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Gourmet's Guide to Lismore & District




Athanasios Dimitrios Kominos (Skordilli), from the village of Perleyianika on the island of Kythera, is the bloke credited with playing the major role in launching the Greeks into catering careers. He landed in Sydney in 1873 and within 5yrs had established a small fish shop at 36 Oxford Street, from where he laid the foundations for an integrated seafood trafficking business, including the acquisition of oyster leases at Evans Head in 1885. His successful formula was copied by his compatriots who eventually addicted most of the population of NSW and QLD.

By the mid 1890s there were about 15 Greek restaurants in Metropolitan Sydney, the majority Kytherian, creating a demand for labour and an acceleration of the immigration rate. New arrivals would immediately start work as oyster shuckers, cooks, kitchen hands, waiters and general dogsbodies in these existing cafes, with most persisting with the long hours of such employment for a number of years, learning all aspects of the trade and gaining some business acumen, before starting their own business, which usually was accomplished with a stake from an established proprietor, notably the Cominos.

In purchasing their own businesses they generally by-passed the suburbs and started the trickle into the countryside, such that by the turn of the century there were about 6 towns in rural NSW that could boast of the presence of a Greek café. The town they chose was largely influenced by their perception of market growth, which often led them to places where no other Greek had set foot, and in doing so established a strong regional bias in that town through the subsequent chain migration of relatives, friends and fellow villagers. Moreover, the café was the vehicle that enabled the Greeks to penetrate into all areas of NSW to a greater degree than most other ‘alien’ groups.

The obvious financial success of some of those who returned to Greece pre war aroused further interest in Australia. One of the more prominent was the Kytherian Vrettos Dimitrios Panaretos who, after 20yrs in the land down under, resettled in his home village of Potamos in 1911 and built a substantial Georgian mansion, which provided a potent symbol of what could be achieved in Australia and contributed to the large wave of migration just before the war. His children returned to settle in Lismore and Casino.

Moree 1903
Victor Panaretto and wife Marouli
(nee Aroney) with son Denny


Potamos 1927

Gathering of the Panaretos clan at the family villa
(Photos courtesy Paul Panaretto - bottom front in beret)

The oyster saloon established by Peter Comino in Lismore in early 1903 was about the 10th Greek café to open in country NSW; Orange and Cobar allegedly being the first in 1895, followed by Narrabri, Moree and Inverell in 1898, Wagga and Tamworth in 1900, Condobolin, Coonamble and Maitland in 1901, Young, Dubbo and Parkes in 1902, and Quirindi, Gunnedah, Glen Innes and Armidale along with Lismore in 1903. Thereafter colonization of other towns was rapid. In the local area Casino got to experience the joys of a Greek oyster saloon in 1904, Coraki and Murwillumbah in 1905, Mullumbimby, Bangalow and Kyogle in 1906, Ballina in 1907, Brunswick Heads in 1909 and Woodburn in 1916.

[Coraki Municipality was absorbed into Woodburn Shire 1Jan34; Murwillumbah Municipality amalgamated with Tweed Shire in 1947;
Woodburn and Tomki Shires merged to form the Richmond River Shire in 1976;
Ballina Municipality and Tintenbar Shire merged to form the Ballina Shire in 1977;
Gundurimba and Terania Shires joined Lismore City in 1977; Mullumbimby Municipality united with Byron Shire in 1980;
Casino Municipality and the Richmond River Shire amalgamated to form the Richmond Valley Shire in 2000.

The spread into country towns was slowed in 1916 when the Australian Government placed a special prohibition on the entry of Greeks and curtailed the movement of those already settled. Enterprising arrivals through to about 1920 mostly landed via America and Egypt. Post war immigration was stimulated in part by the book I Zoi en Afstralia - Life in Australia, published in Sydney in 1916 and sponsored by the ‘Oyster King’, John D. Comino, brother of the above Athanasios. In the Richmond-Tweed region post WW1, Tweed Heads was first off the blocks with a posh cafe in 1918, followed by Nimbin in 1920, Alstonville in 1922, Byron Bay in 1923, Woodenbong in 1929 and finally Evans Head and Bonalbo in 1935.

The expansion became more competitive when immigration restrictions were lifted in 1921. Smaller and smaller country towns found themselves with a Greek cafe which, necessarily, didn't give the owners the same returns as those pre WW1 immigrants who earlier had cornered the established markets in the bigger towns, where the rapid growth rate had levelled off by the start of the war. And the period of desperation during the Depression, which inexplicably saw an accelerated opening of new cafes alongside existing ones, was a major setback for many. Nevertheless, the desire to own a place of one’s own rather than survive as a wage-slave remained a driving ambition. Generally, the Greek God Money appeared with capital gains upon sale of the business, while cash flow usually went more into repaying loans than savings (or supporting the rellies back home.)

By the mid 1930s, following the Depression shakeout, almost every rural town in regional NSW and QLD had at least one well-entrenched Greek café, with the Kytherians still predominating. By this time too, the majority were becoming relatively settled as the Depression receded and ship-loads of cheap labour again began to appear on the horizon. Paradoxically, the growth of most rural towns had stagnated, and some remained on the slide, but small hamlets continued to be colonized and even smaller ones sought out and occupied. The movement pattern of the earlier settlers, characterised by a high turnover rate in the country towns as they moved around seeking business opportunities, or acting as a type of 'locum' in supplementing or replacing staff or management for short durations after a proprietor in need put out a call through the 'job network', began to stabilize.

Throughout the war many cafes were forced to close or drastically curtail business due to rationing, quotas and loss of staff into the services. [Conversely, those with cafes lying in the path of free-spending Americans looking for R & R outlets had to buy an extra wheelbarrow to cart the cash to the bank each day. (And don’t mention the black market.)]  Post war the businesses again flourished, but from the mid 1950s a range of social and economic changes began to make the country cafes unviable, eventually prompting many early Greek settlers to seek alternative employment in Sydney (and thus Richmond escaped becoming a province of the Kingdom of Karavas on Kythera.) The enterprising however, saw the signs and either changed the orientation of their businesses or moved out of the catering trades into other ventures, such that today their many descendants are well-established members of their local communities. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Greeks now live in the capital cities where they form a collective group in contrast to the earlier regional bias of the country towns.

These immigrants carved out a niche in Australian history by giving rise to what is loosely referred to as the ‘Greek Café phenomenon’. The café package, of which food was only a part, evolved over many years and offered amenities which made them the social hub of many country towns, with most proprietors having a flair as ‘mine host’ - their personalities, grasp of the local mores, feel for the wider zeitgeist, quick response to new products, technical innovations and architectural trends, all helping to put a stamp on the lifestyle of each passing era. By the end of the Sixty's jukebox era their glory days were over, but they retain a nostalgic niche in Australian history.

Around the Richmond-Tweed region the Greeks, still mainly Kytherian, were well-embedded in all the major towns by the time of the mid 1933 census, at which time they controlled about three quarters of the cafes, certainly all the posh ones, while comprising a mere 0.11% of the population overall (Lismore at 0.26% and Murbah at 0.57% being the largest enclaves, although about half the Murbah community of 22 was in the banana industry rather than the cafes.) While their share of the regional population peaked at 0.33% in 1960, nearly all the increase being due to an influx of more banana growers into the Tweed-Brunswick district following the post WW2 mass migration scheme, their monopoly of the noshery business continued. Nevertheless, this dominate position had started to erode in the mid 1950s, at which time their presence in Lismore topped out at 52 Greek-born individuals, 0.28% of the population, with a further ~100 Australian-born offspring, while Murbah peaked in 1960 (31 individuals at 0.43% of the population.) Thereafter erosion was rapid, but it was a remarkable achievement for such a small group to have maintained so prominent a place in the local cafe scene for over 50yrs.

Richmond Greek Community Function 1950
(A bon voyage party held at the Lismore Rowing Club or the Casino Masonic Club to farewell
Paul Panaretto and George Simos on their first trip back to Kythera.)

1. Unknown
2. Unknown
3. Mrs Helen Manoli Cassis (nee Damati).
4. Manoli Cassis of Lismore
5. George Macris of Lismore
6. Baby Chris Macris.
7. John Nick Terakes of Lismore.
8. Mrs Doreen Theo Poulos (nee Godbee)
9. Theo George Poulos of Lismore.
10. Mrs Martha Leo Manias (nee Cassis)
11. Leo Manias of Lismore.
12. Mrs Sylvia John Terakes of Lismore.
13. James Nick Crethar of Casino.
14. Unknown
15. Nick Mark Terakes of Lismore.
16. Jack Vic Panaretos of Lismore.
17. Charlie Anthony Sourry of Lismore.

(Photo courtesy Paul Panaretto)
18. Nick George (?) Samios of Kyogle.
19. Phillip Peter Feros of Lismore.
20. George Peter Feros
21. Unknown
22. Peter Christianos of Lismore
23. John Peter (?) Samios of Kyogle.
24. Unknown.
25. Mrs Frosso Peter Poulos (nee Crethar/Mentis) of Ballina.
26. George Anastasios Poulos of Ballina.
27. Mrs Botta George Poulos (nee Lourandos) of Ballina.
28. Mrs Anna George Macris
(nee Haymandos) of Lismore.
29. Mrs Patra Jack Bavea (nee Damati) of Lismore
30. Mrs Matina Nick Crones (nee Sofios) of Lismore
31. Baby Angelo Nick Crones.
32. Nick Angelo Crones of Lismore.
33. Peter John Coroneo of Ballina.
34. Mrs Kalypso Peter Christianos (nee Panaretto) of Lismore.
35. Victor Nick Crethar of Casino.
36. Peter Nick Conomos of Kyogle
37. Mrs Crissa Peter Conomos (nee Samios) of Kyogle.
38. Leo John Coroneo of Ballina.
39. Mrs Katina Nick Terakes (nee Sargent/Stratigakis).
40. Mrs Matina Spyro Coronakes (nee Crethar, dau of Peter Nick and Anna).
41. Mrs Maria Charlie Sourry (nee Terakes) of Lismore.
42. George Christos Simos of Casino.
43. Mrs Katina Stan Gleeson (nee Coroneos) of Kyogle.
44. Mrs Panayiota Eric Crethar (nee Georgiou).
45. Eric Victor Crethar of Lismore.
46. Harry Eric Crethar.
47. Con Stan Gleeson of Kyogle
48. Mrs Helen Peter Feros (nee Prineas).
49. Peter George Feros of Lismore.
50. Unknown
51. Mrs Anna Peter Crethar (nee Coroneos) of Lismore.
52. Muriunthi/Mary Peter Crethar.
53. Probably Helen Harry Fardouly of Inverell.
54. Sylvia Stan Gleeson of Kyogle.
55. John Peter Crethar of Lismore.
56. Louie Nick Crethar of Casino.
57. George Nick Crethar.
58. Maria Nick Crones of lismore
59. Sofia Jack Bavea of Lismore.
60. Lula Jack Bavea.
61. Phyllis Nick Crones.
62. Helen Nick Crethar of Casino.

Lismore 1939



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