Greek migrants significantly helped shape Melbourne into Australia’s cultural hub. Between Swanston and Russell Streets there is a concentration of Greek restaurants and shops. This is known as Melbourne’s Greek Precinct. The precinct is reflective of Melbourne having the largest population of Greeks outside of Greece.
The precinct originally came to life through the post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way in the new land. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language, newspapers and company and thus this hub for Greek-Australians manifested in the central part of the city of Melbourne.
It has since blossomed and changed in form but still sits as a representation of the Greeks of Melbourne, as well as an entertainment, arts and culture hub.
The immigration phase into Australia reached its heights after the World War II, when Greeks arrived in the tens of thousands.
A pattern repeated in immigrant communities worldwide. The post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way in the new land. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language, newspapers and company.
Responding to their needs there emerged clubs above restaurants and cafes on Lonsdales Street. The early Greek restaurants included Omonia and Xenia on Lonsdale Street and Piraeus on Russell Street serving traditional Greek food at affordable prices for immigrants in search of work. International ‘Diethnes’ Cake shop on Lonsdale Street was the first Melbourne Greek Café that baked quality Greek Pastry on the premises.
The restaurants of the 50s and 60s had the precinct alive with restaurants and cafes and clubs such as Omonia, Xenia, Kipseli (Beehive), Nikakis, International Hotel.
They served laiko, basic, popular, nutritious Greek Food.
Opened in 1969 was Tsindos Greek Restaurant, forerunner of present day Lonsdale Street – running 3rd generation within the family.
The Greek precinct reached its peak in the 1960’s through to the 1980’s
Full of Greek Cafes and shops. The Grecian Precinct was a hive of Greek delis, small businesses, cafes and restaurants that extended down Heffernan Lane and Waratah Place and round the corner to Russell Street. Businesses and clubs emerged such as Stalictites, Medallion café and Dion.
The Greek Scene was branded “little Athens”, untill in the late 1980s seeing a decline.
The decline, say those in the know, was due to loss of factories – whose workers would frequent the cafes and clubs, the Cyprus Community Club shifting locations, and the move of the popular Neos-Kosmos, taking with them, Greek staff and clients.
A lot of cafes and shops are enduring as long term ventures, passed on to the new generation, determined to remain for the long haul.
The precinct is a great social hub and a vibrant site for the Antipodes Festival.
The Greek Precinct is alive and embraced by Melbournians, of the concept of a cosmopolitan city. The migration phase is well and truly over and Greek Culture is not so much a novelty but an integral part of life.
Most current businesses of the Precinct are run both by the immigrants and their off spring and have passed on through several generations.
The new Greek Centre on the corner of Lonsdale and Russell street is a creative hub full of Greek Businesses and educational centres, restoring Lonsdale Street to its status as the major centre of Greek Culture and business in greater Melbourne.
Appendix: Stories from the heart of Melbourne, City of Melbourne 2012
History of the Greek Quarter
Greek culture has a long history of being represented in Melbourne. Melbourne is home to one of the largest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The story of the Greek Quarter in Lonsdale Street is amplified by the broader history of Greek presence within the inner city, a history that can trace its beginnings to the gold rushes when a handful of Greek immigrants joined the rush for overnight riches.
It was after World War II that the Lonsdale Street precinct evolved as a enclave of cafes, restaurants and businesses set up for, and by immigrants, for whom Greek culture was a way of life. The culture found many expressions, from the orthodox faith through to political movements, clubs and brotherhoods, and by gathering with friends in cafes and restaurants.
It is an old story, a pattern repeated in immigrant communities worldwide. The post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way to the new land – were in search of the familiar ambience of the homeland, and a place to feel at home as they established themselves in the new country. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language newspapers and company.
Many newly arrived immigrants lived in city boarding houses, and in the rooms of the Continental Hotel that stood on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale Street. Responding to their needs there emerged clubs above the restaurants and cafes of Lonsdale Street.
The quarter reached its peak in the 1960s through to the 1980s, with a mini revival at the end of the 1990s when many Greek bars and nightclubs sprang up on Russell and Lonsdale Streets like mushrooms after autumn rain. There was a second mini revival, coinciding with the winning of the Euro Cup, when the precinct became a centre of celebration, the natural place to party late into the night.
Being the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world after Athens and Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s Greek sister city, the Greeks have based their community in Lonsdale street since the early 1900’s.
For over 100 years people have been playing tavli on the al fresco tables drinking coffee or ‘Kok’ and it continues attracting locals and tourists who enjoy the food, cakes and culture our precinct has to offer.