submitted by Sydney Morning Herald on 26.03.2013
Sydney Morning Herald, March 25, 2013, pages 10 & 11
State Political Reporter
Photograph: Peter (Beneto) and Jack (Ioannis) Veneris at the Blue Bird Cafe, Lockhart NSW in 2002 Photo Effy Alexakis
Early Greek migrants introduced Australians to American food well before they felt confident enough to treat them to their home-cooked moussaka.
They opened cafes with names such as the Paragon, Olympia and Parthenon, serving US and British cuisine. They became meeting points, especially in close-knit country communities.
Husband and wife Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski chart this chapter of Australian history in a photographic exhibition to be staged at the Macquarie University Art Gallery.
The exhibition Selling An American Dream: Australia's Greek Cafe, will be launched on Wednesday as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney.
Greek cafes comforted British-Australians with familiar mixed grills - meals of steak and eggs, chops and eggs, fish and chips, and meat pies. They also promoted American concepts of the soda fountain and oyster bar.
By the early 1930s, Greeks had opened US-style milk bars all around Australia. According to Mr Janiszewski, the introduction of US catering ideas was not surprising because of the strong connection many Greeks had to relatives and friends in the US.
''The United States remained a major drawer of Greek immigrants until the imposition of restrictions during the early 1920s,'' Mr Janiszewski said.
Greek cafes introduced thousands of customers to American sundaes, milkshakes, sodas, spiders and freezes.
Many Greek cafes adopted names such as Blue Bird, White Rose and Red Rose which associated them with US-style confectionery brands.
Mr Janiszewski said the Americanisation wasn't limited to food.
Many Greeks had links to cinemas and introduced jukeboxes in their cafes.
''It meant that we were hearing American popular music well before it was heard on the radio,'' he said. ''This is where people first heard rock 'n' roll music.
''Every time you pick up a Coke, enjoy a sweet chocolate treat, have an ice-cream at the cinema or listen and dance to the latest popular music hit, you can thank Australia's Greek settlers.
''It is a direct result of the Greeks and their cafes.''
The Greeks also introduced an American art deco style of architecture, colloquially known as the ship style.
Mr Janiszewski said Greeks did not feel safe introducing their cuisine to ''white Australia''.
It wasn't until the late 1970s, when supermarkets began stocking products such as tinned dolmades and olive oil that Greeks were confident enough to serve their traditional dishes.
At the same time, Australians were travelling more and becoming exposed to a variety of food.
''The Greeks introduced exotic American culture which represented modernity,'' Mr Janiszewski said. ''Traditional Greek food was seen as foreign and seen as peasant food. Greeks have been eating their own food behind closed doors since the 1850s.'"
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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