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Aliens of the Tweed and Brunswick

Chapter 2


First Contact

Theo Patras, aka Zeannopolus (sic), 16yrs old when he landed from the village of Kertezi near Patras in the northern Peloponnese in 1902, seems to have been the first Greek game enough to venture into the deep north town when, in mid 1906, he opened a restaurant in a large shop next to Bennett & Sons’ new store on the corner of Burringbar and Dalley Streets. It’s a fair assumption he adopted the more easily pronounceable Patras name from the city of Patras, which was a favoured migration destination of those from the Ionian Islands, particularly Ithaca and Zakynthos (Zante).

Intersection of Burringbar and Dalley Streets, 1906. (Sydney Oyster Saloon left)


Sydney Oyster Saloon 1906 (Photos courtesy Brunswick Valley Historical Society)

He possibly had some association with Vassilios Patras who formed the Brisbane firm of Patras & Co, which had opened an Oyster Saloon in George Street in 1896, and later another in Queen Street, until disappearing off the screen coincidental with Theo’s appearance in the booming town of Lismore with the Andrulakis (Lakis) family. (At this stage it looks like the Dandes Bros can cut the cake as proprietors of the first Greek oyster saloons in Brisbane, John opening a shop in George St around 1894 and George in Queen St shortly afterwards, notwithstanding the claims of 'Greeks' Salvatore Zagami, an oyster merchant of Breakfast Creek, and George Stevens, an oyster saloon keeper of Brunswick St., in 1889.) 

After the disappearance of Vasilios (who, in 1892, had established an Oyster Saloon in Newcastle where a strong Ithacan enclave was developing), Theo became the only identifiable bearer of the Patras name until mid 1915 when 28yr old George Patras, 'born near town of Patras', was spotted in Brisbane upon enlistment in the AIF. There's also a likely connection with Arthur George Lyvanas of Patras, a probable shipmate who landed in 1902, aged 30, and established The Sydney Oyster Saloon at Kyogle in late 1906.

Theo had spent about 18mths in Lismore, introducing a 'Mr Whippy' service amongst other odd activities, until someone pointed him towards Mullum, which he found on the verge of a large growth spurt. In 1906 Mullum township, with a population of 530, was barely established and still basically consisted of a few general stores and other businesses servicing the rapidly growing farming community of 2300 people. A lot of the farm hands and their families supporting this growth were living in the boarding houses and pubs in town, making Theo a welcome addition to the catering scene. Apart from C. S. Brazill’s bakery, which provided ‘Ladies Tea Rooms with high-class Quadrille music’ and presumably an 'all hours' service, there appears to be no other establishment offering meals outside the set times of the pubs and boarding houses. It’s doubtful the Chinese fruiterers had a catering sideline. 

Coronation Day parade down Burringbar Street 1911. (Two-storey Bakery building next Bank of NSW right). (Courtesy BVHS)

Theo was open for business from seven in the morning till midnight, probably necessitating a large staff working in shifts, but the only other Greeks identified at this time were Con Patras, a likely brother, Peter Carkagis and George John Sklavos. Con went into partnership with a bloke named Comino in early 1907 to take over the Lyvanas cafe at Kyogle. However, they went bust within six months, subsequently disappearing into the woodwork, although Con is probably the same Con Patras identified as a 32yr old cane cutter at Innisfail in 1916. Comino, a likely Kytherian, remains a mystery. Peter Carkagis, from the village of Rizes, near Tripolis in Arcadia, shifted to Ballina in 1907 while George Sklavos opened The American Bar in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in 1910.

George Sklavos, born in the Kytherian village of Mitata in 1882, but raised in the Kytherian colony in Smyrna, Asia Minor, landed in 1900, and appears to be the first Kytherian into the Brunswick Valley, allegedly arriving via Wellington (NSW) after some time in Lithgow, Katoomba and Sydney. He was arguably responsible for drawing his fellow villagers to this area. They came to be the predominant Kytherian group in the district, particularly the Feros families, all of whom were from the Sklavanika quarter of the village. George was an astute businessman and a generous donor to public works projects in his village, including the building of the first schoolhouse, giving Australia and the north coast a high profile amongst the Mitatians. He became foundation vice president of the Queensland branch of Hellenic Chamber of Commerce of Australasia in 1928 (while the late Lismore identity, John Stavrianos Comino, became foundation president.) George died in Brisbane in 1949 leaving half his estate to the restoration of the village church, a project recently finished by the filmmaker George Miller, whose father, Jim Miliotis, spent his early schooling in Ballina and Lismore under the guardianship of his Feros uncles. Jim completed his schooling in Brisbane with Jack and Jim Sklavos, the nephews of George. Tony Feros of Byron Bay was George Sklavos’s best man (Koumbaris) upon his marriage to fellow villager, Maria Karapati, the sister of the illustrious Patty brothers of Brisbane, in 1924. (All of which padding reinforces the proposition that early Greek chain migration was a family affair.)

Theo’s business, The Sydney Fruit Mart, evolved into The Sydney Oyster Saloon and Refreshment Rooms in 1907 after he enlarged the premises to provide a one hundred seat dining room, making it amongst the largest restaurants on the north coast at the time. The official reopening, on 2Nov07, generated a profit of £5/5/- (~$500 in 2000 dollars), which was donated to the Agricultural Society for prize money, a practice he continued over the ensuing years. As well as providing day-to-day meals his establishment by this time had become the main outlet for those organizations holding intermediate sized functions, while the larger social events were held at the newly built School of Arts where Brazill had the catering contract. Theo’s successors, the Carkagis Bros, later cornered this market.

Late 1909 saw the police finalising the Commonwealth electoral roll for the Richmond Electorate, showing 339 names added and 250 expunged for the Mullum subdivision, giving a net increase of 87 to 1258 in the last 12mths. After the election, in May1910, the roll was again revised showing the numbers registered in Mullum itself had jumped from 795 to 918, 463 new names having been added and 340 taken off in about six months. While some of this turnover may be simply due to redrawn boundaries it still suggests a high mobility rate, implying Mullum was still a frontier town with new settlers tasting the soil before moving on to different coloured pastures. At this time too, the Star was full of adverts for crown land ballots by the Queensland Government, attracting a lot of Mullum opportunists. As early as 1906 52 families from the district had sailed off together to settle at Atherton. Such defections to Queensland eventually prompted the NSW State Government to accelerate the opening of more crown land around the Richmond-Tweed.

In 1910 the Star carried an article on the promotion of Constable Watts who had been based in town since 1901, at which time in the town proper there were not more than 50 inhabitants, and the district – which then embraced portions of Byron Bay and Bangalow patrol district – had a population of only 1317, there being 72 dairies; and as a proof of the rapid progress made in Mullumbimby police district the population now approaches 4000, while the number of dairies has increased to nearly 250. Police figures show the Mullum district population at 2325 by 1905, with 185 dairies and 2100 acres under crops. The Mullum district surpassed Byron the following year, albeit both with reduced numbers, but by 1911 growth had peaked and thereafter numbers fluctuated around 3800. In the meantime however, Mullum businesses had continued to prosper and it wasn’t long before others erected feedlots. 

Theo’s first competition came from Mrs Nicholson with Dining and Refreshment Rooms in new premises next to Albert Richard’s Store in Burringbar Street..., a couple of doors from Brazill's Bakery. It seems to have been a large establishment, titled The New Firm and offering a separate private room for Ladies and three course meals a speciality. Theo must have sensed a serious rival as he immediately underwent more renovations and also began extolling the virtues of his new private room for ladies.

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Colourful Competition

Then came ‘The White Australia Café’, opened with patriotic fervour in the new Mallam’s Building on Saturday 8May1909 by Baker Bros, the nephews of W.R. Baker, an acclaimed newspaper proprietor and famed Norco director. In the weeks prior to the opening large adverts heralding the event consisted of half a page of blank space with a statement underneath merely saying ‘Like the above it is all white’. Obviously the proprietors meant white as in clean and hygienic but, obstinately, the olive and thin-skinned Theo Patras chose to interpret the name as some sort of anti dago statement and less than six months later sold out to the Carkagis Bros and left town, just as campaigning for the entertaining 'White Australia election' got underway (in which election Albert Baker, the father of Baker Bros and recent Atherton returnee, became the campaign manager for an independent Liberal candidate, running large adverts in the Star simply saying Vote for Nathan and White Australia with no other election issues.) In the meantime Theo may have been trying a new marketing ploy when he dropped the term ‘oyster saloon’, a concept almost synonymous with Greek establishments at that time, and changed the name of his restaurant to The Mullumbimby Refreshment Palace. There is no record of him anywhere in Australia after this, so presumably the humourless chap either returned to Greece or tried another country pre war.

The mischievous editor placed the White Ocker advert next to a court report on the dismissal of charges brought by Theo against his neighbouring shopkeeper for slander (He was called a chicken thief) and assault (He was spat in the face). In his court case he called as witnesses ‘some of his country men’, but they weren’t identified in the Star. For some reason the case generated a lot of interest and also was carried in the regional newspaper, The Northern Star, in far more detail and even-handed reporting. It transpired that the neighbourly businessman had an ongoing feud with Theo. His blacksmith’s shop fronted Dalley Street with the rear of his property adjoining the backyard of Theo’s restaurant where the chooks were penned. The chooks were indeed Theo’s, but the Police Magistrate ruled that the words were not legally defamatory. As for the spittle assault, the magistrate placed more credence on the blacksmith’s string of witnesses, who swore that the incident never took place, than on Theos’. The only witness with a close Greek name was Alex Chapela, a waiter. (Possibly aka Tsopelas - a Spartan name.) The case was heard before an overcrowded Court House, but nobody cried fowl. And the cock crowed three times.

Mallam’s Building, Burringbar Street 1913. (Courtesy BVHS)

['White Mullumbimby' had featured in the formation of the Municipality in 1908, a letter writer named 'Cornstalk’ probably speaking for most when he said lets show the other councils on the North Coast that the motto of Mullumbimby Municipality, the latest addition to their ranks, will be ‘White Australia’ right from the start, as from experience it has been proved to be undoubtedly the best. (Using Trove as guide, the only other such named cafes in Australia opened at Kalgoolie in 1906, Narrabri 1913, Inverell 1914, Wagga 1926, Armidale 1927, Grenfell 1932 and Tenterfield on 4Dec33, its proprietor, Alderman Archie Miller, heading his adverts 'Advance Tenterfield' in his successful Depression marketing strategy to see off the competition of George Tsicalas across the road.)

In the face of the white ocker competition the Carkagis Bros kept their cool and upped the ante by offering meals around the clock, probably breaking the trading regulations. Dimitrios and Samouil Spiro Carkagis (Karkazis/Karkanztis) became the main face of the business after Peter re-established himself at Manly in 1914, by which time Dimitri (Jim) had gained a reputation as a skilled confectioner. (Bernard East in his reminiscences recalls that on his yearly visit to town from the family farm at Huonbrook ‘... my greatest joy was the lolly pig we always were presented with on arrival at Jimmy the Dagoes’.)

The Carkagis/Cariasis/Karkazis/… may have been responsible for spreading the word about Australia amongst their fellow villagers, and other nearby Arcadian villages, as a number of their compatriots were subsequently identified on the North Coast. Peter and Jim allegedly landed from Rizes in 1893, aged 19 and 13 respectively and, according to family folklore, initially tried their luck as gold fossickers in Marble Bar, WA. But they must have returned home at some stage as their official arrival in Australia is recorded as 1907 and 1902 respectively. Jim then spent nearly 5yrs on and off in Sydney, with sorties into the countryside, mainly around Bathurst and Bega, running short-lived cafes until opening the first Greek Oyster Saloon in Ballina in 1907, shortly after being declared persona non grata in Sydney. (In February that year he and Alex Lakis, the eldest son of the above Andrulakis family, were in the employ of Anthony Comino of Pitt St when they went a little over-the-top in trying to extract fair payment from a dissatisfied customer, who had refused to cough-up for his stewed oysters. They each copped 6mths suspended sentences, including Comino. While Jim persevered with the caprice of cafe customers, Lakis did a runner to Brisbane to become a taxi proprietor, at least until 1914 when he returned to Sydney to marry and sign up for WW1. Post war he was again spotted driving taxis around Brisbane.)

But, for whatever reason, ~12mths later Jim passed the Ballina business to Peter and went off to establish the first Greek presence in Maclean, where brother Sam (b. 1888) joined him a little later. Around mid 1910 both the Ballina and Maclean outlets were sold and all the brothers came to Mullum.

Peter had come directly to the region upon re-landing in 1907, allegedly independently of Jim, and gone straight to work for Theo Patras at Mullum, perhaps presupposing a connection. After his Mullum/Ballina/Mullum sojourn he moved to The Corso at Manly in 1914 to establish a cafe, but subsequently leased the shop, where the later Murbah identity, Con Vlismas, was a likely employee, and returned home in mid 1916. In early 1921 he came back with his new wife Vasiliki Chiaculas and 2yr old son Spiro to resume command at Manly, remaining until the mid 1930s before resettling in this region with the acquisition of the Canberra Café in Lismore from Paul Coronakes (and later relocating the Canberra to the shop of Jack Feros, the brother of George and Tony of Byron Bay).

The Carkagis were cunning in the marketing game, sponsoring the Mullum Football Club and donating trophies as well as holding regular soirées for the fans. Their cafe was also the venue for a meeting in Nov1909 that led to the formation of the Brunswick Heads Life Saving Club. They continued to host the club’s award ceremonies and the regular conferring of Bronze Medallions for many years. The White Ocker responded by hosting the inaugural meeting of The Brunswick River Amateur Rowing Club in 1911. Peter Carkagis also joined the club, maybe with prankish intent, but he was hopeless, coming last by a long shot in all his races. After the closing of the Ocker in 1915 the Carkagis Bros also became the hosts for the Rowing Club. The pubs later supplanted the cafes in this sort of sports' sponsoring.

At the same time as the Carkagis Bros escalated the competition Mrs Nicholson sold out to Augustis Eggins, first cousin of the White Australian Baker Bros, but he only lasted 6mths before selling out to Davis & Harris, who in turn folded about mid 1910 and the premises absorbed into the Richards' general store, known as The Star Store.

By early 1911 the Star was able to report that the Mullum Municipality, now with a population of 952, was still growing strongly. CBD building activity was still robust but by midyear business had started to flatten out, leaving many struggling to share the available pie. The year 1911 also marked the peak in district growth. Farm values started to collapse in 1912, with only about 5% reaching reserve prices at auction, while residential blocks in town fell to about 10 quid each. The start of a prolonged drought in 1912 didn’t help, although returns from dairying had plateaued anyway and, while roughly keeping pace with inflation, weren't to show any substantial increase until the subsidies of WW2. The number of town residents touched the magic 1000 mark in 1912, but the following year numbers fell dramatically to 917, with the number of occupied houses falling from 216 to 189.  On the other hand the number of ‘aliens’ living in town increased from 20 to 32, the majority probably being the dreaded ‘Hindoos’ who later drifted away to safer places when hostilities escalated. (The year 1911 marked a peak in the benchmark construction industry throughout the whole Richmond-Tweed region, remaining in the doldrums until activity picked up post war.)

In late 1911 the free-standing Carkagis building was burnt out in a fire that consumed the 7 buildings from the Dalley Street corner down to Mallam’s Store, but they almost immediately began trading from the new Withford’s Building around the corner in Dalley Street. Their loss, the second largest after Thornton’s Store on the corner, was estimated at £600 with insurance only covering £350. Jim lost all his personal documents in the fire, which caused him more than a few hassles with subsequent Alien Registration. In mid 1912 the Simpson’s Buildings were completed and they took up a shop in much the same position as their earlier cafe, on which site, after many makeovers, sits the present The Empire Café. Their purpose-built cafe was the largest shop in the block, having three large windows across the front for the displaying of produce, two separate dining rooms and a bedroom out the back. One dining room subsequently became a ladies’ saloon with a piano installed. This was posh stuff for Mullum.

Burringbar Street 1910. (Courtesy BVHS)

The White Ocker followed suit and also managed to squeeze in two dining rooms, but shortly afterwards the proprietors tossed in the towel and it subsequently went through the hands of a couple of owners (including the Mayor's sister) until the Feros Bros administered the coup de grace in mid 1915. The cafe, eventually dubbed The Popular, remained Greek until it closed in 2007.

Vasilios and Alexandros Ioannis Feros, from Mitata on Kythera, had arrived in town in 1914 and marked time with the acquisition of a restaurant at an unknown location in Burringbar Street. The White Australia simply became The Feros Café in their hands, but maybe they toyed with taking the mickey with a name like Mavri Xenitia ('this black foreign land'.) [Coincidentally, another White Australia Cafe opened at Armidale in mid 1927 next to the Waratah Cafe of Jack Theo Feros, the uncle of Theo Psaltis, the proprietor of The  Popular Cafe for its last 57yrs.]

Yet it’s hard to see how it happened; with patriots running amok at the time The White Australia should have had a captive clientele. The War Precautions Act, introduced in October 1914 and proclaimed in February 1915, was initially meant to apply to those naughty pacifists, socialists and trade unionists who would subvert or impede the war effort, but it gradually came to include the right of the Government to censor newspapers, prohibit public meetings, arrest without warrant anyone judged a ‘subversive’, and their detention without trial for the duration of the war. The Government continued to build on the act with many additional regulations until all ‘naturalised aliens’ were included under its umbrella, with their movements restricted, rights to own firearms removed, forbidden to own wireless transmitters, access to motorcars and petrol denied, and a host of other irritating minor measures (eg, they couldn't change their names to something more British). 'Any alien friend or alien enemy over the age of 15' was obliged to report regularly to his local police station, carry an identity pass and have his places of residence restricted. Approval from the local police was required before any alien could conduct trips for business, social or employment purposes, requirements that remained in force until 1921. The secret alien census of Jun1916 and compulsory registration in Oct1916 were conducted to identify all such people, including Greeks.

Greece remained neutral through to mid 1917 when it joined the side of the Allies, but during the wishy washy period there were a number of anti-Greek riots in which Greeks and Greek businesses suffered the wrath of Australian soldiers. Between 1916 and 1921 the Australian Government placed a special prohibition on the entry of Greeks to Australia and denied naturalization to those not already pukka Aussies – except for those over 65. Queensland later took it a bit further and appointed a Royal Commission in 1925 which recommended that the entry of Greeks be ‘altogether prohibited’ on the grounds that they represented a ‘menace’ to the community in which they settled. The Greeks protested that their cooking wasn’t that bad. 

If the Star is to be taken as the paper of record, then there were no instances of wog walloping in Mullum during the war. The last edition of 1915 reported the wrecking of German shops in Lismore, (where David Andronicos had prudently put the Olympia Cafe in mothballs), and rumours of disturbances to take place on New Year’s Eve at Mullum, but there were no follow-ups in the next edition two weeks later. (And on the madness of mob rule, three of the four 'German' businesses trashed and looted in the Lismore riot by ~2000 merrymakers were run by born and bred Australians.) The Carkagis Bros probably bought peace by being prominent amongst those donating large sums to the various war funds set up almost immediately hostilities broke out. Five people also pledged monthly donations to The Patriotic Fund for the duration of the war, the Carkagis Bros pledging the largest amount of one guinea. By the end of 1914 this fund had accumulated £510.

At least 50 Greeks served in the Australian armed forces during WW1. Nevertheless, the Star had many unfortunate references to Greece during the early war years, which would have coloured the attitudes of the citizens. It also carried reports of the trashing of Greek restaurants elsewhere, particularly those targeted by rioting soldiers in Sydney, Manly, Liverpool and Newcastle, (but glossing over the fun at the Freeleagus cafe in Brisbane), so it’s remarkable that the Mullum citizens restrained themselves, or at least the Star’s omission of any incidents implied they restrained themselves.

Notwithstanding anti-alien feelings, the war was playing havoc with cafe trading anyway, courtesy of price fixing by the Necessary Commodities Commission, lack of spending money in the distressed dairy industry, loss of a traditional customer base to the AIF and huge competition for female labour. Norco and the Northern Star eloquently summarised the 1915 plight of the dairy industry thus: ... For years the dark days of the year 1915 will live in the memories of those who passed through them, and the dubious story of the great drought – the greatest that has ever stricken the district since dairying became its staple industry – and other features which have made the year so fraught with anxiety for all sections of the community, will be told and retold on the North Coast like that of the disastrous bank crisis of 1893 and other calamities which have jeopardised the welfare of the people. Without exception the past year was the most tortuous period that has ever occurred in the history of dairying on the North Coast…
Not alone was there a huge decrease in production, but also there was an enormous diminution in the means of production. Extensive depletion of dairy herds was caused by thousands of head of cattle having to be slaughtered through lack of food….
… the hand of man in the shape of possible well-intentioned but sadly ill-advised interference in the price of butter and other products of the dairy farm ...
didn't help.  
The creation of the Necessary Commodities Control Commission was ostensibly for the purpose of regulating the prices of those commodities in which there was a likelihood of exploitation of the public through war conditions…. Stung by action by the fact that far from deriving profit from their labours many were actually running their farms at financial loss under the low prices fixed by the Commission, the serenity of life on the North Coast was disturbed by protest meetings and heated speeches….
In a dairying district there is no real poverty, and there is no undue affluence. Everybody works hard, and everybody, under normal conditions, gets a fair return for labour but very few make fortunes; what few really rich people dairying districts have produced have not, in most cases, obtained their wealth through dairying, but by means of fortunate land or cattle transactions. There is no other industry which builds up a rural community in which the wealth is so well proportioned as does dairying....
Combating margarine is not the only obstacle that we have to overcome, formidable as it might be. We are in a position that we make more butter than can be consumed in the country, and a big surplus every year is exported to the United Kingdom.… Up to the present time the wages of dairy farm hands have not been fixed, and they are very low with long hours, thus enabling us to sell our butter on the London market at a price that can compete with other countries....
(The farm hands never did get unionised like their cane cutting mates.)
Combating the inroads of margarine was a minor problem for the farmers as their remaining farm hands started turning to the banana industry, which, nevertheless, saved Mullumbimby (and the Tweed, where price fixing caused an exodus from dairying on a scale hitherto unknown and put the sugar industry in dire danger of extinction.)

[But in the Richmond district there was weepin', wailin' and gnashin' of the teeth over some suss population figures. The Police headcounters reckoned that the Tweed-Byron gained 450 people during 1915 (the increase being all in the banana growing hills around Mullum, Cudgen and Tweed Heads), while the Richmond lost a staggering 9.7% of its citizens (4249 people), the first depopulation year in its history. And the Northern Star reckoned this was not due to enlistments as the records of the Military Department show that the homes of slackers and shirkers in this police district are pre-eminently Lismore and Casino. In proportion to its population it has been officially shown that there have been fewer enlistments from our city than any other centre of population.... Casino comes up behind us in a very close second, and yet in these two places far and away the greatest decreases exist....
The war theory has to go.... The fact of the Casino district suffering so severely from drought... might account for a  moiety of the falling off there, but the effect would be very limited as it naturally follows townships are cut up by droughts far less than country areas. The population undoubtedly has flown, while the position of trade does not warrant the exodus, and this is the most unsatisfactory feature of the shortage. Surely our popular district, so favoured of Nature, is not losing its attractiveness.

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Kytherian Competition

Meanwhile the Feros Bros were getting on with the job. It seems that the White Australian had become very run down over the years and the Feros spent some considerable time gutting the place and refitting, including the installation of a new soda fountain. A little later they started placing adverts that must have piqued the Carkagis: The most up to date and best equipped cafe and restaurant on the North Coast…, meals at all hours..., oyster suppers a speciality.... They reintroduced the separate ladies’ dining room a little later. The Carkagis restaurant continued to dominate party catering, wedding receptions, farewell and welcoming functions, and so on, while the Feros Bros seemed to win the fast food aficionados. Post war they tried to win a bit of the Carkagis trade by introducing three course meals for 1/3d.

Basil Feros was 18yrs old when he made his first trip to Australia in 1908, but whether he came to Mullum is uncertain. He probably has some connection to George Sklavos, identified as a waiter for Theo Patras 1908/09. He left to play in the Balkan wars in 1912 and returned in mid 1914, coming to Mullum about a year later to join Alex. (And on Anzac Day 1920 created something of a furore when he appeared... in his uniform of a sergeant of the Greek Infantry, and very smart he looked.)

Alex had landed as a 16yr old in 1910 and seems to have spent all his time in Sydney before turning up in Mullum sometime in 1914. Another brother, Nick, who spent 10yrs in Australia all up, came to Mullum after the war. They traded as Feros Bros initially but by the time they sold out the cafe was under the proprietorship of Feros & Co, perhaps implying that only one brother was left by then and that he had bought out the others.

Nick was probably the first to move on elsewhere, and the last, almost certainly Alex, was left to pass the business to Samios & Co in late 1921. Basil and Alex both resettled in Sydney but re-established themselves in Lismore in the late 1920s. Nick’s son, John, later came to work for them in Lismore before acquiring the Crethar cafe at Evans Head in the late 1930s. They were allegedly unconnected to the Feros brothers, Jack and Peter, who established in Lismore in about 1920, George and Tony, who opened up at Byron Bay in 1923 and Nick Feros who based himself at Ballina in 1924.

Over the period 1907-20 one or other of the Greek cafes employed John Venery, P. Karonallis, Con Stavior, Paul Caraginopolas and C. Bizakis as general dogsbodies, Nikolaos Theodoropoulos (aka Nick Theodore, born 1894 Kythera), possibly connected to the Aroney clan of Murwillumbah, as a waiter, and Vasilios Rouval (born 1871) as a cook. John Nick Venery, a rare exception to the teenage rule, was 21yrs old when he came from Kythera in 1907, spending a few months in Sydney prior to wandering between Lismore, Murwillumbah and Mullumbimby for a year or so until settling in Bundaberg.

The Kytherian Archie Panaretos was a Carkagis employee in late 1915 when he attempted to enlist, but missed out because he didn’t met the 5yr residency requirement necessary for naturalization, which was a prerequisite for enlistment. He, along with Arthur George Lyvanas of Kyogle, was working at the Melba Café in Pitt Street, Sydney, in 1916 when he qualified for naturalization, but whether he ever got to serve is mystery number eleventy two. He was 18yrs old when he landed from the village of Potamos in 1911 and initially worked with his brothers at Tamworth before coming to Mullum via a long stint in Lismore. Also from Potamos was Peter Theo Melittas, 13yrs old when he landed in 1911, who came to town in 1920 and remained for 2yrs before settling at Coffs Harbour, where he is now immortalised through Melittas Street in the centre of town. Another Potamonian, Sidney Mick Megaloconomos (aka Laesos), 17yrs old when he opened the first Greek oyster saloon at Coraki in 1908, turned up in town in late 1921 with Paul Samios, the new proprietor of the Feros Cafe. A transitional Kytherian employee was Dimitri Theo Kalokerinos, who arrived in Mullum in early 1921 and remained for 2yrs before moving onto Sydney, but finally settling in north Queensland.

There were no doubt many others who came and went, one of whom was the koumbaro of Laesos, George Spiro Tsicalas, who worked in Mullum for a few months around 1916/17 before establishing The Richmond Café in Bangalow. It’s probable George Patrinos was also one of them before he moved over to Brunswick Heads to open the first Greek restaurant there in mid 1909.

The Kytherian Peter Castrissios, 14yrs old when he arrived in town in 1912, was probably another early cafe employee before branching out into other ventures. He was initially another disaster in the rowing club, regularly sharing last place with Peter Carkagis, but kept at it and at the Easter Regatta at Bruns in 1913 was easily winning the final of the Kelly Cup when he proved to be navigationally challenged by taking a wrong leg in the course. He was still lost a week later when he was sprung by the bane of everyone’s life, council’s ‘Inspector of Nuisances’, for trying to navigate his bike at night without a light.

Peter rowed away from the cafe game when he leased the School of Arts Hall every Monday night from early 1913 for the purpose of running a skating rink, and may also have leased it as a theatre. Shortly after that he was one of 6 starters in a bicycle race from the Post Office to Laverty's Gap and back, repeated twice, and 1 of the 3 that went the full distance, awarded 2nd on handicap. But, like any fickle teenager, he skated off to Murbah after about six months to play with the Aroneys. He was about 8yrs old when he landed in late 1906, spending a few months in Sydney before moving onto Bundaberg to join some likely rellies who sent him off to school for a year or so. Thereafter he wandered around Queensland for the next 8yrs, spending time in Brisbane, Longreach, Boonah, Gympie and Toowoomba, as well as Mullum and Murbah, speaking and behaving like a native.

He had traded in his skating venture as Castrissios Bros, and it’s possible his silent partner was a Harrisville Castrisos. The gaffer at Harrisville, near Boonah, at this time was John Peter Castrisos, likely to be his uncle, who landed in late 1907, aged 34, leaving behind 8 children, one of whom was named Peter, born in 1897. John ran his Harrisville café (The Akropolis Refreshment Rooms) for about 5yrs before moving to Brisbane in about 1916. Skating Peter was at Harrisville in late 1915 when he marched to Brisbane with the ‘Dungarees’ to enlist, but was later discharged when he was sprung as an ‘alien’. Then he got caught in a bind because he was under 21 and ineligible for naturalization, and by the time he reached that magic age the war was over. In between time the authorities had placed restrictions on Greek naturalization anyway. He was later a businessman in Brisbane and changed his name to Carson.

In early 1918 further Mullum feedlot competition came from The Allies Café, made-over from a bakery established across the road in the Nelsons Buildings, but in early 1919 reverting back to a bakery, called The Allies Bakery. It may have been a marketing ploy as bakers were amongst that group of trades, including butchers and apothecaries, then allowed to trade on Sundays without need of a special license, unlike the Feros and Carkagis who had to pay an annual fee. (Most of the initial cafes in the region evolved from bakeries after the proprietors began retailing their growing product range, notably posher pies, with a cuppa tea.)

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Empire Theatre 1921
'Should a Husband Forgive?' was the Hollywood blockbuster of 1919 and released in Aust 1921. (Husband challenges wife's lover to a duel and....) (Courtesy BVHS)

The Mullumbimby Café

Thanks to the banana industry Mullum was still going gangbusters by the start of the roaring twenties, prompting the Carkagis Bros, along with a lot of other business houses, to carry out extensive improvements in early 1922. They installed the latest soda fountain, renovated the public and ladies’ dining rooms and changed the entire front entrance. Paradoxically, early 1922 also saw a sudden banana glut and another slump in butter, the mainstays of the Mullum economy, leading to a dramatic drop in business around town, at the same time the Valuer-General’s Department imposed sudden and large increases on most Tweed and Brunswick properties. At this time bunchy top disease also was starting to get out of hand on the Tweed, coincidental with the peak in the property boom.

Post WW1 had seen Mullum come in with the greatest growth rate of any Municipality in the region, and second only to the growth of the Tweed Shire where bananas were also working their magic. In the 10yrs to 1921 Mullum’s population grew 40% (from 951 to 1331), due entirely to the banana mania which had gripped the district, resulting in plantations changing hands for as much as £280 an acre, with standing scrub going for around £100 an acre. Thereafter many growers, mainly returned soldiers who had taken up hillside lands with the financial assistance of the Repatriation Department, were ruined, and Mullum suffered concomitantly. The last soldier-settler in the district walked off his patch at Mullumbimby Creek in mid1924. In the two years from 1923 Mullum’s town population dropped a staggering 23%, from 1350 to 1040, before building back to 1360 in 1933, from where it continued to stagnate into the early years of WW2.

In a 'look back' article in late 1929, just before the Government parcelled out £200 per Shire and £275 per Municipality to enable the unemployed to earn some Christmas cheer on road gangs, the Northern Star said ...few Mullumbimby residents anticipated a slump in 1918, 1919 and 1920, when the demand for banana land on the fertile surrounding countryside reached its maximum and areas previously considered almost valueless changed hands at prices that seemed fabulous. Thousands of acres were planted and when the plantations reached bearing stage money literally flowed into the town. Cheques for £100 for one 'cut' off one plantation were not uncommon and smaller amounts were not thought mentioning. Those were the golden days of the town. Money flowed in freely and was spent as freely. Business prospered, properties changed hands at high rates, and no one worried. The first whispers about the disease that had ravaged the Tweed were not treated as very important, but time drove home the lesson that the Brunswick plantations were not immune. Coincidental with the banana slump came the depression in the dairying industry common to the whole of the coastal areas, but Mullumbimby struck from two causes, suffered more severely than most places. For the next few years Mullumbimby experienced the painful process of getting away from inflated values back to normal, and hundreds of people sustained severe financial losses. Banana growers were driven off their hitherto productive areas and land that had changed hands at £100 an acre fetched less than one-tenth of that when offered for sale as grazing land....

Shortly after the refurbishment the overcapitalised Carkagis offloaded to George Papas and moved to The Corso at Manly where their brother Peter, who had returned in January 1921, had re-established himself. In the mid 1930s Peter and family returned to the region and acquired the Canberra Cafe in Lismore. His son James reintroduced the Carkagis name to Mullum in the late 1930s when he came to work on the Main Arm banana farm of Con Vlismas.

The Carkagis Bros Oyster Saloon evolved into The Mullumbimby Café under the proprietorship of George Papas. It was already a posh establishment but George soon renovated and installed the latest version of the American soda fountain into a new marble bar, as well as making the separate ladies’ dining area more exclusive. His new magic soda fountain mix quickly addicted everyone who tasted the stuff and in 1923 he was convinced to bottle the brew, commissioning his own bottles embossed with Mullumbimby Café and giving Mullum’s established bottler, Alderman William Bryant, a fright. These rare bottles are now collector’s items. In early 1926 his cafe was the venue for the resurrection of the Mullum Football Club, perhaps an indicator that life was returning to Mullum. (He and Alex Samios became vice-Presidents.) However, as the 'real' Depression approached, and the banana growers were still not back to lighting after-dinner cigars with one pound notes, he was reduced to selling pies, fruit and confectionery over the counter. In early 1929 he sold out to Con Specis and moved to Kingaroy to have another go. He’s an elusive character and managed to keep his circumstances a closely guarded secret, perhaps to dodge immigration agents, but he is probably the same 23yr old George Pappas identified in 1916 as proprietor of the ex-café of Jim Carkagis at Bathurst.

Burringbar Street ~1932. (Courtesy BVHS)

Con Ioannis Chatzantonakis (Specis) was born in Candida on Crete in 1894 but was brought up in Egypt where he spent 13yrs prior to moving on to Colombo for a year or so before landing in Fremantle in 1912. A year later he moved across to Sydney where he spent 7yrs until venturing into Queensland and working in Mitchell amongst other remote places. Along the way he had gained a reputation as a skilled confectioner. In 1926 he married Kitsa Karistinos and acquired the Bellevue Café in Roma, where he traded under his mother’s name of Specis to make life easier for his Australian customers. A couple of years later he sold the Bellevue to his brother-in-law, Tony Caristinos (Caris), and went to Brisbane for a short period before deciding to bring the family, by then including children Helen and Jack, to Mullum. Twin daughters, Chryssa and Maria, were born in Mullum in 1930.

Like all his predecessors, Con decided to give the place a major makeover, introducing the latest soda fountain, ice-cream making equipment and other mod cons, as well as a new layout that gave the place a court-yard, making him the first to attempt to give the Mullumites a taste of al fresco dining. All up he spent £900 and completed the work in Oct29, just as the Depression appeared on the horizon. He managed to stay afloat during the worst of the bad years, but unluckily seems to have gone bust just as things looked like picking up. Archie Caponas took over in 1934, perhaps for just the cost of the lease, and closed the place down. As happened elsewhere in the Depression, these elaborate art deco cafes became white elephants in the face of downmarket competition. The premises became a junk shop in Archie’s hands, but just before the war was resurrected as a cafe by Mrs Blyth. It was back in Greek hands sometime after the war when she sold out to Tony Peters who renamed it The Empire Café, under which name it has remained ever since. Serendipitously, Tony Peters, who was a teacher to the children of the many Greek cane-cutting families in North Queensland in the late 1930s, had an association with the Specis family in Townsville after they had left Mullum.

Con and family went to Brisbane for a short period before moving to Townsville, but at the start of the war returned to settle permanently in Brisbane and open a fruit shop in George Street. Their last two children, George and Freda, were born in Brisbane in 1934 and 1941 respectively, and naughty George was later one of those who lied about his age to serve in the Korean War. Con died in Brisbane in 1965 and Kitsa in 1975. Kitsa’s niece, Clare Miller (Malirdakis), later married Peter Notas, a Macedonian banana grower of Main Arm. And Kitsa’s nephew, Nick Caris, was a pharmacist at Murbah during the 1950s and 60s, the interconnections indicating it was still a small Greek world.

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The Marble Bar Café

In late 1921, shortly before the Carkagis Bros called it a day, Paul Dimitrios Samios (Foundas), trading as Samios & Co, took over The Feros Café and started upgrading, beating George Papas at the Mullumbimby Café into the renovation game by a few months. Paul re-panelled the interior and also installed a new soda fountain into a new marble bar and, funnily enough, redubbed the joint The Marble Bar. In the early years the rivalry between the two cafes was intense as each others flowery advertisements in the Mullumbimby Star testify.

His younger brothers, Alexander and Milton (Miltiadis), joined him six months later and together they began trading as Samios Bros, but shortly afterwards Paul moved onto Brisbane and thereafter Alex seems to have become the Mullum principal. By the time Alex sold out to his shipmate, Archie Caponas, in 1926, Milton, Paul and another brother, Peter, were trading separately in Bangalow as Samios Bros, remaining Bangalow stalwarts into the 1940s.  Alex went to Brisbane to establish the London Café, but in the mid 1930s resettled in Kyogle where he too continued trading as Samios Bros and where he married Theodora Comino, the great niece of the ‘Oyster Kings’. She had been an earlier resident of Lismore, where her father, Mina Anthony Comino, Alex’s earlier employer in Sydney, was trading from the old Andrulakis café 1917-19.

These Samios were all from the village of Aloizianika, and probably have some connection to Athanasios Aloizos, the first Greek into Murbah in 1905, who traded under the name Samio. Their sister Vasiliki, who joined them in Mullum around 1923, married the above Jack Dimitrios Feros at Tweed Heads in 1924. Confusingly, another Jack Dimitrios Feros in the area at the time was an employee of Feros Bros in Ballina for a couple of years from late 1924. He had come up from Tamworth where he had worked for Alex Samios, and again worked for Alex in Brisbane for a couple of years in the early 1930s. He subsequently moved onto Mitchell, where he worked for a different set of Samios Bros, Charles and George Peter Samios, for 15mths, and thence to Monto to open his own joint. George Samios, 11yrs old when he landed in 1911, spent 5yrs at Grafton from 1920, roughly over the same period Alex, Milton, and Peter all rotated through the place, probably indicating a relationship. Early Kytherian settlement was very much a family affair.

Marble Bar Café, 1923
Milton Samios behind soda fountain at left and probably Alex on the right
(Courtesy Jim Samios)

A couple of years before Alex moved out a new cafe competitor opened The Oxford Café next to Ward's Brunswick Emporium in Burringbar Street, but went bust in early 1925. This may indicate a tightening catering market, but the business was promptly acquired by Mrs Purvis and her daughters and renamed the Café Alberta after a makeover, which turned it into highclass refreshment rooms. Mrs Purvis, previously a caterer at Murbah, immediately took the three-course meal to 2/-, but quickly found she had to drop back to 1/6d to match the Greeks. Also appearing in 1925 was Miss Whittal running the Brun-et-Or Tres Chic T Rooms, with daintiness the keynote, in Dalley Street, and Mrs Wallis with The Brunswick Tea and Dining Rooms, with 2 course dinners a speciality, in the Nelson Building in Burringbar Street. Mrs Purvis went bust in late 1926 and in early 1927 Willi Choy, the courageous Chinaman of Murbah, opened the Empire Cafe on the site (currently Stewart's Menswear) and introduced three-course meals at 1/6d available at all hours, at least until returning to Murbah a year later. [A final piece of padding: The film Cytherea, about a modern day Aphrodite in America rather than the original goddess of Kythera, was screened at the School of Arts on 5Feb25.]

Mrs Wallis' Refreshment Rooms in the Nelson Building, 1925
(Parade from the Post Office for the official opening of St Martin's Memorial Church.
Courtesy BVHS.)

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The Caponas Era

In mid 1926 Anastasios (Archie) Minas Protopsaltis (Caponas), another from Mitata on Kythera, arrived in town with great fanfare. The Mullumbimby Star records that “Mr. A. Caponas late proprietor of Loosan’s Café 174 King Street Sydney, recognised as one of the leading cafes of Australia, has taken over Samios’ Marble Bar....” Archie also advertised himself as a certified violinist and musician prepared to give lessons on the violin, mandolin, banjo and music theory; all in keeping with his honourable Byzantine name of Protopsaltis, meaning first psalmist. The Caponas paratsoukli (nickname) came from his father who owned and skippered a 400ton ocean-going cargo ship until his mutinous crew forced him overboard somewhere off South America in the early 1900s.

Archie was 13yrs old when he sailed into Sydney in 1912 with a group of 25 other young Kytherians, amongst whom were Alex and Milton Samios, being escorted by Peter Kosma Frilingos (Freeleagus). Within three days Arthur Athanasios Samios, earlier of Murbah, put him on the coastal steamer for Coffs Harbour (aka Samiosville) where he met up with his brother, Charles (Evriviadis), working for Arthur Emmanuel Samios. Sixteen months later Charles bought the business in partnership with Ioannis Emmanuel Samios, but due to the usual Greek dispute over wages Archie moved onto Sydney. However, he only stayed a few months before wandering off to Murbah, where he worked for his Aroney in-laws, and thence to Brisbane and Boonah where he worked for the Freeleagus Bros. He returned to Sydney in 1918 and spent a few years in the Kings Cross Café belonging to his future brother-in-law, John Dimitri Psaltis, who married his sister Evridiki in Sydney in 1920. In 1924, after brief interludes at Kempsey working for Anastasios Samios and back at Coffs Harbour working for Mick Nick Feros, he and Charles bought Loosan’s Café in partnership with John and Nick Dimitri Psaltis and Basil and Alex John Feros, the earlier Mullum cafe owners. In the meantime he taught himself to play the violin and became a member of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra after graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium. Loosans was a monster of a place and in 1924 was the venue for the wedding reception of John Theo Tzortzopoulos of Katoomba and Fotini Feros, the sister of Basil and Alex, at which over 500 guests were easily seated. It became an early victim of the Depression however, and went belly up around 1929.

Fortunately Archie had sold out of the partnership in 1926 and with about £600 in his pocket had hit the road, scouting out business opportunities around Brisbane, Tweed Heads and Murbah, before eventually deciding that the newsagency at Mullum provided the best option. Within two days of arriving in town however, Alex Samios made an offer he couldn’t refuse; £2900 for the business on a walk in/walk out basis, which was £200 less than the asking price for the newsagency next door. But then the ‘Claytons’ Depression’ descended with a vengeance. The remnants of the banana industry gave up the ghost and the timber industry collapsed, while butter's long term downtrend was still entrenched, all compounded by the big drought of 1925/26. Customers dried up with the jobs and through to 1930 Archie grossed no more than £12 a week, but he stayed afloat through entrepreneurial flair, marketing skills and toughness, and by early 1934 had managed to pay Alex Samios the balance of the principal and accrued interest. He became a well-known businessman in Mullumbimby over many years, opening an electrical store in Dalley Street, establishing a Main Arm banana farm and acquiring property in Brunswick Heads along the way.

His arrival in mid 1926 was coincidental with increased desperation in the dairy industry, from where things rapidly spiralled out of control. Commonwealth price controls had been lifted in 1921 and the return to farmers immediately collapsed to a low of 9½d per lb of butter produced. It recovered, but thereafter life was a struggle, with the years 1923-25 being particularly bad ones when almost all farmers returned a loss. At the mid 1926 AGM Norco announced a bumper and profitable year, but upon digesting the report the dairy farmers thought there was a bit of sleigh-of-hand in the figures presented. Norco had paid the farmers an average of 1/3½d per lb of butter produced from cream supplied which, coupled with a refund of ½d from the new Paterson Butter Stabilization Scheme, still gave the farmers a loss-making return, even though the consumers were subsidizing the farmers through the price fixing of the convoluted Paterson Scheme (dubbed the 'Paterson Puzzle' by some farmers and the 'Paterson Curse' by economists.) Norco shifted the blame to the retailers, but one retailer blew the whistle when he disclosed that he was being forced to pay 1/9½d and, because there was so much of the stuff around, was restricted to a competitive mark-up of 2d/lb which does not pay for the cost of retailing. He emphasized that this was the average rate around the whole Richmond-Tweed region and demanded an explanation of how Norco, a cooperative after all, accounted for the remaining 5½d/lb when the Primary Producers Union had separately made a fair estimate that the cost of manufacture, including carriage of cream to the factories, freight, commission, and other selling charges, until the butter reaches the hands of the retailer…, was 3d/lb.

Good question, but the farmers were then distracted by other worries, notably the likely imposition of the new basic wage for rural workers. Both the Brunswick and Tweed farmers held emergency meetings where it was disclosed that the average dairy farmer would be operating at a loss if he were forced to pay the basic wage of £4/5/-. The average leasehold farmer using family labour showed a profit of £149 per year, or £12 per month, out of which to pay rent, keep himself and family, etc. It was demonstrated that the average farm required 3 farm hands to run the place and if not family labour, and being forced to pay the new basic wage, the farmer would require a return of 1/11d per lb for cream supplied to the butter factories to maintain the same income. At this time there was already an outcry over farmers laying off adults and employing young boys and dairymaids at a reduced youth wage. The PPU managed to stave off any imposition of an award rate for some time, and even managed to have dairy farm employees exempt from the new special basic wage, £4/4/-, struck for rural industry workers in mid 1927. In late 1927 the AWU argued for a dairy workers award of £3/19/6 for a 48hr week, but this too was rejected by the farmers, most of whom were not employing labour anyway. (At the same time the basic wage for a cook in the local cafes was set at £5/11/-. Who’d be a dairy labourer?) [Apart from aberrations in 1922 and 31, Norco’s payout to its suppliers was always lower than the state average over the whole sweep of its history. By the time of the devastating industry deregulation of 2000 it was close to collapse, with the number of dairy farmer suppliers having dwindled to 237, from a peak of about 5000 in the mid 1930s.]

Paradoxically, the price stabilization scheme gave a false sense of security and attracted more people to an industry that appeared to offer a haven from the mounting unemployment occurring in other occupations across the region. The result was a 50% increase in butter production between 1926 and 1934, while the return had spiralled down to a despairing 8½d per lb over the same period, halving gross farm income. Aggressive butter marketing had seen consumption rise from 22lbs to 34lbs per head in the 5yrs to 1926, but this was the best they could do as people progressively tightened their belts and margarine gained market share. (The Mullum meeting of late 1926 proposed the bumper sticker slogan ‘Eat more butter, every day, in every way.’) By early 1928 the North Coast (defined as the coastal strip down to Kempsey) was producing half the State’s butter, the Hunter & Manning 25%, the South Coast 15%, and most of the remainder around the Tablelands.

The situation was of great concern to the Mullum Chamber of Commerce which held a meeting around the same time as the farmers to discuss the decline in dairying, the situation of business generally in the district and the desirability of attracting secondary industry. Said one member …dairying was an incessant and arduous labour. Any man who went in for it was sentencing himself to penal servitude. While the drift from dairying stabilized in 1927, and continued to rebuild through the Depression years, the game was basically over in the Byron Shire.

Thus the stage was set for Archie’s struggle through the worst of the Depression. In late 1934 his main competitor, Con Specis down at the Mullumbimby Café, went bust and Archie seems to have taken over for a song. He then gutted the place and organised a ginormous auction flogging everything, including the marble counter, maple tables with inlay tops, padded chairs, show cases, art deco mirrors and a host of other luxury and minor items down to the lino on the floor, from the most up-to-date cafe on the North Coast according to his advert. A tragic end to a classic example of art deco cafe design of the period.

He then rented the place as a junk shop, which was run by a couple of steptoes until resurrected as Blyth’s Café just before the war. It was a sixty seater at this time and became the favourite hangout for military personnel during the war. It was also the venue for a lot of the RSL meetings at which solutions to the Greek menace in the banana industry were discussed. It’s a wonder Archie Caponas with his chutzpah and nose for business never offered them a group discount at his refurbished Model Café when Blyth's was put out of business for a while in late 1940 after a truck smashed through the front door. (Entrepreneurial Mrs Lilly Blyth and her husband Jim sold the Digger's Fruit Mart next the Railway Hotel to Wally Bower in mid 1935 to take over the Ham & Beef Shop next the Court House Hotel. Towards the end of the year she reorientated as a cafe upon installing Mullum's first milk bar, advising the town of the fact via a giant neon sign on the pub. By early 1936 she was offering a Real Good 3-Course Meal for 1/6d, and 5 Delicious Meat Pies for 1/-... and a milk shake for 3d from The shop with the Neon Sign. She took the sign with her upon re-opening on the Empire site in late 1939, while her old shop became the Blue Bird Cafe in the hands of Eric and Pearl Bailey.)

But meanwhile, having disposed of his Greek rival, Archie seems to have had only one other major cafe competitor left in town; Miss Chrissy Nelson, daughter of the Danish pioneer Henrik, who had The Central Café in Burringbar Street, acquired from Edward Lattimore at some stage. (Lattimore had acquired the cafe in the Nelson Building from Mrs Wallis in 1929, at much the same time as his son Arnold acquired the Empire Cafe at Tweed Heads.)

Miss Nelson seemed to be a tough lady and matched Archie advert for advert and innovation with innovation; when Arch purchased a new refrigerator and laid a guilt trip on everyone with his advert: “For your health’s sake only purchase from a cafe with...’, she did the same; when he introduced deli items and precooked meats she followed; same with ‘small goods at cost prices and less’, ditto with ‘the latest electrical preparation appliances’. When Arch offered full meals with sweets for 1/6d she countered, but she drew the line at selling plants and bulbs across the food counters, as Arch did, nor could she match meals at all hours. And on it went for the next two years. Miss Nelson seems to have tried to retain a posh establishment with private dining rooms while Archie went downmarket. The citizens of Mullum were well catered for but even so there still didn’t appear to be many around with money.

Burringbar / Stuart Street Intersection 1912 top, 1921 middle and 1958 bottom. (Courtesy BVHS)

The Unemployment Relief Act had come into operation 1Jul30 and within a couple of weeks Mr Budd MLA had announced the first grant within his Byron Electorate; £1500 for the Wilson’s-Cooper’s Creek Road at Huonbrook, which annoyed Byron Bay where the bulk of the district's unemployed resided (nothing changes), who figured concreting the Belongil was a better use of the money. Pretty soon more money started to pour in for various projects around the Tweed-Brunswick, but by early October Byron was in a spot of bother, exceeding its overdraft limit and unable to meet next week's wage bill. The Shire Clerk networked like the clappers and at the next meeting informed the councillors that he'd managed to squeeze £2625 from the Local Government Department, £900 from the Main Roads Board, and £600 from the Unemployment Relief Council, but at the following meeting had to pass on the bad news that following the visit of the Valuer-General the Shire was now worth £1,762,770, a reduction of £250,159, resulting in a reduction of rate income of £2625/16/5, apart from the reduction in the rate for street lighting. Thereafter it was touch and go.

A number of Greeks came to town looking for work during the Depression. One who remained into the late 1930s was simply known as ‘Bill the Greek’. He lived out along the Brunswick road on the outskirts of town with his Australian wife and mother-in-law and did general labouring work as well as banana chipping. John Con Prineas, who landed as a 14yr old from Mitata in 1914 and wandered all over the state, came to Mullum in 1928 to work for Arch. He only lasted 4mths, his shortest sojourn in any of the 10 towns he worked in over the years, before escaping to Dunedoo and thence to Mudgee a few years later to go into partnership with his brother Valeris in the Hollywood Café. Also only lasting 4mths, and arriving in town just before Prineas, was Spiro Peter Vlandis of Kalokerines who subsequently settled at Gloucester.

Mullum was slower than Murbah to recover from the Depression and by late 1936 was still receiving special Government relief grants and still concocting odd unemployment schemes (concrete footpaths in the middle of nowhere). The following year the Star started to talk up a recovery by reporting a massive Mullum turnaround with a headline on a 300% increase in new buildings - an increase of 4 on the previous years 2 – drum roll, a percentage record unbeaten anywhere on the North Coast. [By 1938 things were really on the move when six new cottages were built in town, with another 6 in 1939 and 9 in 1940, but the Valuer-General’s new figures released in mid 1941 showed continued stagnation with a total reduction in unimproved values of £15,655, leading to a rates increase to 7d. in the £, but still insufficient to compensate for the loss of revenue. Murbah, Tweed and Byron left their rates unchanged.]

In late 1935 Miss Nelson refurbished her cafe, which was probably on the site of the old Allies Cafe/Bakery, the building itself acquired by her father Henrik from his brother Peter in the early 1920s. She gained a reputation for producing the tastiest pie in the Brunswick Valley and carried this honour when she relocated into the vacant National Bank spot at the western end of the Nelson Building in May37, allowing J.P. Walker to expand his shoe and mercery shop into her old site. Prior to the move she seems to have matched the downmarket strategy and thereafter her half page adverts were reduced to one-liners next to Archie’s until she fades away in about mid 1943, a few months before Arch closed his own business. Her cafe passed through a few hands until the shop was redeveloped as the Star-Advocate office in the mid 1950s. (After surviving the worst of the Depression the Mullum Branch of the National Bank shut its doors wef 30Jan37.)

Earlier, 18July1941, the four main cafe owners at that time, Caponas, Miss Nelson, Mrs Blyth and Mrs Balmer, banned together for some price fixing when they jointly raised the cost of a three-course meal by a whopping 33%, from 1/6 to 2/-. (Mrs Balmer's Ideal Cafe in Dalley Street, owned by Miss Nelson, continued to trade through to 1960 when it was absorbed into the RSL building. Post war her biggest competition came from Mrs Morris's Caravan Cafe, parked in front of where the RSL Motel now stands.)

Mullumbimby Star 24June1936
In the interim along came free-to-air broadcasting in 1936 and Arch had jumped on the bandwagon. The ABC started broadcasting from Grafton, 2LM from Lismore and 2MW from the Austral Building in Murwillumbah, and the sharks were out flogging all sorts of mickey mouse wirelesses; Bridgelands had the agency for the Tasma brand, E. R. Moulton with the Bandmaster, E. Torrens with the Airzone, the Mullumbimby Radio Service licensed for the Aristocrat, and the agency for the best of the lot, HMV, went to E. G. Davis. Davis featured biweekly adverts extolling the virtues of HMV, sometimes half a page, but never less than twelve square inches, offering the things for 31 guineas. And who should always have a square inch advert next to his also claiming status as a HMV agent? None other than A. Caponas offering HMV radios for a little deposit and paid off in produce!  How he got the radios is a mystery, but his marketing strategy appealed to Kriesler who offered him the sole agency for their brand in late 1936. And then he was up and running, undercutting his competitors, offering a wide variety of models and opening his electrical shop in Dalley Street a short time later. Somehow he eventually got the sole agency for HMV and then had the chutzpah to sue Tom Small, who had the Byron Bay agency, for trespassing on his patch.


'Radio House' 1950 (Courtesy John Caponas)


His ‘Radio House’ later evolved into a general store from where he was selling white goods, sewing machines, cutlery, crockery, records and so on by 1950. He retained his fruiterer’s licence however, and sold the produce from his banana farm, including the loveable choko, the Depression staple and a bargain at 1/- a dozen, over the counter. At this time he had followed his farming neighbour, the ingenious Ernie Paspalis, into small crops and was growing tomatoes and beans as well as bananas. Having his own retail outlet for this produce saved him a heap of money on freight and marketing costs, both escalating by then. How the BGF reacted to this independence is an interesting question.
(The RSL's Lyrebird Motel now sits on the site of 'Radio House'.


At this time too, he was running a truck dealership and real estate and letting agency from the shop. He later had his fingers in many pies including the agency for Frigidaire refrigerators and Phoenix Insurance. Business must have been good as he also constructed a large shed on his Argyle Street property in mid 1951 to act as a warehouse. He also saw a business opportunity in the nostalgia of his compatriots for the old country and became the biggest importer and distributor of Greek records in the region. A little later he also latched onto the similar nostalgia of the rapidly growing Italian community. He travelled widely, placing his records, Greek, Italian and English, in shops all over Northern NSW and Southern QLD, becoming one of the most well-known Kytherians in the land. His marketing flair came to the attention of Columbia Records who offered him the sole Australian distribution rights, but because this meant being based in Sydney he passed up the golden opportunity.

His increasing passion for farming prompted him to sell his business in late 1956 and move out to Main Arm to live near his farm where, nevertheless, he continued to operate his real estate business and fruit retailing outlet. Until this time he and the family had been living out the back of the shop, which was subsequently leased as a dental surgery.

Archie had seen the potential in the banana industry in the late 1930s and bought himself a 140 acre farm out at Main Arm, about 80 acres of which he worked himself and the remainder leased out. About 20 acres were initially devoted to bananas but gradually he added stone fruit, pineapples and the like. A large orchard of Peach trees was established at the lower end of the property. He didn’t seem to be impeded by the war when the National Securities Bill, with all the same powers of The War Precautions Act of WW1, was introduced in September 1939. But on 5Apr41 the Attorney General decreed that Greek nationals living in Australia are now exempt from the restrictions placed on aliens under the National Securities Regulations. In late 1941 the Federal Cabinet even modified its stringent wartime policy on alien migration and approved the entry of up to 1000 Greek refugees, as long as they were sponsored by the Greek War Relief Fund Committee and that the migrants will not displace Australian workers.

Nevertheless, they all had to carry special identity passes into the late 1940s, even though a lot had brothers and sons in the Australian services. The Aliens Act of 1948 continued the compulsory registration, with the requirement for all aliens to notify change of abode, occupation or employment. Archie himself was pronounced medically unfit for call-up. Whether he worked the farm himself at this time is uncertain, but he certainly extracted the maximum sweat from his employees, two of whom were his young brother-in-law, Theo Psaltis, and Theo’s Kytherian schoolmate Jim Feros. Their shift consisted of working three days a week in the cafe followed by four days at the farm.

Archie also had a problem with coming to terms with the Australian notion of neighbourliness. He was most indignant when he found his Main Arm neighbour helping himself to his bananas. Arch duly had him charged and convicted for stealing and made an enemy for life. It got more serious when the bloke later threatened him with a gun, after which Arch hightailed it into town to see the solicitors for another round of court appearances. Once again his neighbour was charged and convicted and this time approached his father-in-law, another adjoining neighbour of Arch, to help with the vendetta. And on it went; dad was subsequently convicted of harassment and threatening behaviour, his daughter with using insulting words and his sons with threatening Arch with guns. The next development came when Arch was taken to the small debts court, on April Fools Day 1943, for compensation of £30/4/- for the death of two cows that allegedly died after eating grass sprayed by Arch through the dividing fence. The Magistrate couldn’t make a D however, and adjourned the case to be heard at Murwillumbah where the stories and witnesses were all a bit different, resulting in Arch having to cough up £24/4/- to the wily neighbour. But at least he had a win on costs. Theo Psaltis was a witness, implying he was still in Arch’s employ at the time.

He was almost a goner in a case in late 1956 when a fire he lit out at his Main Arm farm got out of control and burnt out 50 acres of his and his lessees’ land and 15 acres of his neighbour’s farm. While the magistrate found the charge proved, he discharged Archie under some obscure section of the Crimes Act, perhaps sympathetic to Archie’s argument that an act-of-god, in the form of a whirlwind, spread the fire beyond his control. Nevertheless, the finding may have left the way open for Arch to be sued in the civil courts by his lessees and neighbours, and possibly gave added impetus to his decision to his sell his business in town and move to Main Arm a month later - although competition from the new BGF retail store in town and the Council’s new electrical showroom across the road may have had a bearing, as did the shortage of banana labourers at the time. He was advertising regularly for workers for his farm, at a time when the banana industry was just recovering from a prolonged glut. By this time Archie had 17 acres of his farm under bananas, but the strange way leases were divided up saw his patch completely surrounded by the plantation of his lessee.

Archie Caponas (top left), family, friends and employees, Main Arm 1941
(Gerasimos George and Eva Kassianos, 2nd and 3rd from left.
Theo Dimitri Psaltis in tie and vest sitting on rock. Maria Caponas and daughter Arna far right.)
(Courtesy Maria Masselos)

By late 1957 his custom built house on his lot in Argyle Street, purchased as part of the Kastren Subdivision in 1949, was completed and he and the family moved back into town. From here he sold bulk fruit and flower bulbs, but particularly pineapples and pineapple suckers, the rapidly growing new diversification crop for banana growers. Dahlais remained his passion and for almost his entire stay in Mullum he was selling the bulbs over the counter and from his home. [By the 1958/59 season Byron Shire was by far the leading pineapple producer in the State, with 157 acres under cultivation and yielding 23,714 cases. A great new industry was envisaged and big plans made for pineapple canning factories and subsidiary industries. Alas, nothing ever eventuated.]

After Archie caught the radio bug and came down with the banana disease the cafe thereafter seems to have been left in the hands of managers, notably the Psaltis Bros later of Burringbar. The cafe had been given an extensive makeover in 1939 in conjunction with a general refurbishment of all the shops in the Mallam’s Building and re-emerged as The Model Café. At the same time all shops in the Simpson’s Building underwent remodelling, which brought the old Mullumbimby Café back as a serious competitor. That year saw Mullum’s CBD undergo the biggest building and refurbishment period for many years, but it all slumped again in 1940.

Mr and Mrs A. Caponas with children Arna and Mina.
Mullumbimby Show 1941
(Courtesy John Caponas)

On 14Oct43 he placed a mysterious public notice in the paper announcing that owing to shortage of labour he is reluctantly compelled to close his cafe permanently… and that old customers would be given preference in the clearance of all goods. The cafe, still trading under its new name as The Model Café, shut its doors after the last trading day on Saturday 16Oct43. At this time nearly all the cafes in the region were cutting back on opening hours due to lack of labour and increased rationing, and a few had already folded. Archie’s was the seventh long-established Mullum business to close since the beginning of the war, the main reasons being rationing, quotas and lack of staff, but it also implies that Mullum was missing out on the boom times being experienced by cafes elsewhere during the war, maybe because it was off the beaten track for soldiers on R & R looking for entertainment outlets. Then, on 2Dec43, Con Harris, previously of the Macquarie Café at Wellington, placed a public notice informing one and all that he was the new proprietor of The Popular Café, under which name it has remained ever since. Archie was a smart operator and there was probably some convoluted commercial advantage in passing on the business in this way.

Archie, a naturalized British Subject, married a fellow Mitatian, Maria Dimitri Protopsaltis, at Armidale in 1932, thus giving her the right to vote for the Country Party (while her sisters in Greece had to wait until 1952 to get the franchise.) Unfortunately Maria contacted TB in about 1938 and for the next 9yrs sought treatment from numerous specialists until she was hospitalised in Brisbane in 1945. She was allowed home in late 1946 and died six months later. Archie flew up The Rev Fr John Evangelinidis from Sydney to conduct the funeral service, which drew Greeks from all over for a 60 car cortege, unheard of in Mullum around this time. All his family came for the funeral, including his older brother John from America, whom he set eyes on for the very first time. Two years later Archie created another Country Party voter when he married Dionysia Pippos, the sister of Stathis Andreas Pippos and aunt of Maria Gianotis, both of Main Arm at this time.


In late 1960, with no end to the banana glut in sight, Archie put his Argyle Street house on the market and publicly advertised his decision to leave the district. However, the Mullum market rapidly slumped and he and Dionysia postponed their retirement to Sydney until 1967, two years after he sold his farm to his lessee, the Dutchman Jan Vanderbyl. In the meantime he stood for council in the elections of late 1962, but bombed out. Early the next year he became an agent for those growers who gave up on the BGF and directly consigned their bananas to the Sydney markets. In Sydney he kept his hand in the business arena by opening up a real estate agency where a lot of the banana growers listed their plantations for sale, contributing to the slow trickle, later a flood, of Sydneysiders joining the exodus to the Mullum district, by then gaining a reputation as the new Arcadia after the alternate lifestylers discovered the place.

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Twenty nine year old Con George Karazeris (Harris), accompanied by wife Flora (nee Spiropoulos) and baby son George, landed from Acrata in the northern Peloponnese in 1923. They spent 3yrs in Corowa, where Nick and James were born, and a year in Wollongong before settling in Sydney for the birth of Maria. Until relocating to Wellington in the late 1930s Con mainly was employed as a seafood agent in the Sydney markets. After taking over the Popular in 1943 he traded from 8am to 11pm on every day for the next 7yrs before retiring back to Sydney. George served in WW2 and upon discharge joined Jim as a cook at the Popular, while Nick became a banana grower and part-time soda jerker with sister Maria (and a star in the 'Mullum One' hockey team.)

Nick, Jim and Maria Harris behind soda fountain ~1948
(Courtesy Felicia Harris)

Con was subject to a bit of Greek bashing in early 1950 when a customer tried to do a runner after his meal. There were a few unfortunate words spoken and a bit of biffo, but by this time Mullum was entering a new benign era and the Court of Petty Sessions had undergone a change in tenor towards maintaining community harmony. The bench was now run by two magistrates, the local JPs L. Lindsay and V. Bassett, sitting in joint judgement, who made part of the bloke’s sentence a requirement to return to the Popular and offer a public apology to Con. In 1952 Tony Peters (Pizimola) of the Empire Cafe became a JP and joined the bench.


In 1950 Maria’s twenty first birthday was one of the social events of the year. The School of Arts was hired for the evening and 'over 100 young people’ were present for the festivities at which their landlord, George Mallam, was the master-of-ceremonies. An orchestra from Brisbane was brought in and the Bruns Life Savers’ Glee Club provided harmonies. Towards the end of the year Maria won the ‘Popular Girl Competition’ after raising £299/13/4 for the hospital.  A few weeks later the family called it a day and moved permanently to Sydney, having sold the cafe to the Psaltis Bros mid year. Con took over the well-known Louis Restaurant in George Street, but sons Nick and George became the main face of the business. Maria returned to Mullum for holidays over the years and was a regular houseguest of the Caponas’.

Photo: Nick and Maria Harris ~1950
(Courtesy Felicia Harris)


Theo and Peter Dimitrios Psaltis, Archie’s brothers-in-law, returned from Murwillumbah to formally take over from the Harris family on 3May1950, but Peter, who had served in the AIF and married Zacharoula (Roula) Cassimatis post war, sold his share to Theo in 1956 and went back to Murbah to acquire the Metro Milk Bar in Wharf Street.

Peter, Maria and Theo had all arrived in Australia accompanied by their father Dimitri, a vagabond who had done a number of trips back and forth to Kythera over the years, the first of which could have been as early as 1900 according to family folklore. And folklore has it that he had his own cafe in Murbah sometime in the early 1900s, but more likely he was a manager in one of the Aroney businesses for a while. Dimitri was born in Mitata in ~1878 and was the younger half brother to three Feros brothers who also came to Australia, but whilst it’s understood that the Feros Bros of Mullum, Basil, Alex, and Nick, were connected to Dimitri in some way, they were not his half brothers. The Psaltis/Feros interconnections in Mitata are as complex as the genealogical nightmare of the Samios, Aroneys and Cominos (read Smith for Australians).

Krisoula (nee Feros) and Dimitri Protopsaltis
(Courtesy John Theo Psaltis)

The family understanding is that Dimitri Psaltis tested the market in Mullum around 1914 but was swayed by his mate Emmanuel Haniotis that Bowral offered better opportunities. The pair traded there for a couple of years until opening the Canberra Cafe in George St., Sydney, from where Dimitri returned home in late 1920. On his next trip in 1922, accompanied by 12yr old son Peter, he teamed up with his brother-in-law, Jack Theo Feros,  for  various adventures around the Tablelands until again returning for some Kytherian R & R in the late 1920s, while Peter was left behind and tested with the usual Kytherian ‘sink or swim’ survival lessons. Peter seems to have had the same wanderlust as his father and travelled all over the place, even jackarooing out west at one stage, but at some point after his sister’s marriage he came back to Mullum to work for Archie Caponas. He was in the cafe game at Armidale in the mid 1930s, but by the time of his enlistment in 1939 he was working in or around Charleville.

Maria Dimitri Psaltis
(Photos courtesy John Theo Psaltis)

Dimitri was a partner with Jack Feros in the Waratah Café at Armidale but was only hands-on intermittently during his frequent trips back and forth. Jack passed his share of the cafe to his brother Nick in the late 1920s, as did Dimitri a little later. On a trip in ~1929 Dimitri escorted his daughter Maria who worked for him as a waitress in the IXL Café at Bundarra, which he had acquired from Dimitrios Kosmas Aroney, earlier of Murbah, in 1930. Shortly after Maria married Archie Caponas in 1932 Dimitri sold out to Kyriakos Nick Cassimatis (Kerry Cassim) and again returned for a Kytherian sabbatical. On the next trip in 1934 he was accompanied by his 12yr old son Theo who remained to work with Archie and Maria. When old enough to go out on his own, and after completing his cafe apprenticeship with various Feros rellies on the Tablelands, Theo followed the example of the Ithacans and became a banana grower at Main Arm and later with his Psaltis cousins at Upper Burringbar.

L to R: Theo Dimitri Psaltis, Peter Cosma Psaltis, unknown, ~1948
(possibly the Macedonian Jimmy Petchinis right)

His first cousins, Peter and Nick Psaltis, the sons of his aunt Maria Feros who married Cosmas Psaltis, came to town in the late 1930s to work for Archie Caponas and probably followed the earlier ‘four days farm/three days cafe’ work pattern of he and Jim Feros. Peter Cosma leased his own banana patch at Upper Burringbar in late 1941 and is the only Greek of whom it can be said with certainty that his application was approved during the ‘alien’ paranoia of the early war years. Shortly after his marriage to Golfa Olga Gavrily, at Barraba near Armidale in 1944, he and Nick were joined by brother Theo and all worked the lease together until about 1950. Nick however, applied to the Capital Review Board mid 1944 to buy a separate freehold at Upper Burringbar, but whether the still strong fears over the ‘alien menace’ in the banana industry thwarted his ambitions is uncertain. They were joined at Burringbar by sister Katina, newly arrived from Kythera in early 1946, who managed to escape the drudgery of banana growing a couple of years later when she married Greg Londy (Leondarakis) of Casino. The wedding was in Lismore in 1948 in a dual ceremony with her brother George who came from Barraba to marry Hariklia Prineas and subsequently settle at Mosman.

The brothers eventually had their fill of bananas and moved on after the glut of 1949; Peter to Sandgate initially before settling in Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, Nick to Uralla where he acquired the White Rose Café from uncle Jack Feros and operated it for nearly 50yrs before retiring to Sydney in early 1999, and Theo to Sydney where he had a take-away business at Bondi Junction until his death in 1992. Their parents, Cosma George Protopsaltis and Maria Theo Feros, landed in 1947 and initially lived with them at Burringbar until moving to Armidale in ~1949, but a couple of years later settled in Uralla with son Nick. Cosma, born 1882, the son of George and Katina (nee Castrisios), was amongst the first Kytherians into Chile, where he spent 12yrs all up, first trip in 1907.

Theo Dimitri Psaltis spent ten years in bananas before he accumulated the capital to go the traditional Kytherian route as a restaurateur. Sometime in the late 1940s he had split from his cousins and gone into partnership with his brother Peter, at loose ends after his release from the AIF, in a plantation at Upper Burringbar, to where they commuted daily from their residence in Murbah. After buying Peter’s share of the Popular in 1956 Theo and wife Pat continued to run the cafe, in conjunction with another at Brunswick Heads which they purchased in the 1960s, until his death in 1990, aged 68.

The 'Pop' 2006, same viewpoint as the 1923 photo above. (Original art decor mirror hidden in the clutter of mod cons).

The Popular continued in business for another 17yrs under the stewardship of their son, John Psaltis, who retained some of the old ambience of the classic milk bar period (glossing over the removal of more cubicle seating to make way for additional youth-corrupting pinball machines), and created a unique decor, patented as 'hippie retro'. Catering remained a very competitive game, but he managed to stay afloat in the face of Mullum's new cafes and food trends, even outlasting some. When he finally closed the doors on 7Feb2007, the Popular, just short of its 98th birthday, was one of the oldest Greek cafes still operating in family hands in NSW, and, after the demise of the 107yr old Dairy Delite in Lismore on 20Nov2006, the second oldest continuous cafe still trading on its original site on the North Coast, now leaving the 99yr old Balcony Restaurant at Murbah unchallenged regional leader in the longevity stakes. John's koumbaro, Jack Londy of Casino, now wears the distinction as proprietor of the only Greek cafe still trading in the Richmond-Tweed region.

Pat Psaltis was one of the leading lights in organising the Mullumbimby ‘Continental Balls’ held through the 1950s and 1960s in the Civic Centre. The Greeks, Macedonians and Italians constituted a sizeable part of the community by then and this combined social event was a showcase for their respective cultures. Locals old enough to remember rate it as equivalent to the recently defunct Chincogan Festival in terms of community interest. Up to 600 people were usually in attendance, from as far afield as Brisbane as well as the northern rivers district generally, and a giant marquee was erected adjacent to the Civic Centre to cater for the overflow from the hall. Food of all continental varieties was served and the flags of many nations flown. Greek orchestras were brought down from Brisbane and sometimes flown up from Sydney. The Greek Consul from Brisbane was even present one year – and partnered by Vera Black (Mavromatis) of Middle Pocket. The balls always raised a heap of money for local charities. The first year’s takings went to the purchase of a humidicrib for the hospital, allegedly the first outside Sydney, which was used for many years by hospitals in other towns.

Mullum's prosperity ~1958
(Courtesy Eric Spedding)

And 2006

The straw poll indicates that through the 1950s and early 60s the local delinquents preferred to hang-out at the 'Pop' rather than the Empire (or at least the self-assessing 'in' crowd did.)

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Empire Building

Tony Peters (Pizimolas) was the driving force behind the inauguration of the Continental Balls after taking the baton from Archie Caponas as the main spokesman for the Greek community. He rolled into Mullum from Stanthorpe in the mid 1940s and over the next 20yrs became a noted property owner in town. His holdings, in partnership with his brother-in-law, George Angus (Angouras) of Murwillumbah, included the Empire Theatre and the adjacent Simpsons Buildings, which house five shops and stretch down to the lane off Burringbar street. Amongst these was the Empire Café next door to the theatre, the old Mullumbimby Café rescued from its former status as a junk shop during Archie Caponas’ reign, but restored as a contemporary milk bar rather than to its former art deco cafe glory.

Tony was only briefly ‘hands on’ in the cafe and chose to lease it in conjunction with a number of different proprietors over the years. Through the 1950s and 60s it became the favourite hang-out for a couple of generations of Mullum teenagers and was a classic example of the cafe culture of the times. Both the theatre and the cafe were colloquially known as ‘Peters’.

Burringbar Street 1939 (Courtesy BVHS)

Tony, born in the village of Gianadi on Rhodes in 1914, was 20yrs old when he came to South Australia to join his father, Panayioti, who had landed in 1926 and had spent the years working alone to send back money for family support and education. Tony had graduated with honours from college in 1932 but unfortunately the money didn’t stretch to a university education. In Australia he quickly came to the attention of Archbishop Evangelides who persuaded him to start a school in Townsville for the teaching of Greek to the children of the many Greek cane-cutting families in the region. This career lasted two years and he is still fondly remembered by the 50-odd children as The Thasaklo (the teacher). His first foray into the business arena came when he bought a laundry and dry cleaning business in Tully with the help and encouragement of the Castrissos family. From there he moved to Brisbane where he met Peter Samios (a grocer) and various fellow Rhodians who advised him to get into the cafe game. He subsequently acquired a fish ‘n’ chip shop in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, in partnership with Tony Diacomanolis and George Constantakis. A few years later however, he again got itchy feet and in the early 1940s acquired the Stanthorpe cafe of George Freeleagus. Three years later he came to Mullum, which in early 1945 had suffered a drop in the cafe passing-trade because of the re-routing of the Pacific Highway through Brunswick Heads.

In the meantime his sister Anastasia, who had landed with his brother Emmanuel in 1939, came to live with him at Stanthorpe and subsequently married George Angouras, the fruit shop and transport company owner of Murwillumbah. And it was to George he turned when a doctor advised him that a change to a warmer climate would be beneficial for his increasingly painful arthritis. George introduced him to his friend Gordon Farrar who was contemplating selling the Empire Theatre in Mullum because of his wife’s recent illness, and in due course terms were agreed upon and Tony entered the ranks of the Cinema Czars. He employed a ticket seller and projectionist, whom he regularly assisted, but for the Saturday matinees operated the projector himself. Otherwise he selected all the movies and supervised the operation.

He was a progressive film exhibitor, showing the sex education movie ‘The Secrets of Life’ in early 1950 to segregated audiences; males one night and females the next. So blame him for the outbreak of promiscuity in Mullum. Things got out of hand when patrolling with torches couldn’t prevent an outbreak of jiving in the aisles when Elvis came to town. Nor the goings-on in the back rows – wise to pay extra for seats in the lounge for that special date. Nevertheless, folklore has it that Tony exercised a bit of censorship at times, snipping the naughty bits from films such as Peyton Place and the like, probably at the urging of his fellow Rotarians and Freemasons who wished to protect their wives from an attack of the vapours.

Mullumbimby 1948
L to R: George Angouras, Anastasia Angouras, Tony Peters, Sylvia Peters,
Panagiotis Peters, Manoli Peters.
(Courtesy of Peter and Helen Moraitis)


After the graffiti vandals moved in, ~1985
(Courtesy BVHS)


TV came to Mullum in 1959, three years after the one-armed bandits, and both quickly grew beyond all expectations, changing fundamentally the way of life of the whole community. By the early 1960s theatre audiences had fallen away dramatically, so much so that Tony was prompted to seek other business opportunities in Darwin. The cinema was leased out to Mr Curran and continued to operate one night a week for a number of years until finally closed in the mid1970s, although intermittently resurrected over the next few years until definitely shutting its doors forever in 1982. Mullum lost a piece of its history in 1994 when the theatre was demolished and the site redeveloped.

Tony married Sylvia Haritos, the sister of Despina Alidenes of Palmwoods and Yankee Creek, in Brisbane in early 1946. They, with their three children Peter, Stratios and Eleni, moved to Darwin in 1965, but later retired to Brisbane where both recently died. Through their Mullum sojourn they were regular contributors to many organizations, in particular Legacy, which was a consistent recipient of a day’s takings from the picture theatre. Free film nights for Rotary benefits, school children and various charities were also frequent. In 1960 Tony joined the illustrious company of Mr Anthony MHR and Mr Stephens MLA in becoming a patron of the Boy Scouts.

The last of his family, his mother Irene (nee Lucas) and sister Despina, landed in 1947 and went to Murbah where his father had become a chef at the Angouras cafe. His brother Emanuel/Manoli (Mick), a banana grower out at Main Arm in the late 1940s, married Aphrodite Pippos the sister of Spyro Pippos of Main Arm. Their wedding was a grand affair in Mullum at the time. They were married at St. Martin’s Church of England on 4Dec1950 by Fr. Christostomus, assisted by Canon Rowe, with Arna Caponas and Theo Psaltis amongst the bride and groom attendants. The reception at the Mullumbimby Creek hall afterwards drew more than 200 Greeks from all over the district and beyond.

The 2nd ugliest man in Mullumbimby
(Mullum Star 18Sep1950)

Theo Lambros, from Sparta in the Peloponnese, came down from Stanthorpe in the late 1940s to become co-lessee of the Empire Café with Tony Peters. He has the dubious distinction of being runner-up in the Ugliest Man in Mullum Competition, run in late 1950 to raise money for the swimming pool. One of his dis/loyal campaigners was an employee, Jimmy Lathouras, who was utterly convinced Theo had a face like a dropped pie. Despite the award Theo managed to retain the affection of Eleftheria Nicolaides. (And continuing the 'small Greek world' theme, their daughter Nina married Cos Psaltis, the son of Peter of Burringbar, while their niece, Jan Nicolaides, the granddaughter of Christy Freeleagus of Coolangatta, married Cos's brother George.)

Elias and Gloria Bertsos assumed command in 1952 upon arrival from Murwillumbah where they had been in partnership with Con Vlismas. But they handed on the lease in about 1954 to Gordon Slogrove who in turn passed it on to John and George Develengas, brothers from the Peloponnese, around 1958. They cleared out the storeroom in the back where they lived until late 1964 when 19yr old George died in a road accident and John sold out to Jimmy Budd, thus ending the Greek association with the Empire, if not migrant involvement.


Hippies from Main Arm enjoying some non-vegetarian treats at the Empire Cafe 1975. (Courtesy Rob Rubens via BVHS)


Between 1983 and 1986 The Empire was home to Mullum’s first pizza parlour when Luciano (Louie) Torresi, a banana grower of Billinudgel, moved into town. He was 18yrs old when he landed from Northern Italy in 1952 and over the years had many different jobs to supplement income from the shaky banana industry. In the late 1990s came Stefan Babilonsky from the village of Ruzomberok in Slovakia to give The Empire its eleventy seventh transformation. He and Polish wife Margo planned to introduce a range of European lines to the menu, but, alas, Mullum’s fickle clientele meant it never eventuated and through to the present the place has continued to change hands, decor and menus, although mostly serving up tasty traditional fare and catering to the take-away trade.

The Empire 2006


Folklore has it that Mullum boasted another Greek cafe at some stage in the 1940s, run by Mrs Katerini Pilikas, the wife of an Ithacan banana grower at The Pocket, who specialised in serving Greek dishes, at least to the homesick banana growers (but more likely she was a cook for Caponas.) She was a refreshing change for the Greeks used to receiving Australian fare in the cafes. Apart from long hours and frugal living the Greeks had survived in the catering game by meeting the demand for the Australian staple of steakeneggs, although many strived for five stars from the Michelin Guide. With the notable exception of Mullum, most Greek cafes in the region were advertising ‘Australian and Continental meals available’ on their menus by the late 1950s, but the locals stuck with familiar tucker, while the 'New Australian' market faded away with the collapse in the banana industry. Locally the experiment was mothballed, but in the metropolitan centres the babyboomers, as part of their quest to agitate their parents, started to wean themselves off over-done T-bones the size of banana crates and begin experimenting with ‘ethnic’ food. Those seeking the 'alternate lifestyle' eventually brought their new tastes back to the region and the cafes, most no longer 'Greek', entered a new era. Nonetheless, the Chiko Roll remains on the menu and tomato sauce is still guaranteed to improve the quality of every meal.

Food was only part of the Greek cafe package however. The cafes and milk bars were the socialising centres for country towns and were the favoured places for meeting-up and hangin'-out. They evolved and flourished through the forties to the sixties, but the spread of TV and decline of the picture theatre, club expansion through poker machines, the collapse of the rural economy, the loss of youth to the cities, the rise of the car giving easy access to alternate social and entertainment outlets away from the town centre, and on and on, were amongst the range of factors with which they couldn’t compete. By the end of the sixties their glory days were over but they remain a fond memory in the Australian psyche. 


The ubiquitous Chinese restaurants began to supplant the Greek cafes in country towns from the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1984 that Mullum got to taste chop suey when the RSL put the management of its dining room out to tender and a bloke named Henry Lee put in the best bid. Lo and behold, Henry turned out to be Chinese and the tricky blighter immediately went about changing the menu. The dining room lost a lot of patronage initially but it eventually caught on as word spread about the cheapest feed in town and the convenience of the new take-away. However, the Chinese restaurants never fulfilled the cafe's socialising function and it wasn't until the rise of the al fresco coffee culture that civilization got back on track. (The Greeks had always been amazed at the Australian preference for indoor dining, especially in this region's benign climate.)


By the late 1960s the banana, dairy and timber industries were looking very shaky and Mullum was in a parlous state. But business started to turn around with the arrival of the alternate lifestylers seeking to live the agrarian myth and rejuvenate the rural economy with the introduction of contraband crops. These hipsters progressively established communes around Main Arm, which by the early 1970s had about 200 naked bunyips moon-dancing around the teepees. Amongst them was ‘Black Pete’ and a viand of vegans (including Jimmy, Keith, Andrew and Vera) who began changing the diet of the Mullumites with the establishment of the Sunflower Restaurant and wholemeal bakery in Stuart Street down near the hardware store. In 1976 they expanded into the old Devon Cake Shop, but the kitchen later went up in peculiar smelling smoke, which assisted the place into bankruptcy in 1978. In the meantime the Main Arm gastronomes began offering a range of vegetarian dishes, which quickly attracted Mullum's growing population of radical citizens and encouraged John Psaltis at the languishing Popular to experiment with deep-fried Torfu chips. They were an instant hit and over 20yrs down the track Mullum’s diet continues to be schizoid, with that great cook, Col Esterol, still in the race.


Stuart Street 1982. (The Sunflower and Main Arm Craft Shop occupied the 1906 timber building between the lane and Mitre 10. Santos health foods moved in when the Sunflower moved out.) (Courtesy BVHS)


An early sign of the a-changin’ times was the decision by the Bowling Club in 1958 to introduce mixed bowls on Sundays. Said the Secretary Mr Bassett: The move is a new departure for the club, which formerly restricted women’s playing to weekdays. Women had been kept off the greens for many years, but the Mullumbimby Club must move with the times.... Mr Hungerford, the local solicitor, said he had been a leader in opposing women’s bowls, but had seen the spectacle of sparse attendance on Mullumbimby greens while neighbouring greens were overflowing for only one reason. Say what? The wives would have been excited to learn that they were now allowed to play with their husband’s bowls every alternate Sunday after cooking the roast beef and three veg’. But maybe not so thrilled to learn that the secret ballot only got them out of the kitchen with a three vote margin, 26 to 23. The old social norms progressively broke down in the face of mini skirts, the pill, hippie festivals, Ms Greer, Saint Gough, the Beatles/Stones/...,  


Meanwhile in the hills out of town the Ithacan banana growers had become the dominant Greek presence in the district.


Burringbar Street 1948
(Courtesy Brunswick Valley Historical Society)

Burringbar Street 2006
(As at 2006 the unreconstructed Empire is the only original cafe still operating in the face of Mullum's new deconstructed feedlots and coffee
 shops, while the palm camouflage hides most of the new dreary architecture, except the council chambers dead ahead.)