In 1936 upon entering the Roxy Café, the regular patron would have been met with quite a sight. Strolling across the stunning terrazzo floor before selecting a booth, patrons would find themselves surrounded by beautiful maple panelling with mirror in-lays which lined the walls. Above the panelling, customers could gaze upon a series of tapestries depicting lavish scenes from the Italian Renaissance.
The Gwydir Shire Council has recently acquired a number of items that came out of the original Roxy Café from bob and Elva Kirk. The pieces had been in storage in the Kirk’s shed for over twenty years. They will be restored and reinstated in the Café.
Bob and Elva Kirk purchased The Roxy Café in 1965. The building comprised the original Café on the ground floor and a residence on the first floor. The Kirks lived upstairs and housed a collection of memorabilia on the ground floor.
The collection comprised items that were sourced locally and included two brass serviette rings brought back from Egypt by a local soldier serving in WW1, among many others.
Mr and Mrs Kirk purchased the freehold title of the Café from the Fader Estate. The café had been in operation until several months prior to the change of ownership. A series of Greeks, including Harry Vangis, Jim Loulias and a young man nicknamed “Mosquito’ had operated the café.
Mr and Mrs Kirk sold the premises to Mr Peter Yeum in 1989, who operated a Chinese restaurant on the site until it was purchased by the Gwydir Shire Council in 2007.
The collection of pieces stored in the Kirk’s shed included wood panelling, section of booths or cubicles including the original table tops, marble shelving, a glass window panel and decorative etched glass panes.
A remarkable piece to be reinstated includes the original neon sign that hung under the awning at the entrance to the Café.
Another piece of note is a wooden menu stand complete with ‘historical’ graffiti. Several patrons took it upon themselves to leave their mark by signing their names and including the dates: 1927 and 1928.
Mr and Mrs Kirk are to be congratulated on having the foresight to retain these significant pieces that will form a vital component of the restoration of the Roxy Café.
In particular, the Kirks are to be commended for “gifting” the pieces for a very reasonable sum. The Gwydir Shire Council appreciates the co-operative spirit the Kirks have demonstrated, and thanks them for this invaluable contribution.
Greek Cafes changed the course of Australia’s cultural history and left a significant legacy on our culinary and cultural landscape.
The Roxy Café will become a place of national significance that conserves and protects the important cultural associations between people and place.
It will provide opportunities for the celebration of Greek traditions that became embedded in Australia.
The work carried out in the restoration will be undertaken to best protect the significant fabric of the place with minimal disturbance to ensure the culturally significant aspects of the place are respected, retained and preserved.
A PHD thesis was undertaken by Kevin Cork entitled Parthenons Downunder, Greek Motion Picture Exhibitors in NSW 1915 – 1960, a topic never before explored in Australian history.
In his thesis Kevin Cork advised us that:
“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.”
Mr and Mrs Kirk’s generous contribution to the café, embodies these sentiments. They are to be complimented for their example of committed community members, dedicated to preserving the history, culture and social fabric of our Shire.
The Shire is grateful for their support which will greatly add to the success of returning the Roxy Café to its original splendour to live on for generations to come.