submitted by Peter Makarthis on 05.09.2007
NEW LIFE FOR ROXY CAFÉ
The Greek café used to be a part of everyday Australian life; a landmark as recognizable and as familiar as our very own backyards. In rural towns across NSW and Queensland, ritzy art deco facades beckoned locals and travellers alike. On entry, patrons would be met with gleaming silver and chrome counters boasting streaming soda fountains and milkshake makers, glass shelving stacked with Minties and Bex and dazzling mirrored cabinets displaying an enticing assortment of hand-made chocolates.
The café was a popular meeting place in a time when life was less hectic; a time that evokes memories of hugs, handshakes and friendly banter from the Greek family behind the counter whose contribution to rural Australia is highly significant in terms of the developing culture of the typical country town.
Over time, the legacy of the Greek café has all but disappeared, the occasional curved display windows and leadlight panels on revamped exterior facades the last remaining testimony to a bygone era.
The Roxy café in Bingara is one such café. Established in 1936 by three Greek immigrants from the island of Kythera, the café was an integral part of The Roxy cinema complex. No expense was spared in building the café. A description from the time included a 35 foot counter fitted with modern drink dispenses and appliances. Further back, a dining room seated 140 patrons, and behind it a kitchen with modern electrical appliances.
The back of the café housed two cool rooms, one of them kept at below freezing point for ice and meats and frozen goods. The machinery room manufactured ice and generated electricity for power and light. Underneath the building, and extending under a courtyard at the back, a 30,000 gallon underground tank included an automatic pump from which water could be reticulated to all parts of the premises.
Patrons sat in sumptuous booths against walls lined with wood panelling and decorative tapestries, ordering from an extensive menu of grills, fish, joints, cutlets, eggs and poultry accompanied by effervescent spiders, sodas and frothing milk shakes.
Like so many of its counterparts in the region, The Roxy café closed its doors in the mid-1960’s, changing hands and guises many times over the years. The café retained a separate title to the cinema and has recently been purchased by the Gwydir Shire Council.
Subject to grant funding, the Council intends to restore it to its original splendour. Funding will be sought to ensure that the restoration will do justice to its heritage, with the aim that it too will become an icon, not only in Bingara and the north west, but across the state and around the country.
As work on the café is not expected to begin for at least 18 months, the Gwydir Shire Council will lease the existing premises in the interim to a restaurant/café operator.
The celebrated and still operating National-Trust listed Paragon Café in Katoomba and the Niagra in Gundagai are important icons in our country’s cultural history. Like that of its more famous cousins, the story of The Roxy café is not just about the bricks and mortar. It’s a story of the Greek heritage that lies at the heart of its history, a story that deserves to be preserved and brought to life for generations to come.
Parties interested in leasing the current Chinese Restaurant as part of the Roxy and operating a café/restaurant are invited to contact Sandy McNaughton, Roxy Manager, tel:(02) 67 242 006, mob: 0427 241 582, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 7th September.
This article reproduced from the Bingara Advocate 4 September 2007 by courtesy of the editor Nancy Capel.
Inverell NSW Australia
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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