Astoria Café interior, Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW, late 1940s. Photo courtesy N. Raftos, from the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ National Project Archives, Macquarie University.
Astoria Café interior, Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW, late 1940s. Photo courtesy N. Raftos, from the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ National Project Archives, Macquarie University.

Greek café culture

For most of the 20th century, Greek-run cafés and milk bars populated Australian cities and country towns, merging local fare with new American food-catering sensations – sodas, milkshakes, sundaes, milk chocolates and hamburgers.

Our project captures the décor of these businesses, their owners and their customers, and characterises their role as a Trojan Horse for the Americanisation of Australian popular culture, affecting eating habits, commercial food-catering technology and ideas, cinema, music and even architecture.

The complex transnational dynamics and melding between Greek familial and culinary experiences, British-Australian culture and American influences are evidenced through the project’s research – and not only reveals the Greek café and milk bar’s iconic position within Australia’s historical culinary landscape, but more broadly, their dynamism as powerhouses driving change within Australian popular culture over the last 100 years.

The project has resulted in the creation of:

  •  an archive recognised as being of national significance
  •  a major nationally touring exhibition called Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café that was launched at the National Museum of Australia in 2008 and is touring until at least 2018
  •  a consultancy with the National Museum from which a permanent Greek café display at the institution – Lambros Zantiotis’ Menu – has been developed
  •  a film documentary with the Hellenic Museum, Melbourne
  •  numerous national and international journal publications and conference papers
  •  60 invitational public lectures nationally over the last six years
  •  an overwhelming array of print and electronic media coverage, both within Australia and internationally.

The project’s major book is due for release in 2015.

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