Gundagai’s old Greek cafe might be more popular than Dog on the Tuckerbox

Devine said Watson’s sculpture tells an “important story”. “Heritage does not always have to be old and many entries for the Aboriginal Heritage Prize, while new, tell important and ancient Indigenous stories.”

He said the President’s Award is given to outstanding projects like the Niagara Cafe that didn’t always fit into other categories, had a small budget and couldn’t compete with larger projects like the Bondi Pavilion.

Fraser and Walton bought the cafe early in the pandemic. In addition to restoring the counter mirrors, the famous alcoves, the neon lights and the sign at the front, they installed a new kitchen to turn the business into a viable business.

Niagara owners Luke Walton (left) and Kym Fraser.

Niagara owners Luke Walton (left) and Kym Fraser.Credit: Effy Alexakis

Before Walton and Fraser it was owned by two Greek families. It was the Castrission family who bought the Niagara in 1938 and traveled to the United States to “bring it up to the latest Hollywood style,” said Leonard Janiszewski, a historian and curator at Macquarie University.

Leonard Janiszewski predicts that Niagara will become a more popular tourist destination than Dog on the Tuckerbox.

Leonard Janiszewski predicts that Niagara will become a more popular tourist destination than Dog on the Tuckerbox.

Janiszewski and photographer and documentary filmmaker Effy Alexakis interviewed Niagara’s previous owners in the recently published issue of Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia.

Jack Castrission told Janiszewski in 1987 that the style was “American Streamline Moderne (sic) Art Deco”. It was “all stained glass and shiny metal surfaces, large reflective mirrors, polished marble, wooden booths, neon lights, air conditioning and wave windows up front,” he said.

“It was ‘Australia’s Wonder Cafe,'” Castrission said.

Janiszewski says the café was of outstanding cultural value. “It was incredibly exotic for its time, with its dome full of stars. ”

Everything from the use of lights that change color to the design of the sundae trays to the noise from the drinks bar — “where you could hear the rustling and gurgling” — is designed to create an exotic vibe, he said.

Janiszewski predicts that Niagara will become a more popular tourist destination than Dog on the Tuckerbox.

Castrission described the cafe as an oasis in the desert as it was on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne.

During World War II it was a popular stop for army troops and politicians. Castrission said Prime Minister John Curtin knocked on the cafe’s door in the middle of the night.

“I sang, ‘Late mate — we’re closed,'” he recalled. Upon realizing it was the Prime Minister, Castrission apologized and said he believed it was “someone making a nuisance of themselves”.

Curtin said he was cold and hungry, adding that he had some friends in the back of the car. These friends were future Prime Minister Ben Chifley and former Prime Minister Arthur Fadden who were going to Canberra. “We cooked them a meal of steak and eggs,” Castrission told Janiszewski.

2023 National Trust (NSW) Heritage Awards

Other awards to be announced on the Friday leading up to the final weekend of the Australian Heritage Festival include:

  • Advocacy: Don’t Block The Rocks from Millers Point Community Resident Action Group
  • Preservation – Monuments: Ways Terrace in Pyrmont by Land and Housing Corporation and Millers Point Townhouse by Design 5 -Architects
  • Conservation Interiors: The Yellow Dress Project, NIDA

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Justin Scaccy

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