Plate fit for a Prime Minister now at home at the Roxy

March 14, 2011

The Loukassis family, owners of the Niagara Café in Gundagai, have kindly donated a plate this week to the Roxy Café. The plate is an original piece of crockery from the Niagara, which was established in 1916.

Roxy Manager, Sandy McNaughton and Greek Cafe historian Peter McCarthy with the Roxy’s newest acquisition, a plate from the iconic Niagara Cafe in Gundagai.
Roxy Manager, Sandy McNaughton and Greek Cafe historian Peter McCarthy with the Roxy’s newest acquisition, a plate from the iconic Niagara Cafe in Gundagai.

“It’s incredibly significant to receive this plate as it from one of the most well known Greek Cafés in NSW,” Manager of the Roxy, Sandy McNaughton said.
“It is the first donation of its kind from another Greek Café and is a fantastic recognition of what we are trying to achieve.”

The Niagara Cafe is one of only two iconic Greek Cafes still operating in NSW today, the other being the ‘Café De Lux’ in Brewarrina.

Greek Café Historian, Peter McCarthy and his wife Deanna on a visit to the Niagara mentioned the Roxy Café to the owners and were able to obtain the plate as a donation to the Roxy and to add to the memorabilia of Greek Cafes in NSW.
The Niagara Cafe in Gundagai  has been named ‘Australia’s wonder Cafe.  

Once upon a time every country town had its own Greek-run cafe but over the years this has become a faded tradition with only a few of the original cafes still running.

The Roxy Cafe is one of the original cafes of the Kytherian Greeks as too is the Niagara. Originally owned by the Catrission family for 64 years the Niagara has had its fair share of publicity, particularly due to Prime Minister John Curtin’s regular visits to the cafe during the war years.

His first visit occurred several months after John Curtin publicly declared Australia’s admiration of Greece’s stand against aggression.

On a winter evening, travelling with several members of the Advisory War Council from Melbourne to Canberra, he reached Gundagai toward midnight, just as Jack Castrission was closing his door. The Prime Minister knocked and asked if he could possibly get something to eat. Castrission warmed the travellers in his kitchen and cooked them steak and eggs.

Asked how he was coping with wartime food rationing, Castrission replied that his monthly tea allowance was hardly enough to keep his cafe going. In appreciation for their hospitality the cafe’s tea ration was more than doubled, and Niagara saw regular visits from the Prime Minister. 

In its heyday the Niagara was known as a travellers rest, as the highway ran straight down the main street of Gundagai. While nowadays the highway bypasses Gundagai, the Niagara it is still very popular and has been named as ‘Australia’s wonder cafe’.

The Niagara Cafe has never once closed for a long period of time despite a refurbishment in 1938, which was destroyed some years later by a fire in the 1970s.

Many of the original features remain however, including the Art Deco door, the booths and mirrors, the shop front bow windows and the vintage neon sign.

The description of the Niagara is similar to walking through the doors of the Roxy Cafe, complete with booths, mirrors and the neon sign.

The Roxy Café’s “Peter’s” neon sign plays a very significant role in the Greek Cafe history and on the 75th Anniversary of the Roxy to be held in April, Greek Café Historian, Peter McCarthy will be making a presentation to further explain the sign’s significance.

Peter and his wife Deanna recently retired as the owners of the Greek Café in Inverell, ‘Oslos on Otho’. Deanna’s Greek family were the original owners of the Inverell café  ‘S Peter and Co’ established in 1899 and her father also owned the ‘Monterey’ in Inverell.

With a rich Greek heritage Peter and Deanna appreciate the importance of keeping alive the tradition of Greek Cafés in Australia.

In 1983 the Niagara was sold to another Greek-born family, the Loukassis and is today still ran by Denise Loukassis, son Tony and daughter Tina.

The plate is a welcome donation to the Roxy Museum as it symbolises the story of the many migrants from Kythera and all over Greece who have made such a lasting contribution to the history of small country towns all over Australia.

“The plate is a really exciting donation and will occupy a very prominent position in the Roxy Museum,” said Sandy.

The plate will go on display in the Roxy Café for the 75th Anniversary of the Roxy, on April 9 and 10.