The Block - 3

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Gourmet's Guide to Lismore

Chapter 3

The Block - Keen Street

The Monterey Cafe
The Coronakes Wonder Bar
The Crether Hamburger

Appo's Fish Shop
The Craigmore Cafe
Sargent's Markets

The Regent Cafe
Notaras Building
The Blue Bird Cafe

The Monterey Café (153 Keen)

The Monterey evolved from a fruit shop acquired by Peter Nick Crethary in 1930. He had landed in 1922 after a stint as a Khartoum cotton merchant and WW1 sergeant in the Greek army, initially working for his cousin Peter Angelo Crithary at Glen Innes before opening his own business around the corner a year or so later. But the bitterly cold Tablelands’ winters eventually got the better of him. So in 1929 he and his new bride, Anna John Coroneo, followed his shipmate, Harry Jim Crethar, to Lismore, starting as a shift manager at the Apollo Sundae Shop (131 Keen) until acquiring the fruit shop (probably from Harry Jim and his brother Nick) and gradually developing it into a kitchen-equipped cafe as the Depression deepened.

Monterey Café 19
43. L to R: Matina Crethary, Peter Crethary, Grace Collins.
(Courtesy Matina King)

The heyday of the Monterey was the war years when Americans from the camps around Tweed Heads and the ships calling in at Ballina, the Dutch and Indonesians from Casino, home grown Australians from Evans Head, and assorted Filipinos and others, were on the prowl for R & R outlets, finding Lismore to have the best hoppin’ and boppin’ venues in the region. ‘The Riviera’ dance hall down the river end of Magellan became the ‘in’ place for cool jazz and demonstrations by the Americans of the Lindy Hop and the very latest Swing and Jitterbug moves. (The women swooned and the males fumed.) The cafes benefited concomitantly, but the long hours due to lack of staff, increasing hassles over rationing, quotas, electricity restrictions, price fixing, and a host of minor irritants, prompted Peter to scale back the Monterey in late 1944 and concentrate on the Star Court. By 1948 it was still trotting along at half pace when he decided to close it down after finding no willing buyers, subsequently holding a huge auction, where everything down to the lino on the floor was offered, and walking away from the business.

[The year 1948 wasn’t a propitious one for any proprietor. Early that year saw another straw added to the café proprietor’s load when Milk bar and confectionery shops assistants employed outside Sydney and Greater Newcastle areas have been granted a wage increase of 5s per week. Female shop assistants are to be paid 75 per cent of the male wage.... In addition, the new Restaurant Employees State Award made it compulsory for staff to be given two full days a week off. As paying penalty rates for working in excess of five days wasn’t acceptable, daily adverts for additional cafe staff were a regular feature for a while. Then came the referendum of mid 1948 that rejected the Commonwealth Government’s power to continue price fixing and, with the progressive ending of rationing and quotas on various commodities, market forces took over and the price of everything rose (although State governments continued retail price fixing on some products for a fair period - notably butter, the rationing of which, 6ozs/person/wk, ended in mid 1950, but not the trials and tribulations of the dairy industry and hence the regional economy.) This, in conjunction with higher wages due to near full employment, meant places like the Monterey were doomed without costly makeovers and reorientation, although the three-course meal remained a menu staple.

The Cretharys were relieved to be in retirement by Apr54 when they read that The Shop Assistants’ Union has served a new log of claims on milk bar and restaurant proprietors seeking substantial wage increases and improved conditions for 10,000 employees. The log asks for wage increases from £6/6/- to £8 a week for male employees under 17 years of age, and from £6/3/8 to £7 for females.... For seniors, the union asks £14 for men and £10/10/- for women. Present wages are £13/12/- and £9/11/- respectively. Other claims in the new log include... reduced hours, more overtime pay, more sick leave....

For some reason the standard three courser continued as a culinary compulsion for country customers through to the late 50s, all demanding value (ie quantity) for money. Through collusion the price at all cafes throughout the whole region remained consistent at 1/3d through to 1920 and 1/6d to 1941. Thereafter increases were sharp and frequent; 2/- in 1941, 2/6d in 1945, 3/6d in 1948 until things leveled off at 4/6d in 1953. By 1957 the price had climbed marginally to 5/-, the proprietors keeping a lid on things in the face of the clubs’ competition, but thereafter the remaining customers baulked and the old three courser faded away.]

In the meantime the Monterey became one of the favoured haunts of the serviceman. Notwithstanding Matina and Mary, the popularity was due in part to Peter’s remarkable ability to speak eight languages, the large Italian community, of necessity keeping a low profile (except for the brightly red-clad POWs on work relief schemes), also being amongst the beneficiaries when he helped out with shopping and general administrative problems.

The Monterey provided four waitresses as war brides, three to the USA and one to Holland, and post war hundreds of letters accumulated, mainly from the USA, typically addressed to Miss ….., c/- The Monterey Café, Lismore, Australia, perhaps leading to a few more liaisons.

And Matina and Mary? They started serving meals at the Monterey at breakfast time before going to the Star Court, finishing up back at home base way after midnight, then deja vue all over again a few hours later. Sunday afternoon ‘happy hour’, when the guitars and accordions appeared, became a Monterey institution, attracting all nationalities for the conviviality. The servicemen would tap on the window before they opened, the Americans enamoured of their ham and eggs for early breakfast, while their mother Anna gave the Greek-American soldiers a taste of mum’s home cooking.

[And another digression: One of Lismore’s attractions for the American servicemen was the quaint taxi service. The oldest stand in Woodlark Street was still reserved for the horse and buggy service, petrol rationing increasing the demand through WW2. But the romantic and nostalgic Americans, waving fists’ full of funny money, tied up the rigs by hiring for all-day tours around the traps, generating a bit of discord with some but keeping the café proprietors smiling with orders for picnic lunches.

And by the bye: Jumping on the American bandwagon was Bert Cockerell, with a chemist shop a couple of doors from the Church of Christ in Keen Street, who installed a soda fountain into his pharmacy in the early war years as some sort of take on the American ‘Soda Fountain Drugstore’ concept. He was still competing with the milkbars and dispensing lemon sodas and other elixirs from the thing in the mid 50s.]

In 1944, after living all those years above the cafe, the Cretharys moved to a house down the end of Keen opposite the Workers Club and by the early 50s had semi retired. Peter was a foundation member of the ‘Lismore and District Orthodox Community’ and upon his death in 1958 was honoured to have Archbishop Athenagoras, The Archbishop of London and West Europe, conduct the funeral service, with the less than Very Reverend Chrys Boyazoglu, Archimandreti of the Greek Orthodox Church of Southern Queensland and Northern NSW, in the background.

The Monterey remained a vacant shop for some time, subsequently housing a succession of businesses, one an Italian fruiterer, until it was demolished around 1970 and the Mandarin Palace Chinese Restaurant erected, the first purpose-built restaurant in Lismore in yonks and still trading strongly.

[Psst. While Peter Nick mainly called himself Crethar, like all the Kritharis around the place, the name used here is Crethary to help differentiate between all the cunning crethures. Harry’s family (his father Eric Victor and uncle Angleo) carried the nickname ‘Balomenos’, while the only other known parachouklï, ‘Zouzounas’, belonged to Peter John Crethar (‘Crithary’) of Woodenbong and earlier of Lismore. (And he married Fofo Nick Crethary, the sister of Peter Nick. And… You know how it goes.) DNA testing seems the only solution.]

After much contemplation on the capricious nature of catering, Harry moves on to assess the convoluted Coronakes enterprises.


The Coronakes Wonder Bar (141 Keen)

Phase one

Paul Coronakes (Pavlos Koronakis), a red headed Corfiote (the family suspects a Scottish soldier somewhere in the background), landed pre WW1 and mainly based himself around Murwillumbah until coming to Lismore in 1919 to acquire a cafe in Woodlark. After the Greeks were given a hiding in the Great Barrow Wars of 1923 he filled the fruit and veggie vacuum by establishing ‘The Lismore Fruit Exchange’, pretty soon undercutting the existing wholesalers (by then all Anglo-Australian again) and supplying a heap of retailers around town and outlying villages, as well as getting a little over-extended by returning to Murbah later that year to open a retail and wholesale branch of his new enterprise, left in the hands of an unknown manager. The following year he moved the Woodlark outlet into a bigger shop next door and created two departments, one devoted to fruit and veggie retailing and the other as an upgraded refreshment room business. By 1925 he had his own buying agents around the state, bypassing the markets and purchasing direct from growers, enabling bedrock prices and almost complete domination of the wholesale distribution business over the Richmond-Tweed region, with his lorries doing regular supply runs to almost every village and hamlet around the traps. In 1927 he opened another shop in Molesworth, a combination refreshment room and fruit retailer, and in 1928 acquired a 12 acre plot out along the Bexhill road, where he employed Italian market gardeners to keep his enterprise supplied with fresh veggies.

But by then the great fruit gluts had started, particularly around the Riverina region where the growers were overproducing on a par with the local dairy farmers. The Griffith Producers Coop was even running its own trains around the state, stopping at almost every siding to flog the stuff direct from the carriage. Mountains of rotting fruit appeared on railway platforms everywhere. And also by this time the canned fruit industry was making great inroads (Eat more fruit for your own and your country’s sake, said one of their adverts.) By 1928 the local rag had stopped navel gazing and started to notice what was happening in the rest of the state, commenting on work relief schemes and unemployment plans elsewhere, which for the 68 unemployed fruit industry workers at Leeton consisted of a week’s rations and a road map showing the way out of town. (And 3yrs later the amazing gathering of 8000 disgruntled growers at Wagga calling for secession of Riverina from NSW put funny ideas into the heads of the Richmondites.) The following years were a dreadful period for everyone, not least for the Southern Europeans as ‘White Australia’ again began to get an airing.

Paul then cranked up his ovens to aggressively wholesale cakes, pastries and pies, and in 1931 gave his Woodlark cafe another makeover to re-emerge as the ritziest establishment in town, notwithstanding that the Capitol and Crethars would beg to differ. While he scaled back his fruit operation, he still remained the biggest wholesaler and retailer in town, taking a leaf from the Griffith entrepreneurs' marketing manual by starting a bulk fruit selling operation direct from the railway station, at least into 1931. Shortly afterwards however, he sold the Molesworth business, also refurbished in 1931, to concentrate on building back the fruit business and by the mid 1930s was in a position to again deal exclusively in fruit, selling up in Woodlark to operate from a new outlet at 139 Keen. But things were still disagreeably competitive; the new site was just down from where a barrowman, with the slogan Buy White Australian First emblazoned across his cart, had recently vacated, but just up from where the ‘Black & White Café - Managed and Staffed by Australians’ was about to open. A couple of years later he relocated next door to 141 Keen.

Lismore Fruit Exchange, Keen Street, 1937. Paul Coronakes in suit
(Courtesy Matina King)

By this time though, other Greeks in the region had made inroads into his wholesale business; The Feros Bros of Byron Bay, Mick Feros of Ballina, the Sargents/Terakes of Lismore, the Varella and Angouras Bros of Murbah all had a carrier businesses and had carved out bits of his territory. Nevertheless, he remained the major player and was still known as the ‘The Fruit King’ upon his death in 1940, at which time he had three trucks running around the region on supply runs.

Phase Two

His nephew, the entrepreneurial Spiro Coronakes, then took the reins, but fed up with the inconvenience of using the back lane for loading and unloading the lorries, subsequently moved the business across the road to the large shop at 144 Keen. The space turned out to be far more than needed, so he had the brainwave of dividing it down the centre and creating ‘The Continental Greek Club’, later simply ‘The Continental Club’ as it became a socialising venue for the increasing number of Southern Europeans, mainly Italian, beginning to appear around the district in the post war years.

The club initially consisted of a couple of billiard tables, then a few card tables appeared and before he knew it high rollers and shady characters were appearing from as far afield as Brisbane. Sheep stations began to change hands at the baccarat and manila tables, and marathon card games lasted up to three days and nights, all overseen by a manager who was a military genius on camouflage, so much so that the police never stumbled across it. Jack Sargent became manager from 1954 after closing his similarly orientated Tattersals Club across the road, followed by the Kytherian Taso Pagonis, alias ‘Phar Lap’, around 1958.

Meanwhile his faithful lorry continued its regular runs to the Brisbane markets, thankfully knowing the way without any input from Spiro, often sighted bleary-eyed at the wheel after the card marathons. And to the chagrin of all Lismore males his lucky streak continued, winning the ultimate hand, that of the exquisite Matina Crethary, in 1946. At this time he still had three trucks and was doing an increasing amount of carrier work for the Banana Growers Federation, his drivers sometimes transporting the yellow peril all the way to the Melbourne markets.

[The wedding was Lismore’s social event of the year, with over 300 guests gathering at the Apollo Hall to party into the wee hours under the influence of serene jazz provided by the famous Kewpie Harris Band. Some aficionados credit the great Kewpie, who formed his first local band in Ballina around 1919, with being the father of Australian jazz. He retired as the resident bandleader at the Riv in 1950/51 and the place suffered a drop in popularity until his ex-apprentice, Stan Chilcott, previously a leader of house bands at the Federalette and Apollo, took over the lease in 1956. A great era ended in 1965 when the Riv finally succumbed to the rock band ascendancy, while the Apollo was reoriented in 1953 upon the retirement of Jacob Charleston. (One of the new attractions at the Apollo was schoolboy boxing tournaments, with 10yr olds beating the crap out of each other in the name of ‘character building’.)]

Around 1948, frustrated with the lack of passing trade on the outside of the block, Spiro returned the retail side of the business to 141 Keen, renaming the joint ‘Tropicana’. Shortly afterwards however, he found fruit retailing becoming very competitive with the entry of the Italians into the game, prompting him, along with other Greek fruiterers, to turn half the shop into a milk bar, the place re-emerging as the ‘Coronakes Wonder Bar’, incorporating the very latest in milkshake and sodaology, and so named by Matina after her favourite song from Al Jolson’s similarly titled hit movie ‘Wonder Bar.’ A little later the remaining fruit was given the flick and a series of 4 seater cubicles installed down the side opposite the wondrous bar. But after a couple of years he left the place in the hands of a manager to concentrate on his wholesale fruit business and the place started to suffer a little neglect.

Coronakes Wonder Bar
1950. L to R: Gwen Griffin, Unknown, June Sharp, Barbara Hill, Francis Licklis
(Courtesy Matina King)

Enter Harry Crethar exclaiming Eureka!’ He’d found it, the perfect location and formula for his dream shop. After heavy negotiations with the cunning Spiro, Harry and his father Eric took out a loan dwarfing the GDP of Greece and the following year, 1956, made Spiro an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Phase Three

Spiro moved next door (143 Keen), taking the ‘Tropicana’ name with him, and decided to resume business as a pure fruit retailer, any other option being out of the question due Harry being built like a Sumo Wrestler. On the wholesale front he and Nick Terakes of Sargent’s Markets, together with Mick Feros who relocated to Lismore from Ballina in 1955, carved up the Richmond between them. Amongst other markets, Spiro won the ironic contract to supply Woolworths, nowadays, along with Coles, retailers of 70% of the nation’s fruit and veggies and Terminators of the independent fruiterers. He drew his last card at the Continental in 1962, leaving Matina to sell Tropicana to an Anglo-Australian proprietor while she got on with nurturing the next generation of Coronakes entrepreneurs, one of whom, Alex, subsequently returned the business to family hands.

The Continental went into receivership in 1966 and was acquired as a going concern by the Italian, Ron Fiore, but closed forever 18mths later after a series of burglaries and boofheaded acts of vandalism. The building was absorbed into McKenzie Bros second-hand business and a new Continental Club, exclusively Italian and devoted to the genteel sport of Bocce only, opened around the corner. Shortly afterwards the Continental Balls, featuring all nationalities, faded away. They had become major social events at the Apollo Hall from 1954 and were also mega affairs on the social calendar at Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah, where post war migration also had brought many different national groups, mainly to be found in the banana plantations.

Alex, who had started in the fruit business at age five, spent a few years with the Terakes at Sargents Markets, amongst other places, until going back to work at the Tropicana after it had been resurrected by the Sheaffs as a fruit shop under the original name. Following a few other adventures he returned again to the Sheaffs, buying the business in 1989. In 1994, again in need of a more convenient rear lane access for the wholesale side of the business, he took the trade name, long synonymous with quality fruit, with him when he acquired the shop of the Italian Pilatis family in Woodlark Street. And then in 1997 everything came full circle when he returned the Tropicana to its original home at 141 Keen, with a Thai Take Away as his new neighbour at 143. And there he is today, carrying on the near 85yr old Coronakes tradition, the only ‘Greek’ left in the fruiterers’ business and the only independent fruiterer left on the block, deflecting the Coles/Woolies firepower with superior service and produce (including tomatoes with taste.)

The camera now pans back to 1956 and focuses on young Harry behind the counter at the renamed ‘Crethar Wonder Bar,’ later colloquially known as ‘Harrys.’ Although outside the time line, no story on Lismore gastronomy would be complete without mention of, (pause for drum roll and to make the sign of the cross,) the legendary Crethar Hamburger, Lismore’s culinary gift to the nation along with The Mecca Pie and The Nellie Milkshake.


The Crethar Hamburger

Harry and his dad wasted no time in adding a series of mod cons, the culmination of which was the introduction of music selection boxes at each booth where the latest pop tunes could be chosen at the table and relayed to the jukebox upstairs. The students from across the road loved it all, the place quickly becoming a Lismore institution. But, notwithstanding the other attractions that made it the ‘in’ place for a few generations of schoolies, it was the hamburger that had them swooning. These discerning scholars were the official tasters, and continual feedback and experimenting led to the final product appearing on the streets by the early sixties. Over the years thousands of students survived on a steady diet of the wondrous creation, and continue to show their appreciation by inviting Harry to all class reunions, at which he is invariably toasted for his awesome accomplishment.

Crethar’s Wonder Bar 1960. Eric Crethar behind bar on left.
(Courtesy Harry Crethar)

The Crethar had its beginnings in 1942 when British bombing forced Harry and his mother to abandon Piraeus and seek refuge in Athens, a city suffering near famine conditions and rumbling stomachs crying out for an impresario to restage the ‘loaves and fishes’ banquet. Harry, a fledgling entrepreneurial caterer, quickly figured out how weeds mixed with a bit of salvaged oil could be a gourmet delight and the taste of cat and dog could be enhanced with a bit of ingenuity. Searching further afield for these increasingly scarce ingredients was verboten, so he toyed with including rats and cockroaches on the menu, but gave the idea away when he found rival urchin gangs had already cornered this market. From then on experimentation with boiled shoe leather and the like gave him experience across the whole catering gamut.

Next came the journeyman phase of his training. With a heap of pounds sterling, which Eric eventually had managed to send through, he and his mother gained dormitory style accommodation, shared with about a 1000 others, on a modified rusty Yugoslav freighter staffed with ex-army cooks in serious need of inspiration. The novelty of a plane flight from Melbourne to Evans Head ended the odyssey and the start of a lifetime’s association with Lismore. After English lessons, completion of schooling and adaptation to Australian tastes through further on-the-job training in various Greek establishments around town, not to forget the winning of a boxing blue during National Service, (invaluable training as a bouncer), he was ready for the final prodigious step towards conception of the indomitable Crethar.

Word of the miracle spread quickly and by the time he sold the business in 1980 at least 1,000,000 of the venerable viands had walked out the door, either as takeaway or in contented stomachs, and served in various combinations from deluxe with ‘the lot’ (beetroot optional) down to the ‘plain’ no-frills version. Despite his retirement from the feedlot business however, Lismore didn’t lose its famous fodder; the new proprietors were canny enough to carry on the formula, although it lacked Harry’s artistic touch, and by the time the business closed 20yrs later, due to undercutting from the dreaded Big Mac, another 1,000,000 had been consumed. It was the end of an era and Lismore declared an official day of mourning.

So what was this incredible phenomenon? Harry refuses to divulge, so the best we have is the observation of one determined gourmet who allegedly penetrated the tight security screen and left us with a record of a ritual involving moulding a meatball with an unidentified eleventy seven different herbs and spices, steaming over a colander until required, shaped into a pattie during light grilling, and reverently placed between two thick pieces of toast. Alas, this doesn’t pinpoint the actual magic moment that transformed the ordinary to the sublime, and tragically we won’t know until his will is read.

Harry was also famous for a heap of confection inventions. The one still talked about is the ‘Fruit Cocktail'; half a scoop of his own secret strawberry syrup into a parfait glass, half a scoop of his own secret pineapple crush, half a scoop of his own magic orange juice mix, all blended and topped off with fruit salad. Then there was the ‘Witch’s Blood’ - coke poured onto his strawberry syrup and topped with ice-cream. And the Orange Fluff’, and ….. (Only one other person knew the secret of that strawberry syrup. And he’s dead. Frith the chemist, Harry’s nearby neighbour, had a nose that could pick one stray molecule amongst zillions, winning him free milkshakes for life in exchange for not divulging the formula.)

Harry’s father Eric also had a flair for confection conception. Whilst working for Angelo pre-war he concocted a variation of the famous ‘Hava Heart’, the chocolate-coated ice-cream on a stick introduced by Paul's Ice Cream and Milk Ltd in 1934. In his case the thing evolved into ‘The Rocket’ and was manufactured by creating a cylinder of ice-cream with a special scoop, pushing a stick up the centre and dipping in chocolate. Simplicity itself, but the stick was the brainwave addition that gave an old sundae product a new takeaway life. The school kids drooled, and as quick as a flash all the milk bars copied the novelty with shape variations, but still couldn’t keep up with demand – until the ever-vigilant commercial operators jumped on the bandwagon, undercutting the price and flooding the market. Then there was his ‘Rainbow Slice’ - wedges cut from a family sized brick of Peter’s Neapolitan ice-cream and placed between wafers.

The Wonder Bar has the distinction of being the last cafe in town to manufacture its own soda. Most cafes retained their elaborate counter bars, incorporating both carbonated drink dispensers and milkshake mixers and their associated ‘under the counter’ paraphernalia and accessories, into the 1950s. All except Harry however, had removed the soda fountain stuff (carbonator, valves, plumbing, etc) to make way for the commercial soda water and soft drinks by the mid 50s. But in 1960 Harry, fed up with maintaining the cantankerous machinery, also succumbed, to the chagrin of the connoisseurs of his lime ice-cream sodas who swore his home brew had more tingling oomph than the bottled stuff. The milkbars became major retailers of the rapidly expanding range of commercially bottled and canned soft drinks, at least until the customers could stock their own fridges direct from the cheaper supermarkets, so delivering another of the thousand cuts that led to the death of the traditional milkbar. In the early 1960s came Mr Whippy, directly delivering ice creams, drinks and tinkling music to almost every house in town, followed by the introduction of the disposable waxed container in the mid 1960s, enabling the patron to take away his milkshake or orange squash along with his hamburger and not be tempted to linger for a sundae accessory. Along the way the ubiquitous free-standing self-service coke bottle dispenser displaced display cabinets, while the gradual introduction of other ‘bolt-on’ mod cons eventually cluttered the places beyond recognition.

As for showmanship, Harry had no equal, the word charrysma being coined in his honour. Hours of practice enabled him to pour a milkshake from the container in his left hand over the three-foot distance to the glass in his right, then flick a straw into the air that landed with military precision into the glass just as he presented it to the applauding patron, all without spilling a drop (at least most of the time.) Ice-creams were dispensed by somersaulting the scoop six feet into the air and catching the separated ice-cream ball in the cone in his right hand while his left caught the scoop. The performance brought customers and Hollywood agents in droves.

And so did his barbequed chooks. In 1970 he was the first in Lismore to introduce the rotisserie, cunningly placed at the front of the shop so the glorious smell wafting up and down the street was as irresistible as the Pied Piper’s flute in drawing people to the door. The golden birds rotating on the spit, stuffed with his secret seasoning and basted with his secret marinade, remained the juiciest in town for many years.

In 1973 he opened a pinball parlour at number 145, on the other side of Tropicana, but we won’t talk about that, simply summarizing that he closed the place 4yrs later after finding it too hard to supervise the delinquents. Nor will we dwell on his handling of the aimless louts who discovered his was the place always open after midnight on Saturday to cater to the post dance crowd. (The overflow from Harry’s late night trade found a home in 1960 when ‘The Bar-B-Q’ opened on Dunstan’s old nursery site behind Bert Cockerell’s chemist shop, near the Church of Christ in Keen. It had a grill and a few tables and chairs under a pergola and could do you steaks, snags and rissoles in a bun through to 3AM. It was a popular haunt through the 60s, the crowds often spilling onto Keen street in a mill generating a 6 on the Richter Scale, but by the time it closed in 1977 the night owls had found other places to hunt.)

Harry’s success was aided and abetted by the gorgeous Maria Coronakes, from the fruit shop next door, whose hand he managed to win in 1967 after beating off determined rivals from near and far. They now hold together the remnants of the once enormous Greek presence on the Northern Rivers, which for a time in the fifties was probably the home to the largest Greek enclave in country NSW. Plans were put in place for the construction of a church, Agios Haralambos of course, but, alas, their dreams were never realised.


Wonder Bar 1969. (Harry and Maria Crethar with Peter Coronakes)

And in retirement he often sits on the airfield-sized deck of his mansion overlooking Lismore, with hovering maid ready to top his champagne glass with a bit more Moet, and contemplates what might have been. He coulda been rich. If only he’d had the foresight to patent and franchise his creation ‘The Crethar’ would now be the international form of currency rather than ‘The Macca’. Whata tragedy.

But, back to the future (it’s 1955 remember), the younger and less wise Harry veers across the road to check out Steve Appo in his shop near the Coronakes betting bank.


Appo’s Fish Shop (128 Keen)

This site had been a dedicated fish ‘n’ chip shop since 1908 when the Italian, Angelo Iveli, re-located the third Oyster Saloon in town, after those of Comino and Andrulakis, from Woodlark. Nick Calligeros had it for a couple of years in the early 1920s, but it changed hands many times over the following years until stability was brought by the ex-fisherman, Stylianos Giorgios Apogrimiotis, initially in partnership with his mate Sid Eyles, in 1940. Twenty eight year old Steve had sailed into Adelaide from Aliverio, Euboia, in 1927 and spent most of his time around Streaky Bay in SA and Texas in Qld prior to settling permanently in Lismore in 1937. While the fish ‘n’ chip shop was his primary day job he also had a couple of farms, one at Lennox Head and one at Alphadale, the latter oriented towards market gardening and providing dressed chooks, pineapples and the like to the shops around town. Another extracurricular activity was an insulated truck used to deliver seafood straight from the trawlers at Evans Head to customers and outlets as far afield as Kyogle, competing with John Karambasis who sourced his fish from the Ballina trawlers. All of which left him a very busy man, starting work at 4am and closing the shop at 9pm, except on Sunday when he slept in until 9am.


Appo’s Café 1952

Steve Apogremiotis and daughter Irene.
(Irene married Con Goodelis 1956 and together they ran the Samios Café at Kyogle until moving to Brisbane in 1961.)

(Courtesy Pauline Wright)


His shop, with eight four-seater tables, was a popular fish ‘n’ chip outlet, having a reputation for the quality and freshness of the produce and never slipping in flake as a cheap substitute, earning a 7* in the fast-food/takeaway category, with a bonus point for proprietor’s convivial personality and generous disposition. It mainly catered to the clientele from the nearby Tattersals Hotel and, further down, Nick Kondas’s Metropole, but it also had a loyal following from the farming families who came to town on market days, the sports fans who swarmed up the back lane after the weekend bloodbaths at Oakes Oval, the after-matinee crowd and the hordes of Catholic schoolkids and families on Fridays. Whilst being on the ‘wrong’ side of Keen and missing the passing trade it continued to attract faithful regulars from the High School even after the appearance of the Crethar, giving Steve a steady income through to his death in 1963. He and his family were regular participants in Greek community life, with one daughter, Irene, maintaining the Greek connection when she married Con Goodellis of Kyogle.

The family kept the shop running for about 6mths before passing it to Chris Macris who carried on for 18mths, followed by an Englishman for another short period, after which the place folded, so ending nearly 60yrs as a catering outlet.

Harry sees no competition for his own grand venture and returns to the inside of Keen to monitor the extraordinary transformation of the Craigmore, on the way doffing his cap to the defunct Apollo Café at 131 Keen, the long-running Glen Milk Bar at 125 Keen, Jack Sargent’s recently closed Tattersalls Club at 117 Keen and the old Black and White Café at 101 Keen. 

[The lease of both the Apollo Hall and Apollo Tea Rooms and Sundae Shop was taken over by the great ballroom dancing impresario, Jacob H. Charleston, in about 1927. He initially sub-let the cafe, but the first identifiable proprietor was John Stephanos Modeas when he turned up from Bigga, near Cowra, in 1929. He had landed as a 12yr old from Karavas in 1914 and spent many years wandering around the Tablelands and southern NSW before deciding to join his fellow Karaviteos in Lismore. But he only seems to have lasted about 12mths, probably because of low profit margins when competition came from the Glen Milkbar, a similar, albeit larger, light refreshment outlet on the other side of the Apollo Hall entrance, opened in late 1930. So he handed over to his shift manager Peter Nick Crethary and headed for Queanbeyan. Peter persevered for 5 minutes before he moved down the street to take over a fruit shop and evolve it into the Monterey.

Jacob Charleston subsequently gave the Apollo a makeover and resumed hands-on management, but finally closing the place towards the end of the war, while the Glen continued trading into the 1980s. In the meantime the Hall, along with the Federalette, was the leading Lismore dance venue until the Riviera came along in 1936. Through the 40s to the mid 50s the Saturday night hop crowds were huge, with these three venues dominating the scene, some fans attending to simply listen to the great music of the house bands. As with the post-theatre patrons, the cafes had a symbiotic relationship with the hyped up post dance boppers, each group spilling over into the cafes to round off the night’s experience. And all passed away within a few years of each other. (With its well-appointed kitchen, private rooms and other mod cons, the Apollo Hall also captured the big function market, catering for balls, wedding breakfasts, banquets and the like.)

Through the late 1930s the Black and White was home to Lismore’s first bohemian café and known as the Black & White Coffee Inn, occupying the front of Harry Nielson’s piano shop. To the delight of the lingering coffee sippers Harry built a semi-mezzanine floor above the front window, accessed by ladder, where courageous jazz bands performed, notably ‘Hal and the Hotshots’. This concept of cafes as music venues seems to have started locally with Walter Gray when he introduced afternoon and evening musical soirees shortly after purchase of the Elite, but ceased when the Vlismas took over in 1929. Harry's revival of the practice seems to have come to an end in mid 1939 when the feedlot became the main part of the business and he installed Mrs Budd as manageress. She maintained that in this all-Australian cafe..., It is appropriate that the Black and White Cafe, which is the popular rendezvous of Lismore, and which has as its slogan, “Nothing but the Best,” should be managed and staffed by Australians....

By Apr40 Nielson's Black and White Cafe was offering Pie and Tea 9d, Steak & Kidney 1/3d, Grilled Fillet 1/6d, Grilled Pork Sausages 1/6d. Tea or Coffee included. And 2wks later going the Yankee route with American Hot Toasted Sandwiches, Waffles, Pies, Hamburgers....  And 3wks after that Nielson’s Black and White Coffee Inn will open at the end of next week as an up-to-date Cafe and Milk Bar at the same address, 101 Keen-St., next Meaney’s Wireless. He was also the first to introduce the term 'hamburger' to Lismore's cafe menus.

In mid 1940 Harry moved around into Magellan and reverted to a pure musical instrument retailer, temporarily handing management of the cafe to the Girls' Patriotic League. In Jan41 the place boasted that Nielson’s Black and White Cafe..., housing the largest Drink Bar north of Sydney, now presents THREE COURSE MEALS... at 1/6d. And in May41 that Lismore now possesses a real Kings Cross HAMBURGER and Grill Room.... Grilled Steaks, Eggs and Hamburgers are now cooked in the window of Nielsons Black and White Cafe, in Keen Street. Hamburgers are 6d to take away or 1/- with Tea, Coffee or Cocoa....  Ten days later he boasted that Since opening the new Hamburger and Grill window... business has jumped in leaps and bounds....

The Black and White was under the management of Mrs E. Frawley by late 1941 when it relocated to the Woodlark Street site of the ex-Canberra Cafe, managed and staffed by Greeks, sharing the space with Adams Cake Shop and offering three-course meals for 1/9d. Harry's Keen Street shop became home to Hamilton's disposals business.


The Craigmore Café (97 Keen)

The Craigmore was established in Sep36 by the McDonalds of Yamba when they refurbished the Kyogle Cafe, housed in the largest two-shop brick building in Keen. In Dec38 they carried out more extensive renovations, claiming it is now one of the most modern in Lismore..., and shortly afterwards as the best cafe in Lismore.... In Mar39 they sold out to the Miles family of Brisbane who introduced take-away, with dainty cooked fish and chips, packed in boxes, can be taken home for your tea... and the best cooked fish in Australia. In Jul39 they carried out more renovations, providing a large function room and claiming It is unsurpassed in surroundings or accommodation of services..., while still extolling their special filleting of fish and Swedish formula for cooking..., and special boxing of the cooked fish in greaseproof cartons....

(Courtesy Northern Star edition 22Dec38)

The next major innovation occurred in May40 when they Imported a new full size Talkie Machine... and introduced Free Talkies... Showing every night...- 'watch while you eat'. The only Cafe in the State catering for its patrons in this way. In May40 came The new Craigmore Lounge... in The All British Cafe. In Aug40 they proclaimed that All cafe proprietors undertook to supply free meals to men who enlisted... and From the commencement of the war, in one cafe at least, every man in uniform receives a special concession which is equivalent to the profit on his meal....

In Oct40 they branched out with Craigmore No 2, opened next to Carmont's Newsagency at 53 Woodlark, the site of the recently vacated Canberra Cafe of the Carkagis family, proclaiming that This All British Cafe is now under the management of Mrs Miles.... Then they got into financial trouble, J.D. Olley subsequently taking over Craigmore No 1, but passing it to his wife upon enlistment in Jan42, at which time the Black and White Cafe relocated to the site of Craigmore No 2. By Sep44 the Stevens family was running the Keen Craigmore when landlord Larkin sought a rent increase, arguing that business conditions had improved since Oct42 when the rent had been reduced. The judge was swayed by the Stevens argument that Where once there were 40 or 50 Americans at the cafe for meals, now they were lucky if there were as many as six... and granted Larkin half the increase sought.

Anecdotally, somewhere in that 1940 period Veniamin Gialouris of Mytilini was a short-lived proprietor/manager of the Craigmore. He was part of the immediate pre WW2 influx and spent some time with Jimmy Corones at Quilpie before apparently discovering Lismore, but appears to have moved to Brisbane in 1941. He was definitely sighted on counter duty in 1945 following a holiday in New Guinea courtesy of the Australian Army. However, within a year or so he figured The Regent a few doors down was a more attractive proposition and passed the keys to Peter Cooley, repeating the handover/takeover ceremony with Peter at the Regent in 1950 when he reckoned the action was now with bananas.

The Craigmore then became an Italian possession. The partnership of Manitta & Lorenson did a subtle reorientation, scaling back the café and introducing a range of continental deli items, which they both retailed and wholesaled, mainly to their deprived compatriots until their dangling sausage things on strings, tinned sardines and anchovies in strange sauce, tomato paste, pasta, Italian olives and olive oil, Vermouth, wine, Motta and Murano sweets…, slowly gained a wider acceptance. And then in the mid 50s came the late, great Florian Volpato and a touch of continental class.

Harry finds the flamboyant Florian in the midst of renovations and is intrigued by a strange looking gizmo called an Espresso Coffee Machine being fitted into the new counter. In 1952 the Andronicus family, Kytherian coffee merchants of Sydney, claimed to be the first to introduce the thing to Australia, but Florian was the first in this region and pretty soon his entrepreneurial exuberance seduced suspicious locals into sampling real coffee (notwithstanding Harry Neilson’s mysterious brew), along with a supplemented and diversified range of exotic deli items. The place, now named ‘Florians’, was a spacious one, stretching through to Eggins Lane, also enabling him to give the region a classy nightclub, ‘La Gondola’, which became a popular haunt for the gay blades and their dates into the mid 60s. And his entry into the noshery business followed the new trend set by John Carblis at the Tudor, with ‘Continental Meals’ now featured on the menu. (But, as with the 'continental meals' experience, the Greeks who introduced the espresso thingamajig quickly realised they were stuck with a white elephant that was an expensive way to boil water to make the locals' tea.)


Flavia and Florian Volpato,
Craigmore Cafe,1956/58

(Courtesy Il Potere Della Terra)


In 1958 Florian also started ‘The Continental Hour’ on 2LM, introducing Greek as well as Italian music to an intrigued community used to Slim Dusty and Elvis. Alas, it ceased in 1962, as did Florians by the late 60s, the undercapitalised site eventually redeveloped as the Embassy Arcade.

Great food for thought thinks Harry, who subsequently took over presentation of the Greek language show on 2NCR-FM. (And still going strong - tune in on Tuesday nights and hear his dulcet tones). But in the meantime he and Florian combined forces for the wedding of the year in 1967 (yep, Harry’s own.) With 450 guests the City Hall, where Harry had the catering contract, was the only possible accommodation for this bacchanalian wedding feast, and while he did the catering himself it was Florian’s supervision that gave it the memorable magic touch. The new City Hall was opened in 1965 and Harry and his father won the lease for the Kiosk, opened at least twice a week for various functions, dances, plays and talkfests, until Harry gave the game away in 1980 along with the Wonder Bar. (Florian however, rejoined the catering game in 1993 when he opened Café Giardino next to the ex Church of Christ in Keen, finally introducing the Southern European style of al fresco dining to Lismore. The place is still going in family hands, as is the Left Bank Café next to the art gallery.)

Unaware of the twists and turns his life would take, Harry presses on, calling in next door to check the day’s horse racing odds chalked up on the blackboard at the rear of Sargent’s Markets, aka the Terakes’ fruit shop.

Sargent’s Markets (95 Keen)

Sargents was and remained the largest fruit shop in Lismore, its enduring success due in no small part to its marketing strategy - they were show biz tragics and the best bunch of spruikers in the business, including the show-off who could juggle five assorted pieces of fruit. This part of the corporate culture was put in place by the founder, the Cretan John Andrew Stratigakis, and over the 45yrs of the shop’s life each succeeding generation soaked up the techniques, adding their own embellishing touches such that their spin and spiel could convince the most sophisticated wine buff that the ordinary bunch of grapes he was sampling tasted better than Grange Hermitage itself. They knew everyone in town, each passing citizen being personally addressed and exhorted to come into the shop and try the latest special offering from God’s own fruit bowl (or check the odds for the fifth at Flemington.)

John and his sons, Len, Nick and Jack (Zacharis), his son-in-law, Nick Mark Terakes, from the Cretan village of Fourmi, and his half-brother, George Andrew Stratigakis, opened the Lismore branch of the large Brisbane-based fruit enterprise in 1931, initially in Woodlark, then relocated to 107 Keen ~12mths later and finally to its present site just after the war. John however, had returned to Brisbane within a year or so, leaving Len as troupe commander until he handed the Golden Orange to Nick Terakes in 1936 and went off to acquire an agency in the Sydney Markets. At this time they had 3 trucks doing regular runs to the Brisbane markets, as well as to the fruit cooperatives and individual growers around Stanthorpe, Tenterfield and elsewhere on the Tablelands. But by the early war years hassles over lack of manpower, (qualified drivers and buyers having disappeared into the services), petrol rationing and a lapsed license to operate over the border, forced the shut-down of this side of the business. They relied on other carriers to maintain their wholesale contracts until purchase of a brand new Bedford in the early 1950s.

By the time of Nick’s death in 1965 the business was in the hands of his sons, John being the gaffer, and by the time of the death of Sargents on 8Dec1978 the grandsons had been pressed into service. Each generation had been inducted into the mysteries of fruit retailing from a young age, but not into the military strategies of Woolies and Coles. At the funeral service Sargents was acknowledged as Lismore’s oldest fruit shop, the eulogists glossing over the fact that it was also Lismore’s oldest meeting place for the racing fraternity, where daily and serious discussion on the form of the nation’s horses took place. (And honouring the tradition, the TAB now operates from a shop next door.)

Sargent’s Markets, Christmas 1965
L to R: Alex Coronakes, Mark Terakes, Sylvia Terakes (John’s wife), Maria Sourry (nee Terakes), John Terakes, Theo George Poulos, Katina Terakes (nee Sargent)
(Courtesy Harry Crethar)

The genesis of the enterprise was Stratigakis’s 1920 purchase of an agency at the Brisbane wholesale fruit markets, which grew to rival the Cominos (Douris) in supplying Greek shops throughout Queensland. He was one of the six proprietors of ‘O Angeloforos Kouinslandis,’ the first Greek newspaper published in Queensland in 1931, the same year he handed over presidency of the Greek Community of Queensland to Emmanuel Vlandis, late of Lismore. His daughter Katina married Nick Terakes, his Cretan compatriot and earlier partner in a South Brisbane café, in one of Brisbane’s grandest Orthodox weddings during Greek Festival Week of 1921, held to mark the opening of Hellenic House. Allegedly 600 Greeks attended the wedding, representing over half of the Greek population of Queensland. Two other weddings were conducted that week, including that of Theo Stavrianos Comino (Douris), earlier of Lismore, and the baptism of Cosma Aroney, the son of Jack of Murwillumbah. The play Golfo, directed by George Sargent, whoever he was, and performed by members of the Hellenic Dramatic Society, amongst whom were many familiar past and present Lismore names, was also staged.

John’s half brother, George Sargent, had landed in 1926 and come to Lismore a little ahead of the others, ~1930/31, perhaps as John’s location scout, but within a year or so he had been snapped up by Paul Coronakes as a driver and buyer for his wholesale business. Sometime later he became manager of the fruit department at Mewing’s Grocery Store, where he was still working when he married and went off to run his own race in Woodlark Street in 1936. George was another of the many Greeks raised in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Cairo, giving him linguistic skills in Greek, Italian, French, English and Arabic.

John’s sons, Len, Nick and Jack, while keeping their fruitering day jobs, also had secondary careers as bookies. Len, gifted with the ability to balance a zillion numbers in his head, subsequently had a successful career at the Sydney tracks, where he was joined by Nick following war service and by Tony Terakes around the late 1940s. Jack aspired to club management and didn’t track the horses to Sydney until much later. He temporarily resumed fruitering following WW2 service, but shortly afterwards opened his Lismore Club at 117 Keen, swiftly renamed Tattersalls Club after the chaps at the pukka club around in Molesworth choked on their whiskeys. Like Spiro Coronakes, he initially had a couple of billiard tables but quickly provided the requisite card tables, and just as quickly could be seen driving around town in a Big Black Nash. Rather than reopen after the disaster of the ’54 flood he elected to cross the road and manage Spiro’s place, and by the late 50s could be seen around town on a bicycle, and by 1960 not at all.

Harry notes the importance of customer relations, risk management and theatrics, reluctantly leaving the unrestrained energy of the place to carry out a survey of the Regent, another of the old Monterey-style cafes struggling to stay relevant.

The Regent Café (81 Keen)

Mrs McNeill opened the Byron Cafe on this site in late 1924, with the latest soda fountain and all the accompanying mod cons. In Jul28 it was acquired by Nick Theo Poulos/Poulas (Hagepanagos) of Nafplia, who allegedly owned the freehold when he passed the place to Harry Nick Crethery, unconnected to Peter Nick of the Monterey, in Sep29. Harry, who came from Ballina via a stint at Coraki in the mid 1920s, rebirthed the place as the Regent Sundae Shop, handing over Harry Jim Crethar around 1932 and going walkabout somewhere.

Harry Jim had come from Glen Innes in 1925 and initially worked for his alleged cousin, Angelo Victor Crethar, for a couple of years until taking up a fruit shop somewhere down near the Monterey, if not the Monterey site itself. Apparently this venture was in silent partnership with his brother Nick, who was at Coraki at this time. Nick moved to Evans Head when Harry took over the Regent, but it’s understood he continued as Harry’s silent partner until he returned to Lismore in the late 30s and acquired his own shop in Woodlark, subsequently taking over Harry’s shop for a short period around 1945.

The Regent was a popular spot for its captive clientele from the three pubs in the immediate vicinity (the Metropole and Tatts across the road and the Gollan next door) who provided a boisterous evening trade and subdued late morning breakfast trade. It was also the favoured meeting place for the greyhound racing fans, the pan lickers strutting their stuff around at the Coleman’s Point track a couple of times a week. Paydays for the farm hands were particularly busy when the high-spirited lads would come to town to visit the brothels, pubs and gambling dens. Order eventually was restored through the appearance of a big burley policeman who timed his free feed to the likely times the boyos would arrive.

Regent Café 1938
L to R: Harry John or Harry Nick Crethar, Spiro Tsicalas, Nick Jim Crethar, Jean Brown, Ruby Green, Nellie Mules, Harry Jim Crethar

Through the war the Regent, bigger than the Monterey and having a bakery along with a more substantial kitchen, also enjoyed the patronage of the foreign servicemen, at one stage the competition for this lucrative trade being so great that Harry broke the tacit convention and introduced a five-course meal for 2/6d, at least until rationing and price fixing started to bite and before the vigilance of the industrial inspectors posing as customers stepped-up.

[And for the culinary curious, reliable witnesses (Scout’s honour) observed the strange phenomenon of American serviceman calling for ice-cream as a sauce for their steaks. The locals never took up the craze, but Harry covered the chance by calling it a two-course meal.]

Nevertheless, as the war progressed trading became more difficult as Harry, like all the highly virtuous Greek proprietors, never thought of resorting to the black market (Mafia honour). It’s understood he, like most others, reduced trading hours and scaled back the range of services until Nick sold up in Woodlark to come and give him a hand. And then came the ’45 flood to help him make a final decision, selling out to Nick and taking up the less stressful Golden Globe in Molesworth. Nick, a master pastry cook and envied consort of the universally loved Florrie Panaretto, carried on for a year or so when he too decided he needed a geographical cure and moved to Casino.

The new prince Regent, Goulouris of Craigmore, the brother-in-law of Mick Feros of Ballina, reigned until 1950, handing the baton to his compatriot, Peter Cooley, and creating a ripening rooms and banana merchanting enterprise at his estate at 125 Magellan, which he managed successfully until 1970 despite the industry turndown. He was active in Greek community affairs and his was the house where the retired Cypriot monk, Fr Kallistratos Adamou, chose to live during his short posting in the late 60s.

Peter Cooley (Koultis of Mytilini) was a more dedicated caterer. He had taken over one of the Andrulakis businesses at Woodburn in the early 1930s, but was wiped out in 1936 following a fire that consumed six buildings along the Highway strip, three of which were owned by the Andrulakis. He continued to trade from his rebuilt shop but was again left homeless by the ’45 cyclone, this time figuring there was a jinx on Woodburn and coming to Lismore. Around the same time he was joined by his brother James, fresh from a stint of banana growing at Rosebank with his compatriot, Stratis Karambasis, who went to Nick Crethar’s Woodlark cafe.

By the time ‘young Harry’ called in Peter had stopped trembling from the ’54 cyclone, but the place was still locked into serving giant T-bones overhanging the plate and seriously in need of an upgrade. In the absence of a bar, sit down cups of tea with toast remained the go rather than milkshakes and chicko rolls, and while the menu evolved, substantial meals and takeaway fish ‘n’ chips were still the speciality into the early 1960s when he, like similar proprietors, decided he’d had enough of trying to compete with the clubs. Unable to sell the business as a going concern he flogged everything in a giant auction and moved to Sydney, the building subsequently becoming home to a bits ‘n’ pieces shop.

Diagonally across the road Harry notes that a barber shop still occupies the site of The Australia Cafe (96 Keen), which once upon a time enjoyed the distinction of being the most modern cafe in town. In April 1935 Nick John Casimatis made the courageous decision to create a new purpose-built cafe for Lismore's discerning diners, but, alas, they never turned up and he found himself in trouble very quickly (including the paying of under-award wages to the above Ruby Green). And being on the outside of the block, missed the passing trade, although picking up the drinker's trade from the Metropole Hotel across the lane, especially when in desperation he dropped the price of his three-course meal to 1/3d. He lasted 14mths and at a bankruptcy hearing in late 1937 his lawyer argued that Cassimatis was a foreigner and did not understand book keeping..., at which point Justice Lukin interjected Foreigners. Foreigners! That cry has been raised too often in this court. Foreigners must not expect better treatment than other people..., and awarded him 4mths hard labour.

He is probably the same Nick John Cassimatis who landed in 1914, aged 18yrs, and was bankrupted twice in the early Depression years. He initially was in silent partnership with the mysterious Nick Chamias (probably Chambiras) and Haris Raftus (probably Raftos/Raftopoulos), but they disappeared into the woodwork very quickly. His shop, housing a large reception room, was occupied by Bavea's Catering Parlour for about 8mths or so from late 1936. Above the shop lived Harry Jim Crethar, allegedly the later building owner.

‘Young Harry’ now crosses Larkin Lane and passes the old Panaretto shop under the Gollan Hotel, now trading ‘Under Royal Patronage’ following the Queen’s stay in 1954. [In 1930 Denny Panaretto took up where Athena Andrulakis left off and became a major retailer/wholesaler of seafood, as well as offering his sit down/takeaway fish ‘n’ chips. He reoriented as Panaretto’s Fish Market and advertised LA ‘BELLE OYSTERS… Try our delicious Fresh “Brunswick” Oysters… at 2/3d per large bottle… Choice Fresh fish at 9d per lb… We specialise in Fried and Smoked Fish…. (And being an opportunistic marketer, stuck up a sign reading ‘Fresh Fish every morning’, while his shop was still half-full of water after the record flood of Feb31.)]


Panaretto's Fish Market 1931

Harry proceeds past the Gollan, comes to the intersection of Keen/Woodlark and crosses Woodlark Street to view the relatively new Notaras shops on the northern side of the Commercial hotel.

Notaras Building (Woodlark/Keen)

The Notaras name reappeared in Lismore in 1934 when Anthony and John Lambrinos Notaras of Grafton acquired the old Star Court Theatre site in Woodlark, next to the Commercial Hotel on the Woodlark/Keen corner. They also purchased a vacant 80ft frontage lot around in Keen, giving them a dog-leg block completely surrounding the Commercial.

The ‘new’ Star Court in Molesworth Street had been built in 1920 and the old one, an open air affair, had long since been converted into four shop fronts, with a convenient 66ft frontage, which the Notaras Bros acquired under one title. Just down the street near the Bennett & Woods Building was the old ‘Diggers Theatre’, established after WW1 and badly in need of updating, which they saw as no competition to their proposed new enterprise. However, the owner, Dorgan, in some sleigh-of-hand trick, beat them to the punch and had his plans approved for the ‘Vogue Theatre’ before they could get their act together. [The galloping Dorgan, who became lessee of the Notaras Bros ‘Saraton Theatre’ in Grafton in late 1929, remained one foot in front and tied up all the major sites in the larger Richmond towns before the Notaras could get a look in. In 1930 he had put the skids under Sam Coroneo’s ‘Federalette Theatre’ by opening Lismore’s fourth cinema outlet, ‘The Palace Theatre’, then had the chutzpah to offload the Palace and purchase the Federalette. And in 1933 he added to his picture portfolio by acquiring the Regent Theatre of Koukoulis & Andronicos in Murwillumbah.]


Parade Lismore 1945
(Grafton contingent led by Greeks)
Right to Left: Unknown with wreath (but reckoned to be Angelo Crethar), Jack Paul Moulos, Theo Lambrinos Notaras, John Lambrinos Notaras,
Peter Arthur Bernard (Venardos), Nick Langley (Anastasopoulos), Anthony Lambrinos Notaras.

(Courtesy Brinos Notaras)

Dorgan sat on his Development Approval until 1935 when he finally got around to building the Vogue in Molesworth Street. Anthony and John continued to hold their land in joint ownership, with various Greek enterprises occupying their shops over a long period. In the meantime the old theatre site behind the shops became an open-air boxing stadium, featuring tournaments two to three times a week.

They sold their larger site in 1950 following a major fire, but as a goodwill gesture to one of their tenants, George Macris, built two new shops on the Keen land. Fifty four years later the shops were demolished by the new owner, the entrepreneurial prince of pubs, Peter Coronakes, and the site incorporated into his Commercial extensions. 

[At the same time Peter gave his Commercial a facelift and a new name, Mary Gilhooleys, where he, in leprechaun hat, could be seen pulling heady green beer on Saint Pat’s day. (Marketing flair runs in the family.)]


The Blue Bird Café (43 Keen)

George Macris landed from the Turkish island of Imbros in 1938 and came to town after a couple of years spent at Bonalbo and Casino working off his sponsorship debt. In Lismore he worked for the Cretan, Tony Lakis, in the Stanthorpe Fruit Exchange on the Woodlark side of the Commercial Hotel building, buying the business in the mid war years but on-passing it to the Italian Mario Gasperini in 1946. This shop started life as the temporary site of the first Sargent's Markets in the early Depression years. It appeared shortly before the Willow Tea Rooms opened next door with the gimmick of a free lending library, but over the following years the two shops seemed to have merged and separated a couple of times. By May40 the Willow was under the management of Mrs Vasiliki Carkagis, late of "Northern Star" and "Canberra" Cafes, but disappearing from the scene a few months later. It was resurrected as the scaled-back Blue Bird Cafe in the Notaras Building by George Macris after he'd returned to Woodlark following a short stint as a cook in the Capitol Cafe. He took a bit of trade from the Stanthorpe, which had installed a milk bar in the meantime, firing up the voluble Mario and giving the Lismore citizens great street entertainment, particularly when George deployed his Turkish language skills in ‘no spica di lingo’ tactics.

The Blue Bird was almost a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ hamburger joint, catering to the boxing aficionados through a flap opening onto the street until a mysterious fire burnt out George and an adjacent shop. Thanks to the Notaras he was able to move around the corner to take up residence in his posh new shop, where the anchor of the business became fish ‘n’ chips, which the pugilist enthusiasts could now consume at five six-seater booths. And thanks to the fear of eternal damnation he did a roaring trade from the Catholic schools on Fridays.



George traded through to 1974, retiring to Sydney three weeks before the flood that matched the monster of ’54, leaving the old Blue Bird to slowly go down market and morph into a ‘corner store’ as it became isolated through developments around that portion of Keen and changed circumstances around the CBD.


Macris Family 1951 Lismore
L to R: Anna (nee Haymandos), baby Chris, George and Con. (Anna and Con landed in 1949 after a 11yr separation.)
(Courtesy Chris Macris)


Harry now does an about face and retraces his steps back to the corner, crosses the road and resumes his walkabout along the inside of Woodlark, once the home to a host of Greek enterprises, including all the original pioneers pre WW1, but now in reduced circumstances.



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