Thursday, May 04, 2017

Remembering the Oceanic Cafe

When I first started working at Parramatta, I walked past this old cafe. It was a strange place, totally old fashioned, very cheap plan menu with few customers other than old guys sitting there quietly eating their lambs fry and bacon.

Then I noticed that it was not open sometimes. Suddenly, I knew. When I was coming to Sydney in my last years at school or early university I had eaten there. It wasn't posh then, but it was very cheap with large servings. Now, all those years later, it was still there and unchanged.

Looking down at the old lady who always sat in the back, I said to myself that you should go. The food is remarkable value, and you still like the things that they serve.

Finally, the place was shut. I had not been there. I kept reminding myself that there must be a story, it had to be a Sydney icon of some type, but I hadn't looked until for detail until they started altering the building and the last signs of the cafe started to vanish.

The story I found was very interesting but only partial. I quote from Not quite Nigella.
Run by a Mother and Daughter team as a community service for those in need, the interior of the cafe is a sight to behold. 
Unchanged from the original 1920's interior, there are booth style seats, roughly drawn menus that you know haven't changed in decades and specials of the day at the princely sum of $5 (the most expensive item being $9).As we walk in, they peer out from the little window to see who the interlopers are. We order at the table with the daughter, a smiling, slightly nervous woman who is a little hard of hearing but nevertheless unassuming and well meaning. 
Looking around the Oceanic Cafe as we are leaving, I wanted to know more about the Mother and Daughter duo and the history behind it and Queen Viv suggests that I contact Jay Katz of Radio FBI 94.5, a community Radio station, a man who has had a long association and friendship with them through his work driving Missionbeat vans. He's friendly and happy to chat about them, eager for the rest of Sydney to know and pay respect to their efforts. The publicity shy Mum and the daughter (Christina) are of Greek descent with the mum working at the Oceanic since the 1930's. Jay says, "There were so many down and out guys and ladies for decades who had close relationships with Christina and mum. They had a wall in the kitchen full of postcards and those postcards were things from inside Long Bay (Prison) from people who would've taken stretches there. They knew just about every character and some of them they even knew them from children and their criminal history and in that sense it's so community based."
During the time they've been open, and it's a good 70 plus years, they've seen a lot of people. "They'd have chronic alcoholics there that were quite violent. Going back to the late 70s there was a character in Sydney called The Skull who was head of the National Front (neo Nazi organisation). Mike Walsh used to put him on television but I can remember sitting across from him having lunch once and he just started to get really aggressive and scream abuse at everyone and mum came out of the kitchen and grabbed him by the back of the ear and threw him out. She was probably the only person in the country that would do that" he chuckles. 
 As I understand it from the sources, the cafe kept open because mum wanted to maintain it. When she died, that was no longer possible.I imagine there were also potential problems with the owners. That small block is overdue for gentrification, and the cafe can't have made enough money to meet full commercial rents.

Mum's funeral service was at St Spryidon's just down the road. I missed not just a chance for a last meal, but also a chance to pay my respects.

Sources:

12 comments:

marcellous said...

Now you need to go to the Olympia Cafe in Stanmore.

I dare you!

Jim Belshaw said...

That sounds ominous, marcellous! I have heard of the place and will inspect!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim and Marcellous

You might find this article interesting:

http://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/greekaustralians-olympia-cafe-in-stanmore-one-of-the-last-original-milk-bars-20160606-gpct88.html

For the last year and a bit of my schooling I attended the nearby Enmore High (a very long time ago) and the Greek girls there warned me never to go there.

It was a bit out of my stamping ground anyway, so I never did. Though now I understand a bit more and it is more complicated than you may think.

GL

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, GL. Will read. There is obviously a considerable back story.

marcellous said...

GL

I don't know why the Greek girls gave you that warning. From what I know I don't know if there would really have been anything for you actually to fear. I think the last time I have actually entered the Olympia would have been when the Stanmore Cinema was still open next door to it. Since then, though I have often been past, I have just found it a bit too spooky. My own feeling is there is a sad rather than an evil story behind the way things have long been there, and that to venture inside, even though the establishment is ostensibly open for business, would be to intrude on that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marcellous

I don't know either. Superstition I guess.

I think you are right that there is a sad back story. Very sad.

There is an article somewhere speaking about a book about cafes in Australia started and run by immigrant families. Some beautiful images showing the very important contribution to community life in Sydney and well beyond.

GL

Anonymous said...

These are the people who put that book together:

http://www.cafesandmilkbars.com.au/

GL

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the link, GL. I had seen reviews of the book, but hadn't read it. I'm especially interested in their and the broader Greek influence in Northern NSW.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be Jim. Just call me intuitive, laughs.

GL

Anonymous said...

You may be interested in this site Jim, fairly specific about cafes etc in Northern New South Wales.

http://www.roxybingara.com.au/roxy-history/

GL

RS said...

and what about about "Keps" at Maroubra Junction, owned Mr and Mrs Kepriotis and Bodekar's garage at the corner of Boyce Road and Anzac Parade and Mosely's Real Estate,(as a kid I wondered what other types of Estates there were that weren't real) and Trewin's Toy Store on Maroubra Bay Road and lets not forget Joe's vegetable shop and the cake shop owned by the Van Musters. His first name was Hermann, I think they were dutch and lets not ever forget the Golden Grove Hotel (named after one of Cook's ships I think). And the centre divider strip on Anzac Parade now used for parking was the tram track running from La Perouse to the city.

Lucky me for living in a time and place that was a joy to live in. That whole area now is just a huge development, a compacted urban sprawl. Nothing lasts I guess. But I hate it.

RS

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi RS. Sorry for the slow response. Golden Grove was a little later, a first fleet ship.

I don't know many of the places you talk about, but do remember Sydney trams! Like you, I worry about the compacted urban sprawl. I wonder how long Daceyville will last? because its heritage, the basic fabric is protected, but already rising house values will skyrocket with the other developments including light rail. Inevitably, there will be pressure to sell the social housing to redeploy the money.