submitted by Roxy Theatre, Bingara, NSW on 17.10.2012
The Order of the Australasian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the largest Hellenic organisation in the world, recently held its 58th National Convention in Sydney. It was conducted from the 6th to13th October 2012.
The Conference Venue was AHEPA Hall
394-396 Process Highway,
Rockdale NSW, 2216
Phone: (02) 9567-4437 Fax: (02) 9567-4458
Presentation of a token of appreciation L-R Tasha Vanos, Elias Doufas, and Peter McCarthy aka Panayiotis 'Skoulandris' Makarthis
AHEPA was founded in Australia in Werris Creek NSW in May 1934. A follow up meeting occurred in Scone, NSW, in 1935.
The majority of the Australian Greeks who established AHEPA were Kytherians.
It was modelled on the American H.E.P.A. which had been set up in 1922.
Two of its key ideals was to promote a better and comprehensive understanding of the Hellenic people and to spread and cultivate the attributes, ideals and legacy of Hellenism.
Also to generate and champion a sincere love for education and culture by promoting and participating in the dissemination of both. The organisation offered a structured means for keeping Greeks in contact with each other throughout the country.
AHEPA provided a means by which Hellenes in Australia could maintain regular contact with each other.
For more information see,
Gillian Bottomley. After the Odyssey: A Study of Greek Australians. Queensland University Press, St Lucia. 1979. pp. 62-63.
Tsounis, M.P. The history of Australia's Greeks: some signposts and issues, in, Kapardis and Tamis (eds), Afstraliotes Hellenes. pp. 62-64.
Photograph of one of the two original A.H.E.P.A. meetings with numerous (a majority) Kytherians in attendance.
Peter McCarthy, from the Roxy Museum Committee, delivered a talk at the AHEPA National Convention on the morning of the 9th October. Peter followed on after an address to AHEPA by His Excellency Mr Yannis Iacovou, High Commissioner of Cyprus to Australia.
He outlined the history of both AHEPA and the establishment of the Roxy complex in North Western NSW. Both were founded in the Greek-Australian cafe culture that was prominent at the time.
As he spoke, a number of persons in the audience wept openly. Here was an "Aussie", albeit married to a Greek and a Kytherian, who was highlighting their heritage, and most importantly, also helping to preserve their heritage into the distant future.
The AHEPAn's have planned a bus 'pilgrimage' to the Roxy 'complex' for between 40 & 60 people, in January and February 2013.
L to R - Stephen Manos, His Excellency Mr Yannis Iacovou, High Commissioner of Cyprus to Australia; Elias Doufas, National President, Australasian Hellenic Progressive Association, listening very attentive to Peter's speech.
Peter was accompanied by his wife Deanna
Peter would like to express his appreciation to the former Inverell residents George Cooper (late Australia Cafe) and Mrs Alex Koutchavelis - nee Mitchell ( Late Black and Green Bar). Also George Poulos Secretary of the Kytherian Association, and Arthur Sathakis for their attendance and support
His thanks also to Matina Comino and Con Vlachos who accompanied Deanna during the presentation.
The speech that Peter delivered follows below:
Thank you Tasha for your generous introduction
The President Elias, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
To the members of the Australasian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association – thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation at this prestigious gathering.
It is a pleasure to be able to give you an insight into the marvelous venue of The Roxy Theatre at Bingara, which you may have had the opportunity to experience, either by media attention or related experience.
The story of The Roxy is not just about the venue, the bricks and mortar. It is not just about the striking art deco architecture or historical significance. It is a story of big ideas, of dreams and visions; and ultimately heartbreak and triumph.
Beyond the narrative, The Roxy is a symbol that epitomizes the Greek migration experience: one that made an outstanding contribution to the development of Australia. A close look at the roots of every successful Greek descendent in whatever field of endeavor will find a foundation in early oyster saloon and café culture.
The story of The Roxy has touched many lives and in doing so has been well documented over the years.
Much of the story was played out in the pages of the local newspaper, The Bingara Advocate. Further insights came to light in a PHD thesis undertaken in the 1990’s by the President of the Australian Theatre Historical Society, the late Kevin Cork. The thesis was entitled Parthenons Down Under, Greek Motion Picture Exhibitors in NSW, a topic never before explored.
But by far the most comprehensive components of the story have been provided by Peter Prineas, the grandson of one of the original founders of the building through the extensively researched biography “Katsehamos and the Great Idea.” We are indebted to all those who have spent vast amounts of time documenting this significant story and much of what I will tell you about the Roxy is derived from these sources.
The Roxy was built in 1936 by three Greek partners; Peter Feros, George Psaltis and Emanuel Aroney from the island of Kythera in Greece; as a magnificent art deco cinema with an adjoining café in the town of Bingara in northern NSW. It operated as a cinema until 1958 when it shut down and lay dormant for over forty years.
Peter Feros arrived 1921 in Australia to join his brother Phillip Feros in the town of Manilla, approximately 100 kilometres south of Bingara. His brother, Phillip, had been in Australia for seven years as co-owner of two cafes in Manilla.
In Manilla, Peter Feros gained experience in the café business and this served him well as he would run cafes for the rest of his life. Employment opportunities for Greek immigrants at the time were few as limitations in education and language put many occupations beyond their reach. After a couple of years of working in his brother’s café, Peter Feros began the search for a new business opportunity and suitable partners to join him.
The railway line to Manilla ran another 50 or so kilometers west to the town of Barraba. Barraba was at the end of the line but, over in the next valley, across the volcanic hills of the Nandewar Range was the town of Bingara.
It must have seemed like a frontier town out there beyond the reach of the railway, out in the cypress clad hills along the Gwydir River.
Peter Feros was attracted to the potential of Bingara and late in 1924 he left Manilla to establish a new venture at Bingara in the wake of an opportunity created by the Alfieris brothers who were moving on to Wellington in the Central West of NSW.
Greeks had established themselves two decades earlier at Bingara with an oyster saloon in Bingara. Constantine Fardouly (1905) managed a branch of S. Peter and Co at Bingara until moving on to Narrabri; James Marcellos (1916) moving to Queensland followed by Dimitrios and Theodore Alfieris.
It was here that a partnership called Peters & Co was formed, with two other Greek immigrants also from the island of Kythera of similar age and backgrounds; Peter’s cousin George Psaltis and Emanuel Aroney.
The name Peters & Co was not an attempt by Peter Feros at making himself principal. The three men were equal partners and they took the name Peters & Co because it had worked for other Greek businessmen who adopted it as an informal franchise among Greek shopkeepers.
In 1925, the partners of Peters & Co were at work building up their business as restaurant keepers in Bingara.
No doubt inspired by the successes of the Ithacan, Mareeno Lucas’s Princess Theatre (1911) and Majestic Theatre(1917) in Launceston Tasmania and the establishment of the Kouvelis brother’s, J.K. Capitol Theatres at Armidale, Tamworth, Moree and Inverell (1930), they embarked on their dream to establish the Roxy Theatre with adjoining restaurant and guest house in Bingara.
Peters & Co leased the building in Maitland Street where they operated their restaurant and they purchased land nearby along Maitland Street where they were to build the Roxy, and commissioned an architect to draw up plans.
Peters & Co’s plans were for a café facing Maitland St with a 35 foot counter fitted with modern drink dispenses and appliances. Further back would be a dining room seating 140 patrons, and behind it a kitchen with modern electrical appliances. Upstairs, over the café, there would be rooms to provide living quarters for the management and staff, with bedrooms, and sleeping porches.
Modern was the dream of the times. Peters & Co.’s picture theatre was a house of dreams and it could not be anything but modern.
Like all grand visions, The Roxy would be very grand indeed. There would be steps in the vestibule area to gain height; this would allow the floor of the auditorium to slope down towards the screen and provide every patron with a good view. The sloping section of the floor would have seating for 280 patrons and the level section closer to the screen would accommodate another 270. The level area was designed so that the seats could be removed, revealing a large dance floor made of beautifully joined timbers cut from the cypress pine forests of the north-west.
The Roxy opened with fanfare in grand style on Saturday 25th March 1936. The euphoria was short lived as spirited opposition from the outset of the project, by an already established theatre in the town, brought the over capitalized dream crashing to reality. Indeed a Greek tragedy of modern times.
In mid-August, just five months after they had opened their doors, the theatre, the café, the shops and the guesthouse were all lost. There were many debts to cover the vast expense of building The Roxy and in September 1936 the three partners signed for bankruptcy. They had lost everything they had worked for since coming to Australia.
So, while the story ended sadly for the Greek founders, it has ended triumphantly for us today. And I say that, because today it is standing in all its glory in its original state as testimony to the legacy of what the three partners have left behind.
Whilst the Greek partners were planning their enterprise at Bingara another significant milestone of Greek migration in Australia was developing at Scone in the nearby Upper Hunter. Before Al Grasby and the Australian Government of the 1960’s, promotion of multiculturalism, there was the Pan Hellenic Herald and Nicholas Haralambos Andronicos.
Again it is a story of big ideas and visions by Greeks establishing themselves in the Australian community and cementing a place for future generations.
The Greek Hellenic Herald was launched in 1926 as “The Leading Greek Newspaper in Australasia.” The Editor: Ioannes Stilson and Manager: George Marsellos at 119-123 York Street, Sydney. The First Edition was published 16 November 1926 with bold editorial on the front page announcing:-
“Our aim in inaugurating this journal is primarily to enlighten our fellow-countrymen, the Greeks, in this noble country, and particularly those who have not had the advantage of a long residence on its shores. For this reason our paper is not the organ of any party, class or faction. Our sole aim is to enlighten and educate. We are absolutely and sincerely non-partisan. We neither support nor condemn any particular party, and our watchwords will be Truth, Right and Justice to all.
Knowing however, as we do, that a great deal of misunderstanding exists among our Australian fellow-citizens regarding the ideals, aims and character of the Greeks today, we have thought good to publish a page each week in the English language regarding us and our aspirations.……”
The Greek Community of New South Wales endorsed their support for the fledgling newspaper on January 4, 1927 in a letter to the editor (in part) –
To the Editor,“Hellenic Herald,”
The Greek Community of New South Wales, having followed with great attention and pride from its first appearance until the present time, the views, aspirations and aims of your excellent journal, and discerning that these aims have not only the broader effect of acting beneficially in the national interests of our beloved country, but also in the particular interests and aims of the Greeks of New South Wales and the Commonwealth of Australia generally, have unanimously decided to appoint your paper as the official organ of the said community of New South Wales, in the full consciousness that you are fully capable of representing and forwarding their best interests.....
The Greek Community of New South Wales desire to avail themselves of this opportunity and occasion to express to you their fullest appreciation of the noble and patriotic work which you have seen fit to take in hand to perform. We recognise that your operations have the combined effect of uplifting our fellow countrymen in this land of their adoption, and of promoting the better understanding between them and their fellow citizens therein…
We think it a fitting conclusion to our remarks to join in wishing you a New Year full of prosperity and satisfaction.
With the greatest respect,
The Committee of the Greek Community of N.S.W.
Treasurer: Peter Sotiropulos.
CosmasCassimatis, Peter Aroney,
George Patterson, G.Comino, Peter Kazakas,
Theo Alifieris, B. Georgopoulos,
N. Bylos, G. Kalligeros
You are all well aware to the contribution made by Nicholas Haralabos Andronicos convening the foundation meeting of AHEPA at Scone and there is little need for me to cover this ground again for you. However equally as important was the meeting held at Armidale Wednesay 10 October 1934. This meeting was supported by the wider Greek Community with the attendance of His Grace Archbishop Timotheos Evangelinidis of the Greek Orthodox Church of Australasia and Oceana.
This meeting launched the newly founded AHEPA into the public arena
A report of the occasion was published Wednesday, October 10, 1934 in the Armidale Express – and I quote (in part)
AUSTRALIAN GREEKS Foregather At Armidale
Service at St. Peter’s Cathedral
A large number of members of the Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association from all parts of the North and North-west, and from as far south as Gosford met in conference at Armidale today. The members were, in many cases, accompanied by their wives and families and about 20 people were included in the party.
Prior to going into conference a full service, according to the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church, was held in St Peter’s Cathedral and the service was well attended not only by Greeks, but by a number of Anglican Church members.
His Grace Archbishop Timotheos Evangelindis, was assisted by the Revs. Nicodemus, Dimopolos and Mitrofanis. The service, which was chanted throughout, was most impressive in its solemnity.
At the conclusion of the service Holy Communion was dispersed and then the visitors proceeded to the Soldiers Memorial where the Archbishop and Mr Andronicos, president of the association, laid wreaths on the edge of the fountain.
Adorned with blue and white and red, white and blue ribbons, the wreaths were of laurel leaves only. One of the ribbons bore in gold lettering the following words:
“The Greeks – in Homage to the Unknown Soldier. October 10th 1934”
The Archbishop then delivered an eloquent address.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, luncheon was partaken of in the Parish Hall and the A.H.E.P.A. met in conference this afternoon.
Mr A. G. Grivas, of the “Hellenic Herald,” stated to-day that the Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association has as its objective, first of all, the gospel of good citizenship among its members and the teachings of education, tolerance, benevolence, chivalry, brotherly love, charity, truth and justice.
“In Australia, our adopted country, teeming with so many possibilities of progress and development, we observe marching in harmony and triumph with the good ideas and examples of all ages and people the current of Australian life; and the members of the A.H.E.P.A. will endeavour at all times to create a better understanding among the Australian people.
“The members have common interests to live and serve, and the watchword is “Service,” not for themselves, but for others and the benefit of the general community. To be loved, is to love, and to rise is to lift up the fallen; also to gain the greatest objective in life, is to give the best we have to a deserving brother.”
A dinner was held at Sam Sourrey’s White Rose Café Beardy Street Armidale at the conclusion of the A.H.E.P.A. gathering for the Archbishop and visiting dignitaries.
The research of this meeting was made possible from photos of the family of George Maina,who attended the conference and assistance from the Armidale Historical Society.
The emergence of the need by Greeks to integrate into the Australian Community at this time is of great significance. The point that this was initiated by the Greek Community without the support of Government agencies must not be lost.
I must at this point thank Mrs Katina Zerefos of Uralla (descendant of the Sourrey family at Armidale) for the generous contribution to the Roxy Museum, of the original photographs of the foundation meetings of AHEPA you have seen on the screen during this presentation.
These photographs will be displayed as part of the Greek migration story at the Roxy Museum Bingara.
Almost every town across New South Wales had a cinema and so many of them have been lost. If they weren’t reduced to rubble, they were converted into storage facilities where the fixtures and fittings were damaged beyond repair.
So we were lucky. The Roxy operated as a cinema until 1958 until it shut down and virtually lay dormant for the next forty years. The Roxy wasn’t completely shut up however, and the occasional film was shown, or the odd boxing match or roller disco.
It was a group of dedicated community members who recognized The Roxy’s significance and began to lobby the Bingara Shire Council to purchase the premises and restore it. The Bingara Council purchased the building in 1999 and once it had been successful in obtaining both state and federal funding, set about faithfully restoring it to its original splendour.
The fully restored Roxy Theatre reopened to the public in May 2004.
Today, The Roxy Theatre operates as a multipurpose cinema, performing arts venue and function centre that includes a variety of conferences, seminars, weddings and private functions.
Following the successful restoration of the Roxy Theatre and Roxy Café, and the wonderful 75th Anniversary celebrations in April 2011, The Roxy is pleased to announce the development of the Roxy Museum as the next exciting project to take place at the complex in Bingara.
The Roxy Museum will become a place of national significance that conserves and protects the important cultural associations between people and place. The Museum will conduct research and develop collections that document the history of the New England North West of NSW in a national and international context, with the objective of facilitating the community’s understanding of the past, and engagement with issues affecting its future.
The development of the Museum is another chapter in the extraordinary history of this remarkable venue.
The Roxy Museum provides opportunities for the celebration of Greek traditions that are embedded in Australia. The Roxy complex, including the Cafe and Museum, are highly significant in the history of the local community as well as in the history of Greek settlement in Australia. This is the first such site to be acquired by a local government authority for the purposes of restoration in order to preserve this remarkable legacy.
The Roxy Museum will: highlight the story of Greek immigration in regional Australia; collect, preserve and interpret this important chapter of multi-cultural heritage in Australia; share the stories of local communities and their relationships with Greek-operated cafés and cinemas for generations to come; and become a cultural icon of international significance
We have received funding from Arts NSW as well as a Kytherian cultural fund for the purpose.
The Roxy is calling on all Greeks to participate in this exciting development.
This is an opportunity to ensure that the achievements of the Greeks in Australia will not be forgotten. There are many ways that your family’s legacy can be included in the Roxy Museum. Contributions from individuals to ensure the project’s success are currently being sought in the form of either donations or loans of memorabilia, photographs and artefacts relevant to cafes and cinemas, will be particularly welcome.
An important aspect of the Roxy Museum will be the Greek Tribute Wall. The Roxy Tribute Wall will be a living monument to a shared Greek-Australian history, one that has a particularly strong foundation across numerous rural and regional communities of Australia
The Roxy Welcome Wall at Bingara will invite families and friends of Greek immigrants to honour their arrival in Australia, who were involved in the café, cinema, retail and hospitality trades throughout Australia.
The Tribute Wall will display not just the names of Greek immigrants, but also the period and the location where they lived and worked. In this way, it provides their descendants with a sense of identity at a particular time in a specific place. It connects them to their communities and tells their stories for generations to come.
The Roxy has become a place of great historical significance that exhibits local distinctiveness and a sense of place. With civic pride and confidence in its heritage, cultural facilities and collections, it is destined to attract people from all walks of life, wanting to share this unique experience.
In his thesis Kevin Cork advised us:
"If we are to remember these Greeks for their contributions to Australia's social, architectural and technological advancement, then it is imperative that there be Greek landmarks which are acknowledged at local and state level - ones that point to the achievements of the Greek-Australian cinema exhibitors who are the subject of this thesis. We cannot allow their histories to be forgotten, not when they provided services that positively affected millions of people, firstly, through their refreshment rooms and, secondly, through their picture theatres."
We at the Roxy Bingara, intend to do just that. The Greek partners had a dream, and now we have a responsibility to preserve, share, and above all, ensure that this remarkable story lives on for generations to come.
We at the Roxy Bingara , welcome you in the future, either collectively or individually to share the Roxy experience at Bingara.
Thank you for the opportunity to share The Roxy story with you this evening and for coming on this journey with us. A Modern Greek Odyssey.
Roxy 'complex' weblinks:
Roxy THEATRE Main Page
Roxy CAFE Main Page
Roxy MUSEUM Main Page. Overview of the history of the Roxy, published in the Royal Historical Society magazine
Katsehamos and the Great Idea, the BOOK, Main Page
Overview of the history of the Roxy, published in the Royal Historical Society magazine
Landline Program: 75th Anniversary celebrations
Greg Punch's youtube video
Greek party at Bingara
Part of the very large membership in attendance at the 58th Annual AHEPA National Convention, 2012
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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