late 1950s there were around 600 Greek Orthodox adherents in the region (although there were well over twice this number who could claim Greek heritage) and plans were put in place to build a church, on land donated by the Varelas, and have an official Orthodox parish, centred on Murwillumbah, proclaimed. Lismore, which reformed its Orthodox Community in the late 1940s under the presidency of Eric Crethar, was also lobbying for this privilege. However, in some fancy footwork both groups were nearly outfoxed by the Mullumites who formed the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of the Northern Rivers in late 1959 during the visit of Archbishop K. Tsaucalas (Ezekiel). While 1960 marked the start of the Greek exodus from Lismore and Mullum, Murbah remained an active community into the late 1960s. Paradoxically, a resident priest was eventually installed in Lismore in 1963, but by 1968 the practice was discontinued.

Combined Richmond, Tweed and Brunswick function, Bexhill Hall 1955.
Mrs Mary George Black on Piano and Mrs Ecaterina Socrates Savas conducting.
(Courtesy Harry Eric Crethar)

For the visit of Archbishop Athenagoras in late 1958 Nick Angouras was still the official spokesman for the Murbah community. The Archbishop was the head of the church in Great Britain and Central Europe and was in Australia to officiate on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the burial of the late Archbishop Theophilactus, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand. Whilst in Australia he had accepted the invitation of the unsavoury Very Reverend Archimandrite Boyazoglue, the Greek Orthodox Minister for Southern Queensland and Northern NSW, to tour his parish, receiving official welcomes in a number of towns. They spent a few days in Lismore as the guests of the community before moving onto Murbah for a couple of days and thence to Brisbane.

And again in late 1959 Nick was still the community spokesman when the above Archbishop Tsaucalas, newly enthroned as the administrator of the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, arrived in the area accompanied by Fr Gregory Sakellerian of Brisbane. Unfortunately the Archbishop’s visit was overshadowed by the Tweed Banana Festival at which the Governor, Sir Eric Woodward, and the leader of the Federal Country Party, Sir Arthur Fadden, were the official guests receiving all the publicity.

Greek Float, Tweed Banana Festival, Murwillumbah 1956.
(Courtesy Pip George Varela,
second from right.)

Nick remained as president of the community until it began to fade away in the 1960s, by which time George Varela had begun to share the load as a spokesman. Between them they continued to hold together the Greeks of Murwillumbah and district as an Orthodox community. A lot of money was raised for a church but by the 1970s, with the decline in the primary industries and the accelerating departure of members, it became evident that their ambitions would never be realised. The money was donated to various worthy causes including the Murwillumbah hospital and the Orthodox Church in Brisbane.

Today the community is a shadow of its former self and one of the resident priests from the Gold Coast parish regularly visits to administer to the remaining ageing flock on the north coast, which is held together by Harry Eric Crethar of Lismore. Ironically, even in the 1970s the Richmond-Tweed still had three times the number of Greek Orthodox adherents as the Gold Coast.

In the heyday of the Murbah and Mullum communities, particularly after wives and children arrived, social life was very active. Picnics were held at Brunswick Heads, bus trips were organised to scenic spots and dances were held at various halls in the region, but mainly Burringbar and Bexhill where the opportunity was taken to mix with the equally strong Greek community of Lismore and district. Sunday socialising at each other’s homes also became an institution. The interaction of the three communities is demonstrated by the instances of members acting as godparents, bridesmaids and groomsmen at each other’s ceremonies, not to forget the intermarriages after successful matchmaking.

A lot of this strong fraternity was due in part to slow acceptance into the mainstream Australian society, despite the best efforts at inclusiveness by the New Settler’s League and Greek involvement in Murbah's community life through participation in parades, festivals and carnivals. The locals were still adjusting to the large post war ‘New Australian’ presence and, notwithstanding the goodwill of many, communication often didn’t extend beyond the face-to-face encounters in the cafes, shops, streets and P & C meetings. Apart from the long-term families, who had merged through membership of Rotary and the like, social encounters with the natives were infrequent. And mixing in pubs was not the Greek style, although many gradually developed a taste for Australian pub culture. In some cases schoolyard confrontations by the Australian born, and more so of the Greece born children of school age, affected social interaction and left unfortunate memories. Nevertheless, the Murbahian's initial fear of the Greek invasion gradually faded as familiarity bred closer inspection and revealed their 'alien' values, way-of-life, dreams and aspirations to be not so different to anybody else's.

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