Trading Hassles

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Gourmet's Guide to Lismore

Chapter 6

Trading Hassles

  The Great Barrow Wars
  Alien Election
  Great Depression

The Great Barrow Wars

The period post WW1 had been a disappointing one for Lismore. Between the censuses of 1911 and 1921 the population grew a mere 14% (7609 to 8700), below the Richmond average of 16%, below the State average of 27.5%, and way below the big 46% gain in the Tweed-Brunswick where the spectacular growth of the banana industry had given rise to much rejoicing in the business houses.

A prescient ‘Northern Star’ editorial of early 1921 gave the first ominous warning of hard times ahead …another cloud is the likelihood of the commercial depression being experienced in Great Britain and America as acutely just now overtaking us in Australia. If it should reach these shores its effects after the years of prosperity we have enjoyed will be felt with even more severity than in the old world. Prices will slump so much that there will be a wholesale discharging of employees and in consequence complete stagnation of business, with poverty – born of our national extravagance – stalking through the land…. And 8mths later: The world-wide adjustment of industry and commerce after the great war is being reflected in all primary industries, and butter being dependent on the world’s markets, is affected by the purchasing powers of the great centres of population. Uncertain markets may be experienced for a year or two hence…. But it went on far longer.

Post WW1 soldier settlement blocks had been created everywhere, substantially increasing the number of dairy farmers and banana benders struggling to share the available pie. In 1922 the whole economic base of the Richmond-Tweed region started to look pretty shaky. The banana industry collapsed that year and the dairy industry started heading in the same direction. By early 1923 farmers and farm hands were starting to wander the countryside trying to earn a quid, with many of them having a go as hawkers of fruit and veggies in the local towns.

By this time the retail and wholesale fruit and veggie trade was dominated by the Greeks and generating a bit of aggro. One disgruntled retailer with a small fruit shop outside the CBD, which gave him cheap rent but less passing trade, convinced the council to give him a hawker’s license to flog his stuff from a barrow around the block, joining the three already licensed and a number of illegal operators. But the cunning bugger built himself a barrow the size of a semi-trailer, which remained fixed in Molesworth Street, and proceeded to aggressively market a wide range of produce.

It was so successful that pretty soon he had invested in a warehouse, ripening sheds and a carrier business, with his lorry doing regular runs to markets in Brisbane and the Tablelands. Others followed suit, parking their ‘barrows’ of various sizes outside the existing fruit shops of the block, creating traffic havoc and bad tempers. The shopkeepers were whinging about unfair competition while the public was overjoyed that the increased competition had brought cheaper fruit and veggies of higher quality and quantity. At this time the town was choc-a-block with fruit merchants, all barely turning a profit, and the price war from the barrowmen was the last straw, although an investigation by the ‘Northern Star’ had indicated that fruit consumption in Lismore had gone up by 50% in 12mths, and declared that this was a healthy thing, prompting it to campaign on the side of the barrowmen.

Council initially listened to the shop keepers and resolved to abolish ‘barrowmen stands’ within the municipality, but was then hit with an orchestrated letters-to-the-editor campaign from the barrowmen: It is particularly hard on the digger barrowmen who has ‘done his bit’ and invested in the purchase of equipment to be ordered off in preference to Greeks and other foreigners who are rapidly gaining business ground to large advantage in this country…, carrying on a whinge at least 20yrs old. (In reporting on a meeting of the Country Storekeepers Association in Nov03, the Sydney Morning Herald, under the heading 'The Alien Within Our Gates', believed The retail fruit and fish trade is monopolised almost wholly by the Greek and the Italian; the hawking trade is almost entirely in the hands of the Chinese, the Syrian, the Afghan, and the Indian....) It turned out that only three Greek cafes (one in Molesworth and two in Woodlark), and three other ‘foreigners’, who were ‘old and respected citizens’, had a fruit retailing sideline. (And 'Fairplay' in a follow-up letter reckoned The returned soldier stunt is well to the front in Mr Manewell’s argument, but from careful and exhaustive inquiries made, I find that not one of the proprietors of these street fruit stalls is a returned soldier. The ‘digger ploy’ remained a favourite marketing strategy throughout the Depression.)

On 26Feb23 the barrowmen delivered a petition signed by 700 disgruntled citizens afraid that the days of cheap fruit were over. The council went wishy-washy and did a Pontius Pilot by handing the matter over to the Wheel Traffic Committee for a determination. In the meantime the letter war continued with the Greeks entering the fray, prompted by some unfortunate words from Alderman White, reported under the heading ‘Trade With White People’. Said White, in the chair in the absence of the mayor, Practically the whole of the fruit trade in New South Wales was in the hands of foreigners. Were they going to give them a monopoly? The question of rents had been raised. He said it advisedly that the Greeks were the cause of high rents in Lismore today. [A nice politician’s spin on the facts. The building housing the Bavea Bros Garden of Roses café was sold in late 1921 for £156 per foot, a record for Woodlark Street frontage, shortly after which the new owner raised the rent to recoup on his investment.] The Greeks employed no white labour, and did not have to comply with the industrial laws. These foreigners who had shops in Lismore and who hawked fruit and vegetables around the town cared nothing for the country; they got all they could with the ultimate idea of taking it away from Australia. It was a pity that people could not realise these things and do business with white tradesmen. Ald. White went on to say that he was standing outside a Greek shop the other day. In the window were grapes marked at 1/- a pound. A man came along selling the same grapes. He told the Greek they were four pence a pound, and the Greek would not buy them at that price. What sort of game was that? If the barrowmen were endeavouring to earn that sort of thing they were doing something more than making a living for themselves. They were putting fruit within the reach of the people….

The good Alderman had apparently viewed the window display of Peter Dimitri Feros, who wrote an indignant letter to the editor giving facts and figures, which showed little difference between prices, but significant difference in quality in favour of the shopkeepers. So far as employment is concerned I have ascertained that there are 14 local girls employed in various Greek shops in Lismore, and the proprietors of such shops are all subject to the same laws and awards as anyone else. As a matter of fact the girls in my shop are paid considerably over the award rates and are provided with free board in addition. It may surprise some of your readers to know that the current expenses of working my shop amount to £21 per week. Just compare this with the 5/- paid by the barrowmen and consider whether we are not entitled to some sort of a fair deal.
So far as my nationality is concerned it is quite true that I was born in Greece; but I do not know that I am any the worse for that. History reveals the fact that English princesses have condescended to marry Greek princes and surely if such alliances were considered advantageous and politic by the ‘powers that then were’ surely it is not for your correspondents to say that we Greeks are not entitled to earn our daily bread under the British Union Jack. Perhaps your correspondents are not aware that the Greek civilisation is the oldest in Europe and for many centuries Greece led the world in art, education and most other accomplishments. Surely it is not quite good taste for any of them to infer that they are any whiter than we (the Greeks) are….

Peter Nick Bavea also took special exception to the remarks of Ald. White re Greeks, and fired off a couple of indignant letters, also giving facts and figures. In closing I would point out to the general public and to Ald White in particular that Greeks generally live as well as any other race of people that inhabit this planet and always spend their money in the towns in which they make it. We have one hope and that is that on the last day that He who marks the sparrow’s fall will not make any distinction as to our colour. This according to Ald. White’s remark offers us one bright hope. And in another letter, Voicing the opinions of the majority of the Greeks of Lismore, we say leave the barrowmen where they are as we bear them no ill will. We have faith in the general public to believe that there will still be a picking left for us to keep the wolf from the door. What we take exception to is the colour scheme that is being introduced into the controversy for we see no reason for this mark of distinction.... One point you give us credit for and that is that we, by the price we charge, never attempt to scab on our ‘white’ brother….

Gathering at the Boer War Monument on the Woodlark-Keen Intersection to commemorate Anzac Day 1923.
(Courtesy Sydney Mail edition of 2May23)

It's believed Jack Nick Bavea was a member of the Lismore branch of the RSL. Ten years later he, on behalf of the Greek community of Lismore, has presented Lismore Returned Soldiers’ League with a Greek flag as an appreciation of the good work that body is carrying out and as a token of friendship that was felt by all Greeks whose countrymen fought side by side with Australians in the Great War....

The Northern Star again conducted a survey and again came down on the side of the barrowmen: In Woodlark street there are four shops in which fruit is sold. Two are conducted by Greeks and two by white men. In only one shop window were the prices shown on the fruit displayed for sale. This was a Greek’s shop. In the business section of Molesworth street there are two shops where fruit is sold. One is conducted by a Greek and the other by a white man.… During the morning there was much perturbation among the Greek shopkeepers. A sort of indignation meeting was held to discuss the developments of the meeting of council. One Greek is said to have declared that he was prepared to spend a good deal of money in a further effort to have the barrowmen removed off the streets. To whom and why! The answer to the latter question is obvious. There is the instance of the price of grapes cited above…(where a chart compares prices in a Greek shop with those of a barrowman parked outside.)

There were more letters for and agin’ the Greeks, but mostly agin’. And the Greeks continued to be singled out as the culprits ripping off the public despite the presence of the Australian-born fruiterers. ‘Fair Dinkum’, under the heading The Greek v. The People, reckoned that if the members of the Wheel Traffic Committee and those few other belated alderman who still hold to the obsolete doctrine of the divine right of aldermen were about town on Tuesday morning, they must have seen and heard a few striking demonstrations as to how far the foreign ring is interested in getting the barrowmen annihilated. In one corner of the block a veritable Greek legation held counsel. Savage is the only word to describe the anathemas heaped on certain aldermen, the ‘Northern Star’, the petitioners, and the whole show generally.... Then the legation adjourned in several directions hot on the trail of the offenders who had dared to tell the truth. Napoleon on Elba had ‘nothing on’ one hefty Greek propping up the lintel of Alderman White’s door. With folded arms and a fierce ‘then I wait’ this foreign martyr to the voice of the people and the rights of little children was last seen glaring at an empty office and awaiting the deputy Mayor.

And another anonymous bloke, more than likely the semi-trailer entrepreneur himself, under the heading Who Rules the Town, was into conspiracy theories and reckoned that the people are alive to the unique quality and quantity of their fruit supply at present, whether the aldermen are or not, and they want justice for the man who pioneered the move here, has sunk his capital, and who had compelled the foreign combine to come out and show their unhappy hand. He buys his fruit from local and Tableland growers, and his lorry carts the local grower’s produce to the Tableland in return. I am open to correction, but have been told that he will be found to pay the local grower as much as 50 per cent on what the foreign trader offers.

We aver that the barrow did not take the trade from the shops so much as create by sound fruit, cheap prices, and the confidence of the public, an entirely new field of trade. We again quote the ‘Northern Star’s’ unbiased news item before this controversy opened up at all, as the unique increase in fruit consumption in the last twelve months here. A 50 per cent increase in spite of ever-increasing drought, slacking trade, reduced wages, and a decreased population is something which even a ‘mere school boy’ (to quote Ald. Stratford) would have too much respect for his mental reputation to seek to ignore.… The foreign element have during Monday, by their prices, and the following days, by their execrations, threats, and general consternation proven every word, line and letter, of the petitioners’ pleas and arguments….

Yet another bloke also dwelt on the man and not the ball… one only need to pay a visit to any important suburb or town throughout Australia, and Europeans, Greeks and Chinese will be seen offering fruit for sale from shops and from barrows also.

The Greeks subsequently retired from the fray leaving Mrs Effie Gundlach, who had taken over one of Nick Poulos’s Woodlark shops in 1920, to cop the flak as spokesperson for the ‘foreign fruiterers’. She got the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, who refrained from calling for an outright ban of the barrows and simply recommended to Council that they be relocated to other sites such as in front of the Post Office, the Council Chambers, and the ‘Northern Star’ office… and the Public School.

This flushed out the semi-trailer entrepreneur under his own name, who gave a gratuitous serve to the whingers: The trouble with most of these people (Gundlach, Feros and Bavea) kicking up all the noise is that they don’t know how to handle the fruit business. They don’t know the markets and therefore make losses instead of profits…. There seems to be a great outcry because Howell has a lorry (funny we don’t hear anything about Mr Baveas having a motor car for hire though, and sometimes using it for other purposes than fruit carting) [The Bavea Bros acquired a 7 seat Studebaker in late 1922, presumably as part of the catering business being run by Jim Bavea, but it seems to have been a white elephant and was continually advertised for hire, presumably without the appropriate taxi license. It was sold a month or so after this letter.] Well, if this old town considers a man should be knifed in the dark merely for the sin of putting a couple of thousands of his hard earned money into circulation… and punished for having brains to make one business work in with another, then it’s a pretty queer town....
As I’ve said before, they haven’t got a sound argument between them. Mr Baveas infers something about ‘scabbing’ in his letter. I don’t know what he is talking about; but I’m not ‘scabbing’ on women and children by trying to snatch fruit from them in a climate like this, anyhow.
If the people of Lismore had even a baby’s knowledge of the fruit trade they would know that the same ‘hidden hand’ has fought the barrowmen every inch of the way right across Australia. It’s the same hand every time and in every place, and its ways are as dark as they are devious. I notice that the Greeks have thought it a diplomatic move to honourably withdraw from the controversy, and Mrs Gundlach, who has previously been silent, takes up the running. This seems to need explanation and certainly the public are entitled to know the whole story of this attack on their fruit supply…. I have never been on the Greeks’ premises nor yet on Mrs Gundlach’s, but I hereby invite the whole box and dice of them and the general public to visit my shop and sheds and backyards
…(to view the state of cleanliness)… and I hereby challenge Mrs Gundlach and the Greeks to come out in the open and do likewise. Are they game!
And I notice they still leave the pie stall alone. Remarkable and significant fact!…. [Probably Mark’s, but at this time at least one other North Lismore licensed ‘Pie & Coffee Stall’ was making regular trips over the bridge into the CBD, perhaps serving as an indicator, along with the increasing number of fish hawkers, of an early onset of difficult times. Other fruit barrow operators were operating off private vacant lots in Keen and Magellan, while the Chinese market gardeners, regular hawkers from their horse and/or carts for many years, were ignored (or immune) until the Depression.]

The Council was duly served with the Chamber of Commerce recommendation accompanied by a petition of 200 names. They again deferred a decision by referring it to the Wheel Traffic Committee which, on 28Mar23, recommended that three barrow stands, on wheels and no bigger than 10ftx4ft, be approved; one in Magellan street near the post office, one on the west side of Molesworth and one on the north side of Woodlark, and that tenders be invited from British subjects only. The letter writers had great fun in pointing out that one of the current barrowmen was an American.  And one bloke saw the loophole: As for the clause allegedly seeking to disqualify the foreigner – all that we have to say is that it will not disqualify him at all – not in the very least. If the wheel and traffic committee or the council want proof of that I am willing to put them in the way of obtaining it. … the clause is unfortunately worded. Instead of barring the foreigner it runs that ‘the applicant shall be a British subject.’- ie, giving the dreaded ‘Hindoos’ and naturalized Greeks and other ‘aliens’ a look in. The conspiracy theorists also reckoned that there would be colluding tendering, with the barrowmen forming a ring and acting as frontmen for the fruit and veggie mafia: Any alderman of even the smallest experience in public life must realise the utter impossibility of knowing for certain the identity of the real ‘man behind the gun’ in any system of tendering…. As the petitioners pointed out at the beginning of this controversy, the ‘hidden hand’ always has been, and always will be, consummately ‘gloved’….

Five months after the controversy started the council finally bit the bullet and resolved to accept all the Wheel and Traffic Committee recommendations - except for defining the nationality of the operators. (They left the ice-cream carts alone however. These operators, doing a good trade around the school until banned in 1929, subsequently added a fruit sideline. And the barrows operating from vacant private land around the block, mainly Keen and Magellan, were outside the Council’s jurisdiction.)

Both Bavea and Feros then left town and a period of great turbulence followed. Peter Bavea, and probably his brother Jim, left their brother Jack to hold the fort and wandered off to Mundubbera, near Maryborough, to acquire the Royal Hotel. Peter Feros left his brother Jack minding the shop and relocated to Toowoomba where he subsequently rode out the Depression with a successful carrier business. Theo Fardouly sublet his Olympia Café to his father-in-law, Peter Lemnos (Polychrone), and became hands-on in his ice making business. Nick Calligeros walked away from his Kythera Café and abandoned fruit for fish. George Poulos and George Patrinos sold their Busy Bee Cafe to Angelo Crethar and went their separate ways; Poulos to open the Gopoulos Dining Rooms in North Lismore and Patrinos into the woodwork. The old Catsoulis fruit and veggie wholesale business, The Fresh Food Supply Company, fell into the hands of its probable manager, Paul Coronakes. His neighbour Mrs Gundlach moved across to South Lismore to open a general store, although her move may be due to the building’s redevelopment, the new Skype’s Building appearing on the site in 1924. Ditto Paul Coronakes who relocated next door in late 1923/early 1924 and subsequently rose from the ashes to enter the fruit and veggie game big time by establishing the Lismore Fruit Exchange, which went on to become the largest produce wholesaler in the district.

And with unfortunate timing a masochist, H. Suzuki, opened The Japanese Café at 96 Keen St mid1923, in the ex-premises of the Chinese herbalist Wong Yuen, but only seems to have lasted five minutes, despite offering our Home-made Hot Pies, best in town, 4d each only. And the Japanese never repeated the experiment anywhere in the region. Nor did any Chinese market gardener appear game enough to open a fruiterer’s business, let alone a café like Chow Kum and Willie Choy at Murwillumbah. In Lismore they remained pre-eminent veggie growers, with vast fields at Currie Park between the race course and North Lismore proper, marketing the fresh produce door-to-door as well as supplying certain cafes and pubs.

The Italians later cornered this market, but at this time there was a bit of dissention within the Italian ranks. Antonio Nardi, a young New Italy settler, was a member of the Richmond District Council of the Primary Producers Union and at a meeting in Feb1923 Mr Nardi (Nimbin) moved, ‘That the district council recommend to the central executive that under present conditions prevailing in New South Wales the importation of Italian immigrants is unjustified and misleading…. Later in the year it’s believed he returned home for a holiday.

Upon arrival in Lismore in 1923 Angelo Crethar became the main spokesman for the Greek Community.

Whilst on a trip home in 1929 the indulgent Northern Star gave him two thirds of a page to show five of his holiday snaps.
(Courtesy Northern Star edition of 14Sep29)


Alien Election

The local economy continued to deteriorate and the fun and games became more intense, with the next major development being the battening down of hatches for the 1925 ‘alien election’ when Nardi’s proposal was acted on. The banana industry had gone further into the doldrums with the bunchy top disaster while the dairy farmers continued laying off labourers in favour of family employment, resulting in a population shift within the Richmond-Tweed region. 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, where there were no new or expanding industries to absorb the surplus population. Competition for jobs got worse and aggro started to build over the continuing dago influx.

Nevertheless, while keeping its readers informed on the goings-on of the Tweed Anti Foreign League, and giving passing references to White Australia utterances by candidates during rallies in Lismore, the Star wasn’t greatly interested in raising dagoes as an issue for the May25 State election. (See under 'Undesirable Aliens' at for the story of the 'Tweed Anti Foreign League.')

The Star's first pronouncement on the subject came with the landing of the ‘Cephee’ early in the year carrying 700 Jugo-Slavs, 250 Greeks and Macedonians, 150 Italians, and 100 other nationalities... and generated an editorial: Frequently the newspapers contain references to migrants landing by the shipload in Australia…. Before proceeding further it is well to pause and consider, even to the extent of resuscitating ancient history, the policy subscribed by all Australian political parties, that of maintaining racial purity…. But the crucial point is that Australia should be kept Australian. In other words Australia should be the sacred repository of the best that lies in the ideals and ethics of the stock from which her people sprung.
The point arises: Are matters tending in the way indicated above? …Judging by events one has to give a negative answer. For instance the citizen has only to take up his daily newspaper and read in it messages of the arrival of foreigners such as Italians, Jugo-Slavs, Maltese and other un-British races
... and even if by long residence they become sufficiently acclimatised to absorb our customs, still the infusion of foreign blood must have its influence on the national character and life…..
It is indeed refreshing to note the arrivals of migrants from the British Isles, for it is only by the introduction of blood from the source that Australia can hope for a continuance of the ideals and ethics for which the nation stands and for which its forbears fought and suffered…. And repeated an article from a Melbourne newspaper:

Race Efficiency. Influx from Foreign Countries. View from New Aspect: Perhaps no question that has come before us of late has aroused more discussion and excited deeper feeling than that caused by the unexpected influx of migrants from Southern Europe. Their advent has been the cause generally of uneasiness and fear of the future. The general impression is that these immigrants from the Mediterranean littoral are not in all respects the most desirable additions, and that an influx in numbers bodes a certain amount of danger to the country we live in…. The people of Southern Europe are considered not to be up to the Anglo-Saxon standard or the Nordic type generally.  We have a vague distrust of these dark-skinned, somewhat under-sized, gesticulating, vehement strangers, who are making Australia their Mecca…. they have the reputation of being clannish, quarrelsome, quick to violence, and difficult to absorb, and that their very thriftiness is, in a way, a menace to the freer spending Australian, enabling them to undersell their labour....
But there is one aspect of the subject that seems to have been overlooked, and that is the biological point of view. Indices of national mental efficiency… show,
that the English were top of the pops and Greeks and Italians were down there with the Neanderthals (and Poles and Belgians).... The highest duty of our rulers is to see that the delicate mechanism of Australian efficiency, mentality, and intelligence is not lowered by a hair’s breath; that a nation inheriting an A1 mental standard should not allow anything to bring that high standard down even by a fraction.

And in reporting a meeting of the Tamworth New Settlers League on the eve of the election reckoned that The Italians were quickly taking possession and forming themselves into groups, and in some places it was not uncommon to walk around and never hear a word of English. This state of affairs will undoubtedly in time have a serious effect on the people of Australia....
They were working on the group system and they appear to have their own capital, whereby they would acquire a sugar plantation and after working it up would put one of their number in charge. The profit from this farm was apparently being used to acquire more farms, and so by this system they were gaining possession of farm after farm. There was a growing feeling that the Australian planter was being crowded out…. As time went on and the Italians came into possession of more of the plantations it was obvious that the Italian cane-cutting gangs would be given preference over the Australian gangsThe immigrants, too, were bringing with them their old feuds and characteristics….

Otherwise the Star was relatively benign on dagoes. Post election it carried reports of the goings-on in Queensland over the Ferry Report and the retorts by Christy Freeleagus on behalf of the Greeks, but made no editorial pontifications apart from a comment on the new Immigration Bill in July. The Type of Immigrant: For some years immigration has been a live question in Australia. Coupled with the need for immigrants has been the type of new immigrants required…. It (the Bill) aims at maintaining the purity and character of the British people, and checking the efforts of aliens and other immigrants who, inspired by foreign schools of thought, come here to make war upon Australian laws, institutions and industries. Any idea that a new continent can be made a ‘melting pot’ for all races of the earth is not generally endorsed in Australia, and rightly so….  Thereafter things settled down and the wicked Labour Party copped most the Star’s angst.

Late the following year there was a sermon on foreigner’s enclaves and immigrants from some other countries, who enter the commonwealth without consulting anybody and settle in colonies wherever they please. The Italian invasion of Queensland is a case in point. There are some parts of the state which are almost wholly Italian. They are just little bits of Italy transferred to Australia, the people retaining the habits and customs of their own country and showing no disposition to conform to those of the country of their adoption…. Settlement in colonies has a tendency to arrest this (assimilation) and that is the aspect of the case which requires consideration from those who desire to perpetuate British traditions in Australia....
The son of a foreigner who plays with Australian children, goes to school with them, and enters the workshops and labours amongst Australian youths and workmen, cannot escape from the effects of his environment. Unconsciously he absorbs the Australian outlook, with very small modification due to national characteristics, and will ultimately become as good an Australian as those of British stock. Another generation will make transformation complete. Many of the names which figured in the list of those who died for the Empire in the war supply convincing testimony that the descendants of foreigners who settled in Australia years ago had nothing foreign left about them but their names. That will inevitably be the case when immigrations of other races become part of the general population….
And it came to pass.

The same thread carried into 1927 with an editorial on White Australia: The Bishop of London, giving his impressions of his recent tour through the Dominions, said that a White Australia was not so much a policy in the Commonwealth as a passion…. His epigrammatic declaration possibly explains the reason why the White Australia policy is accepted by every section of the community…. While the White Australia policy was at first directed against Asiatics it has of late years begun to take on a wider significance. Immigration from some of the European countries which have not attained a high standard is developing at a rate which is causing some anxiety, and there can be little doubt that the time is rapidly approaching when the problem which this represents will have to be given serious consideration. The objection is not to immigrants of other nationalities of the right type making homes in Australia. Examples can easily be found of men and women of other blood than our own who have made admirable settlers and whose descendants have become as good Australians as those who sprang from British stock…. There can be no doubt that the alien immigrants who are now coming into the country in increasing numbers do not even represent the best of their races. The social conditions under which they and their ancestors have lived for generations have created a gap between them and Australian ideals which cannot be readily bridged. While the economic effect of this new type of immigration is not without its serious side the important issue is the influence it will exert on the race.…

And later in the year an article on Racial Purity. Influx of Southern Europeans. Melbourne Thursday: A deputation from the Australian Natives Association to-day waited upon the Prime Minister and drew attention to the large influx of Southern Europeans to Australia. It was said that the maintenance of racial purity was a vital objection to Southern Europeans. The objection was not one of superiority; everyone admired their national spirit, but they came from different environment, and it was believed that the influx of undue numbers of these people would lower the Australian social conditions…, generating an editorial on the Influx of Southern Europeans: Interesting figures regarding immigration to Australia are contained in a statement issued by the Commonwealth Statistician the other day. There is no falling off in the number seeking admission to the country as compared with previous statistics…. The fact is revealed that there has been an influx of Southern Europeans, the ratio being 19.5 per cent of the total number of immigrants as against a percentage of 9.3 for the corresponding period last year. Some of these people are of undoubtedly of a good class so far as developing a country is concerned, but on the other hand there are some who are not of a desirable type. The point would seem to stand out that the influx of the foreign element is in too great a proportion. Australia requires immigrants, but naturally looks to people of the British race rather than those of other nationalities. A deputation which waited upon the Premier during his recent visit to Lithgow referred to the influx from Southern Europe as being to the detriment of British subjects, the point at issue in this particular case being that of the prevalence of unemployment.
Bound up in immigration is the question of a White Australia…. One has only to take a visit to Sydney to observe the great proportion of aliens who are in business in the smaller shops. Reflection will also bring a realisation that there is a decided ‘corner’ in many of these businesses.… Strict interpretation of the law as the law prevails is one of the methods of keeping Australia white. We have a unique opportunity of maintaining an Australia reasonably ‘white’. No other country in the world is in the same fortunate position so far as the colour question is concerned, and our welfare depends upon wise statesmanship and efficient carrying out of the laws. This policy is not unchristian – it is merely the preservation of the white race and the standards of the white race....
Thereafter the dago problem faded as immigration slowed and the Depression approached.

Lismore 1939 (Oakes Oval centre left)

Great Depression

The economic fortunes of the region fluctuated widely through the 1920s, and while there was continuing café turbulence the rate stepped-up upon arrival of the Depression: In late 1929 Nick Poulos seemed to have walked away from the Byron Café owing and being owed money; his brother George and family, having given up on the Gopoulos Dining Rooms, followed him to Sydney in late 1930, at the same time Harry Nick Crethar, new owner of the Byron/Regent, was in trouble, along with Theo Fardouly in the ice business; in early 1930 Menus Crethar returned home after mysterious machinations with his Woodlark shop; in mid 1930 Athena Andrulakis offloaded her Richmond Café and retired from active business; in late 1930 John Modeas seemed to have walked away from his Apollo Café, while his alleged ex-partner, Peter Nick Crethar, went on to struggle in the fruit business until reorienting as the Monterey Café; and in late 1930 Jack Bavea changed directions, walking away from his Garden of Roses café to become a full-time ‘function caterer.’

Compounding problems involved competition from the bakers, who started to expand their product range and make inroads into a traditional café trade, McLeish’s new Golden Crust Bakery being the most aggressive marketer. George Adams opened in Molesworth St in 1930 and began offering a range of cakes and biscuits (‘Rich Genoa cake’ at 1/4d per lb, ‘Iced Sultana cake’ at 11½d per lb, ‘coconut wafer biscuits’ at 1/6d per lb…), directly competing with those cafés with their own pastry/bakery departments. The grocery departments of the Department Stores, some of which went self-service in 1930, also expanded their product lines, including confectionery, cutting across another café function. (McDermott's even introduced an in-store 'tea rooms' service in 1932.) And the commercial ice cream makers were multiplying like rabbits, causing wholesaler Fardouly to weep and generating wails from those café proprietors making their own stuff.

But above all problems was the drying up of paying customers, other businesses finding trading just as tough, including the hairdressers, who, like the Greeks, had colluded in price fixing for many years, a haircut stable at 1/6d until a new upstart dropped his price a big 33% to 1/- in early 1930, forcing the others to progressively follow suit. And speaking of suits, Maloney & Son, the tailors occupying the 3-storey building on Comino’s original site, dropped the price of their handmade suits from £5/5/- to £3/15/-, starting a price war that lasted through to 1934. The Greeks however, continued to collude on 1/6d for the three courser.

Paradoxically, the Star was reporting a feeling of confidence in Lismore by the end of 1929, running counter to everywhere else in the region. During 1929 there was a building turnaround with 87 new dwellings valued at £60,688 erected, the highest number since the record of 116 in 1923. And the Star reckoned that the majority of business people state that the trade on Christmas Eve established new records, and this applies to businesses of many different kinds (and on the same page reporting that in the mining centre of West Maitland a number of business places are ‘going broke’; they haven’t any Christmas stock in.… It is dreadful to see the half-clothed, ragged people going around….) In the past 11yrs no fewer than 900 new houses have been erected, which is something of an achievement for a country town.… Continual advancement is undoubtedly in store for the town and district… said the editorial. And Norco had had its best results since 1920, the last year of the war-time price fixing, giving suppliers an average monthly return of 16.75d per lb of butter for 1929 (although in his annual report Mr McInnes, the State Director of Dairying, said the outlook was looking grim.) But the Star, while itself insisting on cash up-front for all adverts, was into confidence building and only gave a passing word to the recent Wall Street collapse, the retrenching of all council outdoor staff, mounting unemployment across the region and local work relief schemes. (In 1931 building activity slumped to a record low of 28 new houses, valued at £16,010, while the butter cheque to farmers hit its all time low of 8.07d in 1934, each penny fall representing a loss of £15,000/mth to the region’s 4000 Norco suppliers and a corresponding loss of spending money at the cafes.)

In Dec29 the first of the desperation remedial measures had been introduced with a reduction in the basic wage and abolition of rural awards. In March 1930 came a reduction in public servant’s salaries; in May came a reversion to the 48hr working week and the start of work rationing; in July came the introduction of a tax on wages to raise money for an Unemployment Relief Fund, which by early September had seen Lismore and surrounds the recipient of £14,000 in grants, enabling the employment of 66 of the 377 registered unemployed in rationed jobs, mainly on roads in the surrounding Shires.

By May 1930 there were 110 local residents unemployed in Lismore, while many more were transiting through on walkabout in a search for work. Thereafter unemployment increased exponentially, although it's not known whether any local Greeks went on the dole. All persisted with the shaky café game, probably following the Northern Star’s advice in mid Jun30 that Public bodies in the Richmond River district of New South Wales have also advocated the principle... of Britishers getting first preference for jobs.

Outside Lismore the first grants went to Terania Shire for the Cawongla to Kunghur Road (£1132 in late Jul30, increased to £4000 in early August, which initially employed 12 men but was increased to 50 as work progressed), and £1134 to Tomki for the Casino to Pelican Creek (Spring Grove Road). In mid August it was advised that Labour exchanges throughout the country have received instructions that the migration of unemployed to distant places where work is going on will be prevented as far as possible and local men get preference. Thus Terania council will absorb the unemployed men on its own electoral roll before engaging men from outside, presumably including Lismore and other ‘local’ districts, but ahead of those from further afield. Lismore exchange has this week received applications for registration for men from the Tablelands and from Queensland. Two weeks after that, 4Sep30, the Star said that Men have registered at Lismore from all parts of the Commonwealth. Townsville, Brisbane, Bundaberg, Trangie, Maitland are among the registrations noticed. Three women have registered, and are open for engagements for domestic work of any kind....

But in late September 1930, just after the State election campaign got underway, the Star advised that Motorists around the Lismore district comment that during the past few weeks there has been a large reduction in the number of men on the roads. Since it is difficult to find any other cause it may be assumed that the unemployed have been to a great extent absorbed by the relief works started in all parts of the State. At the Lismore sale yards there appear to be a number of men who have taken up permanent residence and this hardly fits in with the intention of the municipal council when it decided to take no action to prevent men camping at the yards for a night or two.

And cost cutting by the municipal council was still on-going. In a debate in Aug30 on staff costs and the abolition of the position of deputy town clerk and downgrades of other positions, the councillors acknowledged that it was fully cognizant of the fact that it was impossible to borrow any more money…. At present the people were groaning under the heavy rates and the recent taxation (the unemployment relief tax on wages) was like the last straw on the camel’s back. The council had only its own revenue to depend upon and must prune its expenses…. At this time squeezing a bit more out of electricity was a significant agenda item; the current 1240 consumers connected generating over £20,000 into council coffers.

Throughout all this the Northern Star was alert but not alarmed. At the formation of the short-lived Lismore Unemployment Relief Committee, aka the Lismore Community Chest, in early May30, to which all Greek café owners contributed confectionery for money-raising raffles, the Star reckoned that this does not mean that this town is retrogressing. Unemployment is much more rife in most towns than in Lismore.... And in mid May, with the increasing number of transients on walkabout looking for work, used a rationale still current: The comparatively favourable conditions on the North Coast induce many Sydney unemployed to set their faces in this direction…. And in late July, when the Council further rationed employee’s work, the Star published a ‘stop whingeing’ editorial: Lismore today is a busy town, and the Richmond is the most closely settled country district in the State. The people are living in comfort compared with those who came to the district in the early days…, perhaps because it was trying to build an argument against the increasingly vocal local Labourites.  And in September in warning against the election of Labour said We on the North Coast are in the unique position, for the full effects of the depression have not been felt here; nevertheless, depression is in the air, and even in this highly-favoured locality there are people who cannot find work…, but Mr Lang will make it worse. Also in September it got carried away reporting the Civic reception for Mr Iwasaki, of the Japanese Department of Commerce and Industry, who said that one thing that had struck him during his short experience of the Northern Rivers district was that the trade depression was less noticeable here than in other parts of the State…, at the same time reassuring the farmers who …in times of stress have a number of advantages not possessed by dwellers in cities and towns..., it is the men in closest contact with Mother Earth who can best survive. That is one reason Lismore and district feels the present depression less than the cities – one reason it will never be be so hard hit…. Lismore and North Coast towns have their prosperity on more secure foundations than cities where the populations are engaged in satisfying non-essential wants. This fact, likely to become increasingly apparent during the next few years, will certainly stem the drift to the cities, and may turn the tide in the opposite direction.As it turned out, Richmond did suffer a ‘relatively’ benign Great Depression, but in the interim had to undergo a turn in purgatory.

And in an end of year summary: The Lismore district during the year has been a kind of ‘promised land’ to thousands of men on the roads, some seeking employment and some seeking easy living. This influx is one of the penalties of a reputation of being better off than most parts, but it is not too high a price to pay for the reputation. Naturally the district could not absorb all the unemployed of the Commonwealth and, the people being ‘clanny’ and inclined to prefer those they have known for years to the stranger, the promised land has not been the haven that some expected….

By this time, late Dec30, all the election bribe money had been spent and thereafter it was life on the dole as Premier Lang's Bolsheviks diverted all relief tax money to Sydney/Newcastle projects. The unemployed had to be satisfied with ration vouchers issued by the police until Premier Steven’s economic gurus returned in mid 1932.

Lismore’s unemployment seems to have peaked in Jun1931 when the Labour Exchange had 1162 on the books, 85% of whom were locals, although the number of food coupons issued by the police didn’t reach its peak of 2841 (£2331) until the month of June 1932. (South Lismore seems to have been the most distressed - In Mar32 Lismore's dole bill of £2131 was made up of £619 worth of food coupons issued in Lismore proper, £1036 distributed in South Lismore and £476 in North.) The dole rapidly declined and after Jun33, with the introduction of the work-for-the-dole scheme, was down to an average of 300 issues per month (~£120 on a different ration scale). Work-for-the-dole money however, was being paid out at a rate of £500/fortnight by Dec34, an average of 220 blokes out of a pool of ~400 unemployed on the job at any one time, while about 60 unemployed were still drawing rations.

Perhaps prompted by optimism of an economic turnaround with the routing of the Bolsheviks at the 1932 election, in August Angelo Crethar and his cousin Nick Crones paid the highest price for a Lismore property for many years when they forked out £16,500 for the Mason Building, home to their Woodlark café. Where they found this large bag of gold is a mystery, but at this time the bulk of their fellow citizens were still wondering from where their next meal was coming - the Lismore police were authorizing the issue of an average 700 food coupons per week to the local unemployed, amounting to £7800 in the last 4mths, with the chits now being redeemable at most grocery stores, although McDermott’s Department Store looks like it continued to win the bulk of this trade. But thereafter the dole started to decline with the advent of work relief schemes.

Nick Crones (left) and Eric Crethar in Spinks Park 1944.
(Courtesy Harry Eric Crethar)

The Crethar & Crones purchase, representing £370/ft, was just one month after Walter Gray sold the Capitol Cafe building in Molesworth for a record £375/ft and the rebuild of McDermott’s Department store in Woodlark was completed at a cost of £5000. Four months later, Jan33, Burns Philp & Co bought two old wooden buildings further down Molesworth, housing Jones Refreshment Rooms, Chemist Wilkinson and Mewing’s Cash and Carry Grocery Store, for £16,250 (or £325/ft) and then proceeded to spend another £5000 to erect Penny’s Department Store. Six months later Penny’s neighbour, the giant A.G. Robertson's Department Store on the corner of Molesworth and Magellan, bought the adjacent Paling’s Building for £312/ft and proceeded to spend another £1000 to blend it into the main building. At the same time McLean’s Department Store next to the Capitol Café underwent remodeling and almost doubled in size, while the block next to the old AGR’s site on the river side of Molesworth, left vacant after the fire which destroyed the place in Nov30, was sold to the Union Bank for £3335 (£115/ft), and the Sidney & Hacking building next to the Regent Café in Keen went for £2900 (or £132/ft). Twelve months later (Oct34) the Notaras Bros forked out £100/ft for the old Star Court Theatre site. And all while the improved and unimproved capital value of the town continued to fall (a ucv of £1,333,910 in 1931 to £1,155,723 in 1934, at which time council reduced the rates for the fourth year running in the face of continuing ratepayer defaults.)

What was happening residentially wasn’t matching the expectations of the speculators around the CBD. At the end of 1934 rate defaults were still ongoing and council sold the properties of 10 delinquents, realising a total of just £397/10/-. Most of the offenders were in distressed North Lismore where a year earlier, Dec33, the Simmon’s Estate attempted to auction 15 building blocks, 13 of which were passed in and the other two selling for £7/ft (a 58ft x 123ft block in Bridge St) and £4/ft (running back to Leycester Creek off Simmons St.)

However, the year 1934 marked the turnaround in the benchmark construction industry with £110,187 worth of Development Applications approved, the highest since the aberrational record of £126,831 in 1930, which consisted of a few big ticket items like Woodlawn College. In Jul35 the Commercial Bank next Coronakes Cafe in Molesworth sold for £25,500 (£300/ft). The Bank then acquired the Golden Globe Cafe and its neighbour across the road for £2750 (£125/ft) and £4760 (£216/ft) respectively. (The Valuer-General had valued both at £162/ft in 1930, reducing to £100/ft in 1933 when the business activities on the western side of Molesworth Street slackened.... Once regarded as almost equaling in value the now busy shopping sections, properties on the western side a few years ago slumped in value as retail business sites....) In Nov35 Dorgan's new £25,000 Vogue Theatre opened on the old AGR's site. The Commercial Bank’s new £8000 edifice was opened in Jul36. In Nov36 the single storey building housing Criss’s Fish Buffet further south on the river side of Molesworth was passed in at £120/ft and its 2-storey neighbour for £160/ft. In Jun37 Crethar & Crones took a hit on their investment when they sold their 'Mason Exchange Building' to Pidcocks Pty Ltd for £357/ft. In Nov37 the Northcott Building next the old Commercial Bank was transformed into a Tudor style edifice at a cost £5000 (and Jones Tea Room, the successors to Coronakes, morphed into the Tudor Cafe.)

[And in Mar39 J.C. McIntosh Jnr acquired the old wooden 'Lance Building' on the inside of Molesworth for £7812 (or £312/10/- per ft) to provide Angelo Crethar with his new Air-Conditioned Cafe. Upon completion of the new two-storey brick edifice in Nov39 the Star boasted that Building activity has been so marked in Lismore this year that there is likelihood that the record value (£151,183) of buildings erected last year will be broken....  Two months after the McIntosh purchase Dr Boyd-Law acquired the two-storey brick 'Pharmacy Building' further down Molesworth, on the northern side of the old Commercial Bank, for £11,300. The price is equivalent to £530 a foot, and is the highest paid for a business property in Lismore.... (In 1950 F.W. Lance sold his remaining building, on Crethar's southern side, for £550/ft.) In Aug40 the new £12,000 unifying facade around an assortment of old buildings forming AGR's new home on the corner of Molesworth and Magellan was completed, at which time the lean war years arrived.]

Café activity around the block had gathered pace from 1935, while unemployment relief schemes continued to generate a large slice of the spending money for a couple more years, notwithstanding that the region's economic mainstay, the dairy industry, continued to sail through the doldrums. (And by early 1938 the struggling farmers were still concerned about preserving their fragile standard of living when 70 delegates from 50 branches of the powerful Richmond District Council of the Primary Producers Union resolved by overwhelming majority to ask the Federal Government to curtail alien migration.... Delegates contended that southern Europeans were not accustomed to the high standard of living in Australia, did not live up to it, did nothing to maintain it, but still competed with Australians....)

Lismore CBD 1939 - Keen Street foreground, Magellan left, Woodlark right.

Woodlark foreground, Keen left, Molesworth right.

Flooded Lismore 1954 - Intersection of Molesworth/Magellan foreground



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