Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 09:06
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In 1903 during an expansion boom in Lockhart, a brick shop was built in Green Street. It is originally one large shop comprising the present Blue Bird Cafe and Verandah Town Electrical. Angelo Bachali was the first owner. He is a Greek from Lemnos who started an unorthodox business supplying fresh fish and oysters to the rural town of Lockhart. The Marathon Saloon and Oyster Bar opened in 1906.
In 1913 a young man from Kythera, called Panagiotis Veneris, arrives in Lockhart, NSW in search of relatives who could help him find his feet in Australia. Panagiotis begins working at The Paragon Cafe, learning the refreshment trade from relatives Nicholas and Jim Katsoolis. His father John also arrives in town and begins a market garden. Panagiotis quickly learns English and to fit in, changes his name to its English form, Peter. By 1919 Peter Veneris had worked hard and saved enough money to buy The Paragon from his Katsoolis relatives. He planned to marry a young woman from back home and he wanted to show her that he is a suitable husband, settled, responsible and successful.



Also that same year Angelo Bachali sells The Marathon Saloon to his wife's cousin Vassili Tsitsinaris and his wife Sophie. Acting on advice that Australians would never be able to pronounce his complicated Greek name, Vassili changes it on board the immigrant ship. He Anglicizes his first name to William. As his father's name is Panagiotis (Peter), Vassili becomes known as Bill Peterson.
Peter'sYoung bride-to-be, KyriaKoula Mavromatis, arrived in Australia with her father Benetos and sister Chrissoula. She had not seen her fiance since he left Kythera as a boy. The wedding took place on 22 February 1922 in Surry Hills to Peter Veneris. It was not long before Peter introduced his bride to her new home in Lockhart. They built a house on Green Street where they started a family and established a market garden on their property that provided a year round fresh supply of fruit and vegetables to sell.

By 1934 Peter and KyriaKoula had six children, The refreshment trade in Lockhart was successful and Peter was ready to expand. On 6th November 1934 Lockhart's new cafe "The Blue Bird" opened its doors. It had been trading since 1906 as "The Marathon Oyster Bar and Saloon", "The Marathon Stores" and "Peterson's Cafe". They were all precursors to the cultural icon of the Greek Cafe and were mixed businesses selling meals, fresh fruit and vegetables, grocery items such as tobacco and kerosene, confectionery, cold drinks and smallgoods. Peter Veneris and Tony Matis had operated "The Paragon Cafe" across the road in Green Street since the early 1920s. They took on the bigger cafe which had always been Greek run and decided to modernise. At the request of a friend Arthur Wood, Peter separated the large shop into two with a double brick wall. The second shop became a greengrocers but Arthur Wood was laid low with cancer and advised Peter that he was not likely to make it. Peter decided to sell the smaller shop to his brother-in-law Tony Matis and it later becomes N.W. Gilmour's shoe store in 1940 and R.M. Chambers sporting and electrical goods in 1943. Today this half is the Verandah Town Electrical shop.
The larger shop Peter kept for his new cafe. A kitchen, storeroom and cook's bedroom were added to the yard out back along with a wood-fired stove and a well to provide fresh water. Peter's business expansion included interior design features from the popular American Art Deco style with booth dining and fan-shaped mirrors. He contracted a painter to decorate the windows with lobster and fruit motifs. The refreshment trade was modernised with a milk bar featuring built-in refrigeration for fresh ice cream and soda syphons. The Marathon Saloon and Oyster Bar was reborn as The Blue Bird Cafe. At the same time Peter takes on a partner, KyriaKoula's brother Anthony Mavroumatis (known in Lockhart as Tony Matis.



In 1935 tragedy struck the Veneris family when Peter dies suddenly. He was only 46 years-old and he left his wife to bring up six children. KyriaKoula was advised by her Greek family and neighbours to return to Kythera but she had made her home in Lockhart and all of her children were born on Australian soil. Her determination to stay won out and she continued with the market garden that was behind her house while Tony and his wife Stella kept The Blue Bird Cafe going in trust for a time until the Veneris children were old enough to take over.
In 1950 Tony Matis announced to his sister his intention to hand the cafe over to the next generation. He instructed his nephews Jack and Peter and his sister KyriaKoula on The Blue Bird accounts and packed up his family and moved to Sydney to run The White Rose milk bar in Campsie. Coincidentally this was one of the cafes formerly owned Bill Peterson. The brothers Veneris settled in to a long run as cafe proprietors. Peter prefers working out the back peeling bags of potatoes to make chips or squeezing oranges for the family recipe orange ale while Jack takes centre stage serving customers. When the boys marry, their wives Peg and Barbara lend a hand and the two families take it in turns to keep The Blue Bird open seven days a week. It is is good system that allows them each to have time off but still the days are long, beginning before sunrise collecting and chopping firewood for the stove, and ending well after dark with the polishing of floors. Maintenance on the old building is a constant chore as is keeping the authorities and customers happy. The brothers held a proud record over the years of never having a bad health inspection report and many of Lockhart's kids grew up at The Blue Bird under the watchful eye of the Veneris families. Four generations of Veneris' learned about hard work at The Blue Bird Cafe.





In 2003 Jack and Peter Veneris retired aged 77 and 71 respectively. Their careers as The Blue Bird proprietors and contributions to the community were celebrated in a street party. It was also a milestone for the building which turned 100 years old. On the brother's retirement however, The Blue Bird is sold out of the family and although the business continues to operate under three successive owners over the next 11 years, the Greek-Australian cafe tradition had ended.



In 2010 severe spring rain caused a surprise flood in Lockhart. Water penetrated The Blue Bird and caused damage to floors and walls. The 107 year-old grand dame is still standing proud but starting to feel her age and recovery is long and arduous.
2011 saw the closure of The Blue Bird Cafe and the unbroken service of a refreshment rooms at 104 Green Street ended. The Blue Bird remained closed and up for sale for close to a year surviving another season's flooding in March 2012 where that time it was spared inundation but nevertheless suffered rising damp and neglect.
In 2012 Roger and Louise spot The Blue Bird on a trip from Wagga Wagga to Jerilderie and something about the now forlorn grand old dame inspired them to take her on and breathe life back into her. Their vision for The Blue Bird Cafe is to return her to her heyday, and an era when she was at her best and full of life. We want all the people who used to visit The Blue Bird Cafe to return and feel like they have never been away.

Over the years Queensland appears to have had more than a few cafés that were called the ‘Blue Bird’. I’ve found mention of at least seven Blue Bird Cafés in north Queensland, including Townsville, Cairns, Innisfail, Tully, Richmond, Julia Creek and Winton.





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Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 09:20

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 09:20
Thanks Doug

Alan
AnswerID: 551731

Reply By: Member - Tony H (touring oz) - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 09:56

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 09:56
Gee ....a mixed grill at the greek cafe..... the kids of today would have no idea.
They were good times in a very different period......
Insanity doesnt run in my family.... it gallops!

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AnswerID: 551732

Reply By: Fab72 - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 10:18

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 10:18
Another great read Doug.
I love the way the current store has kept with the "old school" interior trimmings.

This one really interested me as my dad set up a café in Whyalla way back in the 50/60's not long after arriving from Italy. I could see many parallels in this story to that of my dad.

I'll chalk this one down as a place to visit in my travels.

Cheers.
Fab.
AnswerID: 551734

Reply By: Louise MC - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 18:57

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 18:57
Thank you Doug for sharing this information. The Blue Bird has been a very special place over its long life. Thankfully to Louise and Roger she will live on to allow a few more generations to enjoy!!
AnswerID: 551756

Reply By: K&FT - Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 19:52

Sunday, Mar 29, 2015 at 19:52
Doug, Many thanks for this post. Four generations of my family were born and raised in the Lockhart and Junee areas so this holds special meaning for me and I thank you for the very informative article.

Frank
AnswerID: 551759

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